Thought that there were a fair amount of comic book based TV series last year? Well, this year there were even more. So, let’s dive right in and revisit what excelled and what was meh in home viewing in 2015 . . .
Cosmo: So, I was thinking that we should start with Marvel’s pair of Netflix series as they were the most high-profile comic book TV projects of the year. As I stated in my reviews, I feel that Daredevil & Jessica Jones both really raised the bar on what a superhero series could be. They were among the best TV of any kind I saw in 2015.
Josh:I have to agree, and not just because Game of Thrones was so-so and Fargo Season 2 has been a slow-burner.
Marvel’s Netflix is shaping up to be the dramatic counterpoint/compliment to their films.
Cosmo: I think that Daredevil was as well-crafted as Jessica Jones. Daredevil was an origin story telling who Matt Murdock was, who his friends were while tracing the parallel rise of Wilson Fisk. As far as telling that story it succeeded splendidly. Like Jessica Jones, it took advantage of the serial, multi-episode nature of television to explore plot and character gradually. I have few complaints about it.
Jessica Jones went one step further though. While Daredevil had strong female characters, they were supporting figures. Jessica Jones was a lead surrounded by a variety of women. And that is where I feel the second shows ranks higher in importance: improving the positive representation of women on television.
Josh: I was thinking about DD the movie and DD the show. I said this when I saw the show’s trailer, but I saw some of the same elements that were in 2003’s Daredevil. Naturally there would be overlap but I think the show really retold a familiar story that fans knew by heart, but its quality made that a nonissue.
Still, its hard to feel excited by “Daredevil” after that fact. I knew what I was getting beforehand, and I (somewhat) know what I’m getting in Season 2. The grim-n-gritty DD is a crowd pleaser but doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation the way that Mark Waid’s comic run has.
Cosmo: Your comment reminded me of how much I liked the childhood flashback episode early on in Daredevil. Every fan knows how this will plot with his father will play out, but I still found it quite poignant. They really hit the emotional beats and as you say that is the most important thing: making us feel the story. I would say though that I am more excited than you about the show after the fact and am looking forward to the next season. However, I do see your point about the show not really breaking new ground with the character.
Jessica Jones on the other hand is not just more recent but is not defined in the same iconic terms that Daredevil is. Yes, there is the original Alias series yet it is not taken as gospel in the same way Frank Miller’s Daredevil is held up (legitimately) as one of the greatest comic runs ever. One thing that struck me about the Jessica Jones Netflix series was how they improve on some of the weaknesses in Bendis’ original. Specifically, I found that Bendis’ Kilgrave story was the weakest part of Alias: mostly backstory with a random Jean Grey deus ex machina. The TV series really elevated the material to another level.
Josh: Having never read the comic, I have no way of knowing that.
Josh: No I mean that literally Episode 11 (the culmination of Simpson’s subplot in the show and his fight with Jessica and Trish in the apartment) feels unnecessary to the rest of the plot. Simpson’s actions, his destruction of the lab where they held Kilgrave, his murder of that NYPD detective (another uncomfortable moment when Ben Urich’s fate in Daredevil is considered) none of that figures heavily into the plot either but episode 11 in its entirety doesn’t seem to move the story forward at all.
Cosmo: Well, I think that part of this is structure. Most network shows still abide by the traditional 22,24 episode season. Streaming channels on the other hand follow the cable model of 12,13 episode seasons. Some shows are even shorter preferring the British model of 6, 8 episode seasons. Naturally the length of your season is going to effect how you parcel out the narrative. As for Fisk being defeated in the first season, I think that is partially creators being pragmatic. Going into Season 1 of Daredevil there was no assumption there would be a Season 2, or if there was it wouldn’t be until after the Defenders show. The popularity of Season 1 caused plans to change and now we’re getting Season 2 much sooner. However, you can’t predict that. What if reaction to Daredevil had been more lukewarm? Then you would have been stuck with a dangling plot without any hope of it being resolved in the near future . . .
Also, I could argue is the Fisk plot-line really resolved or is it merely on-hold for present?
