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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman The character having been recently introduced to American audiences with a TV movie, Wonder Woman quickly took up residence in Washington DC permanently in the employ of the War Department during World War II, which is when the character first originated in comic books (see a gallery of Wonder Woman comic book covers here). Foremost among her foes were the Nazis and their supporters. Diana's adventures centered around the American military, and her complete attentions were Steve Trevor's for the asking. Judging by individual screen appearances and spoken parts, these are the episodes that relied most on Lyle Waggoner's good looks and smile to provide a manly (and 'socially appropriate') companion to Wonder Woman.

Given the question of the show's appeal to kids, these episodes were kept relatively simple in terms of good and evil. The good-natured humor and physical comedy of the pilot movie was toned down, for a more 'serious' war-era production. The Nazis were seemingly omnipresent: they popped up in every place from Argentina to Hollywood to Washington DC. And if those wily, misguided fascists got tossed around and tied up, actual character fatalities were never shown. While this may seem a play for parents' approval now, it was certainly a refreshing change for a new series that debuted in TV's decade of detective shoot-em-ups.

The supporting cast included Richard Eastham as General Phillip Blankenship and Beatrice Colen as Private Etta Candy, Blankenship's secretary. The General did not exist in the original comic book's continuity, but he was written in when DC's Wonder Woman series plunged into an alternate-Earth's dimension that placed our heroine (you guessed it) back in the middle of World War II. Authoritative, affable, and non-threatening, Eastham's role suited the show's nostalgic, familial sensibility. A much more crucial addition was Colen's dishy, unlucky-in-love Ett Candya. Based loosely on a humorously obese character who actually appeared in Wonder Woman's 40's comic book run, Colen provided a large portion of the first season's comic relief. And when she wasn't slinging one-liners or complaining about personal inadequacy, she was educating Diana in the trials of wartime romance. It's worth noting that with the exception of women guest stars, the only regularly appearing female companions to Diana are Etta and Diana's sister Amazons.

Brightly filmed and adequately cast, the first season episodes come closest to the feel of the comic book Wonder Woman. This was the only season to feature a pre-stardom Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, Diana's younger sister. The storylines were memorable and the acting was energetic and charmingly reverent of the material. Though the actors' exhilaration seemed to dip as the novelty of the series wore off, the show remained upbeat and accessible to younger viewers.

If there was a down side to these episodes, it would have to be the characterization of Diana Prince. In the beginning she was naive and obedient, a beautiful wide-eyed woman who wasn't prepared for all the twists and deceptions of life outside Paradise Island. She fawned over love interest Steve Trevor, and spent a great deal of time saving him from various shenanigans. While this was a truthful portrayal of 1940's Wonder Woman, star Lynda Carter seemed to overplay Diana's naivete; there are many scenes that depict her wide-eyed ardor for military convention and for Trevor's contrived assistance. Still green as an actress, Carter's facial expressions could go blank or slightly bewildered, especially in action segments.

While this criticism may seem to come from a modern expectation of women's roles, it is undeniable that the series's writers had a tendency to rely on Diana's innocence. In spite of conventional TV storylines, there was a subtle feminism present throughout. From the 'enlightening' of Fausta (Lynda Day George) in the first show of its first season to the message Diana would deliver at each episode's end, viewers were reminded that all women are capable of wonders, if only given the opportunity.

In later seasons the show's storylines would move to the more palatable present time, giving the Amazon princess an opportunity to fight more worthy menaces such as robots and aliens. Despite the change in venue, however, the show would soon settle into a predictable, if pleasant, groove that put it in the same league as most action-adventure television shows, before or since: despite the 'action-adventure' veneer, no one seems to really get hurt, and after a time it all seems rather mediocre and pointless.

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