Sci-Fi Channel’s kitschy new series mixes leather-clad superbabes with superhero parody.
If Adam West had been a busty Playboy centerfold who fought crime in a leather thong, television’s Batman might have been Black Scorpion. People who think Xena under-dresses for battle only need to glance at Black Scorpion for the warrior princess to seem demure and defensive. Usually action shows reserve dominatrix outfits for evil vixens, so it’s progress of a sort for the Sci-Fi Channel to offer a similarly-clad superhero.
Yet the designer of Black Scorpion’s costume receives individual screen credit, which indicates the importance her outfit plays in the series. The characters, the special effects, even the humor remain in the background, to insure sufficient screen time for the butt shots. The question posed by the pilot episode, "Armed and Dangerous," is whether a divine derriere can sell an action series.
The derriere in question belongs to Darcy Walker, a ditzy, defensive cop from Angel City who uses matter-transforming technology to become Black Scorpion. The catsuited crime fighter drives a vehicle equipped with as many special gimmicks as the Batmobile. Reformed gang leader Argyle, a cross between Marvel Comics’ brainiacs Reed Richards and Tony Stark (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man, respectively), has developed cutting-edge atom-smashing technology in his garage to aid Darcy in her quest for justice. We don’t learn in "Armed and Dangerous" how Argyle got his skills, nor how Darcy hooked up with him. We do learn that she got her take-no-prisoners attitude from her father—a cop killed when he broke regulations to fight a threat to Angel City.
Darcy also has a new partner, Steve, whom she meets undercover while she’s pretending to be a hooker and he’s pretending to offer a measly $20 for her services. Trading her hooker disguise for the even less discreet Black Scorpion apparel, Darcy rescues Steve from the deadly Army of Angels gang. But this only fuels his obsession, for as Darcy soon learns, Steve’s ultimate goal as a police officer is to capture the elusive vigilante Black Scorpion, who’s wanted for destroying public property, carrying concealed weapons and speeding.
Meanwhile, Angel City’s corrupt mayor has created an elite G.U.A.R.D.—Guerillas For Urban Armed Response and Defense—to protect citizens from dangerous criminals, since the police waste too much time investigating the mayor himself. Unfortunately, General Stryker would rather reminisce about flying his helicopter, where in graphic fantasy he gets to jerk on a joystick between his legs and spray bullets with abandon. While his G.U.A.R.D. is distracted, the mayor nearly falls victim to villain Firearm—so named for the bullets and missiles he shoots from his Borg-like prosthetic arm. Firearm won’t stop until the city repeals Prop. 357, which stipulates a waiting period before people can buy weapons. So, transforming her clothes via the same technique that transforms her car, Darcy turns into Black Scorpion and goes up against the bad guy.
These events make up most of the first half of the pilot episode, in a comic romp that parodies Batman, Star Trek, The Fantastic Four and a half-dozen other franchises. The only interruption comes before the opening credits, in the form of an animated sequence explaining how Black Scorpion got her name. It’s not clear how the nasty little fable of a killer scorpion connects to Darcy’s commando justice, but it does set a serious tone that returns in the latter part of the pilot. As Darcy pursues Firearm and discovers that Stryker is just as crazy, the show tries to deliver moral and ethical messages...in between butt shots. This tactic numbs viewers faster than a scorpion’s sting.
It’s not clear from "Armed and Dangerous" whether Black Scorpion envisions itself as action-adventure or parody. But it’s painfully obvious that it succeeds only at the latter. Firearm has witty dialogue, calling himself a son of a gun and shouting, "You’re fired!" at the mayor as he aims. When Black Scorpion suggests that they play Hide and Seek, the villain retorts that he prefers Search and Destroy. Firearm believes every citizen has a right to bear arms, even his enemies, so he steals a neutron bomb to give the voters "more bang for their buck." The mayor is a funny guy, too. Of the thousands of death threats he received in the past year, 16 were from his wife.
Sci-Fi hypes the show for its array of Playboy Playmates and its beauty queen star, former Miss Kansas Michelle Lintel, whose facial expressions get fewer close-ups than her cleavage. On Star Trek: Voyager, directors generally limit themselves to one or two shots of Jeri Ryan’s catsuit-clad backside to make sure Seven of Nine’s intelligence is taken seriously. Black Scorpion shows no such restraint. In a way, this is a shame, because the costume covers up a smart, tough woman who’s occasionally reminiscent of one of Charlie’s Angels. Lintel struts with flair, and her character has nice chemistry with Argyle. She also resists using weapons until she has determined nothing else will work against Firearm.
On the other hand, it’s clear that all the actresses have been chosen for their cup sizes rather than their training. As the mayor’s mistress-secretary Babette, Shae Marks contributes little more than big hair and big hooters. Darcy’s lack of professionalism adds to the bimbo factor. She admits to Steve that she had an affair with her last partner, which naturally puts him on the defensive. Then she shows up to work in a teensy mini-dress, prompting Steve to demand that she wait in the patrol car while he fights Firearm. She believes he’s being sexist, but he later says it’s because she doesn’t wear a bulletproof vest. Theatrical Black Scorpion can get away with dressing like a dominatrix—Catwoman did—but Darcy should look like the straight-laced police officer she’s supposed to be, even if we’re not supposed to take her seriously.
And even if the whole show’s supposed to be as silly as the argyle car and masturbatory gun-cleaning shots, the eye candy casting gets frustrating. If the producers would hire competent martial artists instead of people who look good in the costumes, they could enliven the leaden fight sequences and make awkward stunt doubles unnecessary during slow-motion fistfights. The actors could use Xena’s fight choreographers as well as costume designers, since even WWF moves are impossible in stiletto heels. One starts to wish Firearm would use his projectiles on Black Scorpion, rather than inexplicably resorting to physical grappling.
Firearm’s atrocious cheap Borg makeup isn’t really a drawback, nor are the Viper-like morphing effects that transform Darcy’s car into a Scorpionmobile, complete with back-seat disco light. During the opening credits one can guess all the actors’ roles from their physical types: the minority comic relief; the overweight, paternal police chief; and the pretty-boy leading man. In parody, these stereotypes are necessary, and the actors can have fun with them. But on a dramatic action series, they’re deadly. This show needs to draw more on Batman, less on The Bionic Woman.
Black Scorpion inexplicably airs at 8 p.m. EST on Fridays, in The Invisible Man’s old time slot. It would have made more sense to have put Sci-Fi’s newest series in The Invisible Man’s new time slot at 9 p.m. Mondays, instead—as a lead-in to the adult-oriented series LEXX, following Penthouse Pet Traci Lords who now stars on First Wave. Sci-Fi has been advertising some kitschy guest villains, including Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno, Playmate of the Year Victoria Silvestedt and former Batman himself, Adam West, whose appeal is likely to be lost on younger viewers but who will draw in the older demographic.
In future episodes, it would be nice to learn the answers to the few serious questions raised by the pilot, such as why the cops in beleaguered Angel City bother to chase Black Scorpion. However, continuity isn’t as vital to the weekly success of this series as a sense of fun. Lintel looks great in leather, and it looks like she can handle the demands of the role, especially when she’s enjoying herself. But whether Black Scorpion will be thought of as a character or just a costume remains to be seen.