Could Joss Whedon Have Saved Wonder Woman?

Let me get it out of the way and say this: I love Wonder Woman. I think she's a great character and I respect her place as a leader and icon. Admittedly, I'm not as brushed up on her history as some other characters but I feel I know a decent amount about her. She's pretty much perfect in every way, which makes it extremely difficult to do a TV show or movie featuring her as the main character. This is not a knock on her saying she shouldn't get her own show; rather, the complications surrounding her character in the context of a TV show.

NBC has announced its fall schedule for 2011 and the David E. Kelley Wonder Woman show isn't on it. Mark spoke at length about why it failed (all valid points) and others around the internets have their own theories as well. The big question on my mind though is if Joss Whedon were at the helm, would the show have fared any better?

In short, I doubt it.

Whedon has long been a pheonmenally talented individual with a knack for helming projects featuring a strong female lead. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is probably his most notable work in this arena. The movie was liberating in its own right but since we're talking TV here I'm focusing on the series. The show is where Whedon really got comfortable, thanks in large part to Sarah Michelle Gellar's great performance. The same goes for Firefly and Summer Glau. Dollhouse was too short-lived to come to any such conclusion about Eliza Dushku unfortunately (although her run as Faith in Buffy was pretty intense).

It's readily apparent that with Whedon at the helm, a Wonder Woman show no doubt would have taken off at first. The character would have been strong, assertive and vulnerable at times. Whedon's Wonder Woman combined with his fanbase would have been a boon to the show's ratings, mainly because of the Whedonverse and people freaking out that Whedon was finally tackling the most storied female hero in comics in Wonder Woman. NBC would've been smart to tap into Whedon for his built in fanbase to get the new show off the ground.

Instead, they went with Kelley, a slightly different writer with a penchant for more somber legal dramas. I don't think this was a problem in itself, but Kelley seems to have been the wrong person for the job. I get (I think) what NBC was going for here. Wonder Woman fights for justice and the law like Superman and Kelley's talents are clearly in the realm of legal shows (The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal and Harry's Law). All of his shows look at the day-to-day justice part of the law though, meaning that Kelley probably went at Wonder Woman from the wrong angle.

So what's the "right" angle to do a Wonder Woman TV show? That's a tough question. Wonder Woman is one of (if not the) toughest characters to peg into one characterization. She's so powerful that she holds her own with some of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe. She's a woman, meaning she has symolism foisted upon her as being a beacon for women's rights. She's also an Amazon Champion with the power of gods, meaning she has nearly unmatched fighting skills and an expectation that she can fight anyone. Presumably, the "right" angle would be to show Wonder Woman's development arc of who she is today.

Yes, Whedon would've been able to successfully tap into all aspects of Wonder Woman for the show. We saw it best with Gellar and Buffy, as Whedon presented Buffy as a complete character. The entire series focuses on her transformation from a powerful, frightened and unsure teenager to a powerful, more mature individual. Wonder Woman comes in at that latter end and Whedon would've had a field day with it. But that's the problem.

Watching Buffy transform from Season 1 to Season 7 was a ride that viewers all enjoyed. Wonder Woman is already at Season 7 though, so where can you take it if you're focused on her in her current state? Smallville has done a marvelous job by focusing on a pre-Superman Clark Kent in, well, Smallville. If the Wonder Woman show was about her in Themyscira then maybe it would have been picked up. Wonder Woman where she is now though probably just wouldn't bring in the viewers.

Part of that growth involves other characters. Batman is Batman because of Joe Chill for example. Wonder Woman doesn't have a "true" nemesis like Lex Luthor or The Joker. She doesn't have a Rogue's Gallery. I can't even think of one of her "enemies." No one to exploit a weakness against her. Wonder Woman doesn't even really have a weakness. The show probably wouldn't have been very interesting because what would Wonder Woman have to overcome? Being among the mortals? Fighting crime in heeled boots? Even Whedon can't fix perfection flaws in a character as timeless as Wonder Woman.

Further, she doesn't have a "true" role defined within the DC Universe. In fact, it's almost as if she was put in Justice League because DC didn't know what else to do with her. Wonder Woman killing Max Lord was a character defining moment. At the same time though it was somewhat out of character for her.

Wonder Woman is a character that merits great respect as one of the core members of the DC Universe. Her character itself though is a little aimless, which hurts her ability to be relevant nowadays. Her fiery independence and will are the same things holding her back because no one else can truly hang with her. Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix at least had the Scott Summers/Logan love triangle going for her; something that could be exploited as a weakness.

She's this powerful, smart and beautiful character that has fended off even Superman at times. What did the TV pilot have her doing? Early footage had her running down the street and jumping on a car, chasing a bad guy. Really? The show should be about her on Amazonia, keeping order. Whedon's first attempt at the script for the movie would cover Wonder Woman's origin and include Steve Trevor. This is something that would've have worked for TV as well and would be in character.

But then what? Wonder Woman leaves her kingdom to be with Trevor? Then we have a Wonder Woman soap opera where she's struggling to make it in the city with her new husband and no direction in life. Whedon could do this sure. Would people really want to watch it? Or would people rather watch Wonder Woman fight intergalactic beings with the fate of the Earth in the balance. I think it's the latter.

All of this talk has been focused on Whedon and Wonder Woman, but not the actor playing Wonder Woman. For the record, I'm not totally against Adrianne Palicki playing Wonder Woman. I can't say whether she did well or not because I haven't seen enough non-running footage (see below). What I can say though is that everyone's expectations of Wonder Woman and the actor that plays her are impossible to fulfill because she's a goddess.

I've yet to find any consensus online as to who should play Wonder Woman. Everyone from Jessica Biel to Angelina Jolie to Megan Gale have been rumored or cast as Wonder Woman. No matter who is cast in the role though, someone somewhere will have a problem with it. The person may have the look but not the charisma. She may have the credibility but not the look. It's an almost impossible role to fill that will most likely be met with more scorn than praise and people won't want to watch because they disagree with the casting.

NBC clearly wanted a Wonder Woman show that bore the same gravitas that the first season of Heroes had. I get it. I sort of feel though that NBC is just burnt out on superhero shows, mainly because of Heroes (The Cape didn't help the cause either). NBC was on the brink of securing one of the most storied characters in a primetime series. The two aforementioned shows though just prove you can't just say "it's a comic on TV!" and expect the show to work.

And that's why NBC passed: Wonder Woman just won't work in primetime. The reaction to the costume was a microcosm of what the reaction would've been had NBC gone through with the show. Whedon would've made it interesting for sure, but Wonder Woman is just a tough character to work with. Which really sucks, because I'm truly rooting for the character to work in a medium other than comics. Here's to hoping someone does come along (if it is Whedon even better) and makes a great Wonder Woman movie.