Ever since its demise at the hands of NBC executives, David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman pilot has been one of the hottest “gets” in Hollywood. Once the show failed to get picked up to series I started calling my contacts and was met, almost universally, with “I don’t have it, but I’m trying to get it.”
Persistence pays off and eventually I got my hands on a copy of the pilot.
(For contextual purposes, you might want to check out my review of the script before reading my review of the pilot.)
For all its problems I actually enjoyed the Wonder Woman pilot script that made the rounds and was looking forward to seeing it brought to life. In the time since that first draft was written a lot of work must have been done because what we have in the actual pilot is a leaner and meaner version of the script that I read. While the overall plot is the same, there must have been a page one rewrite because every scene has been rewritten, reworked, or excised completely. (In fact, a friend of mine who works as a writer in Hollywood told me back in March that the script had been completely overhauled.) Whether it happened in the writing or in the editing, the result is the same: a whole lot of fat was cut.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
The basic structure is the same from the script. We open and close with a big action sequence that showcases Wonder Woman’s superheroics, and in-between we are introduced to her world populated up of her co-workers, allies, arch enemy, and ex-boyfriend.
WHAT CHANGED FROM THE SCRIPT?
While the overall plot remains the same, many of the details changed. Some notable elements that are missing from the pilot are:
Themyscira – Throughout the script Wonder Woman constantly flashed back to her time on Paradise Island including her warrior training and meeting and falling for Steve Trevor. None of this appears in the pilot.
Myndi Mayer – In the script she is Diana’s best friend and the press secretary at Themyscira Industries. She does not appear at all in the pilot; instead her character has been merged with that of Etta Candy, who in the script was Diana’s personal assistant.
The Animals – Wonder Woman’s team of quirky and (allegedly) endearing misfits, who act as her evidence team and tech support while she’s out on missions is, thankfully, no where to be found in the pilot.
The Gimmicks – There were a lot of gimmicks in the script that are missing from the pilot:
- The script indicated that the pilot would run commercial-free (I bet the ad sales department had a good laugh over that one), but in the pilot there are standard commercial breaks.
- The script was littered with on-the-nose musical cues for pop songs like “Single Ladies” which are nowhere to be found in the pilot. Along with the missing pop songs, many of the groan-inducing pop culture references are gone, including a running gag about a lawsuit with Katy Perry who had dressed up as Wonder Woman in one of her videos.
- The script also indicated that there will be bleeped out cursing in the series which no longer occurs, though in a meeting about a ridiculously endowed Wonder Woman doll Diana does say the word “tits” twice and “ass” once.
- In the opening scene of the script as Wonder Woman is chasing a criminal down Hollywood Boulevard, she runs into (sometimes literally) people dressed as Buzz Lightyear, SpongeBob SquarePants, Iron Man, and, of course, Wonder Woman. None of this occurs in the pilot.
WHAT WAS GOOD?
As Wonder Woman/Diana Themyscira/Diana Prince, Adrianne Palicki was a revelation. I was already a big fan of hers from Friday Night Lights but here she takes center stage and pulls off what is an extremely difficult role. She’s tough, she’s charming, she’s sexy, she’s vulnerable, and she’s got a little bit of an angry edge to her when she’s Wonder Woman that adds just a dash of exciting unpredictability. This could have been a star making turn for Padlicki who certainly deserves one.
The Wonder Woman on this show is a badass who is not above choking dudes with her lasso (her favorite move) or throwing a piece of pipe through your throat if you won’t stop shooting at her. For a weekly television show, the action scenes were fairly well executed and at times quite thrilling. The whole final sequence where she storms Veronica Cale’s compound and decimates her ‘roided out super-soldier army is really fun to watch.
The first time we see Wonder Woman she is wearing the version of the costume that we’ve seen with the blue pants. The biggest surprise in the entire pilot? When she shows up to take on Veronica Cale’s goons for the final big action scene, she’s in the classic pants-less comic book costume. That costume only appeared briefly in the script where it hung in the back of her closet. There is a mention of a designer coming in to discuss a new costume so it would appear that this Wonder Woman has different costumes for different occasions. Whichever costume she’s wearing they all really work on-screen.
