Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: The Horrible Justice League TV Pilot

Justice is currently dawning at multiplexes, and if you want my thoughts on Batman v. Superman you can click over here and check out my review, but meanwhile I wanted to take another dip into the well of previous attempts to translate the expansive DC Comics universe to the screen. Last week I looked at the abortive Legends of the Superheroes TV specials, and this time I'm talking about that time CBS almost turned the Justice League into a live action series -- before common sense prevailed.

Back in 1997, right around the time Warner Bros. was about to drop a nuclear bomb on their hugely successful Batman film franchise with the hugely disastrous Batman & Robin, they were even then looking for ways to cross-pollinate their other superhero properties into the mainstream. Thus they set their sights on television for their marquee super-team, the Justice League. But with screen rights for Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman already spoken for and CGI effects not nearly as common as they are now, nothing good would come of this collaboration.

Up until then, one of the most successful iterations of the League had been a '87-'92 comic book run by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, which used as its hook the fact that most of the big names were absent, and so it positioned itself as kind of a workplace sitcom. Characters like Booster Gold and Blue Beetle would play pranks on their colleagues between saving the world from various world-beating baddies. It was (and remains) a charming and fun diversion from the usual Götterdämmerung that characterized superhero books (not to mention *koff* certain superhero movies).

This comic book run would serve as the loose (very loose) tonal template for what became the Justice League TV pilot, but with neither the wit nor the style to pull it off well. Commissioned by CBS, the telefilm, directed by episodic television vet Félix Enríquez Alcalá and featuring a script by Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton, utilized a reality show conceit where the heroes talk to the camera in-between scenes. In a better show, that might actually have had potential, doing the "cutaway" thing long before shows like The Office and Modern Family normalized the practice.

This, however, was not a better show. Instead, we had a cockamamie plot involving a bad guy called the Weatherman (Miguel Ferrer, hanging his head in shame) who's using a weather-changing doodad to mess with New Metro city. This is where the Justice League comes in, comprised of the Flash (Kenny Johnston), Green Lantern (Matthew Settle), Fire (Michelle Hurd), and the Atom (John Kassir). During the course of the film, we meet new member Ice (Kimberly Oja) and their founder, the Martian Manhunter (David Ogden Stiers). Check out the closing moments of this turkey:

There's no way to sum up what a disaster this thing is. It doesn't work as action, it doesn't work as comedy. It just doesn't work. No one in the cast comes off particularly well, but I feel particularly bad for David Ogden Stiers, attempting to mask his girth under a blue cloak. It's not a pretty sight. In fact, there's no attempt to have the characters resemble their comic book equivalents. And in this age where we have a whole universe of DC shows, the lost Justice League pilot is even more offensive for how it looks down on the genre. There's no shock at all why the show didn't get picked up. The whole genre dodged a bullet, in fact.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Bradys -- A Bunch of Crap

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Earth: Final Conflict -- Clearing Gene Roddenbery's Table Scraps

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Kenner's Jurassic Park -- Merchandise 65 Million Years in the Making

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Captain Planet -- Ted Turner's Treehugger Hero With A Mullet

Five Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Perfect Strangers Edition

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