"Hi, my name is Judge Kristin Munson and I am a heroine addict."
Batman's little girl is all grown up.
Birds of Prey was a show with incredible potential. An adaptation of a popular comic about a team of prominent female superheroes, with Batman connections, and Smallville's producers, Birds seemed primed to be Buffy's heir apparent on the WB, but the show fizzled out before one full season thanks to formulaic plots told in superhero shorthand.
Facts of the Case
Seven years after the final showdown between Batman and the Joker left Catwoman dead and Batgirl paralyzed, Huntress is the only caped crusader still patrolling Gotham City. Along with the city's criminals, Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott, Jericho) has to deal with all the issues that come from being the offspring of Batman and Catwoman. Luckily, former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer, Saw), is still in the superhero business, serving Gotham from behind a computer screen as Oracle. The duo becomes a trio with the addition of Dinah (Rachel Skarsten American Pie Presents: Beta House), a teenager with psychic powers, and loyal butler Alfred keeps the Bird's lair running smoothly. Which is good because with Harley Quinn (Mia Sara, Timecop) back in town to avenge her beloved Mister J. and capture Gotham City for herself, the Birds of Prey are going to need all the help they can get.
Birds of Prey: The Complete Series contains all 13 episodes from the show's first and only season.
I may be a comic book fan, but I'm not a purist, so it doesn't matter to me that BOP plays mix and match with DC mythology. Some Killing Joke here, some Earth-2 there, a pinch of Batman Returns, it's all good. The problem is, when a show's cherry picked every last detail from a convoluted continuity, there's no excuse when things don't work out.
Birds of Prey clips its own wings by over-simplifying everything. After the first two episodes establish Helena as a hero who hates her job but enjoys kicking ass and the strong but snarky relationship between her and Barbara, most of that character conflict is dropped. Stories move blandly from A to B with no surprises and dialogue is a filler to get from one fight scene to the next. Any team strife is quickly reversed so that the writer of the next episode doesn't have do anything but slot new names into the show's "freak of the week" formula. It keeps the series light and episodic but it also doesn't leave room for much character grown or personality, so over time conversations change from this:
Barbara: I'm as broody and romantically self-destructive as the next
With no real supporting cast, few recurring characters, and very little bonding between the main heroines it's hard to develop any kind of connection with BOP. This is especially disappointing coming from a group of writers that cut their teeth on Angel, Hercules and Xena, fantasy shows that relied on their strongly developed characters and distinct style to carry the more absurd plots.
Okay, so the series didn't get a full 22 episodes to prove itself and it might have regrouped and pulled out something spectacular in the back nine, but after sitting through eleven episodes where very little happens very slowly and then a jam-packed final two, it's obvious that the season didn't have much of an overall plan. Harley Quinn is more of a catalyst than a big bad and the writers had pretty much given up on Dinah. After heaping power after power on the poor kid the show developed the same problem that Heroes now has (and where more than one former BOP writer works): she can do so much she's a walking deus ex machina.
When the core cast isn't saddled with overwrought speeches about superhero responsibility or squeezed into outfits bursting with boobs and belly button, they actually bring a lot to their underwritten roles. The chemistry between Scott and Meyer is so good that a third character isn't even needed. The guest crew, not so much. For every Joe Flanigan (Stargate: Atlantis) or Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) there are many talent-deprived guest stars like the equally awful Clayface clan, where pops sports a ridiculous Cajun accent and junior is just painful to watch.
Birds of Prey: The Complete Series also has its share of problems. The replacement soundtrack has become a "don't like it but have to live with it" part of the TV DVD experience, and the substitutions here don't detract from the show, but the set's second disclaimer is a new one to me. "Standard Version presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of its original television exhibition." This studio babble means that rather than releasing the show in its original widescreen format, the DVD took a full frame transfer and painted on some black bars. When done to a white cat, it's the starting point of a Pepe LePew cartoon; when done to a TV show its the starting point for consumer alienation. The picture itself looks very good, and there's no obvious hallmarks of a pan and scan crop job but , jeez, what's the point?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For comic book buffs the show features appearances by Black Canary, Clayface, and Lady Shiva, plus a whole bunch of sly comic references, including a bar called "No Man's Land" that can only be accessed by twisting a familiar Shakespeare bust.
For extras, we get the original pilot with alternate scenes and a different actress playing Harley and, more importantly, the complete series of Gotham Girls. An online spin-off of Batman: The Animated Series, Gotham Girls is the mini misadventures of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Batgirl, all voiced by the original cast. There are 30 shorts of varying quality from the early days of Flash animation and it's fun to see the incarnations of these and other Batman characters again. Zatanna definitely got a happy squeal from my end.
Early episodes offer a glimpse of the great superhero show that could have been instead of the lackluster drama that was, but ultimately Birds of Prey is something to turn to only if you're in desperate need of a heroine fix.
For wasting some great heroes and introducing a bad idea to the DVD disclaimer lexicon, Warner Bros. is sentenced to six months behind black bars.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Original Pilot
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