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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Dick Christie, Marla Pennington, Jerry Supiran, Tiffany Brissette, Emily Schulman
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
Small Wonder confirmed the age-old adage: If it looks like a ten-year-old girl and talks like a robot ... it must be a ROBOT!

When genius cybernetics engineer Ted Lawson (Dick Christie) brings home his top-secret invention, a Voice Input Child Identicant or V.I.C.I. (Tiffany Brissette), life becomes anything but mechanical for the Lawson Family. With his boss and his nosy family (the Brindles) living next door, Ted, his wife Joan and their son Jamie must pass Vicki off as a real child. It is easy for Joan (Marla Pennington-Rowan), who cannot help doting on her like a daughter, but harder for precocious Jamie (Jerry Supiran), who uses Vicki to do his homework and to ward off Harriet (Emily Schulman), the annoying redheaded girl next door.

Small Wonder aired for five seasons in syndication and often reran out of order, to the chagrin of fans (not to mention the writers). All 24 original episodes are included here in their intended order. Small Wonder has withstood the test of time to emerge as a classic laser beacon of 80s culture.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 535 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 2/16/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary for Five Episodes
• Original Episode Promos
• Fan Art Gallery
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Small Wonder: Season One (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2010)

In the annals of television, many programs vie for the title of Worst Series Ever. Manimal? My Mother the Car? Pink Lady and Jeff?

Pretenders! Some will argue, but I think the award should probably go to Small Wonder, a 1980s series much better known as a notable atrocity than anything else. I’m not sure the most brilliant comedic minds in history could’ve made anything good out of a series about a robotic little girl, but Wonder definitely didn’t boast any creative geniuses behind it.

Long desired by connoisseurs of bad TV, the first season of Small Wonder finally comes to DVD. (No Blu-ray???). This package features all 24 episodes, and it presents them in broadcast order. The episode synopses come straight from the DVD’s packaging.

DVD ONE:

Vicki’s Homecoming: “Ted Lawson (Dick Christie) introduces his family to VICI (Tiffany Brissette), or the voice Input Child Identicant: a secretly constructed robotic domestic aide in the form of a 10-year-old girl.”

The Neighbors: “The Brindles, the Lawsons’ snoopy neighbors, suspect the Lawsons are hiding something and attempt to sniff out their family secret. Harriet (Emily Schulman) shows off her toy robot.”

The Sitter: “When the Lawsons’ babysitter cancels, Ted sees an opportunity for a new function for Vicki.”

The Suitor: “The school nerd, Warren (Daryl Bartley), falls in love with the only girl who doesn’t slam the door in his face: Vicki.”

Sibling Rivalry: “Jamie (Jerry Supiran) decides to run away when he feels that his parents attend to Vicki more than him.”

Spielberg Jr.: “When Jamie and his best friend Reggie (Paul C. Scott) put together a sci-fi movie project for school, the directorial power goes to Jamie’s head.”

DVD TWO:

The Lie: “Jamie learns the value of consistent honesty when he can’t convince his parents that he’s not responsible for breaking a teapot.”

The Bully: “When a bully begins extorting money from Jamie and his friends, Ted attempts to teach Jamie how to fight.”

Slightly Dishonorable: “Jamie uses Vicki to do his homework and gets on the school honor roll.”

The Adoption: “After Bonnie Brindle (Edie McClurg) tips off Child Services about the Lawsons’ new child, Vicki must pass a medical exam.”

Child Genius: “With Child Services watching, the Lawsons must hire a tutor for Vicki, and Joan (Marla Pennington-Rowan) resolves to complete her teaching degree.”

Ted’s New Boss: “Following a house fire, the Brindles muscle their way into staying with the Lawsons.”

DVD THREE:

Brainwashed: “When Vicki begins to mimic Harriet, Ted decides to reprogram her.”

The Burrito Story: “Jamie attempts to mass-produce burritos made by Vicki.”

The Camping Trip: “The Lawsons and Reggie and Harriet take a wilderness camping trip and get lost.”

Love Story: “Jamie throws a lavish party to impress his first crush.”

Substitute Father: “Brandon Brindle (William Bogert) begins a father war when he finds that a golf-crazed Ted has been neglecting Jamie.”

The Robot Nappers: “A rival robotics firm suspects that Vicki is a robot and plans to steal her.”

DVD FOUR:

The Company Takeover: “Cutbacks at United Robotronics have the Lawsons scrambling for odd jobs.”

Good Ol’ Lou: “Ted is motivated to get the family into shape when an obese coworker loses a record amount of weight.”

Like Father, Like Son: “Jamie tries out for the Pee Wee football team.”

Vaudeville Vicki: “A vaudeville actor becomes convinced Vicki is his long-lost daughter.”

The Real Facts of Life: “Jamie attempts to educate his dad in the ways of love.”

The Grandparents: “Ted must break it to his father that Vicki is a robot.”

Usually when I review TV series on DVD, I offer my thoughts about each specific episode. In this case, I simply couldn’t do it. What would I say for each program: “Yikes!” “Double yikes!” “Kill me now!”

In the face of nine hours of Small Wonder, there’s only so much shock one can manifest. Actually, ennui does set in after a while. The series starts with jaw-dropping awfulness and never improves from there. This means that the impact of the cheesiness starts to wear off before too long. Intellectually, I know it’s scary bad, but it becomes more difficult to feel stunned by the many lows on display. Call if a form of Sitcom Stockholm Syndrome.

