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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Birds of Prey: The Complete Series
Birds of Prey: The Complete Series
Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 15, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Douglass Jr. | posted July 27, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

It's a good time to be a comic book geek and knower of all things Marvel and DC. So many films are hitting the mainstream and TV shows are arguably a dime a dozen nowadays. Unfortunately for every success there seems to be a flop. While Fantastic Four didn't do so hot it's hard denying the impact of Iron Man. In TV land Smallville has been exceedingly popular but a show like Birds of Prey? Not so much.

This very short-lived live-action series debuted on the WB back in 2002. It wasn't around very long and quite frankly you'd be something of an enigma if you could say that you saw all thirteen episodes before they went off the air. Basically the fall of Birds of Prey can be attributed to a few very simple things. For starters the concept was rushed and not very well-conceived which is always a recipe for disaster. Another factor was the fact that the characters were not developed properly and extremely one-dimensional. Beyond their original introductions there's very little room for them to grow over the course of the series.

Probably the biggest nail in the coffin was the very limited audience this show was aiming for. It wanted to capture a slice of the Batman pie but it attempted to do what without the Batman; something that just never feels right. It would be like watching Smallville without Clark, Lex, and other defining characters; there just wouldn't be any point. Once you take all of those flaws into consideration you come up with the recipe for a quickly cancelled television show that only a select audience bears any interest in.

In case you missed it, and I'm sure based on ratings you probably did, Birds of Prey takes place in "New" Gotham City though it's never really touched upon why it's called that. About a decade ago the Joker went on a rampage through Gotham. He killed Catwoman and attempted to do the same with Batgirl but wound up putting her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life instead. An enraged Batman tracked down the Joker and had a final confrontation with the clown beneath Gotham City. After that Mr. Wayne just up and left with no forwarding address leaving behind a daughter he never knew he had.

As you'd expect the child of Batman is naturally screwed up but when you throw in the fact that she's also Catwoman's daughter, well, things just get even worse. It's explained through the show that Catwoman was a Meta-Human. This basically means she was a mutant of some kind with powers beyond ordinary humans. Lucky for Helena her mother's powers were passed on to her and she's basically Catwoman 2.0 with some feral instincts and the ability to always land on her feet. With these abilities and the fact of who her mother was, a life on the edge is a very tempting thing for Helena. Keeping her in check is Barbara Gordon, A.K.A. Batgirl. Considering that Gordon can no longer run around the rooftops of Gotham like she used to, she uses her other skills to their fullest extent. Taking on the new name of Oracle she works closely with Helena, who uses the name Huntress, and fights crime through the use of technology and Helena's Meta-Human powers.

That's basically the show in a nutshell and if the series had stuck to that formula I dare say that it may not have been cancelled so quickly. Gordon and Helena have an interesting relationship that should have been explored more but the producers introduced a third wheel far too early on. In the very first episode Dinah is brought into the fold and she's a more or less helpless girl with burgeoning Meta abilities in the form of telepathy and telekinesis. We soon discover that she's the Black Canary's daughter but it doesn't help the fact that she's an angst ridden and obnoxious teenager that you just want to see have some sense knocked into her. She's a weakly written character and stands out from the other two simply because she's so bland.

Though she's slightly older Helena doesn't fare much better than Dinah due to the fact that she walks both sides of the law. Well, that's more or less how the show explains her character but in reality she's just one-dimensional and overzealous like her teenage counterpart. Quite honestly out of the three main characters Gordon is the only one who receives any fleshing out and is actually enjoyable to watch (beyond the leather bound cleavage factor anyway). If it weren't for her grounding this show it would have been even more preposterous than it already is, but I digress. With this cast in place Birds of Prey gets going down a path of mediocre and sloppily written adventures.

Rather than take the Smallville road and use established archetypes Birds of Prey tries to reinvent the wheel of the Batman franchise. Sure we get a nice introduction with a tale about Batman, Catwoman, and Joker but beyond that there is very little here to actually make the connections. Helena...excuse me...Huntress runs around New Gotham beating up reject villains and nameless thieves. It's a far cry from Batman's Rogues Gallery to say the least. It's often said that Batman flourished thanks to his villains and if that's the case it's no wonder Huntress sinks like a stone.

The only real connection to the Bat franchise or interesting villain that Huntress has is her shrink, Harley. That's right, the Joker's main squeeze is still in New Gotham and attempting to rule the city as always. She doubles as a psychiatrist by day and murderous psychopath by night. It's portrayed as kind of hokey but considering this show has no other interesting antagonists you just have to go with it.

Each episode features one of Harley's schemes with the character pulling the strings from the background. This leaves Helena and Dinah to pick the pieces from a night of criminal activity and it really turns into a formulaic, monster of the week affair. The only problem is that each week there wasn't a monster and there wasn't much in the way of structured formula. Birds of Prey was really just a series of sloppy adventures with some fun moments, cool fight scenes, and the occasional nugget of Batman lore. Unfortunately the bad far outweighs the good and in the end this one should have been taken back to the drawing board before it was finalized. It's probably a good thing that WB put a bullet in it when they did.

In the end Birds of Prey doesn't have a solid audience. It won't really entice Batman fans looking for more Dark Knight-like adventures and its concept certainly doesn't endear itself to a new audience. The series also doesn't do well with regards to writing and character development either. This is just a flawed series all around that does offer some guilty pleasure moments and a few glimpses of potential but simply comes up short when all is said and done. Followers of the series who have been waiting for the series to hit DVD will be pleased but those of you who are curious can consider this show a rental all the way.

The DVD:

Video:

The video presentation of Birds of Prey doesn't do the show any favors in all honesty. The non-anamorphic widescreen treatment is a disappointment and the sometimes obnoxious amounts of grain and compression equally detract from the experience. This is supposed to be a Batman series or at least a show that's set in the Batman universe. There should be a certain amount of grit but what's here goes well beyond intended film grain.

There are moments where the picture quality is good for what it is but all around there's a certain low budget look to everything. If you're a Smallville fan and are looking for similar presentational qualities you're going to be left in the grainy dark with this one. Birds of Prey also doesn't enjoy the same vibrant, warm palette as its Super counterpart does though again this is the Batman universe and its decidedly darker.

Audio:

Birds of Prey disappoints on the audio front with a 2.0 stereo presentation as its only option. This is a series with a whole lot of fighting and special effects. In other words its one that would have done well to be presented with a 5.1 surround sound mix. As it stands the sense of immersion simply isn't there and the fight scenes come across as dull and lifeless. All around this show sounds "decent" for what it is but compared to other comic book TV series that have hit DVD recently it does feel somewhat lackluster. Oh, and let's not forget about the fact that some of the music has been altered for this release as well.

Extras:

Despite the fact that WB cancelled this series posthaste they actually put some bonus material on the four disc set which is kind of surprising. Granted this supplemental content isn't particular enthralling but fans will certainly appreciate them nonetheless.

First up is an un-aired version of the pilot episode. This is essentially the same as the actual one for the show but it features Sherilyn Finn as Harley instead of Mia Sara. The rest of the episode is the same so there's very little reason to check it out unless you want to see someone other than Sara try their luck at Harley. The other inclusion here is the complete run of Gotham Girls which appeared on the web while. Fans of the Batman animated franchise will probably get more mileage out of this feature than others. It's basically a collection of shorts featuring adventures of the girls of Batman's universe running around doing their own thing. It's an entertaining diversion but really has nothing to do with Birds of Prey.

Final Thoughts:

Birds of Prey didn't last very long before WB decided to pull the plug and because of that this series never really grows. The concept is intriguing, yet flawed from the start thanks to the lack of support from the Batman franchise. This New Gotham just isn't as interesting and it doesn't have strong legs to stand out thanks to its weakly developed characters, episodic content, and poor writing. Sure there are some fun moments in between and Dina Meyer does stand out at Barbara Gordon but those elements don't really necessitate a purchase. Unless you were part of the cult audience that was looking forward to this show's DVD release consider this series a rental.


Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!

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