Sunday, January 6, 2013

Erratic, But Not Unwatchable, Wonder Woman Finishes Weak With The Complete Third Season!

The Good: Decent primary acting, A good protagonist
The Bad: Mediocre DVD bonus features, Formulaic plots, Erratic execution of stories
The Basics: Unsure quite what it wants to be, Wonder Woman devolves into a mundane spy thriller with a superheroine protagonist in its third season.

Action-adventure television shows are hard to do if the production is episodic, as opposed to serialized. When the series has a central hero and an essentially stable villain (or group of villains), the show can grow and evolve with characters who are truly dynamic. The alternative is episodic television: works where the conflict comes into being and is resolved by the end of the episode and there are no consequences that carry from one episode to the next. Episodic television quickly becomes formulaic television and, unfortunately, in its third and final season, that is what happened with Wonder Woman. Say what you will about the first season of Wonder Woman (reviewed here!), but when Wonder Woman’s objectives centered around fighting the Nazis, the quality of the show was a lot less erratic.

Unfortunately, by the time the third season came into production, it was clear that the executive producers and the network did not know what they wanted from the show or how to sustain it. As a result, the episodes vary incredibly in terms of plot and production quality. The third season seems to be on such uncertain ground that it was completely retooled at the end (the penultimate episode on the DVDs) to eliminate Steve Trevor and introduce a bevy of new characters (including, sigh, a monkey) and relocating Diana Prince to Los Angeles.

The move to Los Angeles would hardly have been as big of a deal as one might suspect; for most of the third season of Wonder Woman, Diana Prince flies from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles in the course of the episode because that is where whatever problem needs to be solved this episode actually is. In the third season, the formulaic nature of Wonder Woman becomes painfully obvious, though the episodes are generally produced with more care (there are less awkward moments where it appears the editors used bad takes where actors forgot their lines, missed their marks, etc.) than in the second season (reviewed here!).

The standard formula for Wonder Woman in its third season is this: While in the service of the Inter-Agency Defense Command, Diana Prince uncovers a terrorist activity, kidnapping, bomb threat or alien invasion. Assigned by Steve Trevor, who stays back in Washington, D.C., to investigate the suspicious activity, Diana Prince goes to the sight of impending doom or the last known whereabouts of the kidnapping victim, where she meets someone who will act as her sidekick for the episode. In some fit of ensuing action, Diana Prince and her sidekick get separated, usually while encountering some lackey for the episode’s main villain. Diana uses the opportunity to transform into Wonder Woman who saves the sidekick and interrogates the lackey, finding out who the real villain is. Leaving the lackey – usually erasing their memory and/or compelling them to turn themselves in – Wonder Woman departs and Diana Prince arrives to comfort the shaken-up sidekick. Employing the information she gleaned as Wonder Woman, Diana Prince and the sidekick go off to try to thwart the villain, but in the process usually Wonder Woman’s strength is needed to stop the main villain from escaping, so she transforms again. The episodes usually end with either a humorous recap or a melancholy good-bye as Diana bids farewell to the episode’s sidekick, despite the fact that odds are pretty good she’ll be back in Los Angeles the very next week.

So, the third season in a nutshell, following that formula, involves Wonder Woman and Agent Diana Prince rescuing a kidnapped pop teen idol after he is replaced by his twin brother (thanks to the help of a precocious girl who reminds us that people who work for tips will do pretty much anything for money because they are otherwise paid at slave wages), cracking a ring of car thieves when a Rolls Royce and its valuable hood ornament are stolen, and thwarting a down-on-his luck scientist who uses his muscle-control technology to aid underdog football teams so he wins the least likely bets. Wonder Woman discovers that an artist who creates amazing statues is actually just “freezing” humans, disco is being used for mind control, and that a mousy scientist has made herself into the far more assertive queen of the ants. Wonder Woman confronts a time traveler (problematically played by the same distinctive blonde guy from the prior season who played a single father who seemed likely to hook up with Diana), a leprechaun, and a wealthy man who wants to become immortal by transplanting his brain into a young hunk.

Diana Prince pretends to be a country music singer to . . . who cares; it’s an excuse to see Lynda Carter sing! And how cool is it that Rene Auberjonois (who would play Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fifteen years later) plays a villain at a science fiction convention?! (Auberjonois was very big on the convention circuit and remains a draw for Star Trek fans at science fiction conventions.) And the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-type story (“The Boy Who Knew Her Secret”) is actually pretty cool.

In its third season, Wonder Woman may be painfully formulaic and conform to many of the conceits of the day – there are many, many car chases this season, though (fortunately) this season precedes the early-‘80’s conceit that had hubcaps flying everywhere during chase sequences – but Wonder Woman and Diana Prince are remarkably consistent. Fans of Wonder Woman will be disturbed by how Wonder Woman uses her lasso of truth this season consistently as a tool of compulsion – she erases more memories this season than (pure comic book geek reference!) Zatanna did during the events uncovered in Identity Crisis (reviewed here!). She is assertive, strong and uses her ability to communicate with animals more in season three of Wonder Woman.

Unfortunately, the formula in the third season made Steve Trevor virtually obsolete. He consults with the talking computer and has an assistant (Eve) of his own for a few episodes, but usually in the third season, he gives out the assignment, is available for a phone call at some point in the episode and possibly a check-in at the end, but is otherwise a non-entity.

On DVD, Wonder Woman The Complete Third Season includes a commentary track on a single episode and a featurette on the feminist role of Wonder Woman. Neither are entirely indispensible, though they do add some extra value to the boxed set. Sadly, though, it is not enough to recommend this DVD set. Wonder Woman is unfortunately dated, formulaic, and not conceptually audacious, even for the time.

For other shows that aired on CBS, please visit my reviews of:
Two Broke Girls - Season 1
The Big Bang Theory - Season 5
How I Met Your Mother - Season 3
Northern Exposure


For other film and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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