2016 brought an increasing number of comic based programs to television. Josh joins me in discussing a large cross-section of what both worked and did not these past twelve months.
Cosmo: This year, the DC/CW brand continued its bold expansion, launching one new series (Legends of Tomorrow) and annexing a another (Supergirl). Before we get to those, and the Arrowverse’s namesake, let’s begin with what I feel remains the most consistently successful of the CW shows: Flash.
Josh how are you feeling about the series?
Josh: I feel this season isn’t as disappointing as the last one, but I’m still not too impressed with it. Savitar is too similar to Zoom, Flashpoint seemed too short and half conceived, and I can’t really muster any excitement for Kid Flash when the show struggles finding enough just for Barry to handle. Then there’s the Rogues…
Cosmo: I do get your disinterest in Savitar; I’m pretty bored with the idea of yet another evil speedster. I would rather see a Grodd or Rogues based threat. I get that there are some limitations on the Rogues because of Legends but even if you take Heatwave and Captain Cold off the table, there are still plenty of character with which to work. Though, the idea of the Rogues without Snark does not sound quite right. Still, seeing Pied Piper take a Rogue leadership role might be interesting. Now if they could rope Mark Hamill in for multiple episodes and let him lead the Rogues — yeah, I know, too much to hope for . . .
I would have preferred Flashpoint lasting a couple more episodes, but at least it has had lasting consequences on Flash, as well as the other Arrowverse series. At the same time, I’m glad that we didn’t lose Jay Garrick as a result of Flashpoint. I do like how he has taken on a mentor role towards Barry.
Josh: This is one of the problems with The Flash and their use of time travel, yes it has aftereffects but because of last Season Hartley is supposed to be “good”. Instead of seeing him evolve naturally over time and grow away from petty revenge and gain acceptance, it happens instantly in the Present because of the Butterfly Effect. Does Flashpoint retcon that? Isn’t that a waste of their effort in the first place?
Do we know that nothing’s changed on the other Earths? All we saw of Earth 3 was the Trickster cameo and I don’t recall spending much time of Earth 2 either. So, there could be plenty of aftershocks that haven’t reached Barry yet.
On a related note, I do like how each season has reworked Harrison Wells, so that Tom Cavanagh is essentially playing a new character each time.
Josh: Yes, Harry from Earth 2 has stated that nothing’s changed on his Earth but noticed several differences post-Flashpoint. He could be wrong but that’s the working theory right now.
The Earth 2 Wells is probably my favorite because he had the most depth. Thawne was a good villain but not really that complicated of a character. The Season 3 version is a fun variation, but, yeah, so far the least consequential as far as plot goes. Of course, that could change during the second half of the season. You never know what random piece of knowledge he has is suddenly going to be super-relevant. Plus, that Kid Flash training could be important.The Cisco dead brother thread worked for me. They highlighted it more during the Invasion crossover and found a nice way to resolve it, even if the execution was a little heavy handed.
Cosmo: It also speaks to what may be a slight quirk with the Arrowverse Multiverse going forward. Officially Supergirl is part of that Multiverse, yet, it pretty much functions independently. So, if Flashpoint rewrote all the realities, it would need to do so on Supergirl as well, which, would blur Supergirl‘s sense of separateness. Simpler to have Flashpoint effect Earth 1 alone.
While there are plotting issues with Flash (was anyone surprised by the Julian twist? Damn Malfoys), I do think that it has a strong sense of character. I enjoy watching these individuals interact even if a specific week’s narrative isn’t one of the strongest. For me that’s what sets it apart from the other CW shows . . .
Josh: Normally I would agree about The Flash‘s character interactions, if Legends of Tomorrow hadn’t come around. Flash tends to fall into ruts with the character arcs, while LoT takes all these characters that fought for screen time on the previous CW shows and allows them to shine. While their individual histories are still important, I think their overall group dynamic is more interesting to watch than Flash or Arrow.
Cosmo: I do agree with you about Legends of Tomorrow having a strong group dynamic. Pretty much all the characters played off each other well and developed some depth as the show went on. (The exception for me was Rip, who was always pretty bland). Pretty much the only reason I stuck with the show as long as I did was for the characters. The actual narrative writing, however, I found very weak. The Vandal Savage plot-line started strong, but started lagging quickly. Where you are bothered by inconsistency on Flash, the rules of time travel on Legends never made any sense to me. I know, it’s a comic book show, don’t overthink it, but the problem was it would pull me out of the show constantly. For example, the Time Lords assassin who could kill you as a child but only attempt it once? Um, why exactly? Story convenience?
