During the spring 2017 season, I put a moratorium on doing episode-by-episode write-ups on the TV shows I was following. I felt like there were starting to get to be too many shows and that too many of the ones I was doing write-ups on had become comic book based. Obviously, I love that genre, but I wanted to take a step back and remember what it was like watching those shows normally. I also figured that there’s more than enough people doing up to the minute coverage of this whole genre. So, I sat back and watched, and here were my takeaways from the season.
In this case, the losers are the shows that either had an objective loss or shows that just lost some of my good will as a viewer. There weren’t a lot of these, but one of them is definitely a surprise.
NBC’s comedy tried to poke fun at the idea of regular people living in a super hero infested world. Unfortunately, this left them with a comic book show that was relegated to only using tertiary comic book characters. The show was never supposed to be about comic book characters, but it turned out that they really didn’t need them at all. The solid cast was buoyed by the chemistry of Ron Funchess (Undateable & @midnight regular) and Dani Pudi (Community) and featured the always reliable talents of Alan Tudyk (too many credits). The multi-talented Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical Franchise, Sucker Punch) helmed the cast competently as the stereotypical overachieving manager, Emily Locke. I was also pleasantly surprised by the outlandish Jennie Pierson as the assistant Jacki, and the dry sarcastic Christina Kirk as the outlandish Wendy.
While the cast was great, the show that they were in wasn’t. It was charming at times and funny at moments but, in my opinion, it was completely set in the wrong space. I would’ve gladly given it another go, but NBC wasn’t so forgiving. The show’s last 3 episodes were never aired on it’s way to cancellation.
Here’s the biggest surprise on the list. After a stand-out first season, the CW’s The Flash seemed like it was going to be the gold standard for superhero TV shows. It had the prerequisite CW levels of angst and romance, a face that people could get behind for Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and, most importantly, it seemed to have learned from a lot of the mistakes that it had made with Arrow, the show that started the CW’s rise to comic book character prominence. Unfortunately, this season, they seemed to have forgotten that last lesson. One of the biggest letdowns for Arrow was the “season of the grave”, where they hung the idea over the audience’s head that someone would die for an entire season. The Flash did this by telling us, very early on, that Iris West would die during this season (as well as what would happen to some other characters) and then proceeded to make the rest of the season about that impending future. Several shows have done something like this including Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Walking Dead (in a slightly different/smaller way) and it just never seems to work out.
For a while the show was kind of pulling it off. They tackled some big comic book material by starting the season with a “TV-sized” version of the Flashpoint event where Barry creates a parallel universe by saving his mother. They pandered to the fans by hitting big with their crossover event and following it up with a smaller, musical crossover. But, that wasn’t really enough.
The Flashpoint story was condensed from a huge, world rending event to a single episode on the show. As the season went on, things got very redundant and trope-y. Every other episode it was some variant of the same, “flash point repercussions”, or “fight against the future” story with Barry “doing anything” to save Iris and Iris wavering in her resolve about facing her fate. Everything had a feeling of, “we’ve already done this”. The greatest offender of this was the way the season ended. Barry has gone into some kind of portal at the end of every season (worm-hole in season 1, speed force in seasons 2 and 3). It’s impossible to take these emotional moments in when 1] we know he’ll be okay, because he’s the star and 2] it just keeps happening.
Along the way, the show really started to get stuck in it’s own convoluted plot and loopholes. Time travel is hard to write and this situation passed my point of suspending my disbelief when it comes to how they conveniently use time travel and speed force rules when they need them to drive the story and then forget them at other times. There was just too much room for “why couldn’t Barry just do x,y,z” in the story.
Then, perhaps the biggest eye roll inducing moment, was when they revealed that the season’s “big bad” had been Barry all along. This reveal was the final nail in the coffin for me. They had mixed the comic book stories up so much in order to make them surprising, that they ended up going with a boring trope for a villain: the dark version or mirror version of the hero. There was a slightly interesting twist on it but the entire thing felt, well, silly for lack of a better term. By the final episodes, it was very clear what was going to happen and that the future they had shown was really meant to drag the audience along under a false assumption. The entire ordeal just made watching the show feel like a labor in completionism by the end of the season.
I’m not giving up on The Flash by any means, but it’s definitely fallen in my watching priority.
Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix)
I have to include this show as a loser almost based on the press and reviews alone. That being said, Iron Fