Anything but Wonder-ful
Deconstructing the Wonder Woman pilot
By Tarot Barnes
With an interpolation by Jecel Mattos de Assumpo Jr.
In 2010, Warner Brothers decided to dip their toes into a traditionally difficult genre; super heroines. For whatever reason, these shows just donÕt survive very well, perhaps because of bad time slots, bad writing, or just because people are wedded to the idea that women should be tied to the train tracks instead of rescuing people from the onrushing train.
There is, however a notable exception; the beloved 1976 series, Wonder Woman staring Lynda Carter. Lasting a respectable three seasons, it produced enough of a following that itÕs thought of fondly by people who werenÕt even born when it was first aired.
If it worked before, why not again? With rumors of a big budget Wonder Woman movie circling the upper levels of development hell, it made sense for Warner Brothers to test the waters with a television series. Suitably ÔupdatedÕ for the new decade, naturally.
Fan reaction was initially enthusiastic; everyone wanted to revisit the glory days of Lynda Carter and with seventy years of comic lore for inspiration, how could anything go wrong?
Perhaps a better question would have been, Òhow could they have failed to get even a single thing right?Ó
Where to start? Honestly I donÕt know because Wonder Woman is less a comic book adventure than a documentary on how not to make a super heroine series. The Pilot was, unsurprisingly, not picked up and the only wonder now is how it ever got beyond a script.
The leaked version currently circulating the internet is raw footage, almost completely lacking in special effects, although, unless Photoshop has a Ôfix terrible ideasÕ brush, itÕs unlikely that they would have had any meaningful impact.
Of all the terrible decisions the producers made in this pilot, and there are many, the decision to craft Wonder Woman from a tick sheet was probably the worst and itÕs almost possible to see the though process:
ÒWhat makes a super heroine? A tight costume and mammary glands to go in aforementioned costumeÉ do I need else? Women have emotions so she should make it very clear sheÕs showing one, mostly anger because super women are upset the world asks so much of them, but occasionally drifting to regret that she left her One True Love ª to pursue her career since woman canÕt be happy if they donÕt have a man.
ÒNow, I have to make this character mine so itÕs clear I didnÕt just copy it from the source materialÉ or even read the source material; her lesbian island origins would confuse people but I also need something that will support her exorbitant hero insurance premiumsÉ I know, a toy company, because nothing sounds like justice more than the purchasing power of the 5-12 demographic. IÕll even call it Themyscria as a bone to the fans.
ÒThatÕs good, now I just have to differentiate my superhero show from the legions of others out there, just in case the mammary glands arenÕt enough <note to self; emphasize said glands in every shot, either by threatening to have them spill out of a ridiculously small corset, or by making the woman attached to them wear a wonder bra, depending on scene>. But howÉ?
IÕve got it; if Superman arrests wrongdoers then Wonder Woman should KILL them instead. However, even with the ridiculously low halter top, thereÕs a chance the audience might miss this crucial distinction so IÕll have either her or the other characters remind them at least once in every scene; this can also be a sore point with the police, who will be strangely compliant with all her other criminal activities.Ó
Honestly, the only thing that makes me think they didnÕt hire a five year old as a writer is that one would be too young to understand the importance of the showÕs two key selling points. Certainly the Producers didnÕt give any thought to her origins as spelt out in the comics, which is actually surprising; given the sheer volume of fan service the Pilot provides you might have thought the producers would have jumped at the opportunity to shoot an island filled with bikini clad Amazons deciding to send an ambassador to the world of men.
This would have had the secondary advantage of explaining why Wonder Woman can break the law with impunity, since Ambassadors are immune to prosecution (although they do get expelled). Instead all we get are veiled references to the fact that she Òcame hereÓ from somewhere else.
Amazingly, the dialogue actually manages to strike an even lower bar, though never so bad as when Diana tries to throws a stick to (or at?) feminists by reminding everyone that despite being a role model and gorgeous, sheÕs just like any other woman and doesnÕt deserve to be objectified. This is all WHILE MARKETING A DOLL BASED ON HERSELF!
The concept of a Super Hero owning a company and using the profits to fund their crime fighting lifestyle is an old one but the idea of a hero making money off their image isÉ disturbing. It brings up thoughts of Captain Amazing from Mystery Men, who actually sells advertising space on his costume. Not that IÕm suggesting Wonder Woman would stoop to that even if her costume were large enough to hold a logo; it would be a lot more profitable to design the costume specifically to make her doll more marketable.