I still have the last 3 episodes of Season One to watch but just keep putting it off for shows I care about more. Which is a shame because, as I said, I enjoy the characters and would like to see more of them.
Cosmo: And Berlanti’s name is on 2017’s Riverdale. Depending on what day they have it scheduled, that’s potentially one Berlanti show on the CW every night Monday-Friday. He starting to make Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy look lazy . . .
Josh: Have you seen the trailer for Riverdale? It looks like Twilight crossed over with Jennifer’s Body…
Cosmo: I think I’ve half-watched the Riverdale commercials when they come on during another CW show. At first glance it is a weird aesthetic choice — Archie meets Twin Peaks is how it’s being sold. Of course, when Afterlife with Archie was first announced most fans rolled their eyes at the idea and look how well that turned out.
Is there no Big Bad for Season 2 of Legends? The commercials make it look even more like “time jump of the week” than the first. How have they been handling the Justice Society so far? That is one of the main reasons I might still check out the second season at some point.
Josh: I can’t say it endears Archie to me any more than anything could, but I may check it out. I gave Supergirl three episodes before I checked out on that.
Diving into racial attitudes of the past is not always easy. Agent Carter stumbled a bit this year as well when they tried to tackle post-World War II racism. My hunch is that part of the problem is the perception of historical racism which exists to this day. On one hand, it is much easier for Legends to say “slavery was evil” then for them also to say “endemic racism continued after slavery and was prevalent, regardless of which region of the country being discussed, in such a way that is still quite prominent today.” So, Legends took the road of least resistance by dialing down racial boundaries in the 1940s. Or it was simply poor writing . . .
Cosmo: Yeah, it is strange how they rework the characters sometimes, which seems like a natural enough transition into Arrow.
This is my first season watching the show regularly (in the past I pretty much only watched the Flash crossovers). Most of it is good, though, it does have its bumpy sections. Stephen Amell’s Oliver has grown on me over time and Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity is still one of the most fun inhabitants of the Arrowverse. I shall say that I have found the whole Prometheus thread a little underwhelming so far.
What would you say?
Josh: I’m very annoyed at how similar Alchemy and Prometheus seem (even their masks look alike), but besides that I’ve enjoyed watching Oliver become Mayor of Star City and assemble a new team of heroes.
Cosmo: Besides design, what similarities do you see between Alchemy and Prometheus? The latter is a highly skilled killer, seeking out revenge, while the former is a mind controlled aristocratic archaeologist. They seem pretty distinct to me. But, yes, Prometheus has been lacking. I did like how they tied his motivation into the early phase of the Arrow’s career. Before that he was just another generic villain. So, there is potential for the character, but we need to wait and see where it goes.
The strongest part of the season has been the training of the new band of heroes. I like the Wild Dog character and actually find that he has the most defined personality out of the new recruits. I have pretty much zero first hand experience with him from comics though, so for all I know they have completely rewritten him. I like Mr Terrific overall, but think that the writers try too hard for quirky when doing his dialogue. I did like how they handled the conflict with his husband in the most recent episode.
Then there is Ragman, the reason I’m watching the season in the first place. I don’t hate how they have been handling him, but, let’s say, I am very underwhelmed. He does not really feel like Rory Regan from the comics (either the original 70s version or the post-Crisis revision). I am hoping that eventually we’ll get a Rory focused episode that will fill out his character a little. At the moment he is tad too CW pretty boy for my conception of the character. Decent design work with his costume though.
Honestly, whenever the Russian flashbacks popup, I zone out the show. Maybe it’s because I have not been following from the beginning but I just do not find them that interesting.
Cosmo: It is true that Alchemy started off as a different character (active manipulator) than he turned out to be (passively manipulated). So far this season the Flash villains have been pretty unremarkable.
Rory being young is fine, but he should be more grizzled. In the comics he is a war veteran who grew up surrounded by poverty. At the same time, he has a very strong sense of compassion. They’ve made a couple token allusions to his Jewish faith, but nothing that really digs deep into it. Honestly, he is kind of a blank slate on the show.
I figured that some context would help with the flashbacks.
