25th Jul2011

So, That Was The Wonder Woman Pilot…

by Will

All of the “real” sites used their connections to see the rejected Wonder Woman pilot right after the network upfronts in May, but I don’t have that kind of Rolodex (does anyone use an actual Rolodex anymore?). Anyway, thanks to a pal on Twitter, I was finally able to see what all the fuss was about. Let me just get my snobbery out of the way: as a student of comics and television, it’s glaringly obvious as to why NBC passed on this show. Even in its position at the bottom of the ratings, Wonder Woman was NOT going to be NBC’s salvation. If The Cape didn’t save them, this sure wasn’t going to do it, either. Honestly, Wonder Woman is more on the level of the short-lived Birds of Prey series.

Few people remember it, as Smallville went on to last ten seasons compared to BoP‘s one, but I maintain that Birds of Prey and Smallville were of the same level of quality. The only difference was that Superman was a more recognizable character than Commissioner Gordon’s crippled daughter/niece and Batman’s daughter (?!). Both shows were on The WB, where it didn’t matter what the shows were about, as long as the people were pretty. With Adrianne Palicki and Elizabeth Hurley, Wonder Woman‘s got that in spades. Also, Birds of Prey struggled with the fact that it was trying to tell a story without being allowed a full understanding of the characters. As BoP was laid out, Barbara Gordon was the former Batgirl who, after being crippled by The Joker, now operates as infojock Oracle. If you’ve read the comics, that’s familiar enough. Next, you’ve got Helena Wayne, who in this situation, is actually the adult daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Oh, and she’s also a mutant. She’s got heightened senses and jumps high and shit, which enables her to patrol the streets as Huntress. Now, here’s the kicker: since Warner Bros wanted to focus on revamping the Batman movie franchise (this was pre- Batman Begins), they didn’t allow Batman in the show (except for a brief sequence in the pilot). So, you’ve got your core cast, whose origins revolve around a concept that can only be danced around. And to explain it in the show, apparently The Joker killed Catwoman. TV Batman was such a punk bitch that he became distraught, and left Gotham City forever. So, what followed were 13 episodes of Barbara and Helena, both inspired by He Who Shall Not Be Named, defending Gotham City in the hopes that He Who Shall Not Be Named decides to stop being a bitch and comes home. Sadly, the show didn’t last that long, but the finale did involve a cool fight scene set to the t.A.T.u. classic “All The Things She Said”.

How does this all relate to Wonder Woman? Well, just like BoP, it doesn’t seem like David E. Kelley was allowed full access to the character. Sure, it’s a Wonder Woman costume, and DC was behind the project, but it lacks an understanding of Wonder Woman. This has been one of the biggest problems for Wonder Woman, as the comics lost sight of what makes her tick quite some time ago. The Greg Rucka era was the last time that anyone proudly read the WW comic series, and even “female character wunderkind” Gail Simone couldn’t get a grasp on the character. I ranted about this at length on twitter, but I felt like they should’ve focused figuring out the answer to “Who Is Wonder Woman?” before committing her to other media, like a weekly TV series. If they had called this show “Donna Troy”, it would’ve worked better. She wears a similar costume, looks the same, and nobody knows what the Hell her deal is. That’s her gimmick! Over the past 30 years, her mere existence is perpetuated on the fact that she’s just a walking identity crisis. Wonder Woman, however, should have a defined mission statement, which is neither present in the recent comics nor this pilot. There’s nothing to “wonder” about the woman in this pilot unless you’re wondering how she got cast. Anyway, here are the thoughts that occurred to me as I watched the show:

-There’s a LOT of exposition, but you’re really only informed of Wonder Woman’s backstory through newscasts and political pundits.  I liked the pundit sequence. Not sure if they actually got Dershowitz, Dr. Phil, and Nancy Grace on board, or if it was just clever editing, but this is what would happen if superheroes existed in the “real world”. If that’s what they’re going for, however, this could be a problem down the line.