A lot of time was spent in the script on Steve Trevor and the effect that their break-up had on Diana. That’s toned way, way down in the pilot. In fact, the famous sequence where she has a sleepover with her best friend and eats ice cream and talks about their breakup and then cries because she misses Steve is nowhere to be found. Yes, there are a few flashbacks to their break-up, and yes, Diana misses Steve, and yes, it has affected her, but how she deals with it is handled in a much more realistic way. Diana is obviously lonely and does not have any kind of personal life and that was clearly being set up as a subplot to run through the series.
The streamlining of the script really worked in the pilot’s favor. The story moved much quicker than it read. For example, in the script, Diana spent a long sequence testifying before the United States Congress about her vigilante activities, which allowed for long and droning speechifying on both sides. That would have been really boring on screen. In the pilot, that sequence is swapped out for a scene in which she has dinner with one sleazy congressman. The same information about the government being uneasy with Wonder Woman’s activities was conveyed in a much quicker, and more compelling, way.
WHAT WAS BAD?
There wasn’t a whole lot about the pilot that I didn’t like. The most glaring was probably Cary Elwes, as CEO of Themyscira Industries Henry Demeter, who had “superhero overacting disease” in which perfectly respectable and talented actors think that because they are in a comic book production that they need to turn the goofiness up a few notches.
As Steve Trevor, Justin Bruening was a bit of a mannequin. A very handsome mannequin, sure, but he didn’t exactly exude a ton of charm.
The device of filing in exposition with a lots of talking head cameos from real life television personalities was a little grating after a while, though one would hope that there would be less of a need to hear that… sigh… Dr. Phil thinks that Wonder Woman is a wacko as the show progressed.
There were also a bunch of cringe-inducing lines of dialogue which I was apparently mostly comfortable with after years of watching Smallville and Heroes.
WHAT DID I THINK OVERALL?
Overall, I quite liked it. When I was done watching the pilot I found myself bummed out that I wouldn’t be seeing any more episodes. I really liked this version of Wonder Woman. She is a badass fighter with a bit of an unhinged edge that gives her just a hint of “if she got out of control she’d be scary”. She’s also vulnerable and relatable as a person which is crucial for a television series lead. Was she exactly the Wonder Woman from the comics? No. Of course not. But she’s also not so far off as to be foreign. Ultimately, had this series been picked up I think we would have had an interesting new version of Wonder Woman, and a series that would have been a lot of fun. Were there parts that were clunky? Yes, absolutely. Especially some of the dialogue from the talking heads. Did Carey Elwes need to tone it down a notch? Yes. But this was a pilot and these things would have been fixable. Series often go through a lot of changes and adjustment after the pilot and there’s no reason why Wonder Woman wouldn’t have been any different. Overall, it’s not a total surprise that NBC passed on the show. While the pilot is really solid and lots of fun, it wouldn’t blow anyone away and when you’re talking about a show that would be as expensive to produce as this one, the first time out of the gate it has to be spectacular. To steal a line from a friend who also saw the pilot “I’d still like to see more but it’s missing something. It sounds corny to say, but I think it needs a little magic, a little WONDER.”
One side note. Once NBC passed on the show, a lot of people started speculating on whether or not it would ever be made available, like the failed Aquaman pilot, Mercy Reef, which was released via iTunes. I don’t think the same will happen with Wonder Woman. For one big reason: it’s unfinished. During most of the final fight scene the stunt wires are visable and some of the lasso effects are primative. Also, it appears that they began shooting the pilot with the shiny costume that received so much scorn on the internet. When Wonder Woman comes back to her base after the first time we see her chasing down a bad guy, she walks into an elevator wearing the newer costume with the more cloth-like dark blue pants, and she walks out wearing the shiny light blue pants. A title apepared on screen that read “VFX MISSING – PANTS TO BE DARKENED”. And in one helicopter shot of a highway there is a title that reads “ADD POLICE CARS” Clearly this was a rough cut and clearly they are not going to sink money into finishing something that will never be broadcast so any hopes that this might be released in an official capacity are dashed.