I am briefly going to bring up Supergirl as neither of us watch it regularly. The couple of episodes I watched last year had some promise, but were choppy writing wise. (To be honest, though, all the CW shows have trouble in this area). The one episode I watched this season showed a fair amount of improvement. I see that Mon-El is on now and I enjoyed how James Robinson used that character the Superman titles a few years back. Melissa Benoist has really come into the role and has a very charming take on the character. If I had more time, I would give the series another try. For me Kara was one of the highlights of the Invasion crossover.
Josh: I went in to Supergirl with an open mind, but I simply could not stand every episode her being told she can’t do THIS but by the climax the same person telling her she can do it. I’m curious to check back in since Mon-El, Superman, and possibly the Legion of Superheroes making appearances but those can’t fix weak writing. Plus I kind of don’t want any more shows of the CW quality from the Arrow/Flash/LoT team.
The structuring of Invasion was a little wonky. Clearly they wanted each part to spotlight the specific series’ characters. The Arrow one worked in my opinion, while the Legends‘ time travel jaunt to the 50s seemed shoehorned in (though as we discussed above, it did provide a nice resolution to the Barry/Cisco antagonism). The design of the Dominators was fine in and of itself, but lacked connection to the comic book version. I agree that more personality on their part would have been nice. My main problem with the writing was that the conflicts were resolved way too easily (“hey their language resembles ancient Hebrew” “Barry and Kara zip around the planet defusing all the bombs”). So I understand what you’re saying about the stakes feeling low. However, as I keep coming back to with these shows, the character interactions were a lot of fun. For that reason, I wish they had jettisoned some of the side stories and concentrated more on the teams working together to fight aliens. I think it would have provided more focus and resolved some of our critiques.The Supergirl episode actually had very little to do with the crossover. Basically Barry and Cisco vibe over at the end. And they replayed that scene in Flash, so, yeah, you didn’t miss anything there.
Josh: I thought the Arrow episode was insanely weak, and cliched. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen a Matrix homage where they break out through force of will for reasons. I know for a fact I saw it on Smallville, and it wasn’t cute then either. Back to Arrow, I felt it didn’t add anything to the conflict and was just to sideline certain characters. I want to say that the Dominators didn’t even abduct the heroes with actual powers? Which makes even less sense.
Cosmo: I see where you are coming from with the cliche nature of the Arrow episode. For me, though, the execution worked. Again it may be related to my not watching the previous seasons, so this was the first time I had seen many of these characters interacting. Yes, the reasoning behind abducting the non-metas was a little fuzzy. In the original comic Invasion the Dominators’ whole plan revolves around wanting to harvest Earth’s meta gene for their own devious ends. I kept waiting for that to play into the TV adaptation which, despite some teasing, never quite happened. Again, I think that if the writers had focused more on the broad conflict than worrying about these side-stories there would have been a stronger flavor to the whole endeavor. My favorite chapter was the Flash chapter because that gave me what I was most expecting/wanting from the event: a variety of characters who don’t normally share the screen together, trying to be a team and fight aliens.
I shall say that I do think that Oliver and Barry have evolved naturally into the core of the Arrowverse family of heroes. I found it fitting that the crossover ended with the two of them together unwinding at a bar.
Josh: Let’s switch gears a little and discuss Agents of SHIELD. I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about their guest stars and possible/probable spinoffs. How has that show been?
Cosmo: SHIELD has been pretty much the same as it has the last couple years. There are good episodes, followed by OK episodes then something that grabs my attention again. They have an AI subplot this season which teases Jocasta and would be cool if that is where it ends up. The big addition, of course, has been Ghost Rider. When they first announced it at Comic Con, I rolled my eyes at the idea of how he would look on a TV budget but the execution has been pretty strong so far. I should note that I am currently a couple episodes behind, so I cannot speak to where the Mid-Season Finale left the show.
Honestly, though, if the rumors are true and this is the last season of SHIELD, I would be fine with it. It was never a great series, but it has had its moments. Wrapping it up now and finding a strong note to go out on would probably be for the best.
Josh: I believe it’s been announced that there’s an Inhumans show spinning off from that? Which on a different network would be pretty tempting to me.
