UNSOLD PILOT REVIEW: “Justice League of America” (1997)

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 10/22/09

“Well there’s 80 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”
----Mark Waid
(Comics Writer)

It’s fun to watch unsold pilots. It’s fun to second-guess the network executives who passed on a particular show. It’s fun to get a glimpse in to an alternate world where a show may have lasted a whopping 13 hours on Fox, rather than just one. For me, the highlight is seeing the kind of high-concept crap that people developed with no real thought of how they’re going to keep it going.

Kirstey Alley starring in a kind of ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ meet ‘The Road Warrior”
A show set after the western United States had to be abandoned, and the country is now in a second age of Westward Expansion? Sure, why not? Yet another reboot of Lost in Space, and (finally) without Dr. Smith? I’m there! Adam West staring as an out-of-work actor from a detective show who ends up working as a clueless real detective? It’s all gold, baby!

But then you stumble into crap like this live-action “Justice League” pilot from 1997, and suddenly you feel like you not only ruined your shoes, but your whole day as well. Suddenly, much of the bad stuff I’ve said about “The Suits” over the years feels false, and I want to prostrate myself before them and praise them for benevolently saving us, the viewing public, from crap such as this.

PLAY BY PLAY

Tori Olafsdotter, who has no powers, is working at a meteorological institute, and she‘s in love with Miguel Ferrer. While she’s there “New Metro City” is struck by a tornado controlled by a super villain called “The Weatherman.“ The JLA heroes - Flash, Atom, Fire, and Green Lantern manage to foil this. We get glimpses of everyone’s life - being a superhero is playing havoc with GL’s love life, Atom doesn’t have a love life, fire’s a wannabe actress getting stalked by a young David Krumholtz, Flash is a down-on-his-luck loser who keeps getting jobs, then losing them for one theoretically-comedic reason or another. The Martian Manhunter is really fat and doesn’t get out much.

Meanwhile, Tori finds a hidden device in the lab, and manages to break it in such a way that now she has cry kinetic powers that she can’t quite control. When she freezes a lake while trying to save a man drowning in about one foot of water, the JLU see her on the news, and kidnap her. They interrogate her, decide she‘s an innocent idiot, monkey with her brain a bit so she won‘t remember it, and let her go.

The city gets attacked by hail, and eventually Tori discovers that Miguel Ferer is the Weatherman, and tells the JLA, who really did a pretty piss-poor job of making her forget stuff. They take her to the JLA headquarters, which is hidden underwater, beneath a bridge, in a channel that is evidently several miles deep. (Whaaaat…?) I’m not sure what the HQ is supposed to be - is it a building? A spaceship? A submarine? A whale? A submarine and/or spaceship that looks like a whale? Why does it look like a whale? In any event, they take Tori to meet Major Charles Emmerson Winchester III, who’s pretending to be an obese (or oblate) Martian.

The Weatherman attacks the city again, and the Heroes tell Tori to stay out of it while they try - and mostly fail - to prevent damage. Meanwhile, she disobeys orders and flash-freezes a tsunami that was coming at the city. With The Weatherman captured, the city saved, the ocean gradually thawing out, and the whale-dealie still conveniently inexplicable, the make Tori a member of the team.

Interspersed with all this - at more or less random intervals - we have talking-to-the-camera confessional scenes, a hokey romantic triangle between Tori, Atom, and The Weatherman that never really commits on that third leg, and a tedious developing romantic triangle between Guy Gardner, his bitchy girlfriend, and Green Lantern (Also Guy Gardner).

OBSERVATIONS

If my play-by-play seems uncharacteristically sparse, there’s a good reason for it: This is the worst, and pretty much the most story-free pilot I’ve ever watched. Arguably, the pilot for “No Soap, Radio” had less of a story, but that was actually funny (Unlike the No Soap, Radio series itself). Mark Waid’s comments at the top of the review - directly referring to this pilot - pretty much summed up my feelings once it was all over.

Now, I *like* bad movies. I’m a bit perverse in that regard: good films are a dime a dozen, but truly bad films - “Grunt! The Wrestling Movie” for example - are forever. I like ‘em. I even have an unbridled affection for demi-terrible films, which anyone who’s read my “Saturday Afternoon B-Movie Crapfest” reviews will be aware of. I’m not one to complain about that sort of stuff, and I clearly, clearly, clearly use a different scale for this sort of thing than I do for good films. And yet I really have nothing good to say about this mess. Seriously: I watched it a week ago, and I’ve been sitting, staring at the computer, trying to come up with something redeeming, and the best I can come up with is “Well, that guy wasn’t completely awful” or “Maybe David Ogden Stiers needed cash for surgery or something.”

Again, this is not just *bad.* I like bad. Bad is good. Bad is funny. This is not just *boring* - I grew up fundamentalist, so I can do boring no problem. And *some* boring things achieve weird effects that more conventionally or competently paced films can’t - witness Russian cinema in the Soviet era, or “Creation of the Humanoids” for that matter. No, this isn’t just dull, or bad, it’s a unique species of terrible that not only wastes your time, it actually holds you down on the ground, thrusts its buttocks in your face, and flatulates wildly while it rips seconds, and then hours, from the ticking clock of your life. It’s not only bad, it’s strangely punishing. It takes grim pleasure in wasting your time.

The only movie that ever affected me this badly was Jim Jar mush’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” but at *least* that one had the common decency to introduce me to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, so I came out of it with something. This movie is far, far worse.

Part of that, I think, is its relentless cheeriness: It’s so damn happy, so damn chipper that it wanders right past accidental surrealism and straight on in to the uncanny valley of creepy. It’s not taking itself seriously, but it’s making such a show of not taking itself seriously that you can tell its apparent frivolity is really a work of the deepest pomposity and self-importance. They put a lot of effort into not taking themselves seriously, and they were deliberately trying to go for a swinging kinda’ Friends-meets-Smallville-lite kind of feel. It totally doesn’t work, it totally falls apart. It’s awful.

Another part of the problem is its nearly-feature-length running time. There is simply no call for this story to be this long. The plot - such as there is - would fit in to a standard episode of any Power Rangers show you care to pick. Production values are Power-Rangers level, too, which is to say cheezy as hell. But again, they make such a show of “Look how cheezy we are” that it’s impossible to even relax in to that look. And of course there’s no real action, per se. There’s a couple badly CGIed set-pieces, but no fighting, no drama, no excitement. I mean, at least Power Rangers gives us three fights per episode.

So what we’ve got here is essentially a Power Rangers plot that’s stripped of all violence, hopelessly hypertrophied from 22 minutes up to FOUR TIMES that length, utterly devoid of humor or interest, or even charisma, and yet is somehow aimed - ostensibly - at adults?

Yikes!

I’m not even sure this turd was intended to be that long. Every single scene goes on for far longer than it should. There are endless pointless transitional scenes of people walking in to, then out of, buildings, through doorways, down halls. At least ten minutes of the run time is those damn stupid ‘interviews’ that seem to be largely improvised. It feels like this was shot as a 44-minute pilot, and someone decided to amortize their investment by doubling it’s length by using every scrap of footage they had, and padding THAT out with the interviews.

Kimberly Oja as Tori/Ice is pretty yet bland. She went on to be ‘the smart lifeguard’ on the relentlessly dirty “Son of the Beach” series

I can’t find out any information on Kenny Johnson, who played Barry/Flash, though he’s kind of pudgy and out of breath a lot.

Matthew Settle plays Guy/Green Lantern. I actually like this actor - he’s presently in Gossip Girl, and he’s probably best known as Captain Spiers in “Band of Brothers” - but he’s saddled with a character who’s three kinds of awful here. This isn’t the fun, funny, filled-with-limitless rage Guy Gardner of the 80s, no, no, no, this is the wimpy, sensitive guy Guy of the 70s. He’s terrible, he’s given little to do, it’s a waste. He’s the only character who’s costume isn’t completely embarrassing looking, however.

Michelle Hurd plays Fire, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous and has an unquestioned charm that is, alas, completely, totally wasted here. One of the things I liked best about the old JLA comics was the easy camaraderie between Fire and Ice, and we get not a glimmer of that here. She’s best known for a recurring role as a TV newswoman on ER.

John Kassir plays absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst version of the Atom ever commited to any form of visual media. He’s best known as the voice of the Crypt Keeper. To his credit, however, he kept both Rosie O’Donnel and Sinbad from winning Star Search, so for that I’m eternally grateful.

There’s so many ‘whys’ about this production that beggar resolution: Why no Batman or Superman in the JLA? Why, if they have a headquarters, were they changing costumes in an alleyway? What the hell is the headquarters supposed to be? If they’ve got this massive, massive HQ, then why are three of ‘em living in one crappy apartment? Why are Fire and Ice suddenly American? How is it that….gah. No. No, I’ve spent too much time on this already. Suffice to say that your average episode of Ultraman is far more fulfilling.

If you want to subject yourself to the deep hurting, you can do so here

But I strongly, strongly warn against it.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS?

Only if they’ve taken some kind of traumatic brain injury.

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