From Vicki to Zoe: The Evolution of Robot Daughters on Television

On Caprica, Zoe Graystone has become infinitely more compelling now that she exists only as an avatar. While we recognize Daniel and Amanda Graystone’s pain having lost their only daughter, we can’t help but be more fascinated by Avatar Zoe, who experiences life for the first time, despite memories that tell her otherwise, in the body of a seven-foot robot. Zoe is a well-written character and benefits from an intelligent performance by Alessandra Torresani. However, both the writers of Caprica and Ms. Torresani owe a great debt to another jewel in the science-fiction television crown.

I refer, of course, to Small Wonder.

Caprica wasn’t the first sci-fi show to center around a family with a robot daughter, and there are several similarities between it and its 1980s predecessor. Both shows have a redhead dad and a blonde mom. Both shows have a redhead best friend who snoops around the family’s home when no one’s around (I’m lookin’ at you, Harriet and Lacy!). Even Jamie, the son on Small Wonder, bears a striking resemblance to Serge, the Graystone’s house robot on Caprica, in that they both exist for the sole purpose of helping to hide the robot daughter’s existence while simultaneously throwing up punch lines for Dad.

Sure, Caprica is a powerful sci-fi family drama that sparks intelligent conversation.  However, in many ways, Small Wonder has Caprica beat. For example, Small Wonder explains the fact that they have a new, brunette daughter by telling people she’s adopted. No such explanation from the Graystones. Come on, Caprica! How do a redhead dad and a blonde mom make a brunette kid? It’s called science, people! SCIENCE.**

But ultimately, it comes down to the robot daughters themselves. Honestly, if I were a kid right now, I wouldn’t want to be Avatar Zoe. Sure she’s smart and built like a war machine. But she can’t even sit on a bed without it breaking! Vicki, the robot daughter on Small Wonder, was just as strong as Avatar Zoe without the lumbering, seven-foot frame. She was fantastic, and made of plastic. She could grab cans from across the room by turning on magnets in her hands. She got to wear a pretty red dress with a frakking pinafore on it! And then, there was the voice. OH, the voice.

Check out the majesty for yourself!  Here’s a CLIP FROM THE FIRST EPISODE OF SMALL WONDER.

In the years during which Small Wonder aired, I spent countless hours of my girlhood with a blank stare on my face walking slowly around the apartment and talk-ing-like-a-ro-bot much to the annoyance delight of my family. Other little girls wanted to be princesses. I wanted to be a robot. I wanted to be Vicki.

So, here’s to Vicki Lawson: pioneer, inspiration, robot daughter. Avatar Zoe, you have big Mary Janes to fill.

** I will feel real dumb if it turns out that the Graystones did adopt Zoe.

The next episode of Caprica airs tonight on SyFy at 9:00pm!

SMALL WONDER Season 1 is now available on DVD from Shout! Factory.


Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a contributor to PinkRaygun.com, a webzine examining geekery from a feminine perspective. Her work has also been seen on PopMatters.com, on the sadly-defunct literary site CentralBooking.com, edited by Kevin Smokler, and in the Elmont Life community newspaper. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Summer 2010! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

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