Monday, October 4, 2010

Birds of Prey: Pilot (1.1)

Women have it rough. Especially in the entertainment industry. I remember reading years ago that the box office under-performance of Jodie Foster's vigilante thriller The Brave One meant the studio behind the movie immediately black-balled female-led projects. Supposedly "they didn't sell". This kind of sexism also seemingly occurred as a result of the WB's short-lived Birds of Prey, a flawed comic book adaptation picked up to series following the success of the network's Superman re-working Smallville. The show flatlined quickly after it premiered, and was quietly canceled after thirteen episodes. Its failure, knowing the industry, probably sealed the fate for any other comic book-adaptations based on female characters. So no Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, non-appalling Catwoman, nor any consistent update of the Birds of Prey themselves. Bummer.

My limited knowledge of the Birds of Prey comic books consists of what I've briefly scanned from its Wikipedia page, but it's also my understanding that the colossal differences between the comics and the series ultimately killed the show. I can almost get why the show would want to tie Huntress closer into the Batman 'family', but so far the show doesn't explain enough about such a monumental storyline. You can't have Batman and Catwoman producing a child without explaining how the hell that actually happened. I can't remember if the show explores that later on in the season, but I don't think they ever did. Huntress, here, is a guilt-prone and chilly cypher. She's admittedly an amusing character, but feels a little too contrived.

Equally contrived is Dinah Lance, a complete re-working of her comic book predecessor, now a teenage runaway with psychic abilities. The character screams of WB demands, as if they assumed that people wouldn't tune in to a show starring adult females, and that a wise-cracking 18-year-old blonde is necessary to entice viewers. Rachel Skarsten is spectacularly bland here.

The Oracle appears to be the only character consistent with the comic books, and she's played with a butch intensity by the ever-reliable Dina Meyer. She's awash in regret and inner anger over her wheelchair-bound circumstances, and is by far the most sympathetic character on display here.

The Gotham City created for Birds of Prey feels more in line with the locale of the aforementioned Smallville. Instead of mobsters and madmen, the bad guys here are so-called "meta-humans", half-human, and half-beast things with a variety of squicky abilities. It's all very, very Smallville. The antagonist in the pilot appears to be inspired by The Scarecrow (a reliable DC comics nemesis), but the decision to make him a sleazy slum lord instead of a psychiatric madman weakens the character somewhat.

Equally in line with Smallville is the clunky dialogue. Smallville's trademark appears to be its woeful rat-a-tat-tat scripts, clumsily littered with pop-culture references and lousy exposition. Birds of Prey is no different. They even throw in a lazy reference to "meteor freaks" at one point. But I guess there is a charm to it. TV has evolved a lot since 2002, and looking at it as a show from that era, I guess it's pretty fun in its "blah-ness". It's not aiming to be high art, but as the potential to be that kitschy guilty pleasure you secretly watch but never tell anybody about. I can't remember if the show actually went down that route, however, or if it just became straight-up bad.

One of the major plusses for the show is undeniably its look. The sets are striking and vividly drawn, from the gorgeous clock-tower headquarters of our protagonists, to the various dark alley-ways and minimalist interiors for Harley's office and, later, Arkham Asylum. The flashback sequences, depicting Joker, Catwoman, Batman and Batgirl, are also unquestionably fun. It's unfortunate, though, that so much of the greatness here is set in the past, while the characters we have to follow each week and the outfits they all wear are pretty darn underwhelming.

I do remember liking Birds of Prey, but that may be my un-cultured childhood talking. There are certainly elements here which do work, but so far a lot of it is outweighed by the bad. But it's amusing; I'll give the show that. C

Guest stars Chris Ellis (Larry Ketterly); Shawn Christian (Wade Brixton); Aaron Paul (Jerry); Brent Sexton (Detective McNally); Mark Hamill (The Joker)
Writer Laeta Kalogridis Director Brian Robbins

No comments:

Post a Comment