-OK, here’s where things get more confusing than they need to be. In the show, Wonder Woman has THREE identities! She’s Wonder Woman, she’s international businesswoman Diana Themyscira (who’s also publicly known to be Wonder Woman), but she’s ALSO Diana Prince, which is the mousy-’cause-she-wear-glasses-and-a-ponytail-even-though-you-know-she’s-really-hot-like-in-She’s All That identity. By day, she’s one of the first two, but by night, she goes home to be Diana Prince, where she watches The Notebook with her cat. Yes, that happens. Since she’s not a lawyer, nor is she in Boston, I’m left to believe that this is the “David E. Kelley Touch” on this project. First off, I don’t think Wonder Woman would watch The Notebook, nor would she ask her cat if she should set up a facebook profile. This is all part of the “Well, she is a single woman, so she’s got needs and is probably lonely.” Family Guy conveyed that best here:

 

I get it. Set up a love story to grab some female viewers, but all that’s missing is the pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Also, I don’t see why she needs a 3rd identity in order to be lonely and “normal”. So, she puts on glasses and hides in her modest apartment so she can pretend she’s making decent lonely single lady money, when she knows that she’s actually a multimillionaire with a penthouse and a multinational corporation? I can understand having a weekend getaway, but this is a bit much.

-I’m the one guy who’s never watched Friday Night Lights, so I have no previous experience with Adrianne Palicki, but I don’t feel this was good casting. She never conveys the strength of Diana.  Instead, she’s soft, and comes across as Kelly Kapowski in a Halloween costume. Her acting is also phoned in. Surrounding Palicki, everyone else feels like they’re over acting. Everyone has a sense of urgency, while she just seems…bored. In my mind, Lake Bell or Missy Peregrym would’ve been stronger, better choices, as they have the look, and they’re still somewhat “unknown talents”, since nobody watched Surface or Stick It.

 

-I liked the color/weight blind casting on Etta Candy, but I know the fanboys would’ve loathed that! They hate Wonder Woman, but still would’ve jumped on that. Plus, I some fangirls would be upset that Etta Candy wasn’t “properly” portrayed as a larger gal…

-This is always going to be a problem when you make an adaptation of a comic character, but the suit doesn’t translate to reality. Batman works ’cause he hides in shadows. Superman works in a way. Wonder Woman just looks like she’s on her way to her shift at The Crazy Russian. Call me sexist, but the suit doesn’t work. You don’t know if she’s gonna arrest you or try to take you to the champagne room.

-I hate Diana’s male assistant, Henry. Had the show been picked up, I feel like he exists solely to be the person close to Diana who gets killed by some villain trying to make a point.

-They say “prick”, “balls”, and “tits” as an attempt to be edgy.

-Can we talk about the political/legal ramifications of the structure of this show? Everyone knows that businesswoman Diana Themyscira is Wonder Woman, yet no one goes after her company in a lawsuit? They kinda address it, when a senator threatens to sic the Justice Department on her. Diana answers that threat by saying that the country’s in two wars, so it doesn’t have time to investigate her. Not only is that lazy storytelling, but it’s another problem with combining real world aspects with comic aspects.

-She fucking kills a guy! I mean, she throws a pipe through his fucking throat! A security guard who’s just following orders! Not a Star Wars guy, but it’s really the whole “independent contractors on the Death Star” debate all over again.

-The villain, Veronica Cale, was experimenting on folks from a slavery ring, yet they were all white males. Not who you usually think of being involved in slavery, even the white kind. So, I guess this is when the show decided to stop trying to ape the real world, huh?

So, in the end, it’s not a horrible show, but it’s certainly not great. Based on production value, this show would’ve lasted 6 seasons in weekend syndication back in the 90s, but sadly that market is dead. It could’ve been in a block with Mutant X, Night Man, and Viper. It might even work as a cable show, but it certainly wasn’t a good fit for NBC. At the end of the day, it’s a serviceable action hour of television, but it’s not Wonder Woman. They tried a different take on the character that just didn’t work. The funny thing is that there’s source material for what they were trying to do: it’s called Ultra. As the first big comic project from The Luna Brothers, Ultra was a miniseries from Image Comics which was basically “Sex and the City with Powers”. Sure, it had dating drama and whatnot, but there was also a lot of action. Based on what I’ve seen here, David E. Kelley would be the PERFECT guy to adapt that series. Wonder Woman, however, just wasn’t the project for him.