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

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


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.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5



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

  1. Oh look…another uncommented post by Jaime Weinman, the most uncritical television critic in the entire World. What crap are you flogging this time, Jaime? A failed spin-off?

    • And here I thought I was being too critical lately, what with saying mean things about HBO and Marti Noxon and such, so thanks for making me feel better about myself. And thanks for commenting, because I would like more people to comment, negatively or otherwise.

      I wasn’t really aware that finding and writing about failed or bad television shows implies that I’m uncritical of them. I’m not sure how you can read the above post and think that I was saying this was a good show. And I’m not sure why you are particularly angry that I would write something about a bad show from the past as opposed to a bad show from the present.

      • I think you may be confusing Anon with a person who is being helpfully critical of your posts. Anon is just being an asshat.

    • Oh, and this isn’t being sarcastic: if you have any suggestions for posts you’d like to see, or stuff you think you’d be happier commenting on, I’d be happy to hear it. And while I’m not a big fan of the whole “constructive” vs. “destructive” criticism distinction, I at least hope you’d be happier offering suggestions for what you’d like to see, rather than merely saying what you don’t like to see.

  2. How do you think April Dancer would have done in a kick-off against Honey West? I dare say Francis and her ocelot are forever being shortchanged in this discussion… but perhaps the root of their beginnings doesn't not provide good fodder for equal comparisons. Not that i'm knocking Powers…

  3. Girl From UNCLE was a cute show!

  4. Not knocking the acting talents of Ms. Powers, I think the Girl from UNCLE series lost a lot in it's transition from the original pilot on it's parent show, the Man from UNCLE. In the original pilot, entitled "The Moonglow Affair", the character Miss Dancer was portrayed as far removed from the traditional agents on the Man from UNCLE. Instead of being a well-trained, expert, masculine spy she was a novice, young and genuinely female. So the premise was to team her up with her complete opposite and agent Mark Slate (played by actor Norman Fell) was much older, much wiser and actually close to retiring. Two vast different ends of the spectrum teamed up together to fight the forces of THRUSH.

    Then along came the quest for those all important ratings. The whole series changed from that original pilot only to leave the character names in tact. Sure April Dancer was still young and female, but now she was teamed up with a young, hip, mod British partner. Forget about the opposing character interplay between the young and the old; that went out the window.

  5. In another search for ratings, the producers looked to the ever growing popularity of 'camp' which Batman had unleashed on the American public. Surely all the shows had jumped on this band wagon, so an instant success must be guaranteed. And sadly this is what happened to the Girl from UNCLE. When you tuned in to see Stefanie Powers being popped out of a giant toaster, you knew the series was doomed.

    Unfortunately, the Man from UNCLE didn't fare much better. When you tuned in to see Illya Kuryakin riding a giant stink bomb over Las Vegas, you knew the series was doomed. It did manage to limp into one more season, but the damage had already been done.

    It's a shame the producers didn't try to stay close to the theme of the original pilot. They might have had a good series on their hands