I don’t usually write about pilot casting, but news that “Friday Night Lights” alum Adrianne Palicki has been cast in David E. Kelley’s “Wonder Woman” pilot for NBC is too fascinating not to.
On the one hand, you have Palicki, who has pretty much every single attribute you would want in this role. She is Amazon tall, she is gorgeous, she is tough, and as we saw consistently on her three seasons as a regular on “FNL,” she is one hell of an actress, capable of handling emotions big and small and demonstrating major screen presence. (Embedded at the bottom of this post is a scene from a first season story arc in which her character escaped a rape attempt.) Because the character is supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and a mighty, imposing warrior and a high-wattage star, it’s a near impossible part to cast. You can find a supermodel with the right look but not the chops for it, or you can find an actress whom you have to put on apple boxes. Palicki’s the whole package, and it’s kind of shocking that such an iconic role goes to someone so ideal for it who’s not a complete unknown.
Yet whatever enthusiasm I have about the casting immediately goes out the window considering that this isn’t just any “Wonder Woman” reboot, but a David E. Kelley reboot, when Kelley is absolutely the last writer in the business I would want to see anywhere near this character.
It’s not just that Kelley’s fondness for wackiness and jarring tonal shifts will surely undercut any attempt to treat the character even vaguely seriously. It’s not just that the character and her world don’t seem to provide much room for his biggest skill, which is writing flowery courtroom speeches. It’s not just that he hasn’t written a believably three-dimensional human character since the early days of “The Practice.”
It’s that Kelley can’t write women, at all. He’s the man whose “Ally McBeal” inspired an infamous Time magazine cover asking if feminism was dead – and even that show’s early fans couldn’t defend its depiction of women as neurotic messes by the time it wrapped. He’s the man responsible for “girls club,” a show about three sexy young female attorneys that actually made “Ally McBeal” seem like it had been written by Gloria Steinem. The women on his shows either start out as caricatures or descend into caricature rapidly, and are rarely granted the dignity that he gives even his goofiest male characters.
Kelley has something of a success right now in “Harry’s Law” (though it’s mainly a success by the terrible standards of NBC in the aftermath of the Jeff Zucker regime laid waste to the network), which does have a female lead in Kathy Bates. But the role was, as the title suggests, written for a man, and very little of it seems to have been tweaked to be about Bates’ gender – where Wonder Woman, as ambassador for a nation of women, is a character who is about gender 24/7.
Simply put, a David E. Kelley-written Wonder Woman is going to be a complete embarrassment, even with somebody like Palicki in the title role.
But don’t take my word for it. Do yourself a favor and Google the phrases “Wonder Woman,” “script review” and “pajama.” Kelley’s script has been floating around on the Interwebs for weeks, and based on the many, many, many reviews and synopses, it is everything you would expect and fear it to be.
The other day, I was lamenting that Hollywood hasn’t found a way to give Palicki a prominent enough role worthy of her talent. Now she has maybe the perfect role for her, and I kind of wish she didn’t. My only hope is that at some point in the development process, NBC realizes that they want the character, and the actress, but they don’t want this writer. But I doubt it.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org