TV REVIEW: ‘Wonder Woman’ Unaired Pilot
Even if you’ve spent the first half of 2011 living under a rock I’m sure you will have heard about the potential new Wonder Woman TV series originally due to be hitting our screens sometime during either the 2011/2012 or 2012/2013 season and unless that rock was seriously heavy you will also know that this series is now all but dead and unlikely to ever see the light of day short of a special DVD release or Comic Con screening.
Being a comic book fan myself, although not a reader of the on-going Wonder Woman title, I had high hopes for seeing another of the DC Comics A-list brought to the small screen in an enjoyable fashion (especially having recently decided to give Smallville a second chance) although disappointed at the loss of a potential WW movie at the hands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon.
My (and many others) first disappointment with this series came with the announcement that Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley would be the showrunner. I have nothing against McBeal and her dancing baby personally but it was just not a show that I found myself particularly interested in and in terms of any adaptation of Wonder Woman under his guide it rang alarm bells regarding the essential action elements the show would require.
My second disappointment, one that was echoed by a huge cross section of the general public and fans of the character alike, came with the release of the first photo of lead actress Adrianne Palicki (Supernatural) in costume – through the course of this shows short lifespan this is has been a topic for heated debate and one which we will come back to during my thoughts on the pilot episode itself.
As the pilot story and premise of the show began to leak it seemed like this was going to be a badly modernised version of the character which would focus more on the personal struggles and integration of Wonder Woman in to a mass media culture. Shortly after this set videos and photos began to leak and excitement continued to dwindle. Throw in the casting of Elizabeth Hurley as the villain and unfortunately this show was marked for cancellation very early in its inception.
Doomed from the outset the show was initially passed on by all the major US TV networks before finding a short stay home on NBC upon its second trip round the executive shopping trolleys and for a while things were starting to look up for the Amazonian princess.
We’ll probably never know for sure but either the poor test scores from audience screenings of the sheer amount of anti-WW internet buzz killed this show off before the pilot was even finished and for a time it seemed that we would never see the show that was being singled out as one of the worst pilots in recent memory by the media.
But alas first several small clips appeared online and just days later a full copy of the episode, featuring unfinished effects, scratch dialogue and probably only temporary music arrived online and straight to my TV screen.
The premise of this show takes a different approach from that which any fan of the character – devoted or casual – will be accustomed to. There are no scenes of Amazonian women fighting for the chance to travel to the US of A in order to return the injured war pilot Major Steve Trevor to his homeland. There’s no baby sculpted from the sands of Themiscyra. In this reworking the titular character is the owner of Themiscyra Industries, a company who aren’t actually seen to do anything but create Wonder Woman related merchandise and give Diana moral support upon her victorious battle with the evil CEO of rival company Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals – rounds of applause for her seem to be compulsory upon starting employment at their offices.
The general public are aware of Wonder Woman and also that her alter ego is Diana Themiscyra but what they are not aware of is the alter ego within the alter ego… Diana Prince (Diana T with her hair tied back and added glasses). Neither of the Diana’s receives much in the way of character development during this pilot outside of a few scarce scenes with Steve (Justin Buening – Knight Rider). In fact I’m not sure which of the Diana’s it was that Steve was dating but based on her glamorous appearance in these scenes it must have been Themiscyra and not Prince. So essentially we have Diana T who is a not-so-secret identity and basically just a name to use for Wonder Woman out of costume and Diana P who sits at home with her cat whilst browsing Facebook, I’m not sure which one to care for less.
The daily running of Themiscyra Industries is left to Diana T/WW confidant Henry Johns (Cary Elwes – Twister) who seems to be the voice of reason amongst the Diana’s. There’s also trusty PA Etta Candy (Tracie Thoms – The Devil Wears Prada) who fulfils the role of best friend and probably only friend to Diana.
These two characters appear quite frequently throughout the pilot, usually together, in order to deal with Diana’s mood and to provide the voice of reason whilst the become hell bent on solving the lacklustre mystery that provides the plot.
Both actors do a fine job of shoring up Palicki in the lead role and given time for the series to develop these characters could have become a very tight knit group and offered a very true human element in a fantasy-tinged show. Etta is perhaps the less generic of the two characters here, especially when compared to her 1970s TV counterpart. Henry, although a compassionate and strong voice amongst the crowd, is a very generic male secondary character that could easily have been retooled by the time this show came to air.
