I would say, by and large, these days television is better than the movies. Great movies still exist and are being made every year, but the momentum is on the side of TV. I’ve always been partial to the long-form storytelling television provides to begin with, but with every new niche channel or streaming outlet, there’s more and more room allowed to be different and ambitious and it’s really a lot of fun on just about every different level depending on what product of Peak TV you happen to be indulging in at the moment.
One thing that both TV and film have in common is superheroes. We’re living in a superhero commercial boom and if the Marvel/DC movie release schedules are any indication, that ain’t gonna change anytime in the next decade. But while TV in general is outperforming movies creatively, I would say the work making it to the big screen in regards to the superhero genre most certainly outdoes what’s being produced for the small screen.
Now, to be fair, you’ve got exceptions. Batman V. Superman exists. Not to mention the second season of Arrow and the first season of The Flash were really freakin fantastic. But this year, these four offerings (I’m ignoring some–I bailed on Supergirl early, for example) have been middling to say the least. Were they able to turn things around in the end? Well…..
Legends of Tomorrow (CW)
When Legends of Tomorrow premiered back in January, I’m not sure what everyone else was expecting, but I was actually optimistic. Sure, it was a cast comprised of characters ranging from B to D-list Arrowverse secondaries, but it was such a weird combination of personalities and the idea of time travel seemed like it provided ample opportunity, so I was kind of into it. It didn’t take long for me to end up underwhelmed. From stiff performances, shoddy dialogue and a shockingly humorless execution, Legends was just about the least fun version of this show I could possibly imagine.
There were a few surprises along the way. “Night of the Hawk” ended up being a fun “horror” type episode that actually jumpstarted my interest in the series at the very moment I was deadset on quitting. Wentworth Miller’s performance, which I had always felt was a case of him laying it on a bit too thick on The Flash, kind of grew on me and I ended up liking Leonard Snart (and to my utter surprise, even his grunting companion, Mick Rory, to a lesser degree). There was a brief moment when Ray, Sara and Kendra were stuck in the past where I thought things might get interesting….
And that’s the extent of good things I have to say about this show. In most cases, it’s beyond stupid and criminally boring to boot. They have no earthly clue how to do anything interesting with these characters and all of their personal conflicts are angsty, cliched lesson-of-the-week moments that only play even more pitifully when brought to life by people like Franz Drameh and Ciara Renee who simply cannot act.
Action-wise, by the end of the season I cared so very little about their quest to rid the timeline of Vandal Savage, I couldn’t even be mad about the messy way it all took care of itself. From Ray essentially letting Vandal Savage escape for no good reason that would excuse a man of his intelligence doing something so stupid to Leonard transforming from a begrudging hero to a willing, sacrificial lamb in a matter of a week (simply to satisfy Wentworth Miller’s wish to not have to return as a series regular next season), it felt like every scene gave me another excuse to roll my eyes. If I cared enough to.
It really is a shame that they didn’t kill Rip Hunter (as it appeared for a moment they might) because he’s a dreadfully dull character who seems to only exist to contradict himself week to week about when it is and isn’t okay to alter the timeline. But you know what? Maybe it’s not his fault he’s boring. The writing was so bad on this one that Sara Lance (who I always very much liked on Arrow) wasn’t exactly making me perk up, nor was an actor as great as Victor Garber.
The finale was just an uninspired bow on top of an insipid first season. I have no idea how this show got greenlit. They clearly wanted to use all these characters and do a show about time travel, but they had no idea what to do beyond that to make this function week to week. The showrunners are promising a hard reboot in season two and the final scene was intriguing enough (barely) to get me to commit to the premiere, but this show is so tragically bad, I’m not even promising my famous five episode probation at this point.
FINALE GRADE: D-
SEASON GRADE: D
Gotham is the one show included in this round-up that isn’t produced by Berlanti and friends. I found the first season to be a disappointment, but there was enough about this world I appreciated to come back for a second helping. Season two had some pretty great moments (particularly with its opening Jerome arc) and even when it wasn’t especially blowing me away, I found that it hit a stride that was “good enough.” I know, not the high praise anyone wants to hear about their show, but it was better than what I had to say about it for a good portion of season one.
