‘Wonder Woman’ Pilot Deserves a Second Look

Years ago an editor at the Los Angeles Times joked that a freelance submission was better than “some of the swill that we put in the paper.”

That was sort of the way I felt watching “Wonder Woman,” the Warner Bros. pilot starring Adrianne Palicki as the DC Comics heroine, which NBC opted not to put on its schedule.

Wonder woman Given NBC’s need to make some noise and the mini-furor caused by an advance photo of Palicki in costume, ordering the show seemed like a no-brainer. So a lot of people expressed surprise, figuring it must be awful, when the network passed.

Awful, it’s not. Nor is it great. But as stated, it’s better than a lot of swill that’s on the air.

For starters, I’ve always thought Wonder Woman is kind of a lousy character, and easily open to derision — a female version of Superman whose feminist credentials tend to be offset by the skimpy wardrobe. So Warner Bros. exhibited some guts by handing the reins to producer David E. Kelley — an unorthodox choice — and seeing if he could make something out of it. “Amazon McBeal” or something.

What Kelley did with the pilot, rather shrewdly, was completely avoid the whole traditional superhero origin story. Instead, he begins in a world where there’s somebody known as Wonder Woman — a widely known vigilante hero — who supports her crime-busting endeavors through merchandising deals, including an action figure. The business is run for her by a character played by Cary Elwes, who keeps reminding her that if she wants to thwart evil-doers, she has to sell dolls, too.

As for fighting the bad guys, Palicki cuts a rather imposing figure, and the action sequences have a certain kinetic energy to them. Kelley has also established the character as a true vigilante — willing to rough up a suspect to get information — more in the Batman vein than what’s traditionally associated with Wonder Woman. (The pilot I saw wasn’t finished, so you could still see wires, which had yet to be digitally removed in some of the scenes.)

The show isn’t perfect, by any means, and there are some clunky real-world references to things like the Patriot Act, which have no place in this sort of fantasy. Still, there appeared to be genuine potential here, and Palicki — formerly of “Friday Night Lights” — is statuesque and talented enough to sell the character, which is no small feat. (I should add that I obtained the pilot through my own devices and nobody at Warner Bros. put me up to this.)

Based on all that, I’m still surprised NBC didn’t try a short order and hope for the best, or, barring that, that another network — maybe one of WB’s cable brethren, say TNT, or barring that NBC sibling Syfy — didn’t step in and give it a shot. If nothing else, with so many comic-book titles filling theaters this summer, it seems like TV ought to see if it can play (obviously on a more modest budget) in the superhero sandbox.

Its flaws notwithstanding, taking a flyer on “Wonder Woman” — and speaking of flying, yes, there’s a kind-of invisible plane — wouldn’t have been a bad place to start.

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  1. Beimprobable says:

    Here’s the thing about Wonder Woman many people don’t really see. The idea of her is certainly mock worthy at times and the feminist iconic mold people cram her into only hurts this. Wonder Woman is a trained in the art of war and art. She not only roughs up bad guys all the time, she is the only one of DC’s big three (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) who recognizes that monsters come in all forms, mythical and human alike, and sometimes slaying the monster is a necessity. There is nothing humane about the mind wipes and other solutions the “no kill” policy of Batman’s and Superman’s has come up with at times.
    Wonder Woman also was an ambassador for Themyscira so her stories also had a fascinating political element. She didn’t have a secret identity and has been taken to trial for actions one more than one occasion. Inside her world, she knows that she is a symbol for people who love her, an ideal. Because her lasso is truth incarnated in the form of a lasso, she is not prone to delusions or mental tricks that so easily affect Superman. Her lasso allows a connection between her soul and whoever it binds, allowing for a flow of absolute truths. Both sides are laid bare for the other to see with no fronts or lies. That’s a very intimidating thing to do as frequently as she does it and with some of the darkest souls she fights. Very few characters, or people in general, have the strength of character to withstand that and -still- love humanity as she does.
    So, you can see why Wonder Woman fans were more than a little upset about Kelley’s version of her. It’s not just about the image. Aside from making her yet another “hero with a large company that improbably funds her exploits” ala Batman and Ironman, Kelley removed all of that strength of character in favor of someone more reminiscent of Ally McBeal. His treatment would have been a wonder Supergirl television show or Powergirl and I would go so far as to say a fairly okay presentation of Ms. Marvel, but Wonder Woman? No. If you remove those qualities of truth, justice, and unconditional love, and the political intrigue and you no longer have the same character, nor a character that even resembles her. Again, slap on the title Supergirl and everything would have been fine.
    Last point: Wonder Woman merchandise has already been handled in the comics as well and done ten times better.

  2. Rob Mars says:

    That image did the series in (and the costume wasn’t the only problem with it). I’m not sure what your definition of “imposing” is, but it’s probably not one shared by a good many other people (including myself).
    Palicki (nothing against her generally) was a poor choice for this role. There isn’t anything “imposing” about a soft, skinny actress. You need an athletic actress to portray a convincing Wonder Woman, and whatever other attributes she may possess, that Palicki isn’t. We don’t hire scrawny wimps to play Superman for good reason. The same thinking applies nowadays to superheroines. Also, it probably would have helped had the actress looked more like the iconic Wonder Woman; Palicki, a blond, doesn’t fit that so well either.
    People, comics fanboys and general public alike, have pointed this out over and over again; but apparently Kelley et al. didn’t pay attention. Had they, this series would almost certainly have been given a chance.

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