Sometimes, I do the nerd homework because it’s something good or essential, sometimes I do it because it’s fun, and sometimes I do it to remind myself that, nope, you made the right call back when you were 14 and this show about Batgirl premiered on The WB and you thought it was dumb.
Birds Of Prey is a bizarre artifact from it’s time period, full of pleather and reheated guitar pop and bad acting and some really muddled DC-verse mythology. If you’re a DC fan, you know The Birds, the all female Gotham-based team, usually lead by Barbara Gordon (Either as Batgirl or Oracle) and Black Canary. They’re fun, sassy and kick copious ass.
The Huntress has been on and off the team in both her iterations, as the alt-verse daughter of Batman and Catwoman, Helena Wayne (my preferred version) or the mob princess turned crime fighter Helena Bertenilli (Also great!).
I don’t think I need to outline my love for Babs and Dinah Lance, because you know, I’ve done that a lot.
Birds Of Prey, the TV show, presents us with Barbara Gordon, as Oracle, seven years since she was paralyzed after being shot by The Joker and Batman disappeared from the city. She’s about the only thing that the show gets right. Intelligent, empathetic, brilliant and driven, this is the Barbara Gordon I know and love.
She’s mentoring Helena Kyle (she refuses to claim the Wayne name) and Dinah Lance, a runaway.
This is where things get infuriating to a DC fan/Confusing to a Filthy Casual.
Helena is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Good. OK. Batman’s disappeared from New Gotham (why New? This isn’t a far flung Batman Beyond style future, it hasn’t even been a decade! So weird…) Selina Kyle was killed by The Joker to get at Batman (I mean, fine?) And we’re going by the Batman Returns style Catwoman had cat like powers, which, Helena has inherited. (Ehhh, I like my Bat-characters without powers, for the most part, but again, at least consistent) Helena refers to herself as a Half-Meta. (THAT IS NOT HOW META HUMANS WORK IN ANY VERSION! YOU CAN’T BE HALF META) She also doesn’t wear a costume or mask of any kind. Which is just an exceptionally bad idea.
Then there’s Dinah.
Oh boy did I get screamy about this. Oh, but Dinah didn’t. Yes, rather than Dinah Lance’s actually fun power of emitting disabling sonic booms with her vocal cords, Birds Of Prey makes her a pre-cog.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF DC CHARACTERS WITH PSYCHIC ABILITIES, WHY WOULD YOU GRAFT THAT ON TO A BRAWLER LIKE CANARY?
Also, Alfred is around, because I guess with Bruce all disappeared he’s doesn’t have anything to do.
The big bad is Harley Quinn (An excellent call) except she’s still functioning as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, and she’s like a criminal mastermind, mob boss type? Which is not Harley’s MO at all, and if she’s still practicing, she wouldn’t be Harley at all, you know? It’s confusing.
All of this deviation could be excused if Birds Of Prey were any good, (Smallville, at least at it’s best is an example of that. Also the whole Arrowverse.) but it isn’t. It feels a little bit like some Charmed and Angel spec scripts had DC grafted on to them and then also you lost the charismatic cast that made Charmed work at all, and Joss Whedon and Tim Minear’s story sense that made Angel one of the greats.
It all feels cheap and dated and my god is it dull. Which is a bummer, because it has solid bones. Doing The Birds Of Prey is an excellent choice for a “Batman without Batman” show, the dynamic of Barbara Gordon in her 30’s, Helena Wayne in her 20’s and a teenage Dinah creates an interesting relationship model. And they really do get Barbara right, so that’s worth something.
But it also screams the Smallville “no tights, no flights,” ethos taken at it’s stupidest. No costumes for Huntress and Harley, in a city that’s already had Batman and Batgirl and the various Robins is a baffling choice. When Helena is considering quitting, which she does three times an episode, at one point, Barbara points out that heroing is an important legacy, carried on by people with potential, people like her, and Dick Grayson! And Tim Drake! And Jason Todd! ALL THOSE PEOPLE! But where are they? Bruce disappeared and the boys are just gone? I can handwave Dick ( In Bludhaven, maybe going through one of his “I work alone” phases) and Jason (Still dead? When was Under The Hood?) but Tim? Tim Drake wouldn’t quit after Barbara became Oracle and Bruce disappeared! Tim Drake would organize and then get all huffy when no one wanted to organize with him. He should be popping out of shadows telling Helena that she’s sloppy and to put a mask on for God’s sake every five minutes. Oh, that might be why he’s not a character on this show. Because that would actually be fun and entertaining, and this show seems allergic to both of those things.
Anyway, it’s nice to know that even as a teenaged girl, I could recognize that this show was shitty nonsense and I remain eternally grateful to Batman The Animated Series and Batman Beyond for exposing me to proper adaptations of this material early on. Also, I’m proud of nerd kind for rejecting it outright, even back in the dark ages when we thought that Brian Singer’s X-Men was the closest we’d get to the source material. (Though I can’t help but wonder if it’s forgotten for being both terrible and lady centric.)
I have a lot of affection for The WB, the network of my teen years. Both sides, what I call the Buffy side (Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Smallville, Supernatural) and the Dawson’s side (Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, also Smallville) (That Smallville straddles both is really the show’s greatest achievement.) but they, for the most part relied on a formula, and any half assing of a formula is going to be bleak.
Smallville’s SECOND greatest achievement. Making me give a shit about Green Arrow(‘s abs)
The Nerd Homework feature has been all about challenging my preconceptions of stuff in my wheelhouse, that I’ve previously put off or ruled out. That is the Raison d’etre for these projects. Star Trek, Battlestar, Anime, the work of Stephen King. Which is why Birds Of Prey being on DC Universe felt like a blessing. I’d outright rejected the show twice before after watching the pilot (when it first aired and then after Arrow premiered when CW Seen was pushing it.) but maybe now I’d enjoy it.
I did not. It’s terrible. It deserves it’s fate of obscurity and mocking.