Unfortunately, some of the sloppy character work, increasingly inane plots and downright stupidity of the first season reared its ugly head during the last stretch of season two, leading to things fizzle out with a whimper. As was generally the case with all of the shows in this round-up, by the time the finale came around, I had grown pretty indifferent towards all things Gotham..
I liked most of the Galavan arc early in the season and figured he’d be back for more somehow and I don’t necessarily hate how they did it in theory, but nothing about his resurrection and all the mad science of Dr. Strange compelled me on any level. In the final hour, we’re supposed to care about the reveal of some secret council and the asylum’s connection to Wayne Enterprises and it all just felt like cheap manufactured chaos.
Speaking of chaos, Gotham seems to get a bit itchy when they’re not operating in it. Which is why it never functioned as much of an origin show seeing as all of the villains are already villains for the most part. But it’s an issue. Penguin is spinning in place now and Ed’s story became far less interesting when he stopped battling his crazy and went full-on evil; seemed like there was a lot more mileage they could’ve gotten out of that struggle. And then you’ve got Selina who obviously can’t go full villain yet, so instead they just have absolutely no clue what to do with her.
A couple of big swings in the finale were intriguing even if I didn’t fully buy them. The Jim Gordon face-swap was fun and allowed Ben McKenzie to do something totally different, even if it flirted a bit too closely with just being too stupid for its own good. They also managed to make me perk up with the long-haired Bruce Wayne doppelganger at the end, although I have a hunch that no good can come of that. Just like no good can come out of reviving Fish Mooney, a character that should have absolutely stayed dead given how insufferable and utterly pointless she’d become by the end of the first season.
There is a darkness to Gotham that I like and I enjoy that it really wants to capture the crazy, terrifying nature of Gotham that leads to the rise of Batman, but sometimes it’s just too preposterous and loud for its own good. The finale felt like that for the most part. When it hits that gear, I wouldn’t say that it gets on my nerves, it just compels me to tune out a little.
FINALE GRADE: C-
SEASON GRADE: C
The Flash (CW)
This one hurts the most. After a tremendous second season, season 3 of Arrow was a series of creative missteps played out in increasingly dull and asinine fashion, so The Flash was sort of the beacon of hope that made everything okay. Bright, fun, full of humor and heart and when it got more serious, it handled drama, action and relationships with an impressive emotional punch. I had so hoped that Team Berlanti being overtasked with things like Legends and the launch of Supergirl wouldn’t get distracted from keeping The Flash great….but it may have. Because something clearly happened.
More than anything, The Flash was just frightfully humorless this season. Humor was one of the show’s greatest tools and they seemed to completely forget how to use it this year. Add that to the fact that the “Big Bad” story was far too similar to last year’s with a far less compelling actor, there was way too much soapy West family drama (Iris’s mom is actually still alive! But she’s dying….But Wally’s here!…but he’s a troubled streetracer….), too many forced and quickly forgotten romances for almost everybody; there was a whole lot to not care about in season two. That’s not to say that all of things I loved about The Flash were gone this season, I still love these characters and there’s still some wit mixed in there, it’s just a far cry from the winning formula of season one.
Bright spots included the two-part trip to Earth 2 which wasn’t perfect by any means but at least felt like the show having some fun with a new idea and the closest thing to a return to form we probably saw all year. I also enjoyed the Kevin Smith directed “The Runaway Dinosaur” episode, although not as much as some. It did hit the emotional beats better than the show did for most of this season, but it felt like it got extra praise for being kind of good in a sea of mediocrity when it was actually a little “too little, too late” for me.
Unfortunately, the finale felt like a lot of anticlimactic action and questionable decisions. I know that I’m not always going to get worked up by the stakes of a superhero story but Zoom wanting to be the fastest and destroy the multiverse was just nonsensical and who cares? His killing Barry’s father added a little bit of emotional weight, that was somewhat cheapened when we found out that Henry Allen from Earth 3 (that Earth’s Flash) had been the man in the iron mask all season. I have to say, because no one else seems to want to, I was actually glad to see Henry killed off because John Wesley Shipp’s performance is always so stiff and well, just bad. Giving him more to do–in an unsightly superhero costume, no less–seems like a miscalculation by all involved.
