In late November, The WB announced that it had made the decision to cancel 'Birds of Prey' after having aired only seven episodes. Immediately upon hearing the news, irate fans nationwide clamored for a way to let The WB know that they had made a terrible mistake. The 'Keep the Birds Flying' campaign is how we can tell The WB and the production company, Tollin/Robbins, that we want our show back!
Angel is supposed to move into Birds of Prey's time slot. I guess that means that Angel will not be cancelled.
Rumours abound that Birds Of Prey will be cancelled.
After starting out at 7.6 million viewers its dropped down to 5 million viewers and Birds Of Prey is in fifth place in its time slot. At least it beats out The Twilight Zone.
The other big science fiction show on Wednesday night is Enterprise which is doing better with 4.5/7 vs 3.8/5 for Birds Of Prey. Birds Of Prey is more like a cartoon with a good looking heroine than it is science fiction. Enterpise is the future in the relatively benign and goody-two-shoes Star Trek universe. But at least it really is science fiction.
If you want my overall take on the show then skip to the end.
The show opens with the voice of a guide named Alfred Pennyworth (played by Ian Abercrombie). He starts talking about Batman and we all just instantly know that he must be the Alfred that worked as the Butler of Stately Wayne Manor. Oh cool. I always liked Alfred.
Next we meet Helena Kyle as her younger self. Dad was Batman. Mom was Catwoman. Okay, this throws a whole new light on supposedly straightlaced Batman. He had an illegitimate child that he initially didn't even know about? He's left town and never bothers to reach out to her? Or he never tries to see her because she holds him indirectly responsible for her mom's death? Or his money is tainted in her eyes for some other reason?
Joker or his henchman kills Helena Kyle's mom Catwoman. If The Joker was defeated the how is it he was still around to kill people? We find out the answer much later in the episode: he temporarily escaped from police custody. But if so, how did the police capture him again? He was The Joker after all. I wonder if the answer was already in some comic book story. Probably.
Barbara Gordon (played by Dina Meyer) was Batgirl and was another Batman protege. Joker shot her too. But she was just paralyzed in the legs.
Dinah Lance (as her teenage self in the present played by pretty blonde Rachel Skarsten) was no more than a child living far from Gotham. But she saw the shootings of Batgirl and Catwoman in her dreams. Her mother told her these were just dreams. But Dinah knew her visions would become her future.
The city is called New Gotham, not just Gotham? What's that about?
Dinah's riding on a bus. She's running to New Gotham. She wants to find the people from her dreams.
Barbara is in a wheelchair. She is working as a teacher. Barbara gets a Delphi Alert on her pager. Later in the episode she refers to herself as Oracle. Okay, Oracle of Delphi. This is the comic book style of deep and cultured story telling.
Helena Kyle (aka the Huntress - played as an adult by Ashley Scott) is talking to a shrink woman (we later learn she's Dr. Harleen Quinzel - played by Mia Sara). She reveals that Bruce Wayne is her father. For someone who has some serious secrets to hide I think Helena is being too forthcoming with this shrink woman. She's talking to the shrink as part of court sentence for something she did? Sounds like it.
Just as Dinah arrives in NG she sees a guy sitting on a bus stop bench and then he suddenly gets up and runs in front of a passing vehicle. Was the other guy on the bench involved in getting him to do thing? Dinah goes up and holds his hand. She sees into his mind where he's about to be engulfed and eaten by rats. He says something about the word "phoenix".
Implausibility Alert: Why is there still an accident scene when the sun has gone down? How long would it take emergency workers to remove a dead body or a live one to take it to the hospital?
McNally as skeptical cop and Reese as believer cop. Okay, since it worked for Dana Scully and Fox Mulder why not reuse a winning formula?
Helena works as a bar tender. She's not happy with the low pay and low recognition of fighting the bad guys anonymously. Barbara OTOH is at the bar trying to tell her it is worthwhile.
