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April 2011

Wonder Woman pillage and burn: canceled

Well, at least postponed. io9 tells us we might not have to stage giant feminist protests at the doors of David E. Kelley quite yet.

Then again, he probably still deserves them for that damn dancing baby.

Like many longtime Wonder Woman fans, I was simultaneously excited and dismayed to hear of the new Wonder Woman TV show. Excited, because I did not get to see the Lynda Carter years and I have longed all these many years for a female-centered superhero show that did not suck.

Dismayed, because it was written by David E. Kelley. And while Kelley manages good drama much of the time - early The Practice, much of Boston Legal, the marvelous Lake Placid - he has also been described as "the guy who killed feminism."

And the Amazon Princess really isn't one to weep into a three-scoop bowl of ice cream.

Yes, in the original script, that actually happens.

According to several who saw a leaked script, Diana spent a good bit of the pilot moping after lost love Steve, complaining about the dichotomy of her life (note: she cannot out-mope Clark on Smallville, it defies physics) and whimpering over ice cream ("It's been a three-scoop day.").

But now there's been a rewrite.

Now, Diana throws bad guys around by the throat. She punches, kicks and flips the bird. SPOILER! She pulls Steve out of a burning plane even though Artemis tells her it's too dangerous.

They've also redesigned the hideous shiny-latex suit to give her red boots - thank you! - and less ridiculous pants. Yes, I said pants. She's allowed to wear pants now, not a glorified swimsuit. While I'm still not thrilled with the traditional corset top - the comic-book jacket is more practical and I like it, so sue me - it's miles beyond what several called "the transvestite hooker Wonder Woman."

Look, I'm still in mourning for the lost opportunity of Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman movie script. Because if there's anyone who knows how to write a superpowered heroine, it's Whedon. We'll never know what he might have wrought.

But if I have to settle for Kelley... I'll give it a shot.

RIP Elisabeth Sladen, farewell Sarah Jane

It is with a heavy heart that I report to you the death of Elisabeth Sladen, the Doctor's own Sarah Jane Smith.

The daughter of a WWI veteran, Sladen's first onstage role was as a corpse, where she got into trouble by giggling when she was supposed to be dead.

Her big break came in 1973, however, when she was cast as the companion to the Doctor. Working first with Jon Pertwee and then with Tom Baker, she was widely regarded as the most popular companion in OldWho. She played a young woman who was smart and capable, a journalist with a heart who faced down Sontarens, Daleks and Cybermen with bravery.

She was also present for the first regeneration that honestly felt like a death, when the Third Doctor transformed into Fourth.


But I first encountered her in "School Reunion," where Sarah Jane returned to meet up with the Tenth Doctor. It is at first bitter, with Sarah having been left behind and (she thought) forgotten. But quickly the writers dispensed with the obligatory cattiness between Sarah Jane and Rose and they immediately teamed up against the Doctor, as he richly deserves. "Stop it!" he insists as they giggle at a private joke.

It's another moment that really underscores what it's like to be the Doctor's companion, though - something never quite captured so well as in the quasi-farewell at the end of "School Reunion," where Sarah Jane insists it's time to stop waiting for the Doctor and get on with her life. Only her face shows what it's like to step back down to earth after flying with the Lonely Angel. Unfortunately, the denizens of YouTube insisted on making vids of this moment instead of simply clipping the moment for me, so I must deprive you of a clip.

She finally got her own series, and even though she spent much of her career playing opposite a tin dog, Elisabeth Sladen brought class, intelligence and dignity to the role of the Doctor's companion without falling in love with him or otherwise embarrassing herself. She was the most-loved companion for a reason, and the actress herself never complained about being stereotyped or trapped by an iconic role, unlike some younger actors I could mention.

She died of cancer today at the age of 63. Doctor Who Magazine called her, "the best of best friends," and she truly was. "Don't forget me," the Tenth Doctor said at the end of his guest appearance... and she replied, "No one could forget you." The same could be said of her.

Thank you, Ms. Sladen, for your graceful inspiration to the girls who were told that science fiction was only for boys and girls always have to be in the background. I hope the beautiful blue box whisked you away to fly among the stars again. Truly, the loss is ours.


