Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Birds of Prey: Devil's Eyes (1.13)

In a lot of ways, Birds of Prey was a show that struggled to find an identity. This was pretty evident in the on-screen changes that occurred throughout the thirteen episodes produced. For a show conceived with an three-character ensemble (echoing its source material), it quickly became a vehicle for The Huntress. Likewise, as the season progressed, Dinah became almost entirely phased out - her scenes reduced, her high school subplots removed. At the same time, no over-arching storyline was ever present, besides the flat Helena/Reese romance. The series also couldn't work out how to use its source material. I'm sure DC copyright forced the writers one way or another, but it never really worked out whether it would confidently wear its comic-book roots on its sleeve, or only briefly allude to it. The latter only ever came off as lazy and illogical, such as Reese's ignorance of Batman, while the former was barely used outside of the pilot. It's disappointing that the show was canceled, but I'm not sure it would have made any significant improvements without an entire production overhaul.

Then again, maybe the show was a victim of its time. The grubby, lightweight fingerprints of Smallville were all over the show, from the annoyingly named Meta-villains (lifted straight from Smallville's 'meteor freaks'), to the annoying banter between the leads and the general feel of cartoony-ness that permeated every inch of the series, you can tell the WB just wanted to replicate Smallville's success with little thought for the material it had picked up. A show like Batman: The Animated Series can prove that Gotham City can be written as dark, unsettling and interesting for a large audience ranging from kids to adults, but nothing like that was evident in Birds of Prey. It was like the writers kept aiming for the lowest common denominator, ignoring any kind of ambition.

One of the show's weakest elements was Harley Quinn. I'm sure it sounded cool when the writers were given permission to bring the character for the first time to live action, but they missed the biggest threat posed. Harley is a comic book character, somebody who can only be translated on-screen with either off-the-wall or relentlessly dark writing, or performed by an actor of quality daring. She's mentally unhinged, entirely wacko and deeply disturbed on paper, and this completely failed to translate on-screen. It didn't help that so much of her tenure was filled with random 'evil-plan-of-the-week' plots, which felt contrived. Mia Sara clearly couldn't get a handle on her either. Harley's escapades here, involving mind control of some sort, is particularly weak. So her plan is no longer to takedown and/or take over Gotham, but instead just have some fun and bring down Helena and the rest of the Birds? Oookay. Throw in Wade's artistically lazy death sequence, and it was an unsurprisingly flat closer to a character that never worked.

In regards to the finale itself, elements of it were fun. The big clock tower fight at the end was impressive, especially Barbara and Dinah smashing through the windows, while Ashley Scott was convincing as the hypnotized Helena. I also liked the psychological aspect to Helena's attitude, which the show glossed over a lot. She's the daughter of two wildly different personalities, one heroic and noble, the other risky and unpredictable. In the finale, she briefly abandons her friends after she learns of Harley's manipulation of her, and I liked the character's ability to shift personas and attitudes so rapidly. It's a schizophrenic quality which the show should have explored more.

Watching Birds of Prey once again, I realize that the series was a lot of the time misconceived. It was tonally all over the place, had little clue what it wanted to be and the audience it was aiming for, and wasted a couple of wonderful actors. The attempts to mess around with the series is evident in these last couple of episodes, but it was too late to save the show itself. In general it was a missed opportunity, though. Maybe a Wonder Woman show could work? Or an TV version of the Gotham Police Department comic book Gotham Central? I like the idea of a Gotham City brought to television (even without Batman), but Birds of Prey wasn't it. C

Guest stars Shawn Christian (Wade Brixton); Robert Patrick Benedict (Gibson Kafka); Steve Hytner (Dr. Franklin Romanek)
Teleplay Hans Tobeason Story Adam Armus, Melissa Rosenberg Director Robert J. Wilson

1 comment:

  1. Ashley Scott aka 'The Huntress', Dina Meyer aka 'Oracle', Rachel Skarsten aka 'Dinah Lance’ daughter of Black Canary, "Birds Of Prey" stars who are part DC Comics legacy will have their first ever cast reunion at the “Hollywood Show” on Saturday April 25th, 2015 at Hotel Westin LAX, Los Angeles, California.
    Only one day!! Check more info here: http://hollywoodshow.com/main.php