In 10 Words or Less
More of everyone's favorite grade-school robot
Loves: Good sitcoms, '80s nostalgia
Likes: Small Wonder
Dislikes: The lack of Vicki here, Feeling pervy
Hates: The lack of extras, The Brindles
The Story So Far...
Well-remembered by many of those who grew up watching the sitcom in the late '80s, Small Wonder is the story of Vicky, a robot who looks like an 11-year-old girl, living with her inventor Ted, his wife Joan and their son Jamie. Most of the stories centered around trying to hide Vicky's true identity or her "brother" Jamie's misadventures (which end up involving Vicky,) but that was enough to keep it running for four seasons in syndication. The first season of the series was released on DVD in February 2010. DVDTalk has a pair of reviews.
To be honest, you could swap almost any episode from this season with the first one, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference, though there aren't any of those dramatic episodes (with the exception of some minor dramatic themes, like when the Lawsons' home is robbed or when Joan decides to tackle homelessness.) The only real plot difference comes when Joan returns to work as a substitute teacher (in Jamie's class, ensuring that hijinks ensue, ugh.) Other than that, almost every episode is centered around either another Jamie scheme, or the risk of someone finding out about Vicky.
This season, including the finale, seemed to put even more emphasis on the Lawsons' awful neighbors, the Brindles, one of the most irritating examples of wacky neighbors ever. It all starts with the daughter, Harriett, the ultimate oddball. It doesn't feel good to say this about a child (though she's now an adult, so...) but Harriett is not an attractive kid, and she's got a personality to match and an unfortunate fascination with the Lawsons (especially Jamie.) Her personality is no surprise when you consider her terrible parents, a pair of greedy, aggravating people with no sense of decency or self-awareness. Only because the wife is played by Edie McClurg is she at all bearable.
Watching these episodes en masse reveals how formulaic the series is, to the point where they even repeat jokes. Every episode will have at least one example of someone telling Vicki to do something and her taking it literally, several moments of Vicki imitating another character and an awful, obvious special effects shot of Vicki doing something robotic. The show has a cheesy, almost vaudevillian/Catskills sense of humor, and revels in hitting its marks, overselling a gag and nailing an obvious punchline. It's an adjustment when compared to modern sitcoms, but its obvious nature appeals a lot to little kids.
The unusual aspects of the series remain firmly in place, like the hypersexual relationship between Ted and Joan (they share more talk about getting physical in front of the kids than can be comfortable), or the overly mature behavior from the kids (Jamie's efforts to date a haughty girl at school are creepy as well.) The creative team behind the show seemed to love getting Vicky into different costumes, and disturbingly playing her up sexually (one episode where Jamie "pimps" her out to date two different boys is particularly icky.) The robot concept was handled with varying consistency, unlike during the first season, where Vicki occasionally slipped out of her robot voice. Now, she uses any number of accents and voices, and at one point in the background can be seen scratching an itch in her ear. If she could manage to imitate people and talk like Marilyn Monroe for stretches, why couldn't she be taught to speak without her robot tone? If you're going to have a conceit, better to stick with it and make it work, otherwise nitpicky reviewers will complain about it 20+ years later.
This season, there were a lot of recognizable guest stars, including legendary bum-depictor Foster Brooks, a future star in Brian Austin Green and a past star in Adam Rich, not to mention a guest spot by Jesse Ventura.
Unlike the first set, which arrived in a pair of ThinPak cases, the four DVDs holding the 24 second-season episodes of Small Wonder are packed in a standard-width clear keepcase, with two trays and a list of episodes on the inside of the cover. The discs feature the same animated, full-frame menus as the first set, with options to play all the episodes, select individual ones and check out the bonus features. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
There's no change in the quality of these full-frame transfers from the first season, so you're getting video that's showing its age, though it's better than you might expect (even though a disclaimer's been added to each disc noting that the episodes come from the best remaining masters available.) The main sin is the inconsistent quality of the image, as the close-ups look very nice, with correct color and clarity, but wide shots tend to be dull and a bit soft. Some episodes suffer from wide swings in quality, like "Top Secret," which looks like they shot different scenes with different color filters. There are no issues with dirt or damage, and no obvious problems with digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in standard Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks that deliver the show's audio clearly and center-balanced. There's nothing that stands out about the sound, but there's nothing negative about it either.
After last season's somewhat creepy fan art, this season we get one more piece, a printable coloring sheet featuring an update on the Small Wonder concept by fan artist Bill Walko. If anything, the well-done art gives a template for a modern remake of the show. Unfortunately, it seems they weren't saving the gag reels mentioned on season one's commentaries for this set.
The Bottom Line
There's no real difference between the episodes on the first set and the second set, so if you liked the others, these should be right up your alley, and vice versa. The quality of the DVDs is the same as well, but the extras have taken a severe dive from the previous release. If you're not part of the choir, it's unlikely I'm preaching to you, but for Small Wonder fans, it's a fun trip back in time.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.