Gurlz Not Alowed

Annoyed by the New York Times' assumption that women don't like fantasy? Irritated that Slate Magazine spent its entire review aping turgid fantasy prose that, actually, is totally unlike George R.R. Martin's style?

So was Salon, which actually posted a review of the reviewers to slam the hell out of the anti-skiffy backlash rising to the top in the wake of the Game of Thrones premiere. You've got to wonder at a reviewer (in this case, Slate's Troy Patterson) who admits he canceled a date with a woman upon finding out she dresses as a serving wench at the local Renaissance Faire. And this is the one they chose to review Game of Thrones?

I started collecting all the marvelous reaction comments I've seen online. My favorite belongs to the Ferrett's Twitter, referring to his wife: "Gini wasn't going to watch it on account of her being a girl and all, but I told her it had sex and hot boys." When I posted a link to Jezebel's WTF article about the New York Times' boys-only assertions, someone replied, "How do I explain my reading habits for the last 35 years, then? *surreptitiously checks pants for hidden penis*"

Here's the best counter, by Alan Kistler: "Do you know who recommended the book Game of Thrones to me? My girlfriend and four other women. Amazingly, they read it despite the fact that it was in the Boy Fiction section of the bookstore. I don't know how they were even allowed to enter that section and were able to convince the store to let them purchase books from it, but they're quite crafty and skilled so I imagine a pulley system and a sonic screwdriver must have been involved."

A veteran writer who has been around the literary block for many decades now, George R.R. Martin knows better than to fistfight with reviewers. Having met the man a few times, I can say he is a consummate gentleman, and he whipped my ex-husband's ass three times in a row at chess, which is more than I ever managed.

But he edged close to breaking his own "no-comment" rule by calling the New York Times review "spectacularly wrong-headed and condescending," which it was, and by thanking the legions of geek women who have spoken out against it. "If I am writing 'boy fiction,' who are all those boys with breasts who keep turning up by the hundreds at my signings and readings?" he asks.

Indeed. I can't say whether Game of Thrones is any good or not, because I am too poor for premium cable and somehow my screeners must have gotten lost in the mail. Ahem. Once it goes on iTunes, I'll be able to give you my report.

Even though I'm a woman.

Next to Normal

Some plays should have a warning label placed on them.

If Next to Normal had one, it would read: "Not recommended for those who have been caregivers for the severely mentally ill, cleaned up after a loved one's suicide or attempt, or have lost a child, as it may be triggering as hell. Also uses strobe lights."

Okay, they warned us about the strobe lights.

Next to Normal is a marvel of writing. I didn't think a Broadway musical could hold water when it is a story in microcosm: there is nothing going on in the story outside this small family and its trials. I generally tend to think of musicals as something bigger, on the scale of a revolution or operatic murder. The story of a bipolar housewife and her struggles to achieve sanity seem pretty small.

But Next to Normal draws you in from the beginning with strong music and a wry humor that gives you a sense of empathy that you might not otherwise achieve. It wrenches at your heart, whether or not you've experienced the issues on the warning label. And if you haven't, it just might teach you a thing or two.

For those who have made it out the other side, it honestly might be cathartic - someone gets it at last! But for those still dealing with such traumas, it really might be triggering, so I'm only half-kidding about the warning label.

There are moments of extreme creepiness, moments of honest and raw emotion, and moments that will make you giggle. Not, I'm afraid, the ending, unless you were one of the idiotic drunken people in the next box at the Fox Theater. You, the ones who laughed at moments as intense as Schindler's List? Yes, during the Friday night show. I'm talking to you. I'm the one who was in the stage-right box with my friend who scored the super-deluxe tickets, the one who turned around and glared at you to shut the hell up. I expect such behavior from teenagers at the movie theater, not people whose companies paid $30,000 a year for a box at the Fox.

(P.S. I could get used to this Fox Club stuff. Gated-community parking, a private entrance, a personal waiter to bring you fancy drinks? I felt like the aristocracy looking down at the groundlings. Usually I'm standing in line for the unsold limited-vision seats in the nosebleed section.)

Drunken idiots aside, I found Next to Normal to be an emotional rollercoaster and one of the few plays in which I truly did not know how it would end. We were a tad dismayed when we arrived and discovered that the lead character would be played by her understudy, Pearl Sun. I don't know how good the regular lead is, but Sun absolutely blew me away, both with her voice and her acting. When a woman weeps onstage, very few weep with her. But Sun wrenched the tears from the audience, and her standing ovation was well-deserved.

