You can almost visualize the board meetings where Warner Brothers and DC discussed the possibility of making Birds of Prey a broadcast television reality: “We need a project to appeal to the highly successful primetime teenage drama segment, something like Smallville only less um, Super.”
And once that logic settles in, the beauty of selecting Birds of Prey as the source material for a heavily female-based action drama becomes apparent. It would really require minimal tweaking to mold into a moody crime-solver piece (ala CSI or Law & Order) with a healthy dosage of hormones, melodrama, and action sequences thrown in for good measure.
However, before taking it all at face value remember that the source material (at least in the comic medium) wasn’t nearly as cut and dry as the show’s intro would have you believe. The character of Huntress (played here by Ashley Scott) was actually developed back in the mid 1970s as a sort of “what if” that would be set in Batman mythology but in a alternate universe called Earth-Two. The idea was simply to present the outlandish proposition that what if Bruce Wayne were to have offspring with a reformed Selena Kyle (Catwoman)? Their daughter would probably have quite an attitude, not to mention a penchant for kicking major butt. Taking the “what if” theme a bit further, let’s look ahead to when Batman basically retires so as to pass on the proverbial torch of Gotham City’s dark defender to said daughter.
The concept was sound enough (and about on par with a much later, slightly different “what if” scenario known as Batman Beyond) and probably would have been lost to the recesses of time forever if not for a 1996 reintroduction through Chuck Dixon’s comic project Birds of Prey which featured Barbara Gordon (Oracle) and Dinah Lance (Black Canary) as a super heroine duo.
Huntress didn’t make an appearance until 2003 under Gail Simone’s supervision. The scenario featured a critically wounded Black Canary who relies upon Huntress and Oracle’s combined efforts to be set free. In celebration of their success, the ladies decide to form a trio.
The show mixes and matches a few of the comic ideals (especially noteworthy is the fact that since it was produced in 2002, Huntress as a member of the team actually precedes the comic thread). Other changes include the setting New Gotham as opposed to Earth-Two and the rather than Huntress being an established heroine who happens to join forces with pre-established Oracle (as in the comics), here we have Barb Gordon taking Helene Kyle in at a young age and basically raising her as her own.
Here the trio is rounded out with Dinah Redmond (played by Rachel Skarsten), who is said to be the daughter of the original Black Canary. Here’s where things get a little sticky even to the comic book geeks: While Dinah Redmond is in fact the television version of comic book character Dinah Lance, she is never actually known as Black Canary in the show. In the comics Dinah Lance was the second Black Canary (after her mother, who just so happens to also be named Dinah- Dinah Drake). Confused yet? Me too. All you really need to know is that here we have the paralyzed Barb Gordon as oracle, Helena Kyle (Bruce and Selena’s love child) as Huntress and a young/ inexperienced Dinah Redmond (pre-Black Canary) as the trio known as the Birds of Prey.
Unofficially you could say there’s a fourth member in Bruce’s kind-hearted butler, Alfred Pennyworth (played by none other than Ian Abercrombie, perhaps best known as Seinfeld’s Mr. Pitt). On the fringe of membership is the made-for-tv character of Detective Jesse Reese (played by Shemar Moore) who, in addition to being an honest cop, happens to have a little love interest in Huntress.
The prime antagonist of the show is Paul Dini’s (DCAU) character contribution, Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn) played by Mia Sara- yes Mathew Broderick’s main squeeze, Sloane Petersen on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!!
Consisting of 13-episodes and coming in at a total runtime of 737 minutes, Birds of Prey spans 4 discs and comes equipped with two special features: The unaired pilot episode (which is basically cut up into segments and used throughout the season) and the entire 30-epsiode run of the animated DCAU web series, Gotham Girls.
The show’s main structure consists of crime-driven stand-alone adventures with slight mystery undertones. The girls play off each other’s personalities to solve each case but not before succumbing to estrogen-induced drama, some high school romance bits, and a whole lot of John Woo-esque butt kicking.
The acting choices are pretty spot-on but I may be a bit biased on account of the fact that the lean form of Ashley Scott in tight leather is enough to tickle any red-blooded American male’s fancy and Dina Meyer has undeniable charming hotness as Oracle/ Barbara.
Harley Quinn was a bit of an odd choice as lead villain however simply because of the timeline. The tale supposedly takes place well-after Joker’s apparent manipulation of her gray matter and while we hear that she was once a successful psychotherapist prior to “Mr. J’s” influence, she is far from the clown-like floozy the DCAU made famous. In fact she’s quite a cold-hearted manipulator in this portrayal, which, though convincing, really does the ditsy source character injustice.
For those individuals hoping for an opportunity to witness some of their favorite classic DC rogues, Lady Shiva and Clayface get the nod throughout the 13-episode run but heavy hitters like the Joker are used only in an out-of-focus intro flashback and in reference.
Music choices are a little too period trendy to appeal to viewers of all ages but I suspect that teenagers tuning in to the show back in 2002 were quite delighted to hear their favorite Top-40 numbers used in the application.
I must confess that a big part of the appeal of this particular box set came in the form of the inclusion of the complete Gotham Girls animated series. The first two seasons are certainly the weakest in terms of animation quality and simplistic story lines but the third and final season makes up for it by offering one complete ongoing tale involving many of the characters from the impeccable Batman: The Animated Series (including the original voice actors). Each season is about a half-hour long (what would be considered a single episode usually) but they are a nice treat for the DCAU fan simply because they are available nowhere else.
In all Birds of Prey is best when viewed as a soap opera with superhero and action elements laced in rather than as a superhero tale with occasional drama. The show was clearly slanted to capture the attention of the 18-34 demographic with special attention given to appeal to teen fans of shows like Smallville (which had been nominated for multiple Teen Choice Awards). The trouble is that despite reaching nearly double the amount of viewers, Birds of Prey lasted only 13-episodes (a single season) opposed to Smallville’s 181 episodes/ 9-season run. Sometimes television, like life, simply isn’t fair.
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