First of all, I’d like to thank Jared for showing me this site. During a nerd discussion with a few other people at an annual Christmas party I threw, I remembered writing up a review about the ‘ill-fated’ Birds of Prey television series, which prompted my joining of this site. This is not a DVD review, but more of a series overview and my initial thoughts about this short lived show.
As The Dark Knight Rises stormed its way through the theaters this summer, I found myself re-watching some of the previous Batman films such as Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008). During this time I found myself debating whether or not I should watch the short lived television series Birds of Prey, which ran from 2002-2003 on The WB Television Network for 13 episodes. Ironically enough, this year marks 10 years since the show first hit the airwaves, making this a perfect retrospective review.
The show was created by Laeta Kalogridis (screenwriter of Alexander and Shutter Island) and based itself off the DC Comics series. After Batman (played briefly by Bruce Thomas) vanishes, he leaves New Gotham City in a vulnerable state. In the absence of the Dark Knight, who better to take over the family business than Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott). Helena, a.k.a. Huntress, is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She works with Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), who was forced to hang up the cowl after she was paralyzed by The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill; portrayed on screen by Roger Stoneburner). She reinvents herself as Oracle, working out of a high tech base located in the Gotham Clock Tower. They are soon joined by a teenager named Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a runaway who seeks out Helena and Barbara and eventually joins the group known as the Birds of Prey. Dinah, born Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary), is the daughter of the original Black Canary. They are assisted by the former butler of Bruce Wayne: Alfred Pennyworth (portrayed by Ian Abercrombie, famous for portraying Elaine’s Boss, Mr. Pitt, on Seinfeld). Together, they fight crime to protect New Gotham City. Also among the main cast was a new character, Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) and Helena’s psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn (Mia Sara).
The series followed a villain of the week format, specifically villains who were metahuman. For those unfamiliar with the term, metahumans are individuals who are born with powers that cannot be explained. Helena is half metahuman; her mother, Selena Kyle (Maggie Baird), was metahuman while her father, Bruce Wayne, was a normal human. Dinah Redmond, also metahuman, possesses abilities that are just beginning to emerge. With the help of Oracle and Huntress, Dinah trains to become the hero her mother once was and make a name for herself.
Here are some initial thoughts I had of the series as a whole. Warning: may contain spoilers.
Most people on the internet seem to go with Helena Kyle as their favorite character, but my personal favorite character was Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Dina Meyer was fantastic; her portrayal as the former protégé of Batman felt genuine, and I felt like she was a more mature, thoughtful, and insightful character that learned from her experiences as Batgirl to guide other heroes such as Huntress and Dinah. Maybe it’s my bias to her origins feeling closer to her comic book counterpart, but she was one of the more genuine characters of the series. Her portrayal of Batgirl/Oracle/Barbara Gordon was one of the best comic to live action transitions I have seen, coming second best to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent. I also give huge props to Dina Meyer for filming the majority of her screen time by sitting in a wheelchair; I wouldn’t imagine it’d be easy to be sitting down while acting all the time, so I’m sure she enjoyed the Batgirl flashbacks and the use of mobile gadget that allowed Barbara to walk at times during the show’s run.
Honorable Mention: Ian Abercrombie as Alfred. I couldn’t help but smile whenever he was on screen. He had some rather funny things to say at times and, not surprisingly, was a very enjoyable character. Way to go Mr. Pitt.
Least Favorite Character: When I was four episodes into it, I really wanted to say Jesse Reese. After going through the rest of the series, I have to say it was Dinah Redmond/Black Canary. Aside from the fact I felt they butchered her character by giving her abilities that the Black Canary does not possess, such as Telekinesis, her character was not utilized well within the series and that the writers wrote her role rather poorly. I understand they were trying to go along with the angle of a teenage superhero in training, but her use was just executed poorly. She felt more like a character that the writers relied to make move the plot, such as her ability to read a person’s mind through physical contact. While her character’s best episode was “Sins of the Mother,” an episode that featured Carolyn Lance (Lori Loughlin) a.k.a. the original Black Canary, Dinah’s role just felt horribly butchered. I’m sure if the show survived more than one year, her character would have developed the infamous Canary Call, but they should have at least hinted at the start of it during the show’s first few episodes.
The Good: They had some good action, in fact it was damn good action. Aside from the fact Helena was the one kicking ass the majority of the series, even Barbara got in on the action. Just because she’s in a wheelchair doesn’t mean she can’t kick the crap out of a bad guy. Dinah even had a chance to fight, but not quite as often as Barbara.
At first I didn’t like the chemistry between Jesse Reese and Helena, but as the show progressed, their partnership (and eventual romantic relationship) grew on me.
Harley Quinn’s presence as Dr. Harleen Quinzel surprised me. Compared to Sherilyn Fenn, the original actress featured in the Unaired Pilot, Mia Sara did a phenominal job as a menacing, psychopathic bad guy (or woman if you want to be p.c.). I wasn’t sure how I felt about Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend as a DC Comics Villain, but she portrayed a homicidal psychopath surprisingly well.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about the use of metahumans in New Gotham, but in the end, I didn’t mind it. At first the metahumans felt out of place in the Batman relam, but as I progressed through the series I learned that it was simply a different take on the Batman legend and grew to accept it. The less I thought about how out of place the metahumans were, the more I enjoyed the show. I also thought the metahuman bar exclusive to metahumans was an interesting concept, but it worked. The bar was unique as it was a metahuman only bar, and you got an idea of how metahumans managed to feel comfortable with each other despite hiding their powers from the public. The show had the feeling of what Smallville’s later seasons would become (particularly seasons 8-10) and to be honest, it wasn’t a bad concept.
