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.
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.