Neil Calloway looks at the less than successful Aquaman TV pilot from 2006…
Having been the butt of so many jokes for decades, the character of Aquaman has enjoyed a rebirth and reinvention courtesy of Jason Momoa’s portrayal in the DC Extended Universe – his appearances in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League culminating culminating with the billion dollar grossing Aquaman solo movie in 2018.
As with most comic book characters, there have been previous attempts to Arthur Curry to the screen. After a version of the character appearing in an episode of Smallville in 2005 Warner Brothers decided he deserved a TV show of his own, so Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar commissioned to produce a pilot.
However, relying on the wisdom that kind of proves they didn’t really have a plan for the character or a handle on the material, the role was recast and his origin story changed from that in Smallville. I can’t quite work out if Alan Ritchson, who played the role in Smallville should feel disappointed that he was recast, or glad that he dodged a bullet by not appearing in a TV show that was never broadcast. Justin Hartley took the lead role.
The pilot also featured Adrianne Palicki as the siren who killed Aquaman’s mother and comes back to kill him. Palicki, despite good work on the likes of Friday Night Lights and John Wick could be described as the unluckiest actress in Hollywood, or at the least the queen of canned pilots, having appeared in shelved TV shows for Lost in Space, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Marvel’s Most Wanted, a spin off from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D starring her character Mockingbird. Solid supporting players Lou Diamond Phillips and Ving Rhames round out the cast. It’s easy to see why they signed on; if the pilot had progressed to series there are worse places than the Florida Keys to shoot a TV show.
The pilot itself is a fairly standard origin story, with AC – later revealed to be Aquaman – as the orphan told the truth about his real parents and called to action by a mentor he initially disbelieves. If you’ve seen Star Wars you know the story. There’s a shot of him early on as a young child underwater that resembles the cover of Nevermind by Nirvana, surely a deliberate nod by director Greg Beeman. Sadly what follows is not nearly as worthy of acclaim as that seminal grunge album. Cutting to the present day, AC is a wayward teen in the Florida Keys with his heart in the right place – he gets arrested, but it’s for releasing dolphins into the wild. He gets angry, but only with fisherman for killing marlins.
For every decent line about mermaids not being real but looking good on Starbucks cups, there’s a clunker about everyone who has disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle being “MIAs in an invisible war.” The boat on which Aquaman defeats the siren who killed his mother is called the Quint – a nice nod to Jaws, but overall the show doesn’t leave you begging for a second episode. It’s more Saved By The Bell: The Underwater Years than the darker DC output we’re used to now. It’s fair to say Jason Momoa could probably take Justin Hartley in a fight.
Writers Gough and Millar, director Greg Beeman, and stars Hartley, Palicki and Amber McDonald, who appears here as Aquaman’s boss and love interest, all previously worked on Smallville. It’s as if they hoped the same team would automatically recreate that show’s success here, which wasn’t to be the case.
Aquaman might not have been worthy of a TV screening, but just because it’s not good enough for the masses doesn’t mean you can’t make the fanboys part with their cash; it was released onto various online platforms for rental, and was reasonably successful; it was also included as an extra on the Blu-ray of the animated movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. It’s one for DC completists only, and deserves to be forgotten at the bottom of the ocean following this latest Aquaman incarnation.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive.