[06/13/11 - 10:48 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Wonder Woman" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by David E. Kelley; directed by Jeffrey Reiner; TRT: 41:36)

The network's description: No official description was released.

What did they leave out? The final product is a more streamlined version of the previously detailed script, as the Myndi Mayer and Etta Candy characters have been combined while "The Animals" (Ryan Miller, Austy Lyne, Jennie Weeks), a trio of techs Diana uses for her evidence analysis, have been excised completely. That and yes, there's thankfully no singing.

The plot in a nutshell: When a performance supplement starts putting inner city athletes in the hospital, the costumed heroine known as Wonder Woman (Adrianne Palicki) is on the case. And when that road leads to pharmaceutical mogul Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley), Wonder Woman takes to the airwaves to call her out on it, holding a press conference at Themyscira Industries, the much-publicized front for her crimefighting operation.

You see, Wonder Woman is the alter ego of Diana Themyscira, a construct designed to not only sell toys to fund her activities but to be an icon for truth, justice and the American way. And while the world at large may know that Diana Themyscira is Wonder Woman, they don't know she's also Diana Prince, an average girl who serves as an escape from all the stresses of being the aforementioned women, one who spends most of her time pining over Steve Trevor (Justin Bruening), the one that got away. "Wonder Woman's perfect: perfect tits, perfect ass, perfect teeth. I mean, look at these teeth," she recounts at one point. "She always does everything right. God forbid she make a mistake."

It's a burden that's particularly daunting as of late, considering she can't actually prove what Veronica is doing, a hurdle made all the more higher when a Senator in Veronica's pocket (Edward Herrmann) threatens to make a federal case out of Diana's sleuthing. Thankfully Diana's not alone in her quest: Henry Johns (Cary Elwes) and Etta Candy (Tracie Thoms) - her CEO and assistant, respectively - are always there to lend a shoulder while the LAPD's Ed Indelicato (Pedro Pascal) helps when he can. Together they find the location of Veronica's secret infirmary and Diana ultimately gets to be the woman she's most comfortable being: the one that kicks ass.

What works: Ugh.

What doesn't: It's just as bad as you think it would be and not just as a simple affront to the Wonder Woman character. Even if you remove that albatross (which we'll come back to in a second) and treat it as a generic superhero show, "Wonder Woman" is a victim of its own self-described schizophrenia as the throughline of the show is needlessly convoluted. It seems that superhuman Diana left her boyfriend Steve in order to fight crime as Wonder Woman (he apparently wouldn't be safe once she went public), a mantle that's proved to be so daunting that she decides to create another, secret identity to feel normal (i.e. cozy up with her cat and watch "The Notebook"). Normal however ultimately translates to thinking about Steve.

The takeaway however is a nesting doll of silliness: whether it's the working assumption that nobody would ever be able to figure out the most famous woman in the world used to date Steve Trevor; the notion that apparently having a secret identity from the start was off the table; or that the actual "Diana Prince" scenes - all two of them, none of which are with other characters - could have easily had the same decompression effect by, I don't know, simply not calling her Diana Prince. The legwork to setup the latter is as pointless as it sounds as the resulting effect is making Diana seem like a crazy person rather than a superhero looking to blow off some steam.

But that's the easy whipping post. The more troubling aspect of the show is just how ill-formed Diana feels in general. She kills and tortures without remorse - go ahead and read that over again - not to mention publicly breaks the law without so much batting an eye. I'm fairly certain holding a press conference to accuse someone of a crime without proof is slander while nearly crushing a man's windpipe to get information constitutes torture. The show tries to gloss over these facts by saying she isn't human and bound by our laws, but that still can't escape the fact it's an unsettling message, especially from what's supposed to be an inspiring figure (Alan Dershowitz, Nancy Grace, Jeffrey Toobin and Dr. Phil McGraw all turn up in talking head cameos to touch on just that).

Ultimately "Wonder Woman" wants to be a lot of things, it just doesn't have the bona fides to back up any of them. I can't necessarily fault Kelley for not being able to crack to Wonder Woman code. Unlike say Batman or Superman there is no easy shorthand for the character. If anything the public consciousness surrounding her is simply the costume and her accessories, making coming up with a simple, compelling dramatic undercurrent all the more challenging. (And as any comics nerd will tell you, there hasn't been a consistent vision of the character... ever.) The show at the very least seems to acknowledge this (the aforementioned "perfect tits" comment is a result of Diana bemoaning that the stars-and-stripes bikini, heavily endowed doll is their top seller) but only to put it up as this perfect ideal she'll never achieve, a particularly head scratching moment considering she's literally just that.

It ultimately makes her pining for Steve, her eating potato chips on the couch, the need for multiple identities, etc. feel like schadenfreude rather than actual character development. And considering this is a show where the lead character spends the bulk of the pilot in a Halloween costume, that's saying something. At the end of the day, Kelley swung and missed. And considering the inherent challenges of the character, it's not exactly surprising that he did. The fact that his swing ran almost completely counter to what little is universally accepted about the character, well...

The bottom line: ...ugh, indeed.

  [june 2011]  


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