Josh:This sounds like The Walking Dead Season 1 all over again. A show based off THE best-selling comic on the Diamond charts dealing with the modern zeitgeist’s favorite monster overseen by Frank Darabont, and its only given 6 episodes?
Cosmo: Well I liked Iron Man 2, but this isn’t really the place to rehash that debate . . .
While the actual face-off between Daredevil and Fisk might not have been as strong as it could have been, I did feel as though the finale worked overall. I loved that scene of him striding through the garage totally in charge of the situation and embracing who he was. I felt that moment was earned. Conversely, the last scene of him in the jail cell once again staring at the blank wall like he did as a kid was very poignant. I feel good about the character coming back at some point, even if I hope they hold off for Season 3. Let him simmer off screen for a bit.
As for The Defenders I am assuming that the threat is going to be supernatural in nature. Maybe The Hand mixed up with demons? I do not think it a coincidence that the last series before Defenders is going to be Iron Fist. There’s also Hydra who were the villains of the Brubaker/Fraction run . . .
Josh: I liked “Iron Man 2” as well, but it isn’t held in high regard.
Cosmo: Agents of SHIELD suffered in the beginning from monster of the week fatigue. Post-Winter Soldier has rectified that situation, and each of the following seasons have had greater focus. This season so far has been pretty much one extended narrative. There are subplots but they are tied back to the overarching narrative. Hence no more arbitrary “we need to respond to a disturbance in Boise” type missions. Also the characters have become better defined and less two-dimensional. It’s still not all that it could be but it is much better than it started.
I have enjoyed this season’s specific focus on the Inhumans. Yes, they are clearly mutant stand-ins, but that does not really bother me. This is still a relatively young universe so they have freedom for building up such ideas from scratch. The important part is that they have treated the theme of discrimination well. It pokes out in subtle ways at times as different characters do not always react in the way you would expect/hope that they would. At the same time you understand why this sudden surge in powered people would spark fear among the general population. It’s honestly a more grounded treatment than what is often seen in the X-Men films. Again, though, the difference between a 2 hour movie and a 24 episode season . . .
Josh: I’m not a fan of substituting the X-Men/Mutants for the Inhumans. If you don’t have the rights to those characters, do without. Granted I haven’t watched the show but I’m seeing the effects its having on the comics. It seems like the Dog chasing its Tail.
Cosmo: Well I think that the comics copying TV/films is a whole separate issue. Just because something works in the Cinematic Universe does not mean that it works in the comics one, or the other way around. To me, mutants have never made complete sense in a world populated by all sorts of non-mutant superheroes. Why are some beloved and others hated? That’s one of the reasons that I like how the Inhumans are being used in SHIELD. There are still very few public powered beings in the MCU. At least half the Avengers (Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine, Falcon) are non-powered individuals with superior training and/or equipment. Until Skye/Daisy unlocked her powers at the end of Season 2 there were no super-powered team members of SHIELD. So, this is still a relatively new phenomenon in the MCU. The public is trying to come to terms with it, and as often happens when assumptions about life are threatened, some people fall back on prejudice.
As for real world political overlap, I do feel that there is plenty of possibility for the template to work in a contemporary context. SHIELD has laid the groundwork in such a way that the path is available to them, if they chose to follow it. I would argue that irrational fear is no less present in our day than in the 60s or 70s of the last two X-Men films. The manner of expression may shift, but sadly not the feelings behind it.
Josh: Good response.
Cosmo: My one caution about that approach is that it can lead to false assumptions about “progress.” It is too tempting to glance at the past and say “well, obviously I would never act like that.” Society changes a lot less than we like to admit at times, and even when it does there is much work which remains to be done.
Which is why whatever we call them Inhumans or mutants the allegory is still relevant.
Josh: That’s a fair point, not to mention that when depicting the past its often less than accurate in many cases.
Josh: It’s interesting to me the response to Agent Carter versus Agents of SHIELD.
I remember that there was a bit of skepticism when Agent Carter was first announced, though a lot of that probably had to do with disappointment regarding SHIELD‘s first season. I always thought that it was a strong premise and was glad that they followed-through with it well. One of the keys to Marvel Studio’s success is finding new ways to tweak the formula. They’re willing to explore different genres, which allows for a boarder audience. Don’t like period spy dramas? Well, try a heist comedy. It is a diversification of tone that is not as present in DC’s output.
