Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #13 from 50 Things Only 80s Kids Can Understand
That it’s OK to pass off your robot maid as your child…
As a shy, introverted kid with a small social circle, I spent a fair share of my formative years in front of the television. Well…considering how many TV shows I recall watching on a regular basis back then, probably more than my fair share. (With two younger siblings, I’m sure my parents didn’t mind it too much when we’d all just shut up and watch TV when outdoor activities weren’t possible.) And of all the crazy shows that popped up (and there were so many that seemed to just come and go), Small Wonder became my strangest obsession.
The sentence fragment above from Buzzfeed pretty much sums up this show, though I don’t know that I have called V.I.C.I (called “Vicki”) the Robot a “maid” per se, but she was a quite a creation. Enter the Lawsons: dad (a robotics engineer), mom (the stay-at-home kind), and son (twelve years old). One day dad creates a robot to help disabled children. (This explains why, in way no creepy at all, that Vicki turns out to be a young girl.) In order to acclimate the robot to household environments, dad brings the robot home. For reasons that could only be explained by writers who may or may not (but probably were) on a little sumthin’ sumthin’, the family decides to pass off Vicki as a family member, a relative of sorts, thereby eliminating any questions as to how mom’s womb magically produced a fully functioning ten year old child. Oh, and dad somehow imbues Vicki with super strength, because yes. Proverbial hilarity ensues with Vicki’s poor attempts to understand humans, her occasional malfunctions, and the family’s constant charade as to Vicki’s real identity.
Seriously folks, this went on for almost one hundred episodes. The show was a juggernaut of weirdness. Also, it came on at the perfect time each day, so I’d be sure to catch it after dinner but before getting to homework, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, except to say that I was a regular fan.
More than the silly weekly happenings to the poor Lawson family, what drew me to this show was Vicki. There were plenty of shows then that featured kids: Webster, Mr. Belvedere, Who’s the Boss, The Cosby Show. There were plenty of shows that featured adolescent and teen girls: Punky Brewster, The Facts of Life, Double Trouble, Kate and Allie. But all these girls appeared as well-adjusted and social as could be. Vicki, on the other hand, was truly an outsider. She didn’t belong to the world she was in. She could never “grow up” like normal people. She always remained the same no matter her surroundings. She was also very close to my own age and, as a young girl in school, dealt with things similar to what I was going through, except she had the virtue of super strength to get her out of tight and awkward situations. Everything about her mirrored the then-me, particularly as I transitioned from elementary school to middle school. In middle school, I was outside the outsiders. I had been separated from my elementary school friends and thrust into a strange world with people I didn’t know (and didn’t want to know). I longed to stave off “aging” as I missed tremendously the halcyon days of recesses and sticker books. That transition between schools was the singularly most worst time in my life, and in the robot Vicki I saw a possible companion and stolid friend. If only I could have been as staunch as her through times of trouble. Emotions were for the birds when it was all you could do to fight through the crowds of awful classmates any given day.
It’s easy for me to say all this now while wearing my retrospecs, but at the time, I doubt my head was full of such tribulations. I simply enjoyed a 30-minute sitcom about a robot girl who wore a red dress, who dealt with an annoying people in ways that I only wished I could, and who tried to be human despite the fact there was no fairy godmother granting an unspoken wish to be a “real girl.” Vicki and I grew up together, and that’s all I needed.