Birds Of Prey

Created for television by Laeta Kalogridis

Based on the characters created by Bob Kane and William ‘Bill’ Finger, and the comic book written by Charles ‘Chuck’ Dixon, Gail Simone and others

Starring Ashley Scott,
Dina Meyer, Rachel Skarsten, Shemar Moore, Ian Abercrombie, Mia Sara, Robert Patrick Benedict and Shawn Christian

‘Birds Of Prey’ was a short-lived television series broadcast on the WB network (the original home of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’) between October 2002 and February 2003. It was developed for the network by Laeta Kalogridis, who turned up again four years later as an executive producer on the equally ill-fated revival of ‘Bionic Woman’. It was made by the same production team as ‘Smallville’ and ‘One Tree Hill’.

The show attracted viewing figures averaging more than 7.5 million, the network’s largest audience in the 18-34 demographic, or so it says on Wikipedia, but it was cancelled after thirteen episodes. Given that the viewing figures appear to have been above average for the network, it would seem strange that the show was cancelled after such a short run, but I have read that some ‘Batman’ comic book aficionados, who might have been expected to welcome the show, were aggrieved that it deviated from accepted “canon”. However, this tendency towards hostile reaction does seem to be a part and parcel of all comic-book superhero adaptations and probably was not an over-riding factor in the show’s early demise.

Ashley Scott, who had been one of the regular cast of the second season of John Cameron’s television series ‘Dark Angel’, was cast in the role of Helena Kyle, also known as Huntress, the metahuman daughter of Batman and Catwoman. A metahuman is a human possessed of superpowers.

She first learns of her true identity when her mother is murdered on the orders of the Joker. She is taken in by Barbara Gordon, also known as Oracle and previously Batgirl, who is now paralysed and confined to a wheelchair following a revenge shooting by the Joker. This character is played by genre fans favourite, Dina Meyer. Huntress and Oracle are a team, fighting the forces of darkness in New Gotham, several years after it has been abandoned by Batman.

Sixteen year old Dinah Redmond, played by Rachel Skarsten, is metahuman, like Huntress. She is drawn to New Gotham by precognitive dreams and is taken in by Barbara Gordon, so that she can continue her education, at the high school where Gordon teaches, and also learn to hone her telepathic powers.

Their main nemesis is Harley Quinn aka Dr Harleen Quinzel (played by Mia Sara), an accomplice of the Joker, who first appeared in Batman mythology in 1992 in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’.

The show was loosely based on the ‘Birds Of Prey’ comic book, which began in 1996, although it did not adhere strictly to the story told in that comic series and also incorporated elements of, amongst others, ‘The Killing Joke’, a 1988 comic book written by Alan Moore. I have virtually no interest in comic books and even less knowledge about them. This series was never broadcast on terrestrial television in Britain and would undoubtedly have passed me by altogether had it not been for the presence of Dina Meyer, who I like very much. She is the reason I first had an interest in watching it.

The show built up a small but faithful following, with at least one fan website continuing to be active for a couple of years after the last episode was broadcast. A DVD, containing the thirteen episodes, as well as the original unaired pilot, was released in 2008.

What makes ‘Birds Of Prey’ so hilariously bad (which is not to say it is not watchable and, indeed, enjoyable) is that, putting to one side its source material, it simply seems to be a hotchpotch of blatantly ripped-off elements from every other genre television show of the period.

The obvious place to start is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, which one imagines WB wanted to find a replacement for, having allowed that show to move to UPN following the conclusion of the fifth season in May 2001. ‘Birds of Prey’ certainly takes some ideas and themes from it. For example. the character Dinah Redmond, a high school teenager, has the same clumsy wide-eyed geeky exuberance as Buffy’s younger sister Dawn. However, it is far too generic to be compared too closely to what might arguably be the most influential and innovative American television series of the last twelve years or so.

‘Buffy’ is the show that probably kick-started the renewed trend towards genre shows (acknowledging, also, the enormous influence of ‘The X Files’). ‘Buffy’ quite evidently was the catalyst that pathed the way for ‘Charmed’, ‘Dark Angel’, ‘Birds of Prey’, ‘Alias’ and others. However, it stands out as being very distinct from these other shows, and its own spin-off, ‘Angel’, for that matter, because of the influences it drew on.

Joss Whedon might be a fan (and a writer) of superhero comic books, but his trademark show was, in many ways, most influenced by the likes of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, ‘Party of Five’ and, in particular, ‘My So-Called Life’. Also, the influence of the writer and subsequent executive producer Marti Noxon, who joined the show in the second season, should not be underestimated. Her own much maligned show ‘Point Pleasant’, like ‘Buffy’ before it, is another example of a genre show drawing its influences from soap opera and drama as much as, and often more so than, fantasy. Shows like ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Dark Angel’ did not do this and, for my tastes, this is to their detriment.

‘Birds Of Prey’ often plays like a hybrid of ‘Dark Angel’ and ‘Charmed’. Concentrating on the John Cameron show, it would be possible to replace Huntress and Oracle with Max Guevera and Logan Cale (the two main characters in ‘Dark Angel’) without the necessity of any other great changes. One of the main problems about ‘Dark Angel’ for me is the lack of heart and the absence of a sense of humour, which is not the same thing as employing comic moments within the show. ‘Birds of Prey’ also suffers from this.

