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High-Flying Crime Fighters / Girls just want to have fun - and save Gotham in 'Birds'

TV REVIEW

BIRDS OF PREY. A female Terrific Trio succeeds the male Dynamic Duo in New

Gotham crime fighting. DC Comics meets The WB in flashy action mixed with

identity angst. Series premiere tonight at 9 on WPIX/11.

The WB's new "Birds of Prey" wastes no time tonight in setting up either

its hot young action heroines or its slick style of fantastical visuals and

quippy butt-kicking. Give them 15 minutes, they'll give you their world.

Complicated it may be, but it's also clear and clever. The titular New

Gotham trio (based on DC Comics characters) form sort of a "Gotham's Angels,"

brave babes busily "saving the city from some apocalyptic bad-guy plan" under

the cover of the secret identities everybody has in a show like this. Girls

just wanna have fun, "fighting crime lords and supervillains."

Hard to relate? Nah. Between colorful crime-busting vignettes, they're

everyday pals squabbling over groceries and neuroses. "I'm as broody and

romantically self-destructive as the next girl," claims Barbara Gordon (Dina

Meyer), the former Batgirl, now a schoolteacher in a wheelchair keeping

cybertabs on the field adventures of her prot�g�e. Helena's reluctant Huntress

(Ashley Scott) ranges the night to satisfy her Batman-Catwoman lineage, when

she isn't tending bar and bemoaning their avocation's "lousy hours, nonexistent

pay, no recognition."

Before long, teen new girl in town Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) adds her gift of

"metahuman" mind reading, despite the Huntress' vexed objection that "we don't

have an opening for junior supergirl."

Tonight's moving-right-along premiere not only pulls us in but promises

plenty. Although last season's WB super-hour "Smallville" made a bang-up pilot

(from the same Tollin/Robbins Productions team), the series quickly settled

into unlikely Superpower of the Week scenarios among the tiny burg's

asteroid-struck denizens. Seems rural high schoolers couldn't truly exploit the

setup's possibilities.

The "Prey" chicks benefit from a whole urban landscape in which to play and

a host of comic book baddies to battle, plus a deeper well of broader identity

issues and psycho-entanglements derived from different DC series. Barbara

mourns her lost movement, Dinah explores her new independence and Helena

addresses her ancestry anguish under the care of a sneaky shrink (Mia Sara).

Meantime, the complex connections among the three different-age heroines set up

explorations of modern female relationships. Good-looking guy characters get

to have issues, too, popping up at school and on the street, as co-workers and

suspicious cops.

What, you weren't expecting pretty? Yes, it's a WB drama. Like its net-

mates, "Birds of Prey" boasts sharp casting of little-known performers whose

personalities prove as feistily engaging as their exquisite looks. And, of

course, they're smart talkers. The Huntress doesn't just physically whup bad

guys, she skewers 'em verbally: "I hate a man with no endurance. Really, what's

the point?"

Barbara vividly relives how she used to "race across rooftops under the

moon." Even the requisite ever- present police detective (Shemar Moore) gets

lines like "Myths are just the truth a fewgenerations later." Those Gilmore

Girls have nothing on this Shakespeare- spouting crew.

Visual effects are no less striking, though this is the kind of pilot hour

that's so juiced- up, you have to wonder whether next week's "regular" episode

can match the gothic austerity meant to mirror Frank Miller's Dark Knight

comics. Barbara's computer lair envelops her in virtual reality action, while

Dinah's "sight"-seeing and Helena's mind trips come to life in sleek

black-and-white. Throughout all the flying leaps and urban warfare, Helena's

lipstick stays fresh, her flowing cape perfectly pressed. She does, however,

admit it's "hell on your nails." See how ordinary these girls are?

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