Who sent Barbara the Delphi Alert? Must have been Alfred Pennyworth.
Dinah runs into the nice guy from her bus ride into NG. But he's not nice in NG at night. He tries to rape her. Then, oh coincidence, Helena shows up to pummel him good. She gets cat eyes when she fights.
Bad guy: Who the hell are you?
Helena: I'm the huntress and you're the prey.
Helena doesn't wear an effective disguise when she fights. This seems like a mistake. More on that later.
Helena touches Dinah. Dinah of course absorbs enough about Helena to know how to track her back to her lair (or cat house).
Then we watch Helena/Huntress demonstrate her building climbing and building hopping abilities - lest anyone get the impression that she's just a good street fighter.
There's a basic post-mission debriefing. Then the important stuff:
Barbara: What's this obsession with food?
Helena: You try fighting the forces of evil when your blood sugar is low.
Does she ever eat a guy after fighting him to the death?
Time for Dinah to show up and start the threesome story in earnest. Dinah of course knows where to find them. Dinah sets off the intruder alarm. They knock Dinah out when she comes into their building suite.
Various things get said. Then:
Dinah: And sometimes when I dream things they come true.
Superhuman? Nah, that is too overused. This show opts for Metahuman. Hey, I like it. Helena is a metahuman and so is Dinah but not Barbara. Barbara wants to keep Dinah. Helena thinks that's a bad idea. Barbara recalls how Helena once came to her and Barbara kept her and look at how well that turned out!
Alfred Pennyweather wakes Dinah up with clothes and breakfast. Civilization and refined living intrudes.
Why isn't Helena going to accept any Wayne money? She resents her father for not protecting her mother from The Joker?
Why would Helena reveal to the psychiatrist that her father Bruce Wayne had a violent hobby? Or why mention Barbara?
Was the other guy on the bus stop chair a metahuman?
Phoenix is a development company that the dead guys are linked to. Bought all the old dock land cheap to rebuild. Or get access to the infrastructure of NG. Water, sewer, etc. 2 or 4 owners of Phoenix are dead.
Is the 3rd guy already dead? Time to go pay him a visit in his penthouse apartment. Only one slice pizza eaten in his place. Helicopter flying outside. The guy has already hung himself. But not really.
In comes Detective Reece from the street scene where Dinah saw the second Phoenix guy die. So Reece also must have made the connection between the partners.
Helena's having an interesting talk with Reece and lets him know she's on his side. Then she frees herself from his handcuffs and flies out the window. Reece now knows for sure that the weirdness is for real. He's a confirmed believer.
4th Phoenix partner is Ketterley. Helena and Barbara argue about whether Dinah should be allowed to do field work.
Dinah: Let me go to the damned dock yards.
Implausibility Alert: Barbara can watch Dinah thru a holographic image. 3D view of where Dinah is cool. But why would Dinah's returning image be total 360 view? Glasses would be forward looking only. So why the green cone?
Helena sets off an alarm outside Ketterley's home.
Ketterley knows Helena from her childhood apparently. Why isn't he already totally freaked about the 3 partners dead?
So we get suspicious of Ketterley. Something's not right here. Is Helena being drugged?
Switch to Dinah down at dockyards where the Phoenix partnership was going to be doing something.
But Dinah is in voice contact with Barbara/Oracle with Barbara saying things about "Before I was Oracle".
Flashback on Batman, Catgirl, Joker. Joker got away from police for only a few hours. But how was he able to do that and then get captured again? Hardly the most important question and shows can't take the time to explain everything.
Barbara: I think the Joker wanted to drive the Batman mad. And maybe he did.
We learn that Batman was so traumatized by the Joker attacks against his friends that threw in the crime fighting towel and left New Gotham.
Dinah: Barbara, someone's been here.
Barbara: You know what is underneath those dockyards? Its history.
Ketterley is the bad guy.
Ketterley: Its time to tell me Helena. What are you afraid of?
Did he drug her with the coffee to get her in a frame of mind to tell him her greatest fear? Or does the drug allow him to tell her that her greatest is true or that it is happening to her?
Killing the other partners as a way to get their money without their control of the dockyards project? But how would that work? After all, they each would have estates and someone would inherit the other shares. Hey, this is cartoon television. We don't need to sweat the details.
Barbara and Helena decide that Helena must be in trouble. Before we know it they are at Ketterley's coming into the room while Ketterley tries to get Helena to stab herself.Implausibility Alert: Why have Helena stab herself at Ketterley's place if Ketterley is trying to avoid anything that ties him directly to the murders? I realize that Ketterley's in a bit of a rush. But couldn't he have drugged her, taken her elsewhere, broken her will, and then gotten her to kill herself in public somewhere? Of course, having the climax come at the bad guy's house provides a way for Barbara and Dinah to know where to find Ketterley.
Helena is about to kill herself. So Dinah does a Vulcan mind meld (oh wait, wrong show) and enters the nightmare of Helena's mind to try to talk her out of her suicide. Dinah decides to bring Barbara into the dream for help. Then we have the fight dream scene between Barbara/Batgirl (in the dream realm not paralyzed from the waist down) and Ketterley. Dream Batgirl kills dream Ketterley. Ketterley is left fried out in the brain because his dream self (which is part of him in some mystical way) died in Helena's dream realm.
Aside: FOB means Freight On Board.Implausibility Alert: What evidence was available to implicate Ketterley? How could an explanation have been constructed to explain to the police what happened?
The shrink woman from the early scene with Helena is the lady psychiatry Dr Harleen Quinzel. She's getting Ketterley delivered to her at an insane asylum. Okay, is Dr Quinzel a bad girl? I am thinking so. Well, it doesn't even take a whole minute to get the confirmation that, yes, Dr. Quinzel is possessed by the dark side of the force. After she's left alone with Ketterley she kicks him to the ground and says (among other evil nasty things):
Dr. Quinzel: "Just goes to show. Never send a businessman to do a psychopath's job.
Now we are back in the high clock works.
Barbara Gordon/ex-Batgirl/Oracle: You know, if it wasn't for her neither of us would be alive.
Helena/Huntress: Yeah, I know.
The Characters All Clearly Defined: The three major lady protagonists have clear roles. Enough of their histories were painted to understand some of their motivations and abilities. Alfred's character was defined back in Batman and he's still Alfred. There are the two police detectives. Detective Jesse Reese is the believer (following in the steps of Fox Mulder from X-Files and Detective Kate Lockley from Angel, and assorted other detectives who were alone in their believers in supernatural and otherworldly actions happening all around them). Detective Reese now knows enough to confirm his beliefs that there are beings around that are not regular humans. Detective McNally is the skeptical detective who thinks Reece's imagination is out of control. Finally, we have met our first recurring evil character: psychopathic psychiatrist Dr Harleen Quinzel.
Helena/Huntress Isn't Clearly the Leader: The problem with Helena as action hero is that she's not clearly the leader. By contrast, Buffy is leader of the Scooby gang (the Watchers were never really all that assertive or capable of leadership). Also, on the Angel show Angel has always ended up leading whatever group forms around him. But in Birds Of Prey we don't have an action hero as leader in this show because Barbara is the adult supervisor and her history gives her an elevated status. Helena's lack of leadership qualities seems like a mistake and one which could be fixed with a careful choice of events to drive the plot development.
Dinah is a Useful Character: Dinah's ability to see what people are thinking when she touches them will allow the protagonists find out about all sorts of people in danger and also to discover that some people are up to no good. If Dinah has a superhero special name I haven't noticed it yet. Dinah's just psychic and doesn't appear to have super strength. So that leaves the bulk of the fighting action to Helena. But since she's a pretty young blonde she'll attract young male viewers.
Barbara Gordon As Mature Adult Voice Of Reason: Barbara Gordon's role appears to be to provide mature adult leadership to Dinah and Helena. Her greater age and experience provides less room for personal development. Also, Barbara's being in a wheelchair prevents her from being a full superhero (this limitation was sidestepped in the first episode when she fought Ketterley in the dream realm).
The characters are all drawn with a fast one dimensional paintbrush in the first episode. So far they appear to be fairly lacking in subtlety. Helena/Huntress comes across as the emotionally wildest of the three main protagonists. Maybe Dinah could develop emotionally because she's fairly young and can be expected to grow and find confidence in her powers. Also, Dinah's ability to see into minds ought to allow her to undergo a much more rapid transformation in understanding of the human condition.
Helena/Huntress Doesn't Wear A Real Mask: The advantage of the absence of an effective mask is that a pretty face can be more clearly shown in more scenes. The disadvantage is that we can't have the effect of her playing a public figure and a disguised dashing mystery figure (which would be especially great when she meets guys that she likes when she's playing metahuman and then they don't recognize her the next day).
Quinzel and Helena/Huntress: Okay, one of them will figure out who the other one is eventually. My guess is that Quinzel will figure out Helena first. But if Helena ever introduces Quinzel to Dinah and Dinah shakes her hand then Dinah will figure it out. That would make for a great plot twist if done at the right moment (eg right before an elaborate plot of Quinzel's is about to kill Helena).
Maybe. I wasn't really all that impressed with the first episode. We met the main protagonists, a couple of cops who will no doubt reappear in supporting roles, and our first couple of evil opponents. One evil opponent died but the other one looks set to play a recurring role as a psychopathic enemy. Is any of this interesting? Not particularly.
What are the problems with the show? Well, its supposed to be in the Batman universe but it lacks some of the elements that made Batman entertaining. Batman was a campy parody of a cartoon. Batman had ZZZZooockkk! PPPoowww! Baaammm! fights. It had Police Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara and the Mayor for Batman and Robin (as their real identities and as their secret identities) to interact with. So it had that connection to power. By contrast, so far its leading characters have only a rather low level connection to real legitimate power (a lowly police detective that Huntress reveals a bit of her purpose to).
Since Batman was a prominent society figure the Batman show was provided with a social context where all sorts of characters could be introduced. Analogously, the high school setting of Buffy The Vampire Slayer provided a setting for many characters to enter the story line. In fact, in Buffy's case the show became so limited by Buffy's post-college era that she had to be sent back to high school as a guidance counselor in order to provide a context for new story lines and new characters. Birds Of Prey seems to lack a wider context. Helena and Barbara do have jobs from which story lines could be started. But it might make more sense to put Dinah into a place where she shakes lots of hands and therefore flashes on what is in the minds of all the people she comes into contact with.
Birds Of Prey attempts to be more serious than Batman. There is little in the way of conscious overt parody. The evil seems more malicious and the evil characters are in no way funny. The first evil figure we met was a corrupt businessman who was killing his partners by getting into their minds and driving them mad with their greatest fear. On one hand the supernatural element with mental fears could have come out of an Angel or Buffy or even Charmed plot. On the other hand Ketterley was the stereotypical corrupt businessman of Hollywood lore and his ambitions too mundane. This sort of theme has been explored to utter boredom by countless shows and movies. While obviously some people like that sort of thing I'd personally rather watch Buffy prevent evil doers from opening the Hellmouth to bring about the apocalypse.
Now, Birds Of Prey doesn't have to be a cartoon parody to be successful. I'm not arguing that just because Batman was parody that Birds Of Prey should be parody as well. Birds Of Prey could succeed on other terms. What I am arguing is that Birds Of Prey has not yet demonstrated that it possesses all the elements needed for a successful show.
Some suggestions for the Birds Of Prey producers and writers:
You can find The New York Times review of Birds Of Prey here.