The Bad: The use of metahumans as the Villain of the Week in the first three episodes felt an awful lot like Smallville’s first season with “Freak of the Week” format.
One of the things that made my eyes roll was how the first seven episodes of the series ended with two or three of the main characters standing outside on the ledge of the Gotham Clock Tower. By the third or fourth time, I was wondering if the show would have any variety in how it ended. Thankfully, they moved away from it in the remaining episodes, though the last scene of the series ends with all three on the ledge looking out at New Gotham.
The editing at times was sloppy, particularly in some of the action sequences and the recycling of Helena running across rooftops. Even with adding dialog to them, you’d think Helena would sound somewhat out of breath from jumping and running, but she did not.
There was a deleted scene in the Unaired Pilot, which was cut from the aired pilot and recycled within the episode “Reunion.” You can tell it’s from the pilot as the wheelchair Barbara sits in is different than the advanced one she uses through the remainder of the series. I’m always a nit-pick when things are inconsistent throughout a show, and that scene bothered me. I personally would have re-shot the scene so the wheelchair was updated, but then again things cost money and I’m not the one with a job in Hollywood, so there’s not much I can really do.
I also fail to understand how Barbara, in the final two episodes, could not make the connection that Harleen Quinzel was Harley Quinn. Yes, it’s excusable that in the first 12 some odd episodes that she didn’t know who Helena’s shrink was, but how do you not make the connection Harleen Quinzel is not Harley Quinn? I expected more brilliant thinking from a crime fighter who fought her and the Joker during her days at Batman’s side.
Best Episode: This is a tie for me. I wanted to say “Lady Shiva,” as it was more focused on a villain from Barbara’s past and her attempt to suit up once more time as Batgirl. However, the episode that was done very well was “Four Birds and a Baby.” The plot, about a baby who ages rapidly overnight, would eventually be recycled in an episode called “Ageless” during the 4th Season of Smallville, but Birds of Prey’s version made you feel for the characters, especially Helena and Guy (who was portrayed by six different actors). Helena actually developed an attachment for Guy as a mother figure and she became emotionally vulnerable. For a badass chick that doesn’t put much thought into emotional attachment, she let her guard down and you felt she had a real connection to this aging child.
Worst Episode: This was a no brainer. “Gladiatrix” was the worst episode of the series. It seems like every show in the last decade has to have one episode that involves cage fighting and Birds of Prey was guilty of it. While the villain was a genuine creep and you couldn’t help but hope he would get his clocked cleaned, the episode as a whole was lame and predictable.
Interesting Tidbits: Some amusing things I noticed throughout the series.
Batman and Batgirl’s costumes are the same costumes from Batman & Robin, just repainted, and the Catwoman’s suit is very similar to the one Michelle Pfeiffer wore in Batman Returns (it would not surprise me if it was the same suit, just like the ones Batman and Batgirl wore). Batgirl’s suit is the exact one Alicia Silverstone wore in the climax of Batman & Robin, but it looked ten times better on Dina Meyer (and fifty times hotter). Aside from the fact the colors were correct on the costume Meyer wore, she wore a cowl, and for that I give the producers and costume designers of Birds of Prey a lot of credit. Also, while Batman’s suit is the repainted one that George Clooney wore, I was amused how the lighting team managed to hide the “bat nipples” that threw everyone into outrage when Joel Schumacher added them after taking over the film franchise from Tim Burton.
My favorite tidbit (as I am a huge Superman fan) was the Smallville reference Helena mentions in the Pilot episode in regards to metahumans developing powers: “There’s been some really weird stuff from meteor showers.”
Overall Opinion: Opinions aside, I liked the series more than I thought I would. I watched the series through a video hosting website, and a few days after I finished the series, I found the complete series on DVD at Wal-Mart for $9.98. My only complaint was that the music on the DVD (including the theme song) was changed due to licensing issues, but overall I enjoy the satisfaction of having the complete series on my DVD shelf. It’s a shame the series didn’t last very long, but I guess viewers weren’t impressed with the whole metahuman plot devices. I personally think Birds of Prey was ahead of its time in that department. Smallville’s final seasons would eventually use this plot device and it didn’t completely affect the ratings. I would have loved to see Batman’s presence in the show, which I read would have happened if the show had a second season, but that’s just up for the imagination of the viewers (and of fan fiction writers). I also strongly believe that if the show lasted more than one season, there would have been the potential of a crossover with Smallville. If they’re going to put the effort into hinting at a meteor shower, not to mention have some of the same producers, directors, and music composer as Smallville, then there’s no reason to think otherwise that a crossover could not have been possible.
Bottom Line: I strongly disagree that it was a ‘failed attempt’ or ‘ill fated’ attempt of a spinoff from Batman Returns. I thought it was good, and it had potential to be something great on the WB, but I think it was ahead of its time. Maybe it could have been embraced more if it came out within the last few seasons of Smallville’s run, but unless someone makes an attempt to try again, we will never know. I give mad props to Ashley Scott and Dina Meyer for their work, and nobody could do their roles better if The CW Television Network should attempt to do a reboot of the Birds of Prey series. If they do, I think they need to stick to the comic book origins, or at least in the style of the Christopher Nolan films. Or perhaps we are ready for a show of this caliber now that the use of metahumans was successfully pulled off due to Smallville’s popularity. Overall, this was a good show but it just came out in the wrong time.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5.