Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 Wonder Woman Unreleased NBC Pilot Pictorial Review

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Thanks to Luke of El Jacone's Comic Book Bunker and the Hawkman blog Being Carter Hall, I finally got around to seeing the unaired NBC Wonder Woman TV pilot about six weeks back. I had as thorough a synopsis as I could find online ready for this blog within two weeks, but sat on it for another month while I finished up school and tried in vain to give similar treatments to some tie-in projects on other blogs. This article will only get colder, so I figure I should just pull the trigger already. After the network passed on it, early reviews of the leaked pilot started hitting the internet in late May, so four months seems sufficient duration for me to miss the bandwagon, as usual. Maybe I've waited long enough for the folks sick of hearing about it to give a second pass, eh?

An African-American teenager tells his family he's gotten his acceptance letter into college... right before collapsing and hyperventilating with blood flowing out of every orifice.

A bald white guy with near superhuman speed is chased down Hollywood Boulevard by Wonder Woman. The pair run over and jump across cars, with the footage sped up a few frames per second shy of a Keystone Cops short. Diana gets hit by a car, tearing up its front end and briefly putting her on her ass. A lasso to the throat stops the guy cold, and then Diana jabs him in the neck with a syringe to extract a blood sample. The cops show, forcing Diana to give up the cueball, but not before she spins him across the floor. The first words out of her mouth, protesting that the dude would just "lawyer up," make it clear actress Adrianne Palicki isn't remotely correct casting in the vocal department.

Cue silly logo with "pitchu! pitchu! pitchu!" sound effect.

While Wonder Woman landed her weird white microjetship thing on the roof of Themyscira Industries, two members of her supporting cast watch "Alan Dershowitz" complain on TV about the heroine's constant violation of civil rights (wiretapping, assault, etc.) Nancy Grace likes her, though. Dr. Phil thinks she's nuts. Diana walks with a limp, so suit #1 Henry Johns (Cary Elwes) presses her to visit the infirmary. Suit #2 is a lean black Etta Candy In Name Only (Tracie Thoms,) an enabler. Diana changes into her '80s teen movie "frumpy" Diana Prince identity with the glasses, which Henry Johns describes as "self-induced schizophrenia." He's right, and the rationale of leaving for the night with early morning business meetings awaiting as Princess Diana of Themyscira because she needs to feel "human" is mighty dumb.

Diana Prince checks her mail, eats potato chips, watches soaps, and promises her cat that this false identity will get her Facebook profile built tonight. She flashes back to the dinner where, after two years of living with Steve Trevor (Justin Bruening,) she breaks the news that she's decided that she can do the most good for the world by moving to the West Coast. Now she's all sad and alone in her stupid fake glasses, making Clark Kent seem less pathetic.

The next morning, Etta offers a rapid fire itinerary to which Henry adds a press conference to push back against media criticism with a new Wonder Woman doll hitting stores in a month. That all goes out the window when the mother of the bleeding kid asks to speak with Diana. We learn that her son was a junkie, and that the man Wonder Woman captured was probably his dealer. The mother, Janine, wants to see those responsible killed. Diana explains that Janine has three other children at home to care for, so leave the vengeance to her. "I'm kinda good at it." Adrianne Palicki's delivery and body language is rather awkward, but at least she conveys Diana's empathy with regular folk without being at all patronizing. On her knees in front of the mother, Diana confirms that she knows who is at the head of the super-drug trafficking network, and that she's "about to tell everybody."

At the press conference, Diana fingers Veronica Cale of Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals for distributing the body building supplement that had killed six young black athletes "from ghettos, by the way." The Great White Hope promises Cale that if the law doesn't get her for illegally using humans as guinea pigs in advance of FDA approval, Wonder Woman would. All of these statements were made without hard evidence, meaning the lawyers in the audience could shudder as hard as the rest of us when Diana stopped just short of addressing "the plight of the negro" or somesuch. David E. Kelly has no street card to pull. Afterward, Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley) defends herself in the media through smack talk and bad acting. Etta explains to Diana what an idiot move she's made, especially in light of her blood sample from the pusher, John O'Quinn, coming back negative.

Diana is stressed out about not making headway on the Cale case, and takes it out on an overly endowed Wonder Woman doll in a board meeting. Diana shouts the word "tits," so Etta points out that Wonder Woman isn't vulgar. In a fit of unattractive self pity, Diana laments Wonder Woman's perfect tits, ass, teeth, and her never making mistakes. Later, Henry explains that all of Wonder Woman's crime fighting resources come from merchandising, including those ridiculous dolls, so it's a matter in need of resolution. Also, he prompts another flashback to why Diana dumped Steve Trevor-- fear of her loved ones being targeted by her enemies, and what she would become if domesticated.