On that note should we turn our attention to Gotham?
Cosmo: This puts him in conflict with 99% of the cast of characters, and its dealt with in a poor way.
That kinda sums up the problem I’ve always had with this series: way too much effort put into tying everyone and everything together. I still think that this should have been a show about a young James Gordon doing everyday police work. Sure it would have been less flashy, but could have been much more compelling than the mish-mash we ended up with.
Full disclosure by the way: having not gotten past episode 2 of Season 1, I have not seen any of Season 2.
Also Order of St Dumas? Guess that means Azreal is coming in some shape or form, right?
Cosmo: And it would have been possible to do a grounded police drama while including elements of the city’s myths. For example, take the Order of St Dumas. You could have them lumbering around, even introduce an Azreal who preceded Jean-Paul. Give fans hints at what is bubbling below the surface without it ever spilling out.
In the end, I think that what really wrecked the show was the choice to set it in the aftermath of the Waynes’ murder. One of my biggest gripes is how weird this makes all the chronology of the villains. They could have simply set the show during the years of Bruce’s exile when he is traveling the world, honing his skills. It would have been much more realistic then to show the origins of the various villains who would soon pester Bruce upon his return.
Cosmo: Well, I would object to lumping Selina with the other mentally deranged rouges. Catwoman has been many things over the years but psychotic is not one of them. She is more like Bruce in that way . . .
You know, we can debate all these conceptual approaches, but honestly, the main reason I stopped watching was that I simply did not think that it was well-written. The grizzled cop dialogue was cliche and the acting bland. There was not much to latch onto beyond the boldface character names.
Cosmo: Well see, this is where I need to admit my relative inexperience with the Flash mythos. While I am aware of Zoom, I don’t have any previous experience with him. Unless he was the villain behind Flashpoint, but I think that was Reverse Flash . . .
How would you say Zoom is like Doomsday? At least based on the TV show Zoom has a bit of a personality.
Josh: Zoom in the show has no motivation beyond wanting to be the fastest speedster in the multiverse. Other than that, we know nothing about him. That singular purpose may as well be Doomsday’s main function as just destroying everything in sight.
Cosmo: Well, I would argue that even with the singular purpose of wanting to dominate the Speed Force that is at least an actual motivation. Doomsday was never more than a force of nature without any motivating agency besides moving forward. That said, I wonder if we have the full picture of Zoom yet? Why does he want to be the sole Speedster? Is it something which adds some grey to his character? Yes, no or sort-of, it’s still too early to tell.
While bits of the season have disappointed me, I have mostly been enjoying it. What else do you think has been a missed opportunity?
Josh: The introduction of anyone from Earth 2, Barry’s romance with Patty Spivot, killing off Ronnie Raymond yet again. None of these things feel right. If nothing else the show continues to be ambitious, in regard to how deep into the mythos it goes, but its depictions don’t always land.
Cosmo: I like how they’ve been juggling the Earth 2 stuff so far. Was it ever established if the Atom-Smasher was straight-up evil or being manipulated/blackmailed in a manner similar to Harrison Wells?
I shall admit to mixed feelings as far as Jay Garrick goes. I like how Terry Sears is playing him, but agree that the lack of Speed Force is disappointing. I too wish that he was around more, offering up some give and take with Wells. Then again given his deepening feelings for Caitlin perhaps he will.
I have the feeling that we’re seeing some of the same faults in the show, but I am still seeing more done right than wrong.
I did want to ask what you thought of the development of The Rouges this season? Miller’s Snark continues to grow on me. His gradual nudging to good might be obvious given the approaching spin-off but I do think has been well-handled. Hamill’s Trickster continues to be fun. Hopefully there is a full-out Rouges story in near future . . .
Josh: From what I remember, the extent of Atom-Smasher’s blackmail was wanting to return home to Earth 2. Poor justification for (attempted) double homicide and risking civilian causalities.