Cosmo: Well, the Inhumans show will be arriving on ABC this fall (after the pilot debuts in IMAX theaters). Don’t know how much of a spin-off it will be. There have been no hints of the Royal Family on SHIELD to date, so it could be pretty much a fresh start. Not really sure what to expect from the project. The pilot’s going need a pretty decent production level to look good in IMAX, yet, how much of that will translate to the small screen? It would be awesome if they could pull it off, but at the moment I am neutral to the chances of it succeeding. Oh well, if nothing else, maybe they can bring back Kyle MacLachlan’s character (I’m pretty sure that shooting has wrapped on the Twin Peaks revival).
More than either SHIELD or Inhumans, I wish we were getting more Agent Carter. Hayley Atwell was one of the highlights of the first Captain America film (outside the ladies of Jessica Jones, she’s possibly the MCU’s strongest female character to date). Her show was never entirely what she deserved but I found it improved in the second season. Wynn Everett’s Whitney Frost made a good antagonist for Peggy. Both women experienced the misogyny of the day, only to find different ways of confronting it. That flip sides to the same coin was intriguing. Also Atwell’s dynamic with James D’Arcy’s Jarvis was delightful. So it goes.
Josh: I still have not tried Agent Carter yet. It still puzzles me that until the Inhumans arrives, all the network Marvel shows will have dealt primarily with SHEILD in a large capacity. Netflix on the other hand deals entirely with street level Marvel heroes who aren’t on the Avengers radar.
Cosmo: With that in mind, let’s move on to the Netflix shows, which, for me, remain the best superhero series on TV. What did you think of the second season of Daredevil?
Cosmo: Well, I would disagree. I thought that the Punisher and Elektra story-lines were naturally integrated into the larger narrative of Matt Murdock. In fact, Elektra helps illuminate the divide in his character by complicating his relationship with Karen. As much as Matt might want a normal life (or at least relationship) with Karen, Elektra keeps pulling him back into the darkness of the night. In the end, he cannot manage his feelings for the two women any better than his competing lifestyles of lawyer and vigilante. Meanwhile, I thought that the writers made some good decisions regarding the evolution of Foggy and Karen’s characters, especially Karen. There is the tease that she could follow in Ben Urich’s footsteps.
It helped that Frank Castle and Elektra were so well cast. Both Jon Bernthal and Elodie Yung nailed their roles. Bernthal brought the right balance of grit and unhinged to Frank, while Yung’s Elektra was charismatic without blunting any of her more vicious tendencies. The look she gives Matt when she says “of course I knew you were Daredevil, I know you too well darling” was priceless.
I don’t think Castle was introduced simply to get him a spin-off, otherwise it would have been pre-announced, like Luke Cage’s was before he premiered in Jessica Jones.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk does continue to be one of the most brilliant aspects of the series, even in his more limited capacity this time. I actually thought that the amount of screen time he received this season was perfect, just enough to make an impression but without hogging the limelight away from new characters. The scene with him and Matt in the prison was fantastic. What D’Onofrio really understands about Fisk is the exact right moment to drop the mask of cultured businessman and rage out with full force brutality. Hoping he has larger role again in Season 3.
I could see where The Hand thread might have felt disjointed to you. Part of that comes from Stick’s continued refusal to explain exactly what is or is not happening behind the scenes. My working theory is that The Hand will be play a large role in the upcoming Defenders team-up, which would support your feeling that there is more to this story left to explore. Netflix confirmed that Yung’s returning for Defenders and I don’t think they would announce that so far ahead if it was simply for a flashback cameo. Then again for my theory to work, you would need to figure out who Sigourney Weaver’s “villain” role would be . . .
Cosmo: Yeah, my guess is that Weaver ties into The Hand somehow, but, of course, I could be completely off the mark with my theory and the threat could be entirely different. Still, it’s going to need to be something that justifies bringing all four of these characters together (plus, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing and possibly others).
I do agree that the Netflix shows have excelled at compelling antagonists. It is definitely an advantage of having much more screen time to dedicate to character development. Even Diamondback, despite lacking the complexity of Cottonmouth or Black Mariah, was an improvement over the original comic book version of the character.
I actually did not find Jessica Jones weighed down at all by “comic book” elements. It remains my favorite of the Netflix shows.
I enjoyed Luke Cage overall. As with some of the Marvel Studio movies, I think that we are starting to see some repetition of theme/plot threads, but the execution of the show was distinct enough to mostly mask those. Also, the acting was strong across the board: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick & Alfre Woodward were all excellent. And Rosario Dawson just keeps getting better . . .
