In praise of a robot named Vicki
Small Wonder comes to DVD today, so it's time to celebrate our favorite robo-child
If the ’60s was the time when everyone was stoned out of their gourds and the ’70s was the decade of bad taste, the ’80s will be remembered as the decade when those two impulses collided head-on, giving us some of the strangest TV shows ever made. After all, what can you say about a decade that kicked off with Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari getting tarted up in drag in Bosom Buddies and then proceded on to Manimal, Knight Rider, Webster, and Alf? Still, maybe the most jaw-droppingly bizarre show of the Reagan era was Small Wonder — the surreal saga of Vicki, a robot that looks like a 10-year-old girl.
In case you’re not hip to the pleasures of this show, let me start by saying that the most remarkable thing about it is that it somehow managed to run for five seasons. It was there that we met a nutty engineer dad (Dick Christie), his chipper, put-upon wife (Marla Pennington), and their little moon-faced son (Jerry Supiran). Then one day, into their lives comes the father’s latest creation a pint-sized Voice Input Child Identicant (Vicki, get it?) with an emotionless monotone voice, a bow in her hair, and a high-tech motherboard sticking out of her back. Oh, and the mischief she could get into! Especially with the nosy neighbors, the Brindles, looking on!
The main recurring gag was how stiff Vicki was — made all the easier thanks to the less-than-memorable actress (Tiffany Brissette) playing her. Every week, she would try harder and harder to pass as a real girl like some distaff version of Pinocchio and manage to pull it off?just barely. It was kinda creepy and totally preposterous — I mean, over the show’s five-season run Brissette actually grew several inches, pretty much throwing the whole premise of her being a robot out the window. But it was also pure pop culture Velveeta that made Alf look like The Sopranos. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself because today is the day Small Wonder finally makes its DVD debut in a four-disc box set. You may not think you need four discs — that’s 540 minutes — of a bad ’80s TV show. But I’d take it over a Webster marathon any day of the week.