Of course, the biggest miscalculation is that a single person watching wants to see Barry go back in time and rescue his mother, but that’s what happened. Him not saving her last season was a big character moment and, although I get that he was upset about his father’s death at the time, this seems like a huge step backwards for the character and the show. I can’t even begin to imagine what a godawful narrative mess The Flash is gonna be next year and it really bums me out. Because I was kind of hoping for some redemption. Some light-hearted, fun, heartfelt redemption for a show I desperately want to see return to form. The closing seconds of this season have me feeling doubtful.
FINALE GRADE: C
SEASON GRADE: C+
Dear Lord, where do I even begin?
I really hated season three of Arrow and I don’t know that this one was as bad…but then again, it’s awfully close.
I’d say the biggest offense overall was casting Neal McDonough and then turning him into such an underwhelming villain. I mean, if you’re gonna force us to spell Darhk in this fashion, can’t his namesake at least be as awesome as advertised? Instead, for most of the season he glared, he threatened and, most of all, he acted like a bored businessman that was going through a mid-life crisis and had just discovered The Force. He never got fleshed out with any real motivation, just haunting the show as some sort of hand-waving boogeyman. Given this his grand plan was trying to recreate Under The Dome while nuking the entire world, I can imagine why they tried to keep that particular foolishness under wraps for as long as they could (by the way–can we put a moratorium on bad guys trying to destroy a city/country/planet to save it? Is this really that common?).
For so much of the season, Darhk just hung around like an omnipresent threat that didn’t really do all that much of anything….which provided ample time for plenty of melodrama! Seriously, I thought Emily Bett Rickards was a terrific find when she popped up in season one and Felicity’s been an essential character at times….but now that she’s really only there to fuel Days of Our Lives: Olicity Edition, I wouldn’t care if she went the way of Laurel (whose death–Darhk’s biggest powerplay–felt inconsequential because whether they were making her a drunk or a superhero, the show could never find a way to make her character compelling). Her temporary paralysis was preposterous near to the point of offense and the dizzying discussions about trust, betrayal and Oliver’s secret kid (ugh…this show really is a soap opera) made me want to slam my head against the wall.
Of course, nothing makes one want to bash their own head in more than Arrow flashbacks which have become so flagrantly pointless and dull, I have to wonder what we did for the writers feel we need to be subjected to such insufferable Purgatory week after week.
The show’s major arcs were so problematic that I even found myself being happy that a character as silly as Cupid popped back in to distract us from our misery for a week.
Geez. Maybe I did hate this season more than season three. My mind keeps jumping all over the place from the mayoral run to the terribly telegraphed conflict between the Diggle brothers (although, points for trying to give Diggle something to do besides being Oliver’s dating coach) to the preposterous wheelings and dealings with a monster like Malcolm Merlyn (there’s no reason he’s not dead yet; keeping him around to lurk around the Arrow cave one week and double cross the team and kill people the next is so dumb), the show has been beyond messy.
Good things? Not many. Although I do like the idea of Felicity’s dad returning and being a notorious hacker, explaining the two sides of Ms. Smoak, even if he was so mushed into the overall silliness of the end of the season, it’s hard to know if this will actually be a promising development. So there’s that….and um….sometimes the fight scenes are still pretty cool?
The final hour of season four was so over the top as the team was faced with disrupting the launch of countless nukes and Oliver gave an inspirational speech to the entire city who helped him defeat Damien Darhk (who still wanted to nuke the world even when his dome was destroyed so his daughter wouldn’t have to live in such a cruel world….or something like that). End result? I know this will shock you but the countless nukes did not, in fact, destroy the Earth. And they made Oliver mayor…so I guess we’re not done with that either.
This shown has become so murky and ridiculous this point, I don’t see how it recovers after two seasons of genuine buffoonery, but then I think about season two….and I still hope.
FINALE GRADE: D
SEASON GRADE: C-