BIRDS OF PREY
Barabara Gordon/Oracle -
Helena Kyle/Huntress -
Detective Reese -
Dr Quinzel -
OTHER SUPERHERO SHOWS
In Gotham City (or New Gotham as they're calling it now) Batman and the Joker fought for supremacy. In an act of desperation, the Joker struck out at Batman through those that he loved most. Catwoman was killed and Batgirl was crippled, left in a wheelchair. A young girl saw this through psychic powers and years later goes to Gotham to meet up with and join the two women from her vision. Together, they form the BIRDS OF PREY.
The pilot to this superhero show is distinctly underwhelming. It starts off well enough with the opening scenes detailing the downfall of Catwoman and Batgirl, but then spoils that by putting a rubbish voiceover from Alfred, the loyal butler, over the top of it. Then there's the characters. It's not your average team of superhero defenders, a wheelchair bound woman, a callow psychic girl and an avenger with anger management problems. Still, that could be interestingly different.
Unfortunately, the plot is nothing. It's an origin story, so you have to make allowances, but there is no excuse for it to be dull. The villain of the day is a businessman who wields a mean poker and may be able to control people's thoughts to get them to commit suicide, but that's hardly a fitting enemy for an opening episode. This also means that the action, when it comes is pretty underwhelming as well. The fights aren't exactly pulse-pounding, although there are a couple of good moments.
On the plus side Dina Meyer is drop dead gorgeous and clearly invested in the character. Ashley Scott is the action character and is playing it as a comic book and is the most fun thing on the screen. The cityscapes of New Gotham are spectacular enough and Mia Sara goes blonde as the psychiatrist who is secretly running Gotham's Underworld. She also seems to be having immense fun doing so. We expect good things from her villain.Top
Two policemen who were responsible for the foiling of an armoured car robbery are killed, apparently by drowning even though they were far from any water. The third is Detective Reese, who is not about to believe that he is being threatened by a man who can turn himself to water. Huntress is sent to protect him and find out why the villain wants to steal such a large arms shipment.
The first true episode of BIRDS OF PREY is a step up from the pilot, but not much of one. There is a real supervillain in the shape(s) of Slick, whose ability to turn to water seems at first limited, but proves to be rather fun. It allows him to get places where others can't and his drowning of people with his own water is a little bit disgusting if you think about it.
Furthermore, you get to see Huntress doing some real fighting. You also get to see her in her bra, Mia Sara's villainess in the shower and Shemar Moore's detective in his swimming shorts. Flesh, however, isn't what the episode is about. It's about trust and just in case you don't get that there is even a coda which might as well be subtitled 'and the moral of the story is'.
The show is going to have to do a lot better.Top
Prey for the Hunter
Someone is killing metahumans with their own powers and Huntress is the next in line. As the perpetrator is Detective Reese's new partner, the cop learns a little about what Huntress really is and reacts badly, just as the parents of Barbara's boyfriend react to her disability. For Huntress, though, the dilemma is how do you beat yourself.
Now this is more interesting. The villain is a metahuman who can mimic others (think Rogue in X-Men) and is using those powers against their owners. This leads to a couple of good face offs with Huntress and one where he just as effectively doesn't show his ability.
Unfortunately, the 'different doesn't mean bad' theme is hammered home with the subtlety of a sonic boom.
More action less moralising please.Top
Three Birds and a Baby
A woman holding a baby is attacked and killed. Huntress saves the baby and takes it back to the clocktower, but this is no ordinary child. Genetically engineered by Dr Quinzel, this child grows several years older each time it sleeps and has a computer net in its head, a net that gives it incredible combat skills and the need to kill.
Oh no, not a baby. Just when things were starting to look up they're not going to spoil it all with a baby? Well, yes and no. True, the first third of the show is all about three grown women not knowing how to change a child's nappy and is pretty awful, but then Guy, as they name him, grows up and becomes a killing machine. When Helena manages to break his programming (by not fighting and by offering love - yes really) he ages in ever increasing jumps and dies. His end actually manages to be quite moving despite the best efforts of the scriptwriters who put in some seriously clunky dialogue at this stage.
The main attraction, though, is Mia Sara's Dr Quinzel. She is such a pantomime villain, but she is having so much fun with the part that you can't but help have fun with her. Actually, we're starting to side with her over the heroes.Top
Sins of the Mother
Black Canary, Dinah's real mother, comes back into her life, looking to make up for leaving her with foster parents. There's a lot of unresolved emotions, but then the Hawk family get hold of the Canary, intending to pay her back for past losses. Dinah needs to take on her first real job in order to get her mother back, something that might need her newly developing telekinetic abilities.
How does a superhero balance what they do against the threat that it brings to those that they love? It's a subject ripe for examination, but the treatment here is so shallow that they really needn't have bothered. The treatment meted out to Black Canary especially is cliched. She comes back, explains to her daughter why she did it, tells her that she's proud and then promptly gets killed, thus resolving all the issues. It's cheap and it's easy and it's not enough.
Only the revelation that Detective Reese is the son of the crime lord in question raises any real interest here.Top
There's a gang of animal-masked thrill seekers robbing the rich of New Gotham and Reese wants Huntress to go undercover so that they can be caught. When she learns that they are working for the new godmother of crime, she backs out on the cop's plan and ends up hanging next to him in chains.
Relationships - difficult things at the best of times, but when you're a superhero they just get in the way. Huntress is trying to get some trust going with Reese, but it's tough going. Oracle is trying to work out her personal life with her boyfriend, which has got to the bed stage. And everybody seems to be having a hard time with their mothers.
The thing is that if this was about a trio of male superheroes there'd be action and adventure and good times. Because they're female, we have to get all this emotional rubbish getting in the way every week. OK a bit of emotional depth is good, but this is shallow and stupid and is ruining an otherwise promising show.Top
A fellow metahuman calling himself Darkstrike comes to town looking for a villain called the Crawler who abducts young women and then tortures them to death. Darkstrike has been chasing him for years, but always arrives in time to see the woman die and the Crawler get away. He asks for the team's help, but that puts Huntress in deadly danger.
Darkstrike always arrives just in time to see the victim die and the Crawler get away. The episode is called 'Split'. If you haven't worked out the whole plot from those two pieces of information then you might enjoy this week's episode. The fact that you will have figured it all out less than ten minutes into the running time means that you are left with only the incidental pleasures and there are few enough of those to go around. The verbal sparring between Huntress and Reese is OK, but by this time their attraction is so obvious that you just want them to get a room, whilst Dinah's reaction to the hot stranger in the house is mildly amusing.Top
Eight years ago, Batgirl fought Lady Shiva and the thief died in a resulting explosion. Today, a friend that Helena hasn't seen for eight years shows up to relive old times. At the same time, Lady Shiva starts killing people all over town.
OK< it's obvious from second three that Lady Shiva is Huntress's bestest friend, so the interest here is in how the characters will all react to the fact that they are fighting and trying to kill people who they love. It's pretty trite, pretty shallow and never really engages. Even the section when Barbara tries to regain just the hint of her old Batgirl days manages to barely tickle an emotion gland.Top
Nature of the Beast
Al Hawk, crime boss of Gotham, has escaped from police custody, but is now the target of an assassin who can walk through walls. He calls on the aid of his son, who in turn calls for Huntress. Dinah, finally knowing where the man who killed her mother is ( in Sins of the Mother) sets out to return the favour.
Revenge is bad, people, and you should always want to do the right thing, even if it is the hardest thing in the world to do. The right thing might also be to get hold of the writers and batter them to death with the same hammer they use to batter home the morals of the story. It's OK - we get it.Top
Men from the Gotham High School Reunion are dying in brutal fashion and nobody sees a thing. The reunion also happens to be Selena's reunion, though she has no intention of attending until it becomes clear that one of her former classmates is the killer. Not only is he the killer, he's also a metahuman chameleon with a crush on the Huntress.
Kids in high school are really mean. This seems to be the message of just about every programme that has ever had anything to do with such a place. Why anyone would therefore want to go back and suffer those same humiliations after escaping the place is beyond comprehension. That the class klutz is really a hardened killer and fancies Selena and is willing to both kill and die to be with her is so 'been there, seen that' that you wonder why the writers even bothered. A simple sign on the screen saying 'standard high school reunion plot' would have been almost as interesting.Top
Feat of Clay.
After ingesting a toxic chemical, a young man is turned into a metahuman capable of turning humans into clay with a touch. This can't be a good thing, so Huntress tracks down the originator of the compound, a face-shifter called Clay face and then has to intervene when Gotham's hottest society gig is rudely interrupted.
It's hard living in the shadow of a successful parent. Helena is still living with the curse of being Batman's daughter, whilst Clayface's son is still trying to outdo his old man. The rest of the plot is pure malarkey, but entertaining enough.
Oh, it's also important to be honest with the ones that you love. Get that? Good, we can put the sledgehammer away now.Top
Dr Quinzel is now in possession of Helena's secret identity and, well all her secrets really. She now also has stolen the power of hypnosis from another metahuman and uses it to gain Selena's help, infiltrate the clock tower, kill Barbara's boyfriend and turn Gotham into a raging inferno. Which makes the Birds of Prey pretty mad.
Just as the show is coming into its own it gets yanked. Mia Sara turns on the evil as Harlequin and does some pretty mean stuff before getting taken down. Finally there is a battle that is worth the name with all the surviving heroes getting to kick some butt in a fight that actually has some nifty fighting in it. Finally the show proves what it could have been had it been given a bit longer.
Oh well, c'est la vie. At least the birds go down fighting.Top
Superheroes have had a somewhat shaky relationship with the small screen. True, Batman ruled through his improbably colourful and impossibly silly show, whilst the NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN caught the nation with its 'will they, won't they' thing going on and, of course, THE INCREDIBLE HULK was a major hit. For each of these, though, there has been a WONDER WOMAN or an AMAZING SPIDERMAN (who, let's be honest, wasn't).
Into this uncertain history come the BIRDS OF PREY, a trio of women each with their own personal problems to be worked out at the same time as they're beating down the bad guys. Dina Meyer (one of the world's most beautiful actresses) plays Barbara Gordon, who used to be Batgirl until a bullet put her in a wheelchair. She struggles every day with a disability and by the end of the series is managing to walk with new technology that might equally fry her nervous system. I'm not sure whether than makes her a role model or not.
Selena Kyle is the messed up daughter of Batman (who has since left Gotham) and Catwoman (who was killed in front of her). With neither parent around, she's developed intimacy issues that she gets to work on through the presence of Detective Reese, a buff cop who's honest and noble and looks capable of giving the Huntress a run for her money. Then there's Dinah, an initially annoying young woman with mental abilities that seem to grow whenever the plot needs them to. She becomes background material for many episodes as the producers seem not to know what to do with her.
They're interesting, conflicted heroines, but the rest of the show doesn't really match up. First there is a collection of villains who are, quite frankly, small beer. Apart from the evil Dr Harleen Quinzel (Harlequin - the Joker's missus) they don't add up to much and the fight scenes that bring them down really don't have the oomph that a superhero show really needs. There's lots of the kind of editing that tries to hide the fact that these are professional fighters, but just ends up highlighting the fact. Mia Sara makes the absolute most of her role as the main baddie, having a whale of a time and she is a delight to be watching every moment that she is on screen. Her role was initially essayed by Sherilyn Fenn from TWIN PEAKS who really just didn't get it at all.
Apart from the action being less thrilling than we would have liked, there is the heavy-handed moralising that seems to be the bane of american fantasy shows. Why must there be a moral to each episode and must it be displayed in neon lights with giant arrows pointing to it?
BIRDS OF PREY entertains, mainly thanks to the innate charm and likeability of its hard-working cast, but there is always a sense that there is a much better show somewhere, lurking trapped beneath the surface of this and unable to break out.Top
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