I love introducing my kids to stuff I grew up watching. Sometimes they rate my old TV favorites as awesome and other times they find them cheesy. All four seasons of the TV series The Wild Wild West are on DVD, so we recently watched the first four episodes of season two. I started with season two since it was the first color season.
The same plot formula was used in the first three episodes. An evil maniacal genius wants to take over the world (or a part of it). His henchmen are mostly silent bafoons. There is a damsel in distress, but James West isn't sure he can trust her. The sets, colors, and costumes are outlandishly over-the-top. The villains were played by such notables as Victor Buono (King Tut on Batman), Boris Karloff, and Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless, a recurring character who is an evil dwarf and West's arch nemesis. He is instantly my teen-aged son's favorite villain, as he was mine when I was a kid. My 11-year-old daughter says West's pants are too tight, so she attributes his fighting abilities to "spandex power."
The fourth episode was a little less formula with Ida Lupino as a kind-of female Dr. Frankenstein who resurrects cadavers and disguises them as government agents to carry out assassinations. West and Gordon are both kidnapped and locked in her dungeon one dark and stormy night. The episode is notable for being the only one in which Robert Conrad gets less screen time than Ross Martin whose Artie Gordon character is a bit more developed and gets to fall in love and to demonstrate his fencing prowess. It's definitely the best episode of the four.
For the uninitiated, The Wild Wild West was far from being a conventional western. It was about two secret service agents, James West and Artemus Gordon who worked under President Grant and traveled by private train car. While West was typically the fighter and the ladies' man, Gordon was a master of disguise and inventor of gadgets. West was created to be a James Bond on horseback.
I hear that the third season was slightly more conventionally western which makes me want to watch it and refresh my memory. I was excited to get home from school on weekday afternoons at four o'clock during the 70s to watch this series in syndication. I later watched it on Saturday nights at nine on an independent TV channel out of Texas.
The series combined the western, spy, and sci-fi genres. It was popular enough to be a comic book with seven issues published in 1969, the final year of the TV series run. The final season saw little of Ross Martin who was recovering from a heart attack throughout most of filming. He and Conrad were reunited in 1979 and 1980 for two made-for-TV movie sequels. A James West Limited Edition Action Figure in the likeness of Conrad was produced in 1997.
The theatrical Wild Wild West with Will Smith bears little resemblance to the TV series and is best forgotten. But rumor has it that the man who revived Battlestar Galactica will soon be pitching a revived Wild Wild West to the TV networks. We shall see.