October 10, 2002
Birds of Prey pick up where Batman left off, and it’s one step forward for girl power and two steps backward for genre TV. While there’s enough to keep you watching, the show doesn’t quite resonate yet. This is mostly due to a really dumb plot and some bad acting, plus those annoying WB CD tie-ins (no, we did not need to hear Michelle Branch as the credits rolled).
The episode begins with a melodramatic pan-origin recap of the three women, narrated by Alfred the butler. In short order and very broad strokes, we’re given the rundown: The Bat and the Cat’s confrontation, the Joker’s bad, bad ways, and his revenge on Batman. He takes out Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), and Selena Kyle is stabbed, as her daughter Helena (Ashley Scott) cradles her mother’s dying body. This is one messed up girl, which is confirmed as we later observe her in therapy with her shrink, who happens to be the obvious choice for female uber-villain, Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara).
Meanwhile, far away, young girl Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) telepathically experiences the pain of both superheroes. Her power to see and feel the experiences of others will eventually lead her to New Gotham and Oracle and the Huntress. They’ll reluctantly let Dinah join forces with them.
Trying to cram this many stories into one pilot is a dicey proposition. I kept thinking about The X-Men, and how much better they handled it. In that case, we got two “origin moments” (Magneto and Rogue), plus some pre-X-Men Logan. But we never had to sit through a hoary voice-over narration saying, “In the time of great distress, three women blah blah superheroes” blah blah. Just show me what’s going on. It really bugs me when producers don’t trust their audience. Despite some fun glimpses of Batman, Joker, and Catwoman, the opener is a real groaner that left me unmoved. It’s a big information dump, all “tell” and no “show.” This is a comic book series, after all, with a lot of history and built-in backstory. Some viewers already know a little bit, and others will figure it out as they go along. Like a fine wine, you’ve got to pop the cork and let it breathe a while before serving and gulping it down.
So it’s up to the performers then to let us in to their characters. Dina Meyer makes the best impact as Barbara Gordon. She’s just more at home inside her character. As Helena’s guardian and the operation’s brain, she’s got to protect this young woman, who is friend, colleague, sister, and daughter all-in-one. Most of the time, she can’t dwell on her own existential angst, i.e., her paralysis, loss of her identity, Batman, etc. There are more shadings to Barbara.
That leaves Helena as Huntress, the brash brawn. While Ashley Scott is certainly beautiful, she can’t do much with Helena except make her into your typical sassy, sarcastic chick with the usual rebellious schtick. We know she loves her mother and resents Bruce Wayne. Only when Helena describes her mother do we see any emotion and a glimpse into her angst. And it looks like they want to set up some kind of love-hate, unresolved sexual tension thing with Det. Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore, best known for The Young and The Restless), the cop convinced there’s something afoot in the New Gotham night and determined to find out who’s behind it. Reese is cool, and hot, hot, hot. But I’m not sure they should be forcing the issue between these two just yet. I could tell their big scene was supposed to be this supercharged with tension and dry wit, but you know, it left me going “eh.” It just ain’t there yet.
I had the most trouble with teen girl Dinah. Sure, she’s cute. But some of her line reads are real howlers and the doe-eyed ingenue thing can get real annoying. She does redeem herself during face-to-face meetings with Oracle and Huntress; you get the feeling that this girl’s experience of seeing these women’s pivotal life moments has changed her. But then she goes back to being a ditzy blonde teenager again. Yecch.
I had no interest at all in the story of the executives who committed suicide through some kind of mental manipulation. The plot is never clear or compelling enough, and you’re usually too distracted by the Huntress’ state of gothic undress or Oracle’s red hair dye job and snazzy “intelligent girl” frames to really care. (Is there anyone out there who’s smart and who has 20/20 vision? I know there has to be). This lack of plot in the premiere episode is very, very disappointing. With any number of possible plots, in such a rich setting, they couldn’t come up with something better? A story connected to Batman’s disappearance, perhaps? Or Helena’s connection to both crime (Catwoman) and crimefighting (Batman)?
Mostly, I enjoyed being in Gotham for an hour with these chicks. But beauty is just skin deep. And the only way to see in the darkness is to embrace the dark night.