What's up with Wonder Woman?

As far as making the leap from the printed page to moving images, it's been a rough time for DC Comics' Amazonian princess. Wonder Woman may be part of DC's Big Three (along with Superman and Batman) but evidently nobody knows how to handle the character - to translate the world's first superheroine for the non-comic-readers today. I mean I know how I would make a Wonder Woman movie, but apart from a very well done animated film, Hollywood has never managed (or been committed enough) to haul a live-action WW project out of development hell.

Then, in October last year, some genius decided that Wonder Woman belonged on TV. Of course that's where the world's greatest female superhero first snagged the public's attention - thanks to a hit 70s TV series starring Lynda Carter. However, traditionally the small screen and spandex wearers have never really gelled. Sticking with DC comic adaptations, Smallville and the very short-lived Birds of Prey A) mangled the comic characters, B) looked low budget and cheesy and C) were pretty "meh" all around.

What the planned Wonder Woman TV revamp had in its favour - or to its detriment, depending on your point of view - was a high profile writer-producer in the form of multi-award winning David E Kelley, the man behind Ally McBeal, The Practice, Chicago Hope and Boston Legal. I commented on my Kelley pros and cons last year when his involvement was first announced.

One thing I never expected though, given Kelley's involvement - and the iconic superhero at the series' centre - was for all of America's major television networks to immediately pass on the show. Once again it looked as if the Wonder Woman project was to be frozen forever. With a change in senior management, however, NBC changed their mind and in January this year decided to pick up Kelley's pilot script.

Friday Nights Lights star Adrianne Palicki was quickly cast as Diana, and I have to say that the young actress certainly looks the part, even if I'm unfamiliar with her work, and acting abilities. Elizabeth Hurley, meanwhile, will play Diana's "Lex Luthor" Veronica Cale - the powerful, cunning CEO of a pharmaceuticals company. The rest of the Wonder Woman cast is rounded out with Tracie Thoms as Wonder Woman's best friend Etta Candy, Justin Bruening as Diana's sometimes beau Steve Trevor, Cary Elwes as Diana's business partner (we'll get to that plot point in a second) and Pedro Pascal as Wonder Woman's police contact.

Around the same time that casting was announced, a couple of sites (here and here for example) got their hands on the Wonder Woman pilot script, or at least one draft of it. According to commentators, the series pilot is NOT an origin tale. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, at the beginning of the show Diana has already been living in the United States for several years, is still pining for her fighter ace ex Trevor (who she accompanied to America from women-only Paradise Island), and, most importantly, has to juggle 3 (not 2) different identities:

  • 1) Super-powered heroine Wonder Woman
  • 2) Diana Themyscira, the head of Themyscira Industries and the KNOWN alias of WW (think Tony Stark)
  • 3) Dorky Diana Prince (think Clark Kent), the secret alias Diana adopts when she wants a little downtime out of the public eye.

A quick skim over these plot points and it all sounds acceptable enough. Although the "modern woman trying to do it all / juggle multiple roles" concept is laid on a bit thick, evidently there's still enough fidelity to the Wonder Woman comics to please fans, while simultaneously keeping things more realistic as opposed to mythological.

However, it's at this point that it becomes impossible to ignore the presence of Kelley's trademark quirkiness in the script. Weirdness starts to creep in. For example, Wonder Woman doesn't have an invisible plane (thank God) but instead she uses a whole squadron of sleek, small, colourful aircraft. And she employs a team of basement-dwelling techie twentysomethings to help with mystery solving. Oh, and she continually sings along to girl power pop songs and guzzles ice cream at a slumber party. Yeah. Kelley and/or Diana evidently have strange understanding of what it is to be a normal human woman. And curiously it all sounds very Ultra-like (that comic and almost-TV series mixing Sex & The City with superheroines).

Still though, the alleged plot of the Wonder Woman pilot hasn't earned nearly as much criticism as Diana's new costume. Clearly influenced by last year's controversial character revamp, the first image unveiled of Palicki in costume revealed that the iconic star-spangled "broekies" had been dumped in place of full leggings. However, reaction was exceptionally negative to the shiny, primary coloured latex and high heeled boots. Some fans even went so far as to "fix" the pic in Photoshop.

Evidently NBC was listening, because the "low budget porn" outfit had vanished by the time shooting began in March. A much more functional and subdued costume design was first glimpsed during location filming in Los Angeles. NBC claimed that the change was to make the costume more patriotic, but regardless of the reason, fans were momentarily placated.

The big question remains though whether the new Wonder Woman will be a success, critically and commercially. There's a long road ahead. The pilot is likely to be screened as a TV movie before the end of the year, but it still has to please NBC executives behind-the-scenes before a weekly series will be greenlit. So the earliest the public may see an actual hour-long Wonder Woman show is late 2011, or as a mid-season replacement in 2012.

Personally I predict that a series will be approved, with a tentative order of maybe 6 to 12 episodes up front. I see the pilot screening to a record high audience only for the viewership to drop off sharply during the second and third weeks. I'm trying not to be cynical but given current viewer tastes and the pilot's apparently heavy dose of cheese, I doubt the new Wonder Woman will last beyond 12 episodes... if it makes it that far. Good luck, Diana!


artdude said…
i hope to god this doesn't make it past the pilot episode , Ive seen better costumes at cosplay conventions , wonder woman equates to asskick-kary ,not fighting the evil revlon empire ,I think she is a character which works best set in ancient greek and roman times,a series similar to the current spartacus would've been better

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