Josh: I didn’t like her becoming a love interest to Luke, but yes strong performances all around on LC. I was really surprised by the Cottonmouth turn, although Shades role in the story still puzzles me. As does him driving a tinted SUV at night while wearing sunglasses…
Yeah, the early Cottonmouth demise was a shock, but it worked. What Ali did so well was play this character full of grandiose bluster, while simultaneously revealing all these emotional vulnerabilities. You were never sure how much of his speeches he actually believed himself. It is a really subtle, nuanced performance. Then that backstory they gave him, and how it bled into those present days scenes of his playing the organ in his office, was haunting.I never entirely warmed to Shades as a character, I think because it was so clearly telegraphed from his first scene that he was going betray everyone left and right. At the same time, I did like how he and Mariah Dillard slowly built a partnership of sorts. Their final scene together in the car is an intriguing tease of what might be in store for Season 2. The wearing shades indoors at night, though, did push credulity after awhile . .
Josh: I think Jessica and Luke would’ve been a chance to put their respective pasts and transgressions behind them. Especially since Luke’s deceased wife had a hand in his prison ordeal. Claire moving from Matt to Luke just doesn’t sit right with me. She’s a great character, but I don’t see the need for her to be a love interest all the time. And not seeing Luke and Jessica get together again would bother the purist in me.
Cosmo: How would it bother the purist in you, if, as I said, they do have relationship from the comics? Jessica dated Scott Lang for a little in Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias comic. Does that mean if Paul Rudd doesn’t drop by Hell’s Kitchen, you’ll be unhappy? (Actually if they could get Rudd to cameo and recreate one of their charmingly awkward dinners from Alias that would be pretty cool).
Josh: Seeing Luke and Claire settle down would bother me because I like the idea of Luke and Jessica so much better. They compliment each other in personality and power, and I think their relationship would be a redemption of sorts. Their marriage is a constant focus in both Bendis’ DD and the current Power Man and Iron Fist.
Cosmo: Oh yeah, I don’t expect the Lang/Rudd thing to actually happen — just saying how cool it would be.
Meanwhile, over on Amazon, The Tick offered up a rather fun parody of the whole Neflix/Marvel aesthetic. Did you watch the pilot?
Josh: Watched it, really enjoyed it. Hope it gets a series order. For all the comic book shows on the air, there’s not alot that differentiates them other Publisher source material. The Tick would stand far and away from other superhero shows.
Cosmo: Agreed. It was a fun show. As I pointed out in my review, it was fascinating how well it transitioned from the previous series’ use of the fads of the 90s (aping Seinfeld) to those of the 10s (the Netflix shows). At the same time, it never lost any of the essence of the source material. I suspect that Tick creator Bob Edlund’s involvement with each iteration has been rather vital.
And for the record, yes, Amazon has ordered a full season of the series.
Josh: Excellent news. Every generation needs a Tick.
Cosmo: Oh every generation has more than one tic.
Seriously, though, one element that we keep mentioning as key to the high quality of these streaming shows is the casting. This proves to be true for The Tick as well. Peter Serafinowicz is a brilliant comedian who does not disappoint as the title character, capturing all of his loopy charm. Griffin Newman was unknown to me prior to the pilot but he made an equally great Arthur. The promise of watching these two actors continue playing off each other is quite appealing.
This leads me to Preacher. I never watched any of it but will confess that my main interest in the series was to see Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga.
Josh: Yes, the show takes place more or less in the Now. We see things happen sort of at the beginning when Genesis merges with Jesse, and gradually get backstory on the mortal inhabitants while the celestial stuff moves forward at the end of the season.
Josh: The overall quality of the show. I mean, it can’t be entirely due to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg producing the show. Having Ennis and Dillion close by had to have been a positive influence in making the show as great as it turned out.
Bojack Horseman continues to impress me. Three seasons in, the show keeps growing richer. Just when I assume the series cannot get any more biting, poignant and yes hilarious, I’m proven wrong. Simply one of the best shows out there by any rubric. I recommended it last year and I shall keep doing so as long as it excels in quality.The new series which impressed me the most this year was probably Atlanta. Like Bojack it mixed comedy and drama along with a healthy helping of absurdity. However, what sets Atlanta apart is a very distinct personality. Its sense of place and nuanced character work lend it an atmosphere all its own. The writing and acting stay sharp, even during the more surreal turns. Really brilliant work from all involved.Cheers