My companion remarked that none of the songs were really stand-out sing-in-the-shower numbers that you take home with you, and this is true. Next to Normal is less of a traditional musical and more of an opera in that regard, where little is spoken and most is sung, with one song blending into another seamlessly without the cue lines that tend to indicate, "Time for another number!"

It also has some surprises, one of which is only one-third of the way through the first act. Just as nothing is normal in the Goodman house, nothing is quite as it seems. I find I want to go see it again if only to pick up on the clues I might have missed.

Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama even though it was not nominated by the gatekeeping committee. While snubbed by the Tonys - it lost to Billy Elliot, which at least is better than losing to Shrek - it keeps gathering steam from audiences who don't want to check their brains at the door and aren't afraid to face some of the dark corners of the human psyche. Whether or not you're a fan of the song-and-dance musical, I strongly recommend seeing Next to Normal while you still can. It runs through April 24 at the Fox Theater in St. Louis.

Just mind those warning labels.

Hits and Misses

HIT: The bloody and surprising finale of V, and not just because they killed the most annoying character, completely Deep Blue Sea'd Diana, upped the stakes for just about everyone and basically gave the middle finger to the network that hadn't decided whether to renew this series. For a show that started out so annoying I nearly gave up on it (and did stop watching for large chunks of season one), V finally got interesting just as it nearly died. I think I must be the Typhoid Mary for spec-fic television.

MISS: Chuck unexpectedly got a back end to its otherwise-fun season, and so far it's rather faltering. They ramped up the bad guy (deliciously scenery-chewed by Timothy Dalton) and the return of Mama Bartowski (any moment with Linda Hamilton is awesome). The baby was born, the spies were fun and they almost managed to let Casey be relevant.

Unfortunately, the first few episodes after what was supposed to be the season finale were a tad annoying. Wedding prep "humor" is not good comedy material, and whenever a show tries to do it, it fails. Miserably. Worse: the Buy Morons are increasingly irrelevant and obnoxious, with a Renaissance-Faire subplot in the bank episode that I found beyond awful.

What is it with mocking Faire these days? Has Faire replaced the computer geek as "smart people we can mock"? Because the people who work Faire play a character AT the Faire, it is suddenly assumed that they have no sense of reality and walk about the mundane world in character? Are you kidding? For the love of Zod, lay off! I expect better of Chuck, darling of the geek squad.

HIT: Criminal Minds survived the departure of Paget Brewster with a brilliant multi-episode arc involving her life as an operative before she was a profiler. A brief return from exiled AJ Cook took the bitter sting out of CBS's utterly stupid decision last year to phase out all the women leads from the best procedural on television. They brought in a pretty blonde to replace JJ, and she just isn't up to the job; totally sidelined and invisible since her intro episodes. And even then, she was simply uninteresting. The writers worked hard on Brewster's exit and it was awesome. Whether they can keep it up remains to be seen.

MISS: While no one was displeased to see Booth's girlfriend vanish on Bones, I was highly disappointed in the decision to make him a sudden misogynist in the final scenes. Fortunately, subsequent episodes indicate that while Booth is pretty tender about the breakup, he didn't hold on to that bit about, "Right now I'm so angry at all of you," meaning women. He's twice asked a woman to marry him and twice been told no. That does, in fact, suck. But one wonders how much Bones can ever trust him with that underlying anger in him, blaming all women for the actions of two.

HIT: The Defenders is a regular staple, the cornflakes of television. It's always satisfying and fun to watch Jerry O'Connell and Jim Belushi as the Vegas lawyers you don't hate, and the guest stars are interesting enough to hold our interest. It's not The Practice, but then that show got so weighed down with soapy nonsense that you got seasick from the eye-rolling. The one complaint I have with The Defenders is that the good guys never lose. At a certain point, they need to lose. There is no suspense if everything always turns out all right in the end. That's not the law, or real life; that's television.

Finally: I have an opportunity next week to interview the stars of In Plain Sight, formerly my TV crack, and hopefully returning to its snarky roots. Do you have questions for Mary McCormack and Fred Weller? Other than, "How much did you hate last season?" Share them here and I'll ask them next week! Probably.