Veronica Cale pays a visit, expressing her view that Diana is envious of the athletes she can produce with strength to rival Wonder Woman's. Cale also points out how she and the pharmaceutical industry have the government by the balls, which could lead to all sort of officially sanctioned hell falling on Diana's head if she continues pursuing Cale. Both actresses deliver gut-wrenching dialogue with little finesse, and I wonder if Lorenzo Lamas is going to turn up at some point.

Wonder Woman flies her goofy wittle jet-a-ma-bob to the hospital where bleeding kid Willis Parks (B.J. Britt) is recovering. Willis smiles and talks about "truth, justice and the American Way" in an "inspirational" moment where we're all supposed to forget that's a Superman line and that he was using illegal performance enhancing substances to land in the hospital. Know who else is there? Drug dealer John O'Quinn (Joseph Gatt) in police protective custody.

Wonder Woman manages to talk Inspector Ed Indelicato into giving her five minutes alone with the suspect, but can't convince Pedro Pascal to not be the worst actor in the show so far. The lasso of truth seems not to be all it's cracked up to be, as a) it looks like it came from Hobby Lobby and b) Diana has to physically torture information out of O'Quinn while audibly torturing the audience with tuff gal dialogue delivered unconvincingly. I'd be miffed if Diana had any business being a friend o'Chaney in the first place.

Cale plans to sell the super-steroid to an increasingly privatized military, even though its side effects include deformities. Wonder Woman knows the location of Cale's underground laboratory, but any evidence found there would be poisonous fruit in court. Indelicato is facing heat from his superiors, just as a senator friendly to Cale shows up looking to have dinner with Diana. Wonder Woman "cools her... jet." Henry recognizes that if Wonder Woman faces criminal charges, the Rico act could also bring down Themyscira Industries. Is it really an industry if all you produce is a license and some in-house merchandise? Henry called the senator a prick, so I'm sure the network would have loved running the super-hero show at 10 0'clock to appease censors.

Poor Edward Herrmann plays Senator Warren with a southern accent, because this show is set on making even decent actors look bad (see also: Tracie Thoms' nasal Condi Rice impression.) The senator offers a veiled threat in asking why an inhuman vigilante had not been investigated for her criminal activity, to which Diana replies that the government should be more worried about double wars, double dip recession, and double digit unemployment. I kept waiting for a zinger about her DDs, but it never came. Diana did call him on making the American taxpayer cover their $700 bottle of wine, and whether he'd ever "probed" Veronica Cale.

Willis Parks dies, so Wonder Woman suits up (at the local discount costume store?) Henry has Etta contact Ed Indelicato, who never finagled a search warrant. However, he would move in with police as pseudo-back-up once Diana's trespassing turned the underground lab into a crime scene. Cale figures that if Wonder Woman gets in, everyone involved will be arrested, which makes about as much sense as Indelicato's logic. Her chief preventative measure is a crew of super-roided guards, with head beefcake McRaven (Geoff Meed) curiously the best actor on the show. Wonder Woman bursts into their warehouse, and by burst I mean she pulls up the garage door with a girlie flapping of her arms while the film sped up for unintentional added comedic effect. Inexplicably, she's also decided that now is the time to run around with exposed legs.

McRaven is a fan, but figures twenty-to-one odds should more than even out a fight with Wonder Woman. A lasso around the neck is the initial evidence in disproving this theory. The stunt/wire work that follows seriously kicks ass, easily vindicating the existence of the otherwise south-of-mediocre show. The CGI lasso looks way better than the physical one, even if Wonder Woman only ever uses it as a whip to choke dudes by the neck.

Dudes get crushed by storage containers, bullets meet bracelets, and a lead pipe gets tossed into a security guard's neck. Day-um. I'm a noted critic of the Diana Warrior Princess school, but even I have to admit action this rad tells Batman that he can eat Wonder Woman until the sun rises over Gotham City. The coordinator on this has my kudos.

Veronica Cale confronts Wonder Woman with video footage and the might of the criminal justice system, so Diana lasso chokes and body slams her. I think she may have snapped into a Slim Jim at some point, as well. Wonder Woman finds the mutated lab rats as the police find her. Somehow, Wonder Woman goes free while Cale is arrested, like that'll last, and hundreds of Themyscira Industries employees are on hand in the middle of the night to give the returning Wonder Woman a round of applause. It's great when some random tenor tells them all to get "back to work." Those logs won't saw themselves, and sheep can't count themselves. Also, the Justice Department investigator sent by the corrupt senator to the company for a late night interrogation? Steve Trevor. Yes, really. He's a handsome guy generally, but in that lighting, gots Down Syndrome eyes. Anyway, he'd been transferred to Cali from New York six months earlier, but hadn't called on account of having gotten married, because Wonder Woman is Ally McBeal now.

