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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Birds of Prey

Too comic booky for the masses, or even the WB subset thereof, the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series, about female crime fighters in ‘New Gotham City,’ has finally been delivered to the medium where it can be the most appreciated, as Warner Home Video has released Birds of Prey The Complete Series, a four platter set featuring all thirteen 40-minute episodes originally broadcast in 2002 and 2003. The finale is a makeshift double episode, but it forms an excellent resolution to the program, so that while the show’s discontinuation is truly lamentable, the DVD serves as a coherent and resolute miniseries. Additionally, the superficiality of the character relations gives way to deeper emotional conflicts and rewards across the length of the work. Dina Meyer plays the former Batgirl, now relegated to a high-tech wheel chair and directing the operations from a penthouse lair. Ashley Scott is the daughter of the late Catwoman and the absent Batman, generally following the guide of Meyer’s character but with a distinctive independent streak and no costume or mask-she just assumes that the city is so big, no one is going to recognize her. Rachel Skarsten is a younger runaway with psychic powers who joins up with the others in the first episode, as her origins are revealed later on. Delivering the most delicious performance in a show filled with delicious performances, Mira Saraportrays the shrink of Scott’s character and, unbeknownst to the heroine, the former main squeeze of the permanently absent Joker.

The show’s immediate appeal is of course in the depiction of the stylish actresses in hot getups, kicking butt and otherwise fulfilling the many dark, naughty boy fantasies fans of such programs inevitably harbor. Most of the episodes feature a visiting villain with a special power or quirk, and it is the repetition of this dynamic at first that emphasizes the show’s comic book roots and supposed limitations. It may be sophisticated camp, but it is still camp. As the show progresses, however, the relationships between the heroines, and a couple of their boyfriends, continue to develop, as do the moral explorations of vigilantism and that sort of thing, so that while the show’s basic, visceral thrills advance unabated, its emotional foundations become stronger and more compelling with each installment. It is a fantastic mix, and it is only a shame that viewers didn’t give the show more of a chance in its day.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1, but Warner pulls one of its occasionally shortsighted blunders and does not provide 16:9 enhancement, as sorely as the show could use it (Warner also should have released the DVD immediately after the show was cancelled, as there may still have been a faint chance of kickstarting a revival at the time, such as what happened with Fox’s better marketed Firefly). Otherwise, the picture looks slick and glossy. Warner also leaves the sound in standard stereo rather than splurging for 5.1 Dolby, although again, the show could have really benefited from the upgrade. There are a lot of front channel separations, but no significant rear-channel activity (in one episode, the voice of a ‘chameleon’ bad guy ought to be bouncing all over the place, but instead it just jumps from right to left and back again). Some of the music has also been changed from the original broadcast. There are optional English subtitles.

The fourth platter contains the show’s first stab at the pilot episode, with Sherilyn Fennmaking a less effective presence in Sara’s role. That is the major difference between the two, although there are other, minor alterations. Adding insult to injury, this is the one episode that does have 16:9 enhancement. It can be enjoyable, however, to revisit the pilot-either this one or the one on the first platter-after watching the whole series, because the characters carry a greater resonance and also because, in a nice touch of symmetry, both the first and the final episodes involve hypnotism.

The collection’s one other special feature is inspired. There are three ‘seasons’ of brief, animated episodes originally broadcast on the Internet of a program entitled Gotham Girls, with one season on each of the first three platters. Set before the time of Birds of Prey, the cartoons feature various combinations of Batgirl, Cat Woman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn interacting with each other and getting into mischief. Each cartoon in the first two seasons is basically a blackout sketch, and the best ones are the ones that build to a single punchline. The third season then advances to one cliffhanger-generated narrative, in which someone makes all of the men in Gotham disappear. The first season on the first platter has ten episodes (one is a two-parter) and runs 27 minutes. The second season has ten episodes and runs 35 minutes. The third season has ten installments and runs 36 minutes.

September 11, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon