Weekend Viewing: The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

Jaime Weinman

Among failed spinoffs, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. is one of the better-known ones, probably because the parent show has been popular enough in syndication that stations would sometimes show the one-season spinoff as well. It was part of the spinoff genre that I have dubbed, for want of a better word, “spinsploitation,” where a show is launched that is basically a copy of the parent show. In this case, it’s what the title suggests: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with a girl, this being Stefanie Powers, playing a character who was introduced in an episode of Man for the purpose of being spun off. However, when the character was introduced, Mary Ann Mobley played her. Powers was a much better choice for the series than Mobley, though.

This was in the 1966-7 season when every adventure show, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was trying too hard to imitate Batman. (I think the only show that benefited from this was the freshman Star Trek, whose bold colours, beautiful women in ridiculous costumes, and crazy plots had a certain Batman influence, but it managed to incorporate those elements without going completely over the top.) It also allowed Leo G. Carroll to get some extra paychecks, since he was the boss on two shows at once.

The show is most remembered as a sign of the faltering, stumbling attempts of U.S. networks to portray a female action hero comparable to Emma Peel on The Avengers. There was usually a reluctance to let Powers’ April Dancer do anything that isn’t stereotypically “feminine.” So she could knock a guy out by using gadgets, but she couldn’t just hit or even kick somebody, and more often than not she winds up as a conventional damsel-in-distress.

This episode, “The U.F.O. Affair” (they used the same titling gimmick as the parent show), guest-stars Fernando Lamas and the wonderful veteran Joan Blondell.

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Part 5