Cosmo: Yeah, between Trickster and his Joker Hamill does a great psychopath. It’s a good reminder that as iconic as Luke Skywalker is, Hamill will be remembered for something other than a single role. I don’t remember the Captain Cold from the 90s show, but honestly, now that I think of it, I don’t remember any of the villains besides Trickster. Hamill really did just take the character and fly with it.
Josh: I was disappointed with Golden Glider to be honest. A gun that sprays molten gold? Would making her a meta human be too hard or something?
Cosmo: Well, one of the reasons Barry can never get rid of Grodd is that the villain had a nation to take charge of him. As neat as it was to tie Grodd and Wells’ together, I do miss the original Gorilla City origin. Probably was ruled too cheesy for modern audiences. On the other hand, perhaps that is where they’ll go with that Earth 2 gorilla reservation? Either way, lots of potential there. And the CGI for him is pretty impressive for TV. As was that King Shark cameo.
Cosmo: Yeah, my reaction was pretty much the same. Casper Crump brought a nice charisma to the role and did a pretty go job of avoiding ham. (He didn’t succeed completely, but it was difficult in those ornate flashback scenes). I never read Brightest Day so I assumed tying him to the Hawks was a TV writers’ choice. Still, like you, I prefer the idea that he’s essentially as old as humanity, dating back to prehistoric times. Regardless, I am looking forward to more of him in Legends.
Josh: The Hawks were indeed good, as good as they could adapt them for TV I think. They’re fairly hokey in concept so playing them straight takes effort. I kind of wish Carter Hall’s casting was a bit more diverse though. The actor was good, but when I saw those flashbacks it seemed really whitewashed.
Cosmo: Yeah, those Egypt flashback scenes were a bit awkward for the reason you mentioned. Hopefully now that the backstory is out of the way, they can be avoided in the future.
Cosmo: They’re teasing the death of a major character?
Cosmo: Well, it would be a shame if they killed off such a great character. Though knowing how these things go, I doubt that any demise would be that permanent.
Josh: I don’t normally think of Green Arrow as a happy character, so I couldn’t say. Barry Allen himself has confessed he’s not entirely happy either a few times on The Flash.
Cosmo: I don’t know, Oliver does have a gleeful side to him, at least in the Denny O’Neil/pre-Flashpoint version of the character.
Marvel has recently demonstrated a pretty good handle on walking that line both in comics (Ms Marvel, Squirrel Girl) and other media (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man). DC though, not so much. Probably one of the reasons I found Bat-Mite so refreshing this year.
Josh: You can do anything in comics. Anything. Adaptations are a different beast. Don’t forget 2011 Green Lantern film and Teen Titans GO! The problem WB, Marvel, Sony, and Fox have is offering more than their most popular brand. Its about balancing your offerings.
Cosmo: And I only watched the pilot. I did find the writing a little bumpy at times, trying too hard to announce its ideas. I think that that the overall concept of the show is solid, it could just use a more subtle touch in places. For example, the music was overbearing at times.
Josh: I thought it was really bipolar. Every episode started out with Kara saying “I can do this”, her friends saying “No you can’t”, and when Kara gets discouraged her friends have to tell her that they were wrong and that “You can do this”. I got tired of it. Why does it matter that someone with the powers of Superman is a woman? Seriously, why does that come up in every episode?
The message is still entirely relevant. As with racial discrimination, some progress with sexism has been made over the decades, but much work remains to be done. A brief examination of gamergate, for example, reveals that pretty starkly.
Josh: My view is simply this, “I’m watching this show about a female hero. I don’t need to be told why I should like this female hero despite her being female. If you have to justify her existence you’ve already lost.” Telling me that SuperGIRL is every bit the hero as SuperMAN is kind of pointless.
Cosmo: Well, that’s kinda of my point: it’s more important to show that female heroes are equal instead of telling us that they’re equal. As I said, that’s why I think that Jessica Jones is such a noteworthy show. It both tells a compelling story and conveys a strong social message without one element being sacrificed for the other.
