Small Wonder: Television’s Best Kept Secret

After reading today, that an update of Short Circuit is in the works, I started thinking about my favorite 80’s robot from the sitcom, Small Wonder!

An extremely entertaining show full of ugly people that is best enjoyed the second time around. It stars Tiffany Brissette as Vicki the Robot, a little android girl created by her Geppetto-like father for the amusement of the rest of the Lawson family. Vicki sleeps inside a cabinet located in her hormonal ‘brother’ Jamie’s room when she’s not rapidly vaccuming the den or flapping her arms to gain flight for the viewer’s entertainment.

Small Wonder has many bizarre moments, most of which deal with Vicki’s dark side and her programming’s limits when it comes to common human-specific issues. Check out this video of Vicki learning about mortality:

If you’ve never seen this show and want the story before you plunk down hundreds of dollars for high-res bootlegs of the entire series’ run, then keep reading, but WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!!!

The Lawson family, wanting another child, couldn’t reproduce after making their pumpkin-headed son Jamie ( NOTE: It’s still up for debate whether this is Mr. or Mrs. Lawson’s fault). So realizing that Mrs. Lawson wasn’t getting any younger, Ted, or Mr. Lawson decides he needs to make a woman now who’ll service him long after Mrs. Lawson passes – something he is certain of despite her good health at the age of 36. Since Ted’s robotics company did not knowingly fund the project: Voice.Input.Child.Identicant.

Mr. Lawson found himself forced to bring the underdeveloped woman to his family in the guise of a helpful but sassy child named Vicki.

Little did he expect and much to his delight, the family welcomes her with open arms. She is immediately moved-in to a closet in her ‘brother’ Jamie’s room where he enjoys showing her new things, such as the “smooth moves” he plans to use on his 5th grade crush. He is often shown asking her to clean his room while he sits on his bed watching her. Mrs. Lawson or Joan, enjoys a break from housewifing by assigning all her daily chores to the wisecracking robo-child. Ted meanwhile often has to deal with all sorts of husband stuff like having the boss over for dinner and regularly engaging in petty competitions with the equally bumbling husband next door, Brandon Brindle. Brindle is a slick used car salesman type with a very fat wife who appears for just two seasons before inexplicably diappearing.

Vicki is usually pretty mild-mannered, however, there are several instances where she really lets loose: killing the turtle (shown above) was probably the earliest sign of her temper, but in one memorable scene, she violently does the moonwalk in one early episode, saying “I’m do-ing it. I will-cut-your-eyes-to-night. I love My-Kal Jack-Son”. Often Vicki will entertain Jamie with silly exhibitions of strength such as the time she catches the Lawson’s dinner on a camping trip, a 26-pound Salmon using just her bare hand!

Jamie sure gets the bum deal though. He’s not only stuck having to deal with a monotone (and potentially homicidal) cyborg with super-strength sleeping in his closet, an orange monster lives next door that’s always wiggling her tounge in his direction. The Lawsons call it Harriet and she’ll pretty much stop at nothing to get a peek inside poor Jamie’s pants. This is not merely suggested, she actually asks at one point during the un-aired 6th season (more about that later). Although, it should be noted that there are several episodes where Harriet, Jamie and Vicki join forces to solve a problem, such as in episode 3 – season 4, where in order to save the local park and their (sometimes) hangout, they trick a homeless man (or ‘tramp’ as they call him) into drinking poison disguised as a bottle of Potter’s vodka. A three-way high-five ended the episode as credit’s rolled on.

Over the 5 aired seasons, the Lawson’s go through many transformations but none more important than what resulted after Ted brings home a clone of Vicki, named Vanessa. This version was designed to be a little more aggressive than Vicki. Ted, fearing that by the time Joan passes, a full-grown Vicki would be the dormant, vanilla housewife that Joan had turned into. He sought to fix this error by programming a bad yet ambitious side into this growing duplicate. This Vanessa robot was full of sass> She often shot icy looks at Vicki and could be found whispering

“it’s all dried up, isn’t it…” into Mrs. Lawson’s ear while she slept soundly.

This controversial bit of dialogue is heavily mis-quoted today on various Small Wonder fan-sites. After the public pool incident, the family – Ted aside, was too creeped out to live under the same roof with such an overtly sexual and violent automaton. Ted, knowing that Vanessa was the key to happiness in his latter years refused to send her away to boarding school like the remaining Lawsons had suggested, creating a major divide that lasts until the end of season 5 where the real affects of what happened at the pool come to light.

Ultimately, and without giving too much away from the very controversial season 6, mostly set 10 years into the future, Vicki and Vanessa go head-to-head over who deserves to serve the widowed Mr. Lawson in his final years. Mr. Lawson feels love for both of them and spreads it evenly between them, trying to leave no room for jealousy among them. In fact, Mr. Lawson tries several times to get them to love one another but it always ends in an arm-wrestling or speed-weightlifting contest between the sparring ‘bots. Poor Jamie spends season 6 reliving his childhood through flashbacks while spending his days on the run after the events of the season 6 opener – again, directly related to the fall-out of the pool incident. Many of these flashbacks focus on the child-beast next door Harriet, who periodically helps the  reluctant-but-very-defeated Jamie along his travels throughout the season. In a very racy scene said to be the work of a disgruntled post production assistant, Jamie appears to be ‘pushing’ into a sleeping Harriet while in a run-down Lancaster, CA motel. This has long been refuted by the studio, stating that the scene shot had only depicted a reluctant Jamie falling asleep next to Harriet saying:

“Sheeesh! They run out of doubles or what??”

and that the post-production assistant, who’d previously worked as the director of photography on two episodes in the series’ early years, pulled this stunt to sabotage what they considered to be the most progressive chapter of the Lawson family’s story.

Some argue that the show jumped the shark once Joan’s reanimated corpse began making appearance’s in mid-season. Joan’s remains were exhumed by Brandon Brindle, Ted’s boss, next door neighbor and sometimes father of the beast-child. He often flirted and pinched-ass with Joan over the years, even walking in on a very steamy bath tub moment in an edited scene from season 2. Brindle often sought Joan’s affections but only after her demise, which followed his rise to the top of the robotics industry, did he finally have her. Through combining her remains with advanced robotic technology and voodoo prayer, the character of Joan was reintroduced into the show, albeit on a limited basis. Her signature line was

“So this is what it’s like?!”

usually spoken to Vicki or Vanessa while here eyes rolled around in her head. Many fans’ reactions were sour to say the least.

All in all, the show was a crowd pleaser for most of it’s time that forced us as the viewers to question whether or not science is really good for us. Is it okay for a scientist to design a helpful child robot with the intent on it becoming a complacent woman for his later years? Should our bosses be allowed to bring back our dead wives to finally have their way with them? Even if we don’t care about them anymore? I highly recommend this series (the unedited version with the season 6 transfers) to anyone who has has ever ‘wondered’ what happens when a man makes a little girl and brings her home to his family.

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8 comments

  1. redlightryan

    I can still sing the whole theme song.
    I use to get up at 6am on the weekends to watch this.

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