God bless our friends at the Shout! Factory company, the TV archivists who have been bringing back some of TV’s most obscure creations of the past on DVD. This week, they’ve put on the market—and thus, presumably, subjected some of their employees to watching—season one of what may be the single most unintentionally creepy sitcom ever committed to videotape: Small Wonder.
When you watch the intro, above, it would be easy to believe, if you had never heard of the show, that this must be a parody—not even a Saturday Night Live parody, but a parody on some much darker and more twisted comedy show, say on Adult Swim. The premise is pretty much straight up: an engineer invents an artificial human girl (V.I.C.I., or “Vicki”), and his family “adopts” her as their daughter. It’s A.I., except done as a comedy, and far more disturbing.
It’s almost too easy to make fun of and point out the absurdity and chillworthiness of the show, which manages to be simultaneously inane, menacing and somehow dirty. (I mean, my God—the cover image on the DVD set is Vicki, a young girl/robot, looking over her shoulder at you, a la Betty Grable, with her ruffled dress opened to the small of her back and a microchip panel showing.) Kate Aurthur once wrote a great little remembrance of the universal revulsion a friend of hers inspired when she went to a costume party dressed as V.I.C.I. (“Without mirth or irony, one woman said to her, ‘Oh my God, I hated you!”’)
And yet the show sold itself, successfully, as wholesome syndicated family entertainment for four years in the 1980s. And now you can own it, and relive its horrors whenever you’d like. I put the question to you: Is there another TV show more frightening than Small Wonder?