Another Wonder Woman Pilot

Here we go again with another Wonder Woman pilot.

CW, being a subsidiary of Warner Bros. has a long track record of bringing DC comics’ properties to the TV, or at least trying to. Obviously they had the 10 year run of Smallville and the 13 episode long Birds of Prey series. They produced a pilot for an Aquaman series. There were proposals for a show about teen titian member Raven and about the Grayson family before Dick became Robin that never got past the proposal stage. And of course you have the current series Arrow.

I’ll be honest, I am really apprehensive about the announced Wonder Woman pilot. It shares several traits from the other shows and pitches mentioned above that I think are not workable. On the other hand I had doubts about Arrow too and I have ended up liking that series.

Basically CW has some habits when it comes to DC shows that I am convinced are just there to annoy long time comic fans.

The first is that they seem to think that the best way to go is with a series that functions as a prequel to the comics, with Arrow and Birds of Prey being the exceptions. This started with the original pitch they made over a decade ago, a series that was going to be titled Bruce Wayne, detailing Bruce’s life between his return to Gotham City at 18 and becoming Batman. The reason the series did not get past script stage was that the WB movie division also wanted to explore Bruce’s development into Batman, which ultimately resulted in Batman Begins. On that point let’s go ahead and say that this turned out for the best.

So when Bruce Wayne was shut down they turned around and created Smallville. And as I have said before, at first this was not bad, but it went on too long and stretched the premise beyond the breaking point.

The Aquaman pilot used the exact same idea, only with Arthur Curry. I remember liking it when I first saw it, but in retrospect I think it would have ended up a weak premise for the same reasons that Smallville did not work long term.

The Graysons was just baffling as a pitch. Following Robin’s family and their adventures prior to their murder and Dick’s being taken in by Bruce. This would basically be a series where we know that it will end with the murder of the main characters. Also if we go with the general idea that Dick becomes Robin around 13 than the age you have him at the beginning of the series would set the lifespan of the show. All this of course assumes you intend to remain faithful to the comics, which Smallville showed was not necessarily going to happen.

We now add Wonder Woman to that list, as the pitch is literally the same as Smallville, but with Diana coming to America and I guess learning what it means to be a hero.

Another issue with DC shows on the CW is the names. I think the only show that got to keep its title from the comic was Birds of Prey. Besides Smallville and Bruce Wayne, You had the Aquaman show being called Mercy Reef, Green Arrow became Arrow, and now Wonder Woman’s show will be called Amazon. I assume this is a marketing issue with the film division in case they want to develop a movie using the characters, but it does seem like they are running from the franchises they want to develop.

So here is my main issue with the new stab at a Wonder Woman series. They are using a format that fans are going to be apprehensive about. The whole “Diana before she was Wonder Woman” is at best only sustainable short term. If they are going that route I hope they do not take the “no flight, no tights” mandate that ultimately hamstrung Smallville.

I think if they are going to do this they make it the arc for the first season, with the finale having her become Wonder Woman. From second season on have it be like Arrow, the beginnings of her career.

Do I see that happening? No I do not. I’m afraid they will get locked down into the prequel mode like Smallville and the problems that it brings.

On the other hand if they manage to stay true to the characters roots and persona maybe it will be worthwhile, or at least wipe out the bad taste left by the last Wonder Woman Pilot.

Two things I want to address real quick before I wrap up.

First, the whole Iris thing, where a casting sheet was released stating that the character’s name is Iris along with other back story alterations. This is a not uncommon practice when casting for a very well-known character. It is done in hopes of getting an audition that is not just an attempt to fill the preconceived notions about the character. Rest assured her name will be Diana in the series as has been confirmed by Geoff Johns.

The other is the Justice League movie. Obviously it is being developed and there is a general assumption that Wonder Woman will be in it. How will that work? Good question, and there are a lot of ways to do it. One is they just assume that audiences can deal with two different version of the character at once like when Superman Returns came out during Smallville’s run. Another is that they do not include Wonder Woman in the Justice League movie. This all of course assumes that Amazon makes it past pilot stage.

So there we have it. Let’s hope that DC can give their most iconic female character the adaptation she deserves.

Arrow Review

When I first heard that the CW was going to do a Green Arrow series, I was worried that it would be another “before they were a hero” concept like Smallville, as that seems to be their pitch for every DC comics based show.

Fortunately that is not the direction they went. However they still had to do something to drive me nuts. In this case it was calling the show Arrow, not Green Arrow, just Arrow.

Why?

Green Arrow is a character from the early forties. The general public may not be that familiar with him, but for the comic book fans he is a solid second tier character. Why mess with the iconic name.

And I have not been able to find an answer to this question anywhere. I would think they would offer some answer for the change, but no, nothing. The speculation is that due to the failure of the Green Lantern movie, the producers dropped the word green from the series title to avoid association. Also Greg Berlanti, one of the series co-creators, was a writer and producer on Green Lantern and I think that added to the need for distance.

So aside from the loss of the green how do I feel about the series?

Let’s take a look.

The premise of the series takes the basics of the comic book origin and uses it as a jumping off point. Oliver Queen, a rich socialite, is shipwrecked on an island for five years where he develops archery skills to survive. After being rescued from the island Queen comes home and becomes a Robin Hood themed crimefighter.

One of the series strengths is that it takes this basic story and filters it through the same sensibilities that fueled Nolen’s Batman trilogy.

Queen is now the son of a wealthy family. He is famous for being a rich party boy. While on a yacht trip with his father and his girlfriend’s sister, the yacht sinks and Oliver is the only survivor. Before dying his father confesses that he was corrupt and that he wants Oliver to survive, return home, and correct his mistakes by dealing with a list of other corrupt community leaders.

Using flashbacks the series fleshes out that Oliver was not alone on the island. It is clear that the skills he gained during the five years there were not self-taught.

Queen returns home, and lets people think he is returning to his party boy ways when really he is going after the people on his father’s list.

So how does the series work, both on it’s own and as an adaptation of Green Arrow.

As a series it works surprisingly well considering it is on the CW. The creators stated that they were using The Dark Knight trilogy as inspiration and it shows. The scripts are smart and there is at least a nod to practicality in how the heroics are presented.

One of the strengths is that the series does not make the mistake of having the characters act dumb in order to maintain their plot.

In the first three episodes Oliver has a body guard, John Diggle, thrust on him by his mother. In most other shows Diggle would have to be treated as a fool in order for Oliver to constantly ditch him and not have him figure out the truth. Here by the second episode Diggle knows something is up, and by the fourth Oliver has decided that he can trust Diggle and recruits him into the mission. This allows Diggle to be treated as a professional and for the show not to strain credibility with keeping Oliver’s secret. This is one of the mistakes that Smallville use to make and it is really good to see it avoided here.

Another good decision is to make sure that this is not a super powered world. Even the most extreme characters are just really well trained, but not superhuman.

The casting is also well done for the most part. This is a CW series so of course it is populated with a gaggle of pretty people, but it also has a better balance of non-model types. Also the type of people Oliver’s party boy lifestyle attracts makes this at least make sense.

Stephen Amell is well suited to play this version of Oliver Queen. He is athletic and in scenes where Oliver is doing parkour it appears that Amell is doing it himself. He also brings a good balance to scenes that flashback to old party boy Oliver vs. determined crimefighter Oliver.  There is also a bit of fan service with him, as not an episode goes by that he does not appear shirtless at least once.

Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance does fairly well. She is certainly much improved over when she first showed up as a reoccurring character on Supernatural. She holds her own with Amell in their scenes together and there is certainly chemistry. The biggest issue with her character is that she is they want to portray her as able to handle herself in a fight, and she does not have the shape or presence to quite pull that off. As her character is based on the Black Canary this is going to be a sticking point for a lot of comic fans.

Paul Blackthorn as her father Detective Quentin Lance is probably the strongest actor of the cast, and his character provides some good tension. He is a good cop, but is angry at Oliver who he blames for his other daughter’s death.  The only downside is that Blackthorn is playing Lance much the same as he played Harry Dresden on the Dresden Files and so it can be a little distracting if you watched that series.

David Ramsey as John Diggle is the only one on the main cast whose character does not have roots in the comics. Earlier I described his situation with both how well his character is written and played. His story arch is still developing, with him now being partner and voice of reason to Oliver. It is going to be interesting to see where they take him.

Susanna Thompson plays Oliver’s mother Moira. She is playing an odd balance of the loving mother to Oliver and yet she is clearly at least partially responsible for the yacht wreak that sets the series in motion. Right now it is unclear how deep she is in with the bad guys and her character suffers from needing more development

Colin Donnell and Willa Holland have it even worse in the development territory. Donnell plays Tommy Merlyn, Oliver’s best friend who expects that now he is back the good old days are back too. There are hints that he suspects more, but he does not get a lot of chance to show that. In the comics Merlyn is a rival archer and one of Green Arrows main enemies. Hopefully as the series progresses he will get more development.

Holland plays Oliver’s sister Thea. Her role on the series is that of a reminder to Oliver of his shallow past as she is turning out the same way. Her nick name is Speedy and it appears she was based in part on the second Speedy to be Green Arrows sidekick in the comics. She really has very little to do other than pout and get lectures from Oliver.

So what we have now that we are five episodes into the series is a good, if slightly flawed superhero series. I feel there is a lot of potential here and it seems that they are going in the right direction.

I give Arrow a B-, but I will take a look at it again at the end of the season and see where we are then.