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Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season
2 of 5 stars
Executive produced by Douglas S. Cramer.
Starring Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner, Beatrice Colen and Richard Eastham.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Second Season
3 of 5 stars
Executive produced by Douglas S. Cramer.
Starring Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner, Saundra Sharp and Tom Kratochzil.

When I was a kid, I watched the Wonder Woman TV show religiously, simply because it was a super-hero show. Even then, I didn't think it was a terribly good show, but it was a comic book on screen. I was always a little curious why my dad watched it with me fairly often, too, but it became clear to me a few years later.

It's almost prescient that the first lengthy shot of Lynda Carter in "The New Original Wonder Woman," the 1975 pilot for the 197679 Wonder Woman series, is of Diana running down a beach on Paradise Island. The show was, essentially, a Baywatch of its time: little more than a justification to ogle attractive women for an hour, with a bit of action thrown in mainly so the right parts would jiggle in the right ways at the, er, climax. Of course, ogling women in action shows is a reliable, if not foolproof, formula that dates back to The Avengers, the '60s British TV show featuring, in its most popular episodes, super-spies John Steed and Emma Peel: hot woman + fighting = ratings.

The producers of The Avengers knew exactly what they were doing when they replaced the attractive but bland Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman, who went on to earn her fame as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger) with the smoking hot Diana Rigg's new character. A woman had "M appeal" if she was sexually attractive; it was one of the innumerable '60s slang terms that never made it out of the decade alive (or, for that matter, off England's shores). The term "jiggle show" was supposedly coined to describe Charlie's Angels, which starred a trio of Emma Peel rip-offs and, like the Wonder Woman series, also premiered in 1976. It aptly describes, however, not only Wonder Woman, but a host of programs that came after it, whether they are overtly sexualized or not, or whether they are action shows or not. But where the best jiggle shows, such as Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are solid, well-written action shows beyond the hot woman or women at their center, there are a dozen Birds of Prey for every Buffy. Although nostalgia and my fondness for Lynda Carter's unbelieveable curves compel me to enjoy the show more than it deserves, Wonder Woman is one of the former. Which is to say it wasn't particularly good.

Even as kids' shows go, Wonder Woman was incredibly sanitized in the two most crucial points for a show built around a female action hero: sex (or titillation, rather) and violence. For God's sake, she throws her opponents against walls more often than she throws punches. And in spite of a few rare, eyebrow-raising bits such as Steve Trevor's secretary "innocently" leaning her breasts into Trevor's arm in the pilot, the show is practically devoid of the sexual innuendo of the original Wonder Woman comics as envisioned by "Charles Moulton" — actually William Moulton Marston, a psychologist, swinger and bondage fetishist who also invented an early type of lie detector. The early Wonder Woman comics were chock full of the obvious bondage scenarios that would arise from a character who carries around a golden lasso capable of forcing anyone to tell the truth, but the camp of the Wonder Woman TV show seems to be off limits when it comes to even PG-rated eroticism.

With its Amazon princess and the endless sapphic innuendo, Sam Raimi's Xena: Warrior Princess was, in many respects, a better Wonder Woman TV show than the real series, even compared to the latter's significantly improved second season, which leaped forward to the 1970s and took itself somewhat more seriously. Xena's action was exponentially better executed, it was funnier, and it had stronger characterization. Even its approach to feminism wasn't as simplistic as in Wonder Woman. I mean, seriously, capping episodes with Diana Prince grinning like a brain-damaged idiot and saying things like "where I was raised, we were taught that good must triumph over evil, and that women — and men — can learn" isn't terribly progressive, even for 1970s television. Emma Peel embodied a stronger feminist message ten years before, just by kicking ass.

Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season, which includes "The New Original Wonder Woman," is available on DVD from Netflix and other fine establishments.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Second Season was released on DVD earlier this week and includes the 90-minute season premiere, "The Return of Wonder Woman," and the other 21 episodes in the season.

The Greatest American Hero: Season One
3 of 5 stars
Created by Stephen J. Cannell. Executive produced by Juanita Bartlett.
Starring William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca.

In the series pilot for The Greatest American Hero, William Katt stars as Ralph Hinkley (later changed to Hanley after some guy saw Taxi Driver and tried to assassinate Reagan), a remedial English teacher given a suit and cape by aliens and entrusted with a mission to fight evil. But, when Ralph immediately loses its instruction book, he's left to figure out how to work its superpowers on his own. The powers include flight (which he never quite masters), superstrength, invulnerability and a bizarre, inconsistently utilized vision power that lets him see into the future or something. Ralph is aided in this mission by Bill, an FBI agent played by Robert Culp, who is the only reliable actor in the cast, unless you count Michael Paré's recurring role as some Vinnie Barbarino knock-off from Ralph's class.

The pilot's final scene, with Ralph flying contentedly over Los Angeles while the theme song plays with its lyrics for the first time, is easily the high point of the show, in spite of special effects that fall far below those in the first two Superman movies, which predate the show. You just can't deny it: The Greatest American Hero has the greatest theme song in the history of television. But other than that, it's little more than a good, dumb, fun waste of time.

The pilot and the rest of the first season's seven episodes are pretty funny, both intentionally and unintentionally, such as one scene where Ralph "corrects" Bill's pronunciation of "forte" and reminds him that he's an English teacher, so he should know. Unfortunately, even the intentional kitsch isn't funny enough to make up for the sub-Doctor Who special effects and sloppy scripting. Those who would rather see an intentionally good show than an unintentional one may be left wanting.

As with far too many television programs, The Greatest American Hero's refusal to move past its initial premise is one of its least forgivable drawbacks, and this problem carries through into the following two seasons. Although there are a number of fun moments in the series' run, it would have been nice to see Ralph (William Katt) actually learn how to use his powers properly at some point in the show's run. In the premiere episode of the third season, which is not yet scheduled for DVD release, Ralph gets a new instruction book for one very fun episode, only to lose it again after being shrunk and menaced by ants. For real.

Believe it or not, the sight of a grown man in tights flying into a wall eventually ceases to amuse.

The Greatest American Hero: Season One includes the original pilot, all seven of the first season episodes and the unaired pilot for The Greatest American Heroine (which is awful). One disappointing note about the DVD release is the substitution of several songs throughout the series (such as Elton John's "Rocket Man" in the pilot) with generic rock songs, presumably because Anchor Bay Entertainment was unwilling to pay for the rights to the original songs. If that bothers you, I've heard of a little something called BitTorrent. …

The Greatest American Hero: Season Two, containing 22 episodes, will be released April 5, 2005.

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About the Author(s)

Gordon McAlpin writes his movie reviews with a red light-up Spy Kids pen, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever, even though he didn't like the movie that much.

If you feel the need to get in touch with him directly, do so at .

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