Felicity

felicity (1)Who else is on a J.J. Abrams high? I’ve been catching up on Revolution, binge-watching Fringe, and catching Star Trek whenever it’s aired on basic cable. (I do own it on DVD, but it’s always on.) And SO MANY Bad Robot/Star Wars/Star Trek mash-up memes.

We’ve come to associate Abrams with time- and universe-hopping, futuristic warfare, and badassery. All good omens for the new Star Wars. But you do know he created Felicity, right? That teeny-bopper mellow-drama from the era of Dawson’s Creek? Fanboys and girls, I think this show warrants some examination. Continue reading

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Birds of Prey

With excitement building for the Wonder Woman reboot this fall, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some other DC Comics heroines, the ladies of 2002’s Birds of Prey.

In a nutshell, a blonde, a brunette and a redhead live together looking hot and fighting crime. The pilot is the story of how they got together. The show, or at least the pilot can be appreciated at face value, if the viewer has no previous knowledge of the characters. It could even be accused of ripping off Charmed, with its story of three powerful women joining forces and a suspicious cop on their trail. But there is ton of back story—at least 40 years worth of comic book lore.

Alfred, of Batman fame, narrates the opening. The story is set in New Gotham, and Batman has disappeared from its crime-ridden streets. The voiceover lends a storybook feeling, a bit like the tone of Pushing Daisies.

Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), formerly Batgirl, is confined to a wheelchair since The Joker shot her. She now lives in a clock tower—a set that looks like the same one Smallville used—surrounded by computers. By day she works as a school teacher. Living with her is Helena (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She was raised by her mother, killed by a henchman of The Joker while her daughter stood by, helpless. She has grown up to be The Huntress, a hero who runs across building tops by night, fighting crime while The Oracle oversees from her tower. In the comic world, The Huntress had completely different
origins, but did turn to heroism following the murder of her parents. (This according to The DC Comics Encyclopedia.)

As these two women experienced their personal tragedies, a third girl dreamt their pain. She is now teenage Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), and she has travelled to New Gotham to seek out the women from her dreams. On her way to find them, she witnesses a man being hit by a bus. She runs to his side and, when she touches him, she sees a vision of him being attacked by rats. Her power, it seems, is the ability to share people’s thoughts or fears. The comic book Dinah became The Black Canary, though that name isn’t mentioned in the pilot.

The man’s death sparks the women’s investigation into a series of related murders disguised as suicides, which leads them to some dockyards and the lair of the killer. Among the three of them they get to combine supernatural, or metahuman powers of an X-man with the high tech gadgetry of Batman.

As the women investigate these deaths, the police are also on the case. Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) is one officer who believes that something bigger is happening beneat the surface. He’s the “the truth is out there” character of the show. Sums up what may be the message-of-show with the awkwardly worded adage, “Myths are just the truth a few generations later.”

Another significant introduction in this pilot is that of Helena’s psychiatrist, one Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara – remember her, Sloane Peterson from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?), whose name reveals that she’s an enemy-in-waiting.

With its roots in death and destruction, this pilot promises a fairly dark show. There are small doses of humor, with lines like, “This place is supposed to be a secret. That’s the whole point of a secret lair.” Barbara and Helena argue about lighter things, too, like being out of groceries. There’s also a quick Superman/Smallville reference: “There’s been some really weird stuff with meteor showers.”

This pilot does a nice job of tying together the episode plot with a longer-term plot, when Harleen interacts with the episode villain at the end. There’s both resolution and reason to keep watching.

UPDATE 2/17/2012: In case you’re a big fan of the Black Canary character, you may like to know that Katie Cassidy has been cast to play her in the forthcoming Green Arrow series on The CW. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that Wonder Woman reboot never happened, but I’ve since blogged about the pilot of the 1970s series.

Roswell

Although it spent its 3 seasons with less than stellar ratings, Roswell not only helped put the WB network (now the CW) on the map as a destination for teen girls, but paved the way for another show about an attractive high school student from outer space.

Roswell was based on a series of books called Roswell High, and the title itself serves as back story. The name of the New Mexico town is synonymous with UFO cover-ups. We all know what happened there in 1947. Don’t we? Seriously, do you know what happened? Because other than a vague idea of something about a crater, I didn’t. There may or may not have been an alien crash landing and the U.S. government may or may not have conducted autopsies on the victims. Read more about it here.

Even supposing the viewer knows nothing about Roswell, the show spells it out visually right away. We open with teen narrator Liz (Shiri Appleby) writing in her diary, introducing herself via voiceover. “Five days ago I died,” she says. “After that things got really weird.” Intriguing, if a bit cheesy. Then we find her at work in the Crashdown Café, a 50s-style, UFO-themed diner.

 Liz and Maria (Majandra Delfino) are waitresses in schlocky theme uniforms complete with antennae. They clearly enjoy messing with truth-seeking tourists. It’s a special occasion in Roswell, the day of the Crash Festival. Presumably that’s a day when the residents cash in on their fame. (However, this is set in September and the Roswell “incident” happened on July 8.) Isabel points out that the dopey looking Max Evans (Jason Behr) keeps staring at Liz. Indeed, he is the first to spring to action when she is hit by a stray bullet fired during an argument between customers.

Max runs to Liz, where she has fallen to the floor bleeding from the abdomen. He places a hand across the wound, healing it. He breaks a bottle of ketchup and instructs Liz to say she broke it. He and his friend speed off in a Jeep before the authorities arrive. A pair of nosy tourists start poking holes in Liz’s story with the sheriff. Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler), we see, has his suspicions. He takes note of two empty Tabasco sauce bottles on a table where the boys were sitting.

We next meet Liz at school. She’s kind of a plain Jane, a good student, and for some reason dating a douchebag who is—big surprise—Sheriff Valenti’s son. She confronts Max and he admits with almost no reservation that he is an alien. He swears her to secrecy, but in no time she has dished to Maria. Playing a friend of Liz’s is Colin Hanks, but we don’t get to know much about his character yet.

We get to know two other aliens, the only others, Isabel (fresh-faced Katherine Heigl) and Michael (Brendon Fehr, aka Jared Booth on Bones). They put Tabasco sauce on everything; definitely a detail that is going to get them in trouble. Alarmed by Max’s revelation to Liz, the alien trio debates whether to flee. We get just enough details to understand their background. They were the only survivors of a crashed spaceship. They have been raised by regular human families for the past 16 years. Prior to that, they were in some kind of hibernation.

Mid-way through, the Liz voiceover returns unexpectedly and unnecessarily. It’s as if the vehicle we’ve been cruising along in hits a big puddle of teen romance molasses. It may be moments like this that led the show’s creators to focus more on the science fiction as the show progressed.

The plot then plunges from character description into a plot where Liz and the aliens have to outsmart the Sheriff. Though it seems the most natural thing for the aliens to leave town, that wouldn’t leave much of a television show. So we know they’re hanging around. We’re left to see how Max and Liz will get together—because of course they will—and how the aliens will continue to allude the authorities. The pilot balances the mystery and the romance pretty well, so if you like either you might just tolerate the other.