Essentially, if you've seen one episode of Wonder, you’ve seen them all. There’s exceptionally little to differentiate one program from another. Sure, they feature different plots, but those storylines are essentially irrelevant. The human characters never develop or change, and the scenarios remain very similar.

So much redundant material appears that the writers should’ve only been paid for 60 percent of each episode. In particular, they love to simply have Vicki parrot the remarks of others, usually in a slightly inappropriate manner. This technique is never funny, and it gets more and more tedious as the season progresses. It’s so predictable that it becomes an annoying device just to fill time.

Other jokes repeat ad infinitum. The vast majority of the humor depends on Vicki’s “fish out of water” status; the Lawsons have to deal with her inability to understand standard human behaviors. A few other trends develop, such as Jamie’s egotism, but Vicki remains the series’ drawing card, pathetic as it may be; the robot’s the gimmick, and the show tries to milk that mechanical cow for all its worth.

In addition to the relentlessly braindead writing, most of the actors ensure that the gags will become even more grating. Almost across the board, the performers overact and oversell each line and gag. No one expects natural acting and great delivery from 80s sitcom participants, but the awful work on display here still astounds.

One modest exception occurs: Brissette. At no point does she entertain or make us laugh, but at least she usually doesn’t overact. While I wouldn’t say she underplays Vicki, she does manage to remain in character surprisingly well.

Yeah, Brissette’s performance doesn’t really rise above the level of any kid who plays robot with friends. Nonetheless, given the insane level of hamminess around her, I would expect Brissette to figuratively wink at the audience and oversell the role. Again, I don’t find anything delightful about Brissette’s work, but she’s the best thing about the series. She stays in character and shows decent skills.

If that’s not faint praise, I don’t know what is. Small Wonder long ago earned a reputation as a legendary sitcom atrocity, and nothing on display in this package alters that concept. This is a feast for fans of bad TV.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Small Wonder: The Complete First Season appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs. Due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The visuals weren’t impressive, but they seemed more than acceptable given the age and roots of the source material.

Sharpness was erratic. Some shots exhibited pretty good clarity and delineation, but many came across as blocky and soft. Overall, definition seemed adequate and that was about it, though I felt satisfied with the sharpness given the restrictions of mid-80s videotape.

Jagged edges and shimmering occurred occasionally, but they were fairly minor. Source flaws failed to become an issue. I noticed some light video artifacts, but those instances stayed modest. No specks, blotches or other problems appeared.

Colors varied. Early on, the hues actually looked pretty good, as the various tones appeared surprisingly bright and vibrant. Unfortunately, the colors deteriorated as the season progressed; they weren’t bad, but they looked more pale and flat. Blacks appeared acceptably deep and dark, and the rare examples of low-light sequences came across with decent clarity. Truthfully, this was never a particularly attractive presentation, but I thought it lived up to – and often exceeded – expectations.

Similar thoughts greeted the monaural audio of Small Wonder. Nothing impressive occurred here, but the soundtrack satisfied. Speech was consistently natural and concise, without edginess or other flaws. Music showed reasonable life, and effects were similarly positive. Neither of those elements seemed memorable, but both were more than acceptable. That was my general feeling about this mix: it worked perfectly well for audio for a nearly 25-year-old TV series.

A handful of extras flesh out the set. Of most note, we find audio commentaries for five episodes. Here’s the breakdown:

“Vicki’s Homecoming”: executive producer Howard Leeds and actors Dick Christie, Marla Pennington-Rowan and Jerry Supiran.

“The Suitor”: Christie, Pennington-Rowan, Supiran and actor Daryl Bartley.

“Ted’s New Boss”: Christie, Pennington-Rowan, Supiran and actor Edie McClurg.

“The Robot Nappers”: Christie, Pennington-Rowan, Supiran and McClurg.

“The Grandparents: Christie, Pennington-Rowan, and Supiran.

If fans hope to learn lots of good details about Small Wonder, these commentaries will disappoint. In “Homecoming”, Leeds tells us a little about the series’ development, but he doesn’t give us much meat, and the other tracks lack substantial information as well. Mostly we get moderate happy talk, some jokes, and general memories of shooting the episodes. I’m sure fans will enjoy the chance to hear so much of the main cast reminisce, but no one should expect anything special here.

Across all four discs, we discover Original Episode Promos. We get these clips for all 24 episodes, and each one lasts about 30 seconds. Fans will be happy to see these old previews.

Speaking of whom, Disc Four includes a Fan Art Gallery. This includes 10 stills that show fans’ drawings of Vicki as well as some designs for their dreamed-of DVD release. This is kind of a creepy compilation.

Disc One opens with some ads. We get promos for Punky Brewster, Mr. Belvedere, and My Two Dads.

If there’s ever been a TV series worse than Small Wonder, I’ve yet to see it. The sitcom failed on almost every level – except as “so bad it’s good” programming, though even there, it can be tough to take; there’s only so much one man can stand to watch. The DVD provides acceptable to good picture and audio as well as a few moderately interesting extras. I can’t complain about this release, but the series itself remains an astonishing atrocity.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4285 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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