Perhaps the biggest of the character cock-ups in this show is that of Steve Trevor. Anybody with a knowledge of Lynda Carter era Wonder Woman will know that Steve Trevor was the army pilot who’s crash landing on Themiscyra was the reason for Diana to travel to America in the first place. Jump on to the final season of the show and Steve Jnr is an agent working alongside Diana at the IADC.
Here Steve is nothing more than a mere plot device by which to aggravate one of the various Diana’s and make her more human. Quite early on in the story we learn that Diana (both of them) are lonely spinsters who have recently gone through a breakup with lover Steve. We are witness to their breakup via flashback scenes with the two of them having dinner together at a restaurant where it transpires that it was probably her life as Wonder Woman which took Diana away from the love of her life.
I don’t want to spoil the ending of this pilot for anybody who has yet to see it but his introduction into the cast as a major player is more like something from an episode of 90210 than a performance expected in a serious comic book adaption.
The second biggest mistake made by Kelley here is Veronica Cale (Liz Hurley – Austin Powers). I would only be stating fact but she is not the strongest actress when it comes to serious material but luckily this pilot and the word serious do not belong in the same sentence and as such she becomes par for the course in terms of character. Whether Cale would have been used beyond this pilot is unknown as an episode order was never discussed and the term big bad is not mentioned but no amount of development could save this character from being a villain of the week.
In fact watching her character does nothing but evoke feelings of watching Sharon Stone in the Catwoman movie but if that doesn’t put you off watching this pilot nothing will. In a similar vein I think the same people behind that slashed vinyl pants and belt bra-top costume that Halle Berry wore must have crafted WW’s costume.
We all saw that original photo with the shiny blue trousers and the blue boots (linked above) and gasped in horror: no starred hotpants? No red boots? Shiny material? There were many, many questions about the horror that was that first image but I can gladly tell you that particular costume makes only the briefest of appearances in the pilot itself.
In the opening sequence the blue trousers appear but they’re not the shiny ones seen in the released image and likewise the boots are red. It would appear the blue booted costume was used for a photo shoot for some WW advertising that appears in the background of the Themiscyra Industries conference room (see below image).
When WW lands one of her various stealth crafts on the roof of the building her trousers are the dark blue ones which will become the must used in the pilot but once she exits the elevator into the building the shiny trousers appear under (without the blue boots) an on screen message of ‘VFX MISSING – PANTS TO BE DARKENED’ so at least we know the production team were listening to fan complaints above the outfit.
The costume comes across as overly plastic-y and I don’t just mean the vinyl corset. The headband and belt look like they’ come straight off your Halloween speciality store costume shelf and throughout the pilot I expected to see them bouncing or moving like they were about to fall off, I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t.
The wristbands also have an air of off-the-shelf about them. They don’t look like they’ll be stopping bullets any time soon; they do however get the chance to do so very briefly in the climactic moments of the show.
As you will see from the above image the hotpants do make an appearance in the show by the end. There’s no real discussion about why different costumes are worn at different times although a conversation does take place between Diana and Etta regarding the fact her costume was designed in order to help sell action figures.
Speaking of which: I do not agree with mass media WW…
Perhaps the truest line spoken in the pilot is by Etta when she says ‘Wonder Woman isn’t vulgar’ but this is sadly followed up by a couple of uses of the word ‘tits’ and also the word ‘ass’ in describing the Amazonian woman – the only reference to her background.
You can poke holes in much of this pilot but the scenes discussing the mass marketing of the Wonder Woman brand make for some of the most cringe inducing watching. Diana sits with her creative team to discuss the impending launch of a new WW doll and how her anatomy has been oversized to help increase sales. I completely understand the point of this scene as Diana stands up for what she believes in and opposes modifying the female form in order to boost sales but it’s completely unnecessary as the character of WW shouldn’t need to be seen to define her strength of character, it’s just part of who she is but here it’s watered down and offered to us as an extremely obvious plot device.
The above use of vulgar language is part of a very clichéd and derivative script that I’m told is drastically improved over some leaked pages from several months ago. Like much of the rest of this pilot there is no depth to what is being said. Every word is spoken with true determination – Liz Hurley included – but there is not much room for emotion here.
Both Diana T/WW and Veronica Cale are often seen to monologue, as heroes and villains invariably do, but it all falls flat without a convincing cause to fight for.
The best lines appeared to be saved for Etta, who radically becomes the most human and believable character in the whole show. She would most definitely be one to watch out for if the show were to continue.
Earlier on you’ll remember that I mentioned my reservations of David E. Kelley helming this project, as I was unaware of his ability to handle action scenes. You’ll also notice I have mentioned any action scenes as yet and that is because there aren’t many here.
