It’s easy to assume that based on me being Generation-X that I have an irrational love for all things retro. While it’s true that I have a soft spot for schlock and cheese, there are some things which are simply so bad that they’re completely unwatchable. Small Wonder is such a show.
Small Wonder is not a show that has simply aged into self-parody. In fact, it was unwatchable even the day it debuted! It is just ever more awful looking back on it than it was to those who first experienced it. This blog post skewers the show effectively enough, but I will try to put my own unique spin on the critique to try to explain why it’s so worthless.
I believe a key factor for why Small Wonder sucks rocks has to do with its creator, Howard Leeds. Leeds worked on many memorable sitcoms including The Brady Bunch and Diff’rent Strokes. But by the mid 80s, his creative sensibilities must have been falling out of touch with the times. His idea of humor was low-brow and childish in a way that didn’t really work in an 80s context, and his vision of the archetypal American household was increasingly old-fashioned. He also didn’t seem to understand the computer revolution which was taking place in the 80s. So his perception of futuristic technology was stuck at the level of The Jetsons, a Mad Men idea of a push-button world.
If there’s one pet peeve of mine, it’s unintentional anachronisms. The horror begins with the opening theme. Note that by the mid 80s, TV themes were littered with synths and rock guitar and drums. Instead of that we get music that would be better suited to Lawrence Welk. Eventually they realized this and tried to update the song with a truly bizarre latin-disco beat. No matter how you slice it, it’s icepick-through-the-eardrum bad.
But it’s really the portrayal of the android daughter that is the true criminal offense. It would have been anachronistic even if the show had been produced 10 years earlier, as androids were portrayed as convincingly real in 70s fare like the original Westworld or the Fembots/Membots of Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman. It is therefore inconceivable that a show would get greenlit that presented an android who spoke in a stereotypical robotic monotone.
In order for a sitcom to succeed, the core of the show has to have some sort of charisma. So not only is this outdated, it makes it impossible to build any sort of real character into V.I.C.I. A monotone is emotionless. Even Spock and Data expressed more emotion than V.I.C.I. This oversight is inexplicable considering that Leeds worked on Diff’rent Strokes. I mean, no matter how many times I see this well-played Youtube compilation it never ceases to make me smile.
On top of that, this show was a contemporary of The Cosby Show (for diversity) and Married with Children (for edginess), and this has to be the whitest whitebread family on TV since Leave it to Beaver. It’s OK to have an all-white family, but do they have to be soo freaking square, cardboard, and boring??? The family is almost as lifeless as V.I.C.I. herself! Really, it makes me ashamed of being white.
I can only imagine that Leeds somehow had some good blackmail material in Hollywood to get this thing greenlit let alone for it to run for four long years. A sad ending to an otherwise illustrious career in sitcoms.