Wonder Woman (1975) episode 1 is familiar at first, but the quirky ‘70s presentation of 1940s Washington feels refreshing in our time of superhero-fatigue.
“…any civilisation that does not recognise the female is doomed to destruction.” – Wonder Woman
Episode 1 of the 1975 Wonder Woman telly show (“The New Original Wonder Woman”) kicks off with the same setup we’re likely all familiar with now: Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), an American soldier, falls out of a plane during WW2 and lands on Paradise Island – a place inhabited solely by immortal, super-powered women. Our protagonist (the ever-wonderful Lynda Carter) finds Mr. Trevor unconscious on a beach, before becoming immediately attached to the fellow, and follows him back to the United States.
There, picking up the mantle of Wonder Woman – fit with a belt that maintains her superhuman abilities away from Paradise Island, a lasso that compels people to tell the truth, a nice headband, and a skirt that her mother says “can be discarded if it should prove cumbersome” (and then never seen again) – she goes up against a Washington-based, Nazi spy ring that intends to stop America from creating a new bomb, whilst Steve nurses his wounds in a nearby hospital.
As ever, I’m struck by the attraction of a goddess to the first man she meets, but, for the sake of my own fun, I’ll cast this aside for now and pull focus to some of the other aspects of Wonder Woman episode 1: things that I really rather enjoyed whilst watching this pilot, and things that will likely motivate me enough to watch the following episodes.
First, the humour: there’s a scene where Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta (Cloris Leachman) – in a scene recognisable from many period-set movies – takes a conversation conspiratorially close to a lit torch, before choking on its smoke. Then, a Nazi underling throws a salute with a cup of tea in their hand, a fistfight involves the enemy knocking themselves through the glass of an office door, and a grandma wields a machine-gun at a magic show. Also, a Nazi spy puts the phone down and panics when he realises he didn’t sign off with a “Heil Hitler” – demonstrating the absurdity in such a thing four decades before Jojo Rabbit did, and just six years before Raiders of the Lost Ark had a monkey mime the gesture.
Secondly, something I knew to expect, but was a pleasant surprise regardless: Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. This thing would give the X-Men a run for their money, that’s for sure. The audience can’t see the X-Jet, the on-screen characters can’t see the X-Jet, but inside, the controls, the people, the chairs, are all visible. With Wonder Woman’s plane, the on-screen characters can’t see it, but the audience can see an outline, Lynda Carter, and the chair she’s sitting on, cruising through the clouds. The controls? Invisible. The floor? Invisible. The exit handle? Invisible. Wonder Woman’s basically piloting this thing blind-folded! I bet Scott Summers couldn’t do that.
Thirdly: no mobile phones. Yes, of course, I’m familiar with movies and telly from before the age of smartphones. What I can’t recall seeing is a superhero story that features zero modern technology. There’s a scene in episode 1 where Wonder Woman walks down the street in her costume, and those of the public intrigued by this sight simply follow her, then watch her foil a bank heist, and then go back to their day. There’s no smash cut to a mock-up of TV news, no smash cut to footage with a CCTV filter applied, no smash cut to a kid filming the event on their pocket camera. Just a bunch of 1970s extras pretending to be ordinary 1940s people. It’s truly delightful.
And finally: I’d love to tie this up with some analytical insight into why I’m going to keep watching ‘70s Wonder Woman, like a true movie critic – what it is about the thematic content, the historical content; what it is about the narrative, and the visuals that interest me, and why should any of it interest you? Well, thus far, it’s a warm slice of fun, and I’m dead keen for some of that. Plus: it’s winter. If I can’t watch some bright, American, 1970s telly to pass a dark, cold, British winter, when the heck can I watch it? Also, did I mention how terrific Lynda Carter is?
Episode 1 of Wonder Woman (1975) is now available to watch on digital and on demand.