This episode opens with a kind of double teaser: one which makes you say ‘what the f***?’ followed by another which makes you say ‘why wasn’t that the teaser?’ so leaving aside the WTF element of the pre-title card sequence lets look at our first action scene.
WW is chasing down what looks like an Observer from Fringe in his civvies; she’s running the streets, jumping on and even being knocked down by cars but she doesn’t stop chasing her prey. There’s a serious push to show that Kelley’s WW doesn’t stop for anything when she is after her man and that is a theme which runs throughout the show. There’s also anger to this incarnation that is a little misplaced here but not unwelcome.
This unfinished version shows off some wires whilst WW is leaping down some stairs but overall it’s well shot and well edited and there’s a reasonable sense of tension. It’s also nice to see that instead of some awful suiting up introduction a la Joel Schumacher era Batman or a simple action stance we are first show WW as she’s in mid-sprint and ready for a fight.
We also see the golden lasso quite early on here, one of several appearances, but sadly the effects have not been completed so it can look very fake at times. However you get the overall impression that this WW is gong to be badass and her actions are going to well represented.
Jump ahead to the utterly cliché climactic battle with the drugged up goons of Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals and the action is presented very differently. Firstly we are granted the cheesy suiting up scenes with the headband, wristbands and lasso (note the blue boots are in the background of this scene) and before kicking beefcake ass WW takes a very Lynda Carter –esque stance.
The actual fight itself is between WW and twenty drugs induced super soldiers who look like they’ve just left the gym (according to the only goon with a speaking role, by count there’s him and nine extras) and does sadly show off some of the wires used to help accentuate the action. The choreography is very hand-to-hand with Palicki’s WW throwing punches, high kicking and using her lasso to throw the goons around like dolls. It’s a far cry from Lynda Carter and fits the modern setting far better than simply tossing the bad guys around.
The scene is purposely shot and lit to allow Palicki’s face to be seen, she clearly did some of the fighting herself, but also to allow stunt performers to take over and do some of the bigger portions without being easily given away. The overall allusion is of a pretty grissly dogfight and a very pleasant surprise amongst some of the awful dialogue. Had this show made it to air then there was every chance that it would have appealed to a wider audience than a show more reflective of Lynda Cater’s WW would.
Here we’re faced with one of my more serious issues with the pilot: WW kills.
I only noticed a body count of two in this pilot: a goon used to shield WW from the bullets of the above guard whom she through a pipe at. But where Batman and Superman are regularly shown to have strong beliefs when it comes to murder on the job this WW has no issue with taking out a guard at a moments notice.
If this show had been picked up I would have expected the anger which clearly lies only just beneath the surface of both WW and Diana T would be explored and developed because it is clearly an issue which Etta and Henry are concerned with and her determination to take down Veronica Cale is as murderous as any comic book villain.
Beyond this I’m not sure what further exploration could be offered to us beyond the pilot, there’s no overarching mystery involved as WW instead of investigating the reason for Cale-Anderson’s drug trials just takes out the boss and goes home to find Steve waiting for her. There’s a brief moment between our three Themiscyra leads which alluded to a sense of family which needs to be exploited further to make the audience care but short of Steve’s closing statement there is nothing in this pilot to follow-up in later episodes.
Ending the episode we return to the redundant Diana P’s home to sit at her computer join the rest of the world in becoming a member of Facebook. We get it: she’s trying to be normal.
I’m going to make a controversial statement and say that this pilot is actually not as bad as I was expecting. Knowing that there is currently no show to follow it up with and bring further disappointment meant I could enjoy it for what it is: pure fluff. There’s nothing serious here, nothing beyond a shallow one-off superhero adventure and nothing that wouldn’t have been a massive hit with audiences in perhaps the 1970s.
Would I like to have seen more episodes? Yes, I think I would like to see at least a second episode to see if Kelley had a plan for where a season of this show would go as it doesn’t feel like any groundwork has been laid for anything other than a TV movie. Sadly this episode only clocks in at 41mins 40secs so unless there’s a lot on the cutting room floor it’s never going to make a TV movie. Then again if it was deemed bad enough to cut out of this edit I don’t think it should be seen at all.
There’s some reasonable action, some appalling dialogue and laughable temporary VFX but Wonder Woman is not unwatchable. For a rough edit it appears to be well executed if you can ignore a hospital scene with changeable lighting depending on the camera angle. I would still be interested to see a finished version to see the show how Kelley had intended.
If you get the chance to see this, even just once, I recommend you take that chance and see what was perhaps never meant to be seen.