Josh: It’s tough to say, I think it was a multitude of reasons. NBC is not the most reliable network in fans minds for its poor decision making (putting Community on possible cancelation many times, then finally canceling it after their interference almost killed it), the Friday night time-slot I personally struggled to watch at the time due to my sleep schedule.
Cosmo: Yeah, the Friday slot probably didn’t help, though Fringe survived in a similar spot for a couple years. These days I do wonder how important scheduling a show is. With DVRs and on demand streaming, does it matter as much if a show is on a night when everyone’s out? The networks seem to still think so, piling up all their prestige shows on Sunday night, but still I do wonder.
Josh: Actually, ratings are still the key factor in determining a show’s success. Unless its through Hulu or any other legal streaming site (that you may or may not pay for) Networks don’t care about it. DVRs don’t factor in because they can’t be tracked. Its all about making sure people watch the advertisements during commercials, which is why On Demand doesn’t let you fast forward as much now.
Cosmo: I didn’t mean to imply that ratings don’t matter, because they do. However, they Nielsen does take into account DVR playback. I don’t know the logistics of how it works, but I do know that they are factored in. I do not know about streaming sites, but I assume that stations get regular reports about who is watching what. The biggest question mark is Netflix which continues to resist releasing viewing numbers. Was Jessica Jones a hit or a flop in terms of viewership? Your guess is as good as mine . . .
Cosmo: If this Justice League Dark movie does actually happen, my guess is that Warners will recast, just as Barry Allen will be recast for Justice League. Perhaps Ryan could be an occasional guest star on Arrow, popping up once or twice a year to lend a hand with some otherworldly menace?
Josh: You are missing out. As I side before, out of all the CW shows, iZombie is the best written. It has a pretty clunky pilot, but after that every episode is solid.
Cosmo: Yeah I do want to sample it at some point, it’s just that I have so many other shows to watch already that I haven’t had a chance.
Josh: I’m not sure, exactly. The writing for one, maybe the subject matter for another? Dealing with being a zombie is a fairly novel idea, being a vampire or werewolf has been explored much more in comparison. The macabre humor is enjoyable, the right mix between clever and childish.
Josh: You know Liv keeps saying how bad it is, but not a lot is shown. There’s the worry of infecting someone accidently, her ghoulish appearance (pale skin, white hair), and her craving for brains but other than that, being a zombie feels kinda like a non-issue.
Cosmo: Based on what I’ve read about and seen from the show, a large part of its appeal does seem to be its quirky sensibility. That would give the show a distinct tone, making it stand out from even the more lighthearted Flash or Supergirl.
Cosmo: Yeah I haven’t read it either. Someday.
Josh: Yep, I dropped off and then decided to catch up for some reason. Old habits I guess. Its been pretty decent, varying in quality. TWD is a show that knows what it has to offer and mainly sticks to that.
Cosmo: a show that knows what it has to offer and mainly sticks to that.
Josh: Human Drama in a Zombie Apocalypse. Some character has a secret, or doesn’t get along well with one of the main cast.
Cosmo: Well I’ve heard complaints that Kirkman’s comic has run out of steam as well, so I guess that makes sense.
Josh: The spin-off is pretty much every zombie movie we’ve seen before. Group of people in the beginning of Zombie Apocalypse, learn about zombies, try to get away. Nothing new, although the cast is somewhat more diverse than the main show without the actual acting talent.
Cosmo: Yeah, I can see how the spin-off would be less compelling, more familiar. Perhaps this was also the key to the success of 28 Days Later, which focused on the aftermath as well.
Josh: I don’t know. I stuck with Smallville for all ten seasons, only 7 of them I thought were good. Probably when an entire season has gone by without a single good episode I’ll leave it behind.
Finally, very briefly, are there any non-comic book shows from the past year you would recommend our readers check out?
Cosmo: Ah, Fargo, that’s another series I’ve been meaning to get around to someday.
I recently finished the second season of Bojack Horseman which was just as good as, if not more brilliant than, the first. Both one of the funniest and most poignant shows on TV. I also keep recommending The Americans to anyone who’ll listen to me. Three seasons in and it hasn’t lost any steam.
And what do both of these shows have in common? Beloved character actress Margo Martindale.