Diana Prince built that Facebook page. Her only friend is Sylvester the cat. No credits, but there is a WB shield and that David E. Kelly Productions thing where the TV knocks over the old lady. I've read enthusiastic reviews and others that hilariously equate it to brain cancer. It falls somewhere closer to the middle, as the script and acting are uniformly bad, but it's shot reasonably well with decent production values and a sweet fight scene. I think we can all agree that David E. Kelly needs to stay far away from genre television, but the show could have been salvageable with better writers and actors informed to knock off the accents. Let's face it, the '70s show was also pretty lousy, getting by on it sweet nature, and I friggin' hated the direct to DVD cartoon from a few years ago. This was comparatively inoffensive, though I won't shed any tears for it, either.

A few final bullet points...

The Bad:
  • The Lasso of Truth being nothing more than a cheap looking rip-off of Catwoman's whip used solely to chokeabitch.
  • I can roll with black Etta Candy, but all the skinny versions of her miss the point. Melissa McCarthy would have been perfect ten years or so back.
  • We needed a better Steve and no Henry Johns at all.
  • In some respects, Diana Prince was cooler than Wonder Woman. She typically dressed way better, and who doesn't dig a cutie in glasses? Prince was never a loser, and her worst crime was her pining for Steve in the '50s and '60s while still being active in the military. Clara Kent needed to get gone.
  • Veronica Cale as an ongoing threat just would not have worked, nor would an endless stream of military-industrial complex asses. We need deformed midgets and catsuits, stat!

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The Good:
  • I'm glad the plane got in there. I really miss the plane, invisible or not. Batman flies one all the damn time, and he was a comparative Johnny Come Lately in that respect.
  • Themyscira Industries looked really nice inside and out. It's not the way I would have gone (too Bruce Wayne,) but having gone there, it was well put together. 
  • I really liked the noblesse oblige on display, not so much in Wonder Woman's swagger as her sense of empathetic duty to the common man.
  • Aside from the lethal level of super-violence, I can't say enough about the action choreography. So freakin' rad, especially by TV standards.
  • Worts and all, it's worth seeing by any Wonder Woman fan with a sense of humor about it. Hopefully, the wirework will get CG'd out and we'll get a DVD release down the line. I'd pay $9.95.


Count Drunkula said...

Every thing I heard about this show as it was gearing up for production made me more and more terrified and embarrassed. Wonder Woman is in my Top 3 favorite super heroes, and all I could think hearing about the show was, "Well, damn, no chance of a live action movie any time soon now!"

Thanks for the review/recap, Frank. It sated my curiosity and confirmed that I really have no want or need to track down a bootleg of this pilot. With David E. Kelly's absurdly Emmy-Award-heavy track record for legal dramas and dramedies, it's insane to me that all of the "legalese" in this show seems so trite, uninformed and amateurish. You're right: He has his niche and it is nowhere within an Invisible Jet's fuel range of genre television.

From everything that I've heard and seen, Adrianne Palicki was absolutely wrong for the role of Wonder Woman, but I've liked her in other things. I think she would make a great Black Canary, or even Hawkgirl, where she wouldn't have to convey the beauty, strength and gentle compassion all in the same scene that Wonder Woman must. That's a tall order for any actress.

The only point I have to contend with is you're nuts--the direct-to-video animated Wonder Woman movie from a couple years ago was AWESOME! It's the best of DC's animated movies! There were a few horrendous bits of dialogue, but other than that it was a great origin story and, I think, a fine blueprint or starting place for a Wonder Woman movie.

Diabolu Frank said...

I hadn't thought about it, but you're right, Adrianne Palicki would be a great Dinah Lance. She's got the right swagger, while also being awkward enough to convey a sense of being newish to the hero game. She and her stunt double had serious skills, and she clearly moves more comfortably in costume or jeans than in a tight dress with heels. Lord knows TV has yet to get that character remotely down.

Ryan, I look forward to writing a Negative Universe version of the DTV Wonder Woman cartoon. I have such hatred for that thing, you'll hopefully get a laughs out of it's entirely different skew!

mathematicscore said...

I'm with Ryan, the WW animated movie was alright; I did, however, sell it recently since I probably won't watch it again.

I too enjoyed the fight scene (which is about all I've seen of this pilot) and was lamed out with the brutality. The lasso of truth seems like such a no brainer. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

The pilot was not too bad.
Kelley took inspiration from the rucka run on WW,so the plot is about the role of a superhero in the real world this is not the smalville style.
The confront between Diana the "WONDER" woman and Veronica the "REAL" woman is funny and interesting.