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DVD Review: Small Wonder: The Complete First Season

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Written by Hombre Divertido

Take an established premise, add in some solid setup/punch writing, family values, a few stories with a message, and put all in the hands of executive producer Howard Leeds, and its no Small Wonder that this show lasted for 96 episodes.

Leeds name, as writer and/or producer, can be found on many classic television shows from the '60s and '70s including The Facts of Life, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, The Brady Bunch, and Bewitched. The premise for Small Wonder is not unlike Bewitched, in that someone is living in a house with a family, they are not as they appear, and there are nosey neighbors constantly causing problems. In Small Wonder it is a robot instead of a witch, and Vicki (Tiffany Brissette), whose name comes from Voice Input Child Identicant, is a little girl. The family atmosphere and relationship between the parents has a strong Brady Bunch feel to it, obviously influenced by Leeds who produced 34 episodes of that classic show.

Families flocked to this syndicated show in September of 1985 when United Robotronics engineer Ted Lawson (Dick Christie) first brought Vicki, his secret project, home to his wife Joan (Marla Pennington) and wise-cracking son Jamie (Jerry Supiran). Ted wanted to work out the kinks while she acclimated to a normal environment. As Vicki took things literally, repeated phrases like a parrot, and mugged to the camera, the laugh tracks rolled.

Small Wonder gleaned its success from doing one thing right from top to bottom: they kept it simple. Simplicity in premise, stories, special effects, sets, etc. It even has a catchy theme song. The writing for the show is comedy writing at it’s most basic. Every fifth to seventh line of dialog is a punch line, and in many cases it appears that the story was written around the jokes. Nonetheless, there were enough jokes and sight gags to keep children laughing, and enough story to keep parents interested or at least distracted.

The performances work well because it is clear that the cast knows exactly what it is doing and is not taking it too seriously. Brissette does a wonderful job with her role, and considering the challenges and restrictions, excels in her performance. The rest of the cast does well, especially Supiran who displays solid comic timing for someone so young. Emily Schulman is adequately annoying as Harriet the little girl next door, but the writers don’t make her inquisitive enough in season one, and thus she is not antagonistic. Edie McClurg makes a few appearances as Harriet’s mom, and it is hard to go wrong anytime the veteran character actress hits the screen.

Shout Factory sends all 24 episodes of the first season to the shelves in a well-packaged four-disc set. Bonus material includes Original Episode Promos, Fan Art Gallery that appears to be pictures fans sent in, and commentary on certain episodes from Leeds and the cast. The commentary is entertaining, but would have been more enjoyable in a cast reunion than on a track under the episode dialog.

Recommendation: Small Wonder is for the young. If you enjoyed it in 1985, you may like an episode or two, but it will probably be too simple for you in 2010. If you have never seen the show, parents could find far worse programming to share with their children. No Emmy awards here, just simple television for the certain families.

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