The Writers' Room

Why David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman Must Succeed


David E. Kelley has a very particular approach to his craft. Much like Aaron Sorkin or Joss Whedon, his work is almost instantly identifiable. Deeply layered storylines, singularly talented ensemble casting, controversial topics, and a tone that can’t seem to make up its mind? You’re likely watching L.A. Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal, or Boston Legal (my personal favorite; I just can’t get enough James Spader in my life). His characters have definitive quirks, and he sure does enjoy shuffling them from one of his shows to another. I do so love those extended universes… it’s safe to say that I am a general fan of David E. Kelley’s work. That having been said, I’m filled with trepidation as regards his next venture. In October of this year, Kelley announced that he was writing a television treatment for Wonder Woman, to be pitched to the big networks. NBC has picked it up, and the show is tentatively slated to run in 2011. This could end one of two ways, but we can’t leave this up to chance: David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman show has to be good. (I’m worried that it won’t be.)

I’m sure that Kelley wants it to be good-no one wants to fail, particularly fail expensively on network television-but I have some serious concerns. Casting is going to be key. No, I’m underplaying it: casting is going to be crucial. Kelley needs to find an actress (perhaps an unknown, or at least a lesser-known) that can both redefine Wonder Woman for the generation that grew up on Lynda Carter, and introduce Diana Prince to a new generation of impressionable minds. I would love to see Gina Torres (who, I now discover, is actually voicing the character in DC Universe Online; looks like my instincts are good) in the role; I think she can project the vital blend of strength, femininity, approachability, and compassion. The afore-mentioned tone is also a big one. Kelley’s shows walk a fine line in regards to humor and comedy, and while I know there have got to be comedic situations in Diana’s life, they will have to be handled with care. Why? There has been a serious lack of consistency in the writing of Diana over the years, and this has caused the lack of public understanding, which itself is inspired by lack of exposure. (It’s a complicated web.)

For example, if I asked the average Joe or Josephine about Batman, they would likely be able to get out that his parents were dead, he was really rich, and he lived in Gotham city. To be fair, a lot of people would tell me that he could fly, but we’ll forgive that for the purposes of this argument. If I did the same with Superman? People would know that he’s an alien, he can’t handle his kryptonite, and he’s got a bunch of powers, many of which they would likely know. If I asked people what they knew about Wonder Woman, I would get descriptions of her costume, maybe something about a lasso, perhaps a mention of an invisible jet. None of her history, her beliefs, her personality: people know about Wonder Woman’s clothing and accessories.

Diana deserves better. To be fair, I have never labeled myself as a distinct Wonder Woman fan; of DC’s Big Three, I was always a bigger fan of the brooding vigilante than the Amazonian princess. I do love her, though. Wonder Woman, to me, bridges the gap between the god-like superhero and the fully human one. Her powers feel modern-flight, enhanced strength and stamina, etc-but her sensibilities feel older than civilization, and not just due to her association with ancient Greek gods and mythology. Her supremely female strength predates formal patriarchy, and she knows it. Her communicative skills with animals make her seem older than the hills. Diana is insistent on the truth in a very literal sense, and possesses one of the strongest moral compasses of any character I’ve ever encountered, comics or no.

She is awesome-worthy of awe- and I think she’s being severely mishandled as a property. More than one movie has been tentatively suggested in the past decade, then shelved for lack of money or interest. (This is excepting the recent DC Universe Animated Original Movies Wonder Woman, which was generally well-received by critics and fans alike.) Most notably, Warner Brothers yanked Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman film right out from under him. The slights aren’t relegated to screen-based adaptations, either. Hostess has recently rebranded a bunch of snack cakes with Justice League heroes (seriously), and it’s a total boy’s club. Wonder Woman needs defining to be marketed, and to be defined for the world, she needs to be marketed. It’s a circular problem, and one that a well-done television show might be able-partially, at least-to solve.

I want this show to be good, because I want another David E. Kelley show to watch. I want it to be good, because I want more comics integrated into both my daily life and the social consciousness. I want it to be an incredible success, though, because I want Wonder Woman to be seen for the incredible character she is, and not just that chick in the Big Three.


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