Aquaman “Pilot” (part 2 of 11)

The show starts off with voiceover narration, often a bad sign. “My son’s story,” a woman says, “begins in the ocean, a place full of secrets.” She goes on about the beauties and dangers of the ocean, over murky stock footage of seahorses, schools of goldfish (hey, there’s Nemo!), hammerhead sharks, and a Portuguese man o’ war. So far, this is as involving as an Earth Science filmstrip.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Hi! My name is Dobbin the Seahorse, and I’m an important part of the marine ecosystem!” (bing!)

But there’s something oddly familiar about the tenor of this woman’s voice. And then it hits you: she sounds exactly like Annette O’Toole. It’s the same friendly, two-packs-a-day huskiness that keeps Martha Kent sounding so maddeningly grounded all the time on Smallville. In fact, the first time I watched this I was sure it was Annette O’Toole, and that Aquaman was going to somehow turn out to be Clark’s long-lost stepbrother. (If only the ideas behind this show were even as creative as that.)

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In a minute, however, we’ll meet the character of A.C.’s mother, and she’s played by a striking blonde who’s clearly an Amanda Peet wannabe (otherwise known as a Peetabe). So that means it’s not O’Toole doing the VO, right?

My reaction mirrored that of fans on dozens of internet message boards. Lots of “I downloaded Aquaman” posts started right off with bemusement at how weird it is that the mom sounds exactly like Martha Kent.

I dropped into research mode, and for the first time ever, IMDb failed me. At the time I started writing this, their listing for Mercy Reef (which was at one point going to be the official name of the series) was only a stub, and lacked the full cast listing. That’s gotta burn, guys. You sucked so bad, even IMDb didn’t bother. The credits in the show are no help either, since, perhaps at the actors’ request, no one is identified by character name. (It’s Keye Luke all over again!)

Eventually, was able to tell me that A.C.’s mom is played by Daniella Deutscher, credited in the titles as Daniella Wolters. All I can really tell you about her is that she was one of the stars of the high-school hoops sitcom Hang Time, otherwise known as Saved by the Basketball.

But the story doesn’t end there. I just assumed that Deutscher was hired because she sounds startlingly like Annette O’Toole. But when we meet her in person, her voice won’t have the same huskiness as the voiceover. That bugged me. And then when I rechecked IMDb later, I found the Mercy Reef entry had been updated to list an “uncredited voiceover” by Annette O’Toole! (Congratulations, Annette. Because if Frank Welker can qualify for Agony Booth Repeat Offender status for voice work alone, then so can you!)

A lot of dumb decisions were made during the production of this pilot. Having Annette O’Toole do the voiceover—a speech, you’ll recall, that starts with “My son…,” immediately putting you in mind of Smallville—is definitely near the top of the list. It only makes viewers feel like they’re being played. And using Annette, but doing it secretly, and then switching over to some other actress once the action starts is just so craven I can’t even deal with it.

By the way, the name of Aquaman’s mom, retained from the comics, is Atlanna. That’s a great name. What’s her big line gonna be? “As God is my witness, I’ll never go swimming again”?

Anyway, Marthatlanna is still talking about how mysterious the ocean is, yadda yadda, and then she gets to the biggest mystery of all, which is… are you ready? The Bermuda Triangle. Geez. What is this, 1977? I already saw this episode of In Search Of! What’s next, is the Hulk origin story going to somehow relate to the legend of Sasquatch?

I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time analyzing this, because basing the Aquaman story around the Bermuda Triangle is as ludicrous as doing a movie about the ten million dollar windfall I got last week, thanks to an email from the ex-finance minister of Nigeria.

For those unfamiliar with the legend, the Bermuda Triangle is a, well, triangular slice of the Atlantic with vertices at Bermuda, Fort Lauderdale, and Puerto Rico (though definitions vary quite a bit). Supposedly, lots of “unexplained disappearances” happen there, and radio transmissions do funny things, etc. The Triangle was talked up a lot in the 1970s, much of it with the same kind of naïve giddiness that characterized the alien abduction stories Albert talks about over in his Overlords of the UFO recap.

But as a “mystery”, the Triangle is completely implausible, even more so than most UFO disappearances. Here’s the thing. People get lost at sea all the time, all over the world. It’s often hard to find them afterwards. The area covered by the Bermuda Triangle gets a ton of ship and air traffic, so folks are going to get lost there. Anyone who analyzes the statistics, from the Coast Guard to shipping insurers, will find no higher proportion of loss there than anywhere else.

Moreover, most of the Triangle disappearance stories include mystified references to clear skies and calm seas that often turn out to be plain wrong. Furthermore, disappearances get tied to the Triangle that didn’t even take place there—even the Mary Celeste, which was found abandoned off the coast of Portugal! Well, you know, Lisbon, Miami… Same thing, really.

Even more annoying than the banality of the real-world Bermuda Triangle is the fact that, in the DC Universe, the Triangle has nothing to do with Aquaman. And not only that, it has a totally different, perfectly well-known explanation. In the comics, the Bermuda Triangle was created by the Amazons to conceal the whereabouts of Paradise Island from the outside world. This has been noted in dozens of Wonder Woman stories, and was faithfully repeated in the Lynda Carter TV series. In other words: Hello? Wrong franchise! Morons.

Oh, and one last point before I move on. This show is set in the Florida Keys, and guess what? The Florida Keys are nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle.

But to understand the Bermuda Triangle, Atlanna tells us, you have to understand her son. So the Bermuda Triangle is a sullen and selfish slacker? This is said over yet more stock footage of sunken ships, coral reefs, and anything else the interns could borrow from America’s Boringest Ocean Videos.

Atlanna explains that though her son lives among us, “he was born in the darkest reaches of the sea.” Oddly, this is said over images of a random human baby floating on the surface of a swimming pool, with bright sunlight behind him. So while the voiceover is talking about “deep” and “dark,” the visuals are giving you “shallow” and “sunny.” Not even thirty seconds in, and we’re already getting ominous warnings that this show has no idea what it’s about.

Oh, and if this shot looks weirdly familiar to you, that’s probably because it’s an exact dupe of the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind (without the dollar bills).

Caption contributed by Mark

This reminds me of my favorite Kurt Cobain song, “Smells Like Creative Bankruptcy”.

Marthatlanna is still talking about Baby Cobain. She had hoped to teach him to be a good man, but she was “taken from him.” The implication seems to be that Atlanna died, which left me wondering when exactly she recorded this voiceover. But we’re about to see she means that literally: the bad guys hauled her off somewhere. In fact, her fate is left ambiguous enough to allow a tearful and ultimately tragic reunion sometime around episode 10, during sweeps. Hey, shows this bad do write themselves, you know.

Then the Aquaman title sh-thunks onto a black screen, and it’s totally wrong in every way. It’s all rough-hewn lettering, in a sort of compressed Cutty Sark font, which says “ships and pirates” more than “Aquaman”. But what really confuses me is the presence of two human skulls [??] under the Q and the U. Skulls? What bizarre train of mental association took them from Aquaman to skulls? That’s like having blood dripping off the Superman S shield. The guy who designed this logo must have thought “Aquaman” was a heavy metal band from 1978. I’m surprised the A’s don’t have röck döts over them.

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he's nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Aquaman "Pilot"

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