You must have heard about it by now, the much lambasted pilot script for NBC's new WONDER WOMAN television series written by David E. Kelley, which has been slammed all over the Internet as being a cross between Wonder Woman and ALLY MCBEAL.
Well, the script itself fell into my hands this weekend, thanks to a source who, surprisingly, was the first person I'd heard from who had good things to say about it. With that, I tried really hard to let go of the coverage about this thing I had previously read, and honestly look at it on its own merits.
So is it as bad as you've heard?
Well, in the immortal words of Opus the Penguin, "It's not that bad, but, Lord, it ain't good."
First, the premise -- Wonder Woman here leads a double life of sorts, as a world-famous superhero who also runs a major corporation devoted to marketing her image, as a way of paying for all the resources necessary for her battle against evil (although she doesn't really seem to do much in the way of actual corporate leadership, spending most of her time in the office complaining about what it is they do -- but we'll get back to that). The script also sets up a mousy "secret identity" for Diana where she can live a life free of fame and superheroic pressure -- not much is done with it, but one can assume later episodes would take that ball and run with it. The pilot episode pits Wonder Woman against Veronica Cale, a pharmaceutical magnate creating a supercharged steroid responsible for megapowered muscle men tearing up L.A., and also sets up Steve Trevor as Diana's lost love interest (reconceived as a lawyer, of course, because it's a Kelley show).
The biggest problem with this thing in my eyes is the tone. It feels, for the lack of a better term, desperate to be relevant and hip, and yet completely misses the mark. Pop songs are sprinkled throughout the script, one supposes to make the show feel current, and yet the notion of Wonder Woman running through the streets of Los Angeles to the tune of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" really doesn't inspire the feeling they must have been looking for (not to mention that the song in question was popular, what, three years ago?). We're treated to scenes of Wonder Woman flying in her jet and singing along to Green Day, working out to Lady Gaga, and rather than make Wonder Woman seem young and hip, it feels like the middle-aged dad singing along in the minivan to Justin Bieber to try and look cool in front of his daughter and her friends, who instead are positively mortified.
What's really striking here is the gap between intention and execution. Clearly, the idea here is to appeal to women, but it seems to me they're going about it in entirely the wrong way. If you make Wonder Woman a strong, confident, take-charge character, you'll get the female audience on your side. Instead, the idea seems to be to make her "relatable," which manifests itself mostly in Wonder Woman being continually on the verge of tears whenever Steve Trevor's name is mentioned. The episode ends with Wonder Woman sobbing into her pillow, for pete's sake (and this after we see her in her PJs eating a bowl of ice cream while watching Katy Perry videos because "It was a three-scoop kind of day."). We're also treated to Wonder Woman complaining to her marketing department about the size of the breasts on the Wonder Woman dolls, because "...when I hear the comments. 'I always thought they were bigger,' that can be hurtful." Ugh.
In another clunky attempt to seem current, Wonder Woman has a pack of young computer experts called "the Animals" on staff, and we're introduced to them as they dance around to Kanye West's "Gold Digger," because "the Animals often break up their day with a little dancing." The scene here where Diana meets with the Animals feels very much inspired by the execrable TMZ television series, in the sequences where Harvey Levin talks to his pack of young jackals about what celebrities they tormented that day, and they all crack wise and give each other smarmy high-fives. (And Diana calling the meeting to order by saying "Okay, class, we got 'bidness'" is positively cringeworthy. )
Diana's voice is all over the map, in fact. Sometimes she seems completely assimilated (to the point of being hopelessly out of date, such as her Desi Arnaz impression when talking to her cat -- and by the way, who in this show's target audience has ever even seen an episode of I LOVE LUCY?) and other times they seem to be trying to play up her cultural ignorance, as with her confusion at the aforementioned Katy Perry video. The episode's dramatic climax comes with Wonder Woman's testimony before Congress, where she gives an overblown speech decrying the evils of Congress and Big Pharma, and of course leaves to rousing applause and a standing ovation (and a thumbs up from Dianne Feinstein. Really?) It feels like a cross between the similar scene in IRON MAN 2 and any episode of THE WEST WING, only without any of the charm or crackle.
So how do you save this thing? First off, lose the constant pop soundtrack, and if you want to have current music, get actual current music, not a 55-year-old man's idea of what "all the kids are listening to today." The premise itself isn't bad, and there are some well done flashbacks to her youth on Paradise Island. Even the lost romance angle can work, but the approach to Diana herself has to be completely overhauled. I understand that Wonder Woman can be a difficult character to get a handle on, but this isn't the way to go. Like Superman, Wonder Woman should be an inspirational figure, something for people to aspire to. Sure, she should have flaws and foibles, but there should be a confidence and self-assuredness about her, which will make those moments when we see the chinks in her armor all the more powerful. That's not coming through at all here, and the focus is only going to be on the "Ally McBeal" moments, like a sobbing Wonder Woman in her pajamas. It's so far off from what the character is meant to be about, I'm afraid it will sink this show before it even gets off the ground.
Scott Tipton wishes someone would send David Kelley a stack of Perez WONDER WOMAN books and a JUSTICE LEAGUE DVD box set. If you have questions about Wonder Woman or comics in general, send 'em here.