This not only enhances the discomfort (if a future episode had taken her to the UK, would Wonder Woman have found a bustier with a Union Jack on it so she could sell a British Edition Doll?) but sets up a particularly moronic boardroom scene where her company reveals that it can apparently design and bring a major new release to pre-production status without getting any input from the companyÕs owner. Although, it is entirely possible that Wonder Woman did approve them and is simply contradicting herself again; she does this more than that when ranting ÒI never said to merchandise my tits!Ó
Obvious double standards and cries that she canÕt be a commodity without being objectified aside, you really have to wonder why, if she didnÕt want attention drawn to her bust, why she created a costume with such a low top? It canÕt have polled well since she outright stated that she doesnÕt believe in market research.
So if not then why, if she objects to her breasts being marketed, did she agree to such a costume? There are a number of arguments that could be invoked, most of them reminding us of the line between breasts as sexual objects and as symbols of femininity, but if this is the case than the distance between Wonder WomanÕs lofty intention and how it will be perceived by the rest of the world is so jaw dropping that even she would get altitude sickness. More importantly, her inability to see this would plunge her IQ to moronic levels.
The statement is especially galling given that, even if Wonder Woman isnÕt willing to market her cleavage, her Producers certainly were, even if meant the actress had to invent a curious running style to ensure she didnÕt accidentally bounce out of her clothes. ThereÕs a scene in the hospital which is particularly onerous since the fact the patient (actually a goon Wonder Woman had injured earlier) is on a bed gives the director the flimsiest excuse to point the camera directly down her cleavage as she bends over to interrogate him.
Which brings me to Wonder WomanÕs company; Themyscria Industries. Not only is it insulting to Ôre-imagineÕ Wonder WomanÕs mystical homeland in such a manner, but can you honestly imagine yourself buying toys from a company with ÔIndustriesÕ in its name?
It also seems to beÉsilly, to say nothing of risky. ItÕs easy to imagine someone advising Wonder Woman that theyÕre going to need to cut down her flying hours because the new ÒLittle Lady LassoÓ isnÕt selling to expectations.
But then, maybe toys are simply Wonder Woman/Diana Themyscria/Diana PrinceÕs (apparently two aliases arenÕt enough in todayÕs world) only civilian skill. Certainly she doesnÕt have anything else she could market, like, for example, the technology to build tiny vertical take off jets.
I would really like to say something about how her CEO (I donÕt believe itÕs actually said but IÕm guessing sheÕs the companyÕs owner) constantly interrupts, argues with and even shouts at her during subordinates butÉ this is probably the most realistic aspect of the show; he may be her employee, but it is his job to try and turn a profit and given how she ignores flow charts and other business tools, screaming in her face might well be the only way to get her attention.
Which brings us to the episodeÕs plot.
Evil woman sells killer drugs to make an army.
Someone should have told the producers that to get an audienceÕs attention you need a story you canÕt write on the back of a postage stamp. Admittedly IÕm scooting over other important events such as DianaÕs pressing love for her ex boyfriend, or her company politics but theyÕre sub plots, even if theyÕre more complex than the main story.
The episode starts with a poor-black-kid-being-given-his-big-chanceª only to end up bleeding from every orifice in front of his family. I know I should be more sympathetic but itÕs hard to feel sorry for a character so generic they were practically stamped out of a mold. This is apparently because he took drugs sold by aforementioned evil woman, Veronica, although it takes half an episode to reveal this because theyÕre too busy squashing in details of Wonder WomanÕs frustrations with the real world, her company, her lack of a love life and her boyfriend substitute pet cat.
The fact theyÕre squeezing all of that in is presumably also why no one bothers to address the fact that the boy took performance enhancing drugs to beat a university entrance exam.
Nor do we get any idea why Veronica decides to be evil. Admittedly sheÕs British - although somehow she isnÕt a Duchess – and she owns a large, powerful company. Either one of these usually indicate an evil nature, but arenÕt actually illegal, so she also kidnaps people, though we only learn sheÕs doing this to test her super soldier serum quite late into the episode.
Her reasons why, and how, if sheÕs still experimenting, the boy from the opening sequence got his hands on some, isnÕt really explained; someone mentions she wants to make an army she can sell but, unless guns are going out of fashion (or maybe they are; only one of her goons is armed with one), I canÕt really see the advantage of having muscles like balloons. Yes, theyÕd be strong, but not bullet proof; if Wonder Woman had turned up to the big fight with an M16 it would have been over in ten seconds.
And this still doesnÕt explain why Veronica wants to do this; even if she could find someone who wanted to employ Mexican wrestlers who canÕt count as soldiers, she didnÕt need to do anything illegal; she already has a biotech company and political clout, why does she need to set up a separate lab? As Jecel mentioned to me, she could even export the actual testing to a third world country where itÕd be easy to hide the rejects.
One thing you canÕt say about Veronica however is that sheÕs easily scared. After watching Wonder Woman call a press conference to accuse her of crimes against humanity, she doesnÕt run to her castle and wait for Wonder Woman to come for her, or even talk to a lawyer about sue Wonder Woman for slander (maybe because Wonder Woman admits, live on air, that she has no actual evidence for her accusation). Instead, she invites herself to Wonder WomanÕs company for a face to face meeting.
Considering that Wonder Woman is an immune to prosecution vigilante who not only not only kills people but isnÕt adverse to torturing them for information first, this is incredibly gusty. One might even have called it suicidal if Wonder Woman didnÕt subscribe to the Heroic Convention that, no matter how vile a villain is, if they come to talk to you openly, you are not allowed to pick them up and beat them against the nearest wall until they reveal everything they know.
Since Wonder Woman doesnÕt do that, we have to sit through several painful minutes of forced dialogue culminating in Veronica threatening to set her pet Senator onto her company if she doesnÕt back off. Wonder Woman doesnÕt and the Senator unleashes his most fearsome weapon on Themyscria Industries.
Then thereÕs Wonder WomanÕs torch carrying ex-boyfriend. Fortunately he doesnÕt arrive until the very end of the show or else the half second he takes to drop all charges against her would have deprived half the episode of non-pressure.
At some point during this, the boy whose drug fueled cheating started this episode, dies, and Wonder Woman gets angry (or should I say, gets even angrier). This gives her an excuse to torture a goon she beat up in the opening five minutes (and the director to make the aforementioned cleavage shot). This wouldnÕt be quite so terrible if there were any evidence heÕd done something wrong (supposedly he took drugs which are invisible to tests) and there werenÕt police standing guard for her while she breaks his arm!
Apparently, in this world, Wonder Woman can do whatever she wants. Admittedly her partner on the force shakes his head in disappointment, but this is the extent of his action. He doesnÕt call for backup or even point out to her that if sheÕd killed the goon as she originally wanted, she wouldnÕt have this opportunity to question him.
Then again, he might be looking at the bigger picture; if she breaks into VeronicaÕs lab he has an excuse to snoop around. Who cares if it cost someone the ability to sign their name, the man is clearly a villain even if thereÕs no actual evidence, beyond Wonder Woman beating them up, that he did anything wrong.
Cue the big fight scene and incredibly muscular men in obscenely tight costumes; at least no one can claim the show doesnÕt provide fan service for both sexes, though they might wonder why, if Veronica already has her super soldier serum, sheÕs still testing?
Maybe sheÕs looking for a drug that increases muscle mass without shrinking brain density because the guys sheÕs hired are clearly morons (one is even wearing a red shirt). Not only do they think that if they kill wonder woman in self defense the police wonÕt take any notice of the illegal biolab just down the hall, but they canÕt even count; with a mere 6 men behind him, the head goon tries to scare Wonder Woman off by boasting Òthere are twenty of usÓ.
Whatever the number, in a few seconds (not much longer than if she had brought that M16 in fact) there are considerably less as Wonder Woman works out her angst by killing them.
With the red shirts out of the way (and at least two literally squashed like bugs) only Veronica stands between Wonder Woman and the lab rats, leading to perhaps the only decent line in the entire episode Òwant to feel my muscle?Ó as Wonder Woman cracks VeronicaÕs head against the wall.
ÉAnd completely fails to kill her. Despite the provocation, evidence and the fact that she is literally holding the womanÕs neck in her hand, Wonder Woman continues to subscribe to Heroic Convention and merely arrests Veronica. This is despite the fact she wiped out a half dozen men whose only crime was to benefit from VeronicaÕs drugs a mere 30 seconds earlier.
So with Veronica in jail, her minions dead, the tumour covered lab rats facing am unlikely full recovery and even the prospect of her boyfriend re-entering her life, Wonder Woman can sit down with her cat and bask in the wonders of Facebook. Because of course, ultimately sheÕs just an ordinary woman who doesnÕt want to be hero all the time.
Warner Brothers, you owe me an hour of my life.
Jecel: No they don't - they did their best to keep us from watching this. We did it to ourselves :-)
Tarot: Damn you! YouÕre right *curses myself*