Tuesday, February 16, 2010


For the past two weekends, while millions of people watched mundane stuff like the Grammys (yawn!) and the Super Bowl (whatever), I sat with a diverse group of 20-, 30- and 40something gay friends and watched back-to-back episodes of SMALL WONDER. If you have to ask why, then you don’t know Dougsploitation very well.

“She’s fantastic, made of plastic, microchips here and there . . . she’s a Small Wonder!”

Yes, SMALL WONDER the only sitcom about a humanoid robot . . . played by a ten-year-old girl. I’ve blogged about this series before, but only based on my vague memories of the show. Having now revisited it, with my friends as my witnesses – I can truly say that this series is so genius in it’s ineptitude and epic in it’s inappropriateness, that it truly transcends anything bad that has been said about it. The show revels in it’s own sitcomishness and provides belly laughs that could only be appreciated now in retrospect.

The show is built around the Lawson family, whose patriarch is fey scientist father Ted Lawson (Dick Christie – cross between John Ritter and Skip Stephenson) who brings home his top secret invention, a Voice Input Child Identicant or V.I.C.I.! V.I.C.I., as portrayed by Tiffany Brissette, is so much like a real human girl that everyone thinks she is, despite her odd speech patterns and inability to perform common tasks without taking the instructions literally. V.I.C.I.’s presence turns the Lawsons’ lives upside down when the child/object forces them into one embarrassing situation after another.

Luckily Ted’s annoying boss, Mr. Brindle is also his nosy next-door neighbor – so there’s plenty of contrived, stolen-from-familiar-classic-sitcom-mishaps to be had. The family decides to pass off “Vickie” as a real child – at first their niece and eventually their adopted daughter. Ted’s anorexically thin wife Joan (Marla Pennington – a cross between Florence Henderson, Shelley Long and a curtain rod) can’t help doting on Vickie like the daughter she never had. Mom’s atrocious 1980s outfits and megathick belts provide lots of laughs. Oh, and she does NOTHING except housework and bitching about not getting enough sex.

Feminized son Jamie (Jerry Supiran) feels misplaced and uses Vickie as a servant to help him sail through life easier. Oddly, the Lawsons continue to force Vickie to sleep in Jamie’s toy closet and wear the same outfit even though they treat her more and more like a real family member.

Redheaded stalkerish Cabbage Patch Doll lookalike Harriet (Emily Schulman) provides comedy, but I feel sorry for the tyke who is forced to deliver cringe-worthy dialogue as a set-up for being constantly insulted by other kids and adults alike. Harriet’s mom is played by lovable sitcom veteran Edie McClurg, who adds a nice touch of professionalism to the whole affair. Actually, the only touch of professionalism.

While watching the show, I took note of some of the many improper lines of dialogue spoken between various characters. This is a just a sampling from episodes 1-6:

“I just gave her a taste of my chocolate milkshake.”

“If she was a real girl, we'd need another bathroom.”

“I'll fix that - Vickie - stand up and turn around.”

“We have an important part for you - turn around & bend over.”

“Rodney is cute, he turns me on.”

“I hope you don’t mind me coming in your back door.”

I also took note that the Set Dressers have either slyly or innocently included some form of rainbow artwork into every episode. Watch for yourself, and take a drink every time you spot one. You’ll be hammered in under an hour.

The show ran for five seasons, and has since withstood the test of time to emerge as a classic neon beacon of ’80s nostalgia and pop culture. SMALL WONDER: The Complete First Season, debuts on DVD today via the fine folks at Shout! Factory. Along with all 24 episodes (in original broadcast order) there are bonus features including commentary from the not nearly as clueless as you might think cast and crew.

I have one copy to give away to the SMALL WONDER fan who answers this trivia question first: What do the Lawson’s do to pass Vickie off as a real girl for her adoption physical?


ray said...

They dress "feminized son" Jamie up in Vicki's clothes!

Doug said...

We have a winner! CONTEST CLOSED!