If things had turned out differently, one of America's most famous superheroes could have been racing across our screens this fall. But the gods were against Wonder Woman, NBC's superhero show. And it's easy to see why.
We've seen the unaired Wonder Woman pilot, and it's actually kind of worse than we expected. It's bad in the ways that we were all expecting, but it's also bad in other, more fundamental, ways.
The funny thing is, you sort of expect this show to have a lot of soppiness and a lot of "working woman juggling career and personal life" trauma — because it's David E. Kelley, and he's built in the concept that Wonder Woman has two secret identities. So she has her "corporate bosslady" identity, dealing with meetings, and then her "lonely single woman" identity, whose biggest problem is creating a Facebook profile for herself.
But the thing you don't expect from this pilot is how tone-deaf it is about superheroes, and how smug and brutal Wonder Woman is. You get the impression, watching this thing, that nobody has ever really read a good superhero comic, or gotten the slightest idea why superheroes work. There's a lot of discussion of whether Wonder Woman is an unlawful vigilante — which she clearly is, without a doubt — and we constantly see her torturing, murdering and trampling people, without any concern for the law.
Watching the Wonder Woman pilot makes you appreciate The Cape, NBC's doomed superhero show from last year, a lot more. Both shows are trying to do similar things, but The Cape at least had some relatable characters and a better sense of humor. Not that the Wonder Woman pilot isn't screamingly funny in parts — it definitely is.
For example, there's still the infamous scene where Wonder Woman argues with her marketing team about the ginormous breasts of her action figure, which now ends with her shouting, "We are not marketing my tits!" But then later, she shows off those same breasts to a security guard who's blocking a room she wants to get into, saying "Do you like my outfit? This outfit opens doors for me."
There's also the big confrontation with the evil pharmaceutical company head, Veronica Cale, played by the glamorous Elizabeth Hurley — who looks at Diana and says, in extreme closeup, "The pharmaceutical industry has Congress by the balls, and as you can imagine, their balls come particularly easy to me." Why their balls are so accessible to her, in particular, is left as an exercise for the audience.
Meanwhile, African American women follow Wonder Woman around, worrying about her feelings and begging for her help in avenging their poor victimized sons. And everybody worries about Wonder Woman's mental state and whether she's lonesome and whether she needs a man, all the time — even when she's facing criminal charges for beating up tons of people without any justification.
And she spends rather a lot of time in her "corporate bosslady" identity, with a huge office overlooking a giant hive of worker bees, all of them apparently toiling away to merchandise her image for profit. All of the profits from her crass self-promotion go to help her beat up more people in her spare time, we're told.
It's really very jarring. David E. Kelley boils down superheroes to a shriveled core of violence, arrogance and meanness, like the worst of early 1990s Image Comics heroes. And then to humanize his main character again, he adds a stock set of "lonely career woman" tropes that are lifted directly from all his lawyer shows. We've seen some pretty odd takes on the admittedly versatile superhero archetypes from Hollywood over the years — but Wonder Woman might just be the oddest.