‘Birds of Prey’ casts its net of influences much wider than just ‘Dark Angel’ and ‘Charmed’, a widely lambasted show that nonetheless built up a loyal and amenable fanbase and ran for eight seasons before coming to an end in May 2006. As examples, the basement bar No Man’s Land, a safe haven for metahumans, and its proprieter Gibson Kafka (Robert Patrick Benedict), is, effectively, a copy of the bar Caritas and character Lorne in ‘Angel’ (although, in fact, Gibson is probably more closely modelled on Xander Harris in ‘Buffy’). Equally, Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) in ‘Birds of Prey’ equates to Detective Kate Lockley, a recurring character featured in the first two seasons of ‘Angel’.

What ‘Birds Of Prey’ does is take elements from all of these various shows and throw them indiscriminately into the mix without ever quite managing to create an identity of its own. The storylines are determinedly simpleminded and it is possible to guess within the first few minutes exactly what is going to happen. The dialogue is often clunky and sometimes so risible as to make this viewer flinch with embarrassment.

On the plus side, the characters are not dislikeable and the cast is excellent. There is also some fun to be had from spotting exactly where various elements have been ripped-off from. For instance, the actor Christopher Wiehl appears in the episode ‘Reunion’, playing what is virtually an identical character, just older, to the one he portrayed in the first season ‘Buffy’ episode ‘Never Kill A Boy On The First Date’.

Speaking objectively, the show is verging on being truly bloody awful, but I quickly found myself enjoying it. I designed to watch one episode per evening and it was not long before I began to look forward to watching each one – and occasionally slipped in a second episode in the same evening. I don’t know if they would stand up to repeat viewing, but I imagine I will watch it again at some point. Potential viewers will already know from the synopsis whether or not this is a show that might piqué their interest.

Ashley Scott subsequently had a lead role in the television series ‘Jericho’, which ran for two seasons (the second one severely truncated) between September 2006 and March 2008. I have never seen it, but the premise sounds intriguing.


whitelabcoat said...

So, what you're saying is ... so bad it's not-quite-good-but-still-watchable? Not sure about this one - I was quite looking forward to possibly checking it out at some point, but, I'm really not sure I'd like it much at all. Have to give this some thought (or, to save time, actually watch even just one episode!).

alienlanes said...

I could argue until I am blue in the face that ‘Point Pleasant’ was not just an unfairly maligned series, but was actually a genuinely great show that did not deserve most of the criticism directed at it. I could not do that with ‘Birds of Prey’, unless we are simply talking about out-and-out abuse, which is a different matter, anyway.

I like shows with a supernatural element, but generally speaking I have less interest in comic books and superhero type stuff. I would take ‘Medium’ over ‘Dark Angel’, ‘Ghost Whisperer’ over ‘Bionic Woman’, ‘Joan of Arcadia’ over ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles’. With that in mind, I am not necessarily the best judge of a series like ‘Birds of Prey’.

Some people talk about guilty pleasures, something I do not have much truck with. If I like something, I am not going to be ashamed about it, which is how I interpret that expression. I enjoyed watching ‘Birds of Prey’, but I am not entirely sure why. Had it been stretched out over thirteen weeks on television I might not have stuck with it for very long. Because I watched it on DVD and was able to make my way through the episodes quite quickly, that probably made a difference.

Is it worth watching? That is an impossible question to answer with absolute conviction, but I can give you one reason why you might want to at least check out the pilot episode – to use an expression I would normally avoid, chicks kicking ass.

whitelabcoat said...

...chicks kicking ass.


I know what you mean about the 'guilty pleasure' thing, but I have to admit, there are a couple of things I watch that I would probably be inclined to put under that heading. For instance, The L Word is a show that, while there are a lot of things to admire about it (the very fact it's there in the first place; the performances; quite a few of Angela Robinson's directorial contributions), there are a lot of things that just make me cringe and/or inappropriately laugh -- but, I like that about it. I like that a large part of the enjoyment I get from it is derived from watching it with at least one other person and collectively taking the piss out of it and moaning about its shortcomings. If it was a different, better show, I don't know if I would enjoy the experience of watching it as much -- and that makes me feel a bit guilty. (I realise the logic of that is a bit skewed -- if it was a different show, it wouldn't be The L Word, but then it wouldn't be a 'guilty pleasure' either!)

alienlanes said...

From what you have told me about ‘The L Word’, and from what little I have seen for myself, it seems to off-set its madder moments with some genuinely good stuff, creating its own kind of individualistic appeal, something that fans of the show enjoy and go along with. I guess, were the show routinely “better” (by which I mean less inclined towards idiosyncratic flights of fancy) it would just end up being another glossy soap drama, something like ‘Brothers & Sisters’, and probably not half as enjoyable and fun.

‘Birds of Prey’ is not like that. It’s not “so bad it’s good” or “so mad it’s good” or “so unpredictable it’s good”. I guess part of the reason I enjoyed it is because I rather liked the three main characters, particularly Helena and Dinah. They managed to survive some of the very formulaic and clunky writing and come out of it with a genuine sense of personality and realness. I don’t want to make it sound better than it is – but there are shows of obviously superior quality to ‘Birds of Prey’ that I found much less enjoyable to watch.

whitelabcoat said...

I've now seen the pilot episode. I quite enjoyed it - not as po-faced as I'd imagined, although I did find all the superhero exposition a bit dull (like you, I'm not a big comic book person). Apart from the ass-kicking aspect, the main reason I may well end up watching further is this: to my knowledge, I've never seen Dina Meyer in anything prior to this; now I totally get why you like her so much.

whitelabcoat said...


I've never seen Dina Meyer in anything prior to this

Apart from a few episodes of Point Pleasant!

alienlanes said...

Dina Meyer kicks ass!

If you watch any more episodes of ‘Birds of Prey’ I would be very interested to know what you think.

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