The television Western cycle was just about at an end when producer Michael Garrison decided to zip up the genre by combining it with the pop-art spy thriller, which was popular at the time thanks to James Bond and The Avengers. For four seasons, from 1965 to 1969, Garrison's creation, The Wild Wild West, offered up Robert Conrad as a suave, athletic secret agent, traveling across the country in a souped-up boxcar with his partner, hammy inventor Ross Martin. A year before Mission: Impossible premièred, Conrad and Martin attempted the ridiculous week after week, sneaking into impregnable fortresses (frequently in caves, which made for cheap sets) and smashing the super-machines of the future, created by the makeshift despots and mad scientists springing up in the hinterlands in the wake of the Civil War. Piling gimmick upon gimmick, The Wild Wild West offered crazy gadgets, campy villains, buddy comedy, and a winking disregard for historical accuracy.

But watching the 32 episodes on The Wild Wild West: The Complete First Season DVD, what's striking isn't how ahead of its time the series was, but how of its time. And not just because of the Playboy-influenced gender politics and snazzy split-screen act breaks. A pervasive Cold War anxiety runs through every one of The Wild Wild West's tightly plotted, tightly framed season-one episodes. Bad guys like the diminutive, erudite Michael Dunn‚ÄĒwith his face-sized grin and obsession with doomsday weapons‚ÄĒrepresented an American fear of some vaguely exotic imperialist threat, manifested inside our borders. It was no coincidence that so many of the show's villains built mini-fortresses on the frontier, creating a corrupted form of civilization where none had existed before. At its core, The Wild Wild West was about how the U.S. would rather demolish rogue states outright than work with them or learn from them.

Advertisement

Key features: Conrad gives an audio introduction for each episode, and provides commentary on the pilot.