The small screen is always an interesting place for sequels to land; much less money usually means a smaller vision, but excitingly it can also provide a different one. I’m a big sucker for “what if?” scenarios and Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980) builds off the downbeat tone of the 1975 theatrical film The Stepford Wives to arrive at a place of satisfying resolution. Yes, you can take that title literally.
Originally airing Sunday, October 12th as part of NBC’s The Big Event, Revenge duked it out with The ABC Sunday Night Movie while CBS was kissing all the grits with their impenetrable lineup of Alice/The Jeffersons/Trapper John, M.D. That’s all well and good if you were in the mood for snarky comedy and lifesaving surgeons, but if you wanted to see suppressed women get their comeuppance, NBC was where you wanted to lay your bonnet that night.
Let’s dutifully open up our faux TV GUIDE and see what the town of Stepford is up to:
REVENGE OF THE STEPFORD WIVES (Sunday, 9pm, NBC)
A TV reporter uncovers a sinister plot in a town with no crime, no divorce, and no chance of escape. Sharon Gless, Arthur Hill star.
Our telefilm opens with a card telling us we’re in “Stepford – Ten Years Later”, implying that this is a direct sequel to the first film’s events. We meet Dale ‘Diz’ Corbett (Hill – The Andromeda Strain), leader of the Men’s Association, as he chats with a fellow club member whose wife is not “adjusting” to the Stepford method. The man says they’re going to leave town as Stepford isn’t a good fit; it’s a damn shame they never make it past the winding canyons.
Into town comes TV reporter Kaye Foster (Gless – Cagney & Lacey), looking for a story as Stepford is seen as the safest town in America, with a zero percent divorce rate and a completely stagnant real estate market. (In other words, people check in, but they never check out.) It doesn’t take Kaye long to discover the nefarious scheme of the Men’s Association, and with some help from new to town and unturned friend Megan (Julie Kavner – The Simpsons), she tries to put an end to the domestic brainwashing of Diz and friends. But will she succeed where others have failed?
The answer is in the title, of course, and what an unexpected pleasure it is to see director Robert Fuest (The Devil’s Rain) and writer David Wiltse (Nightmare) turn away from the film’s nihilistic streak; it’s not that I’m not a fan of the original, but I always felt that the women should get their retribution and they do so here in spades. Of course in doing so the satire is mostly drained, instead replaced with a lighter sense of bemusement – many quips on domesticity and a woman’s role in society are presented with an easy smile.
This is what I was saying about these “what if?” scenarios; if you’re looking for deeper cutting satire, you still have the original, and if you’re searching for something a little more whimsical and upbeat, the sequel has you covered.
Fuest does try to add some horror to the proceedings though, yet little of his trademark style is on display; but he knows his way around some suspense, as evidenced by a restaurant scene where Kaye is stalked by a transformed wifey, played with a gleeful camp by Audra Lindley (Three’s Company). The whole cast is terrific actually; there are plenty of TV stalwarts here, those already mentioned plus Don Johnson as Kavner’s probationary cop husband, and Mason Adams (Toy Soldiers) as the trustworthy manager of the motel. Everyone gets the tone perfect.
Continuity freaks may have an issue with the delivery method in the sequel; instead of the women being replaced by robots, they are merely brainwashed and given drugs that they have to take four times a day. Destroyed and replaced however is hard to come back from, so this was the only choice to facilitate the uprising of the title without some magical android recall. This is the grace that we allow (or at least allowed when there was only The Big Three for choices) a move to TV; the content has to fit the format.
If you’re a fan of the original movie and expect more of the same, Revenge of the Stepford Wives will leave you wanting. If you’re like me however and welcome a shift in tone that still gets its message across, you’ll be welcomed in to a cozy treat with comfortable ambitions. You certainly won’t have to do windows.
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