This bizarre pilot for an aborted TV series was reportedly developed by CBS but only aired overseas; it's surprising that it was broadcast anywhere, because the production values may well be far worse than the paltry cash spent by Roger Corman on his version of The Fantastic Four (1994).
The Corman production at least spent a bit of money on rotoscoped animation, whereas the producers of Justice League of America [JLA] used rubber and foam costumes seemingly glued onto the padded lycra suits of the main heroes: The Green Lantern (a guy who keeps trying to romance his increasingly frustrated girlfriend), The Atom (a nerdy teacher who's yet to be fired for his sudden, inexplicable flights from class), Fire (an unemployed actress), and The Flash (a jock who can't hold a job).
The chief difference between the el cheapo Fantastic Four and JLA is that the former was never intended for any release, whereas the latter was designed to sell a TV series to audiences, but exactly what demographic the writers and producers were targeting is hard to discern because this re-imagined blunder is all over the place.
The basic story is simple: a hot egghead (kiddie-voiced Kimberly Oja) working for a major scientific corporation is exposed to a toxin that allows her to freeze water. Eventually she discovers her charismatic boss (Twin Peaks' Miguel Ferrer) is the villainous ‘Weather Man,' a JLA foe who threatens to use an instant weather shaping gizmo to extort cash from the city. When the egghead babe (later branded 'Ice') is brought into JLA's fold, the quintet collectively stop the Weather Man, and toast their latest member and the wondrous adventures that lie ahead.
Now take the four main characters and make them starving mid- to late-twentysomethings stuck in blah jobs, with the three guys - Flash (Kenny Johnston), Atom (ex-Crypt Keeper John Kassir), and Green Lantern (Matthew Settle) - living together in a house decorated in outmoded IKEA furniture and big strokes of primary colours left over from 1982. See, it's like Friends, but with super powers.
See the Flash eating way too fast for his irked buddies!
Not sufficiently chic?
Well, the writers tried another spin the creators of the short-lived 1993 detective series Crime & Punishment applied to give their show a new twist: interrupt the narrative with characters addressing the camera like a Q&A segment from a reality show. In the detective series, it was the victims and perps asked by off-screen interviewers to reflect and question their motivations/actions/cruelties; in the JLA pilot, it's segments of separate and various groupings of the heroes engaging in lighthearted talk about themselves, each other, and the group's new member, Ice.
It's obviously a self-conscious parody of talk show conventions, but the vignettes are often at odds with the villain segments wherein The Weather Man is a clear lethal threat to the vaguely named coastal city no bigger than a tourist town.
The villain is also a dumkopf, and that may be the chief reason why CBS execs realized they had a stinker: when Ice discovers her boss' identity, she goes home. And probably has a good sleep, too, because he never finds her a threat. He does ring her doorbell a few days later and asks if she'd like to be partners, seeing how she can freeze things, but she retaliates by freezing him and running to the JLA mothership where J'onn J'onzz, the Martian JLA bigwig (poor David Ogden Stiers, buried under a frequently incomplete green foam mask), resides.
Never calls the cops. She just runs away, and in a twist, discovers she's brought a tracking device into the ship, which in turn sends a red ray to bake the mothership.
Things short out, single digit sparks fly, and in no time the ship's an underwater dodo, although the heroes do manage to flee from their secret base – an inelegant set no bigger than a three-car garage, peppered with blinking gear left behind by the last production that used the miniscule studio.
The Weather Man eventually sets up a giant tidal wave designed to drown the city, and although Green Hornet reaches the villain's lair (more like construction tube scaffolding erected in the Hollywood Hills), he's unable to stop the imminent threat because the gizmo was thrown off the tower.
Naturally, Ice is able to harness her freezing powers just in time, and The Weather Man is escorted to jail in a mini van… although he's able to begin a savvy escape by grabbing a laser gizmo the guards failed to notice dangling from his neck, and break the handcuff chain.
Interwoven is Fire (Michelle Hurd), and her efforts to keep a twentysomething director (David Krumholtz) from discovering her secret hero identity when he becomes infatuated with her alter ego: master thespian B.B. DaCosta, who auditioned for him in a banana costume for some vague commercial production. Unlike her male buddies, however, Fire wears no mask - just green eye paint and electrified, uni-directional hair – but she's still able to hide her true identity.
How this was supposed to work as a series is a mystery, since the mismatched tones prohibit any dark menace or edgy villains; it's all semi-comedic, action oriented, and the special effects are kept short because there was no more money better video effects.
As with his music for the Doctor Who pilot that was meant to launch a 1996 series, composer John Debney flips between synth and orchestral, but at least there's variable music throughout the pilot – something not afforded to Corman's Fantastic Four composers, whose singular theme renditions were repeated ad nauseum.
Prolific TV director Félix Enríquez Alcalá (the 1998 Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 TV remake) is probably glad this oddity never reached North American TV screens (as is uncredited director Lewis Teague), but it is interesting to note that Ferrer (aka The Weather Man) provided the voice for the empathetic version of J'onn J'onzz in the 2008 animated film, Justice League: The New Frontier, whereas Ogden Stiers, who played J'onn J'onzz in this pilot, later did the voice of Soliva in the 2002-2006 animated Justice League TV series.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan