Thursday, August 11, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: The never-aired Wonder Woman Pilot

The thing that struck me over the head by far the most about the ill-fated Wonder Woman pilot is that it looked exactly like something that should have aired on Fox in the late 1990's.  Yes, it was from the production shop of David E. Kelley, he of Ally McBeal fame, who also gave us many more shows that were quirky or something, none of which I've watched.  And its hard to put a finger on exactly what's so 1990's about the show except that in design, scripting and pacing its maybe a hair in storytelling more mature than soaps from the 1980's, and the 1990's shows carried many of the same themes over from the prior decade.

the show is less decisive about pants vs. shorts than Didio himself
I won't say I don't watch a lot of TV shows, but when I think sudsy shows with classy, glammy looking women in absolutely enormous and over-stylized corporate offices having middle-school arguments and smirking at one another depending on who thinks they have the upper-hand, my mind is thrown back to shows like Melrose Place and latter-era 90210, LA Law, McBeal, etc...  And Wonder Woman full on has exactly one of these scenes.

So, yes, if you thought "well, it sounds like David E. Kelley", that's exactly what you get.  An hour-long sudser that, sigh, breaks for action when it isn't letting gorgeous, beautifully tressed women  in kind-of-bad outfits go all Dynasty on each other.

What's obvious from this scene was that (a) David E. Kelley has one sort of TV he does that will not change for anybody, no matter who he's writing, and (b) that nobody on the show had a very good grasp on Wonder Woman as a character (and I'd argue nobody at DC Comics really has since 2006).  

The plot is basically that evil corporate mogul Veronica Cale - played with scenery chewing joy by the still terribly lovely Elizabeth Hurley (the character first appearing in Greg Rucka's run on the comics) is making performance enhancing drugs for athletes, and she's testing them on underprivileged-but-promising inner city kids that nobody cares about (nobody but WONDER WOMAN).  Wonder Woman runs her own company, which apparently makes nothing but Wonder Woman-related products, which funds her crime-fighting (including one-seater super jets!).  Somehow Themyscira Enterprises (groan) may or may not be in conflict with Cale's bio-med company.  Its not clear.  WW goes on TV and tells everyone Cale is a bad person and is doing illegal stuff because she feels it in her bones but lacks any actual evidence.  Shockingly, the rest of the episode is NOT about libel and slander suits.

WW comes back from heroing and just wants to go home and put on her sweatpants and  that t-shirt she got from work eight years ago.
To get her info, AFTER trying to out Cale on TV and a visit from Cale, Wonder Woman straight up tortures a guy who tells her everything she needs to know about where to find the secret lab, that there are hidden victims there, etc...  Oh, also, the military plans to use the drug to make super-soldiers.

WW goes to secret lab and fights 20 guys (none of whom have a gun), wins, frees people, gets applause, goes to her secret ID apartment where she keeps her cat and remembers she has no friends.  Srsly.

For anyone who has watched a couple of episodes of Law & Order enough to understand the US legal system and its litigious nature, its hard to figure out what Kelley is doing.  A major subplot of the show is that Wonder Woman is not a deputized agent of any US law enforcement group (or maybe I skipped that part.  I don't know.  I started fast-forwarding.).  And that she's got a rocky relationship with the LAPD.  But she's basically set up a whole company around her vigilante activities, and its kind of hard to wrap your head around how that's supposed to work (I believe she's still supposed to be an Amazon and not an American, if that matters).  

Bear in mind, on this show the LAPD straight up lets her into a guy's hospital room where she tortures him for information.  AFTER, I might add, she tosses the lasso of truth on his chest (which, for 70 years in the comics) has meant that whoever is in its snare is compelled to tell the truth.  Painlessly.  But I don't think that's what happens here (its also been suggested in the comics that Wonder Woman is constantly telling the truth because she's just holding the thing, btw).  Hell, the Justice Department shows up and even assigns her old boyfriend to investigate what she's up to, and he just laughs off the fact she stormed a building with no warrant, killed people, crippled others and then pulled people out of medical beds when the military knew this was happening.  

I just can't really figure it out.  Look, there was a reason Superman had the Clark Kent identity in the early comics, and it wasn't so he could go play with a cat in an apartment and mess with Facebook.  Which is why she has a secret ID here (no, its not clear why she doesn't stay in her penthouse).

Nor can I figure out what Wonder Woman's company is, how it makes sense in the slightest, and how Cary Elwes's career has become such that he got dragged in to play the "worried-uncle" CEO.  

One of the things about Wonder Woman as she is in the comics is that she's so much always Wonder Woman that having a secret identity for the character got dumped in 1986 because it just didn't make much sense without making her all about chasing Steve Trevor around.  As an ambassador from a secret, magic island, there's a Stranger in a Strange Land aspect to Diana that's more interesting than wishing she could be just like other girls - or at least it manifesting in a way that fits not at all in with her lifestyle and background (and by other girls, we mean sitting alone in her apartment with a cat watching hour-long dramas.  Yes, Kelley's Diana Prince is more or less not too different from the audience for Ally McBeal during its heyday, as I recall it).  "Like other girls" isn't something WW really has a frame of reference for, unless you mean an existence dedicated equally to becoming a living weapon while also studying the humanities, philosophy, etc... and all the other stuff you'd drop on a 3000 year old immortal Greek warrior-poet culture.  

Yes, the "they're marketing my t*ts!" scene is there.  Its as hammy as it sounds, and would have likely seemed edgy in a 1990's-era show, but now it just feels kind of weird.  Its like she's just really bad at this whole "head of a corporation" thing and yelling at her entourage instead of her staff (she, apparently, HAD approved the doll in question, but squeals about not having had actually signed anything - like a technicality matters much).

WW is ANGRY WW (about the doll which she approved and then said she didn't).

Oh, the action.

Yeah, some looks fine.  Other parts look horrendous.  They clearly couldn't quite figure out the wirework as poor Palicki looks like she's trying to jump over a Koopa or something every time they cut to a wide shot of her in air.  The rest if pretty standard, unstylized TV action stuff that would likely degrade over time as it clearly wasn't a focus in the pilot.

I've been trying to defend Adriane Palicki, the woman cast as Diana, without having had seen the actual show, and reports were accurate:  she does okay with the material, and you have to wonder about some of the direction she was given.  The "let's face off" scene with Hurley is where I wondered if it were she or the director who made some of the choices, as it just doesn't work.  Nor does the boardroom scene re: the doll and boobage.

Its no mystery why other networks passed on this script, and less of a mystery why NBC decided not to air this groaner.  I've read a few semi-apologetic reviews of this show, and I am a bit stunned.  It really IS that bad, almost so-bad-its-good-bad, but nothing you'd want to see become an actual, ongoing show.

Keep in mind, this is a show where Wonder Woman is visibly shaken by her inability to complete a Facebook profile, but shrugs off murdering and crippling dudes who were basically security guards doing their jobs.  David E. Kelley's WW is a Grade A sociopath.

Between this and Green Lantern, DCE is having a rough time of it with their live-action adaptations.  My advice?  Quit listening to what people in LA are telling you is a good idea.  Every move made from a David E. Kelley WW to Blake Lively as Carol Ferris was a misstep intended to appeal to an audience that doesn't care about your product.  Marvel has had success by making really product so good based around their characters that audiences simply took notice.  

Stay true to your characters and they'll pay it back.

Oh, also, the dude who played Steve Trevor?  Totally lame.


Simon MacDonald said...

Thanks for doing this so I would not be tempted to track down the pilot myself.

The League said...

Its... I wish it were at least funny-bad. Instead its "I feel so bad for the lady dressed as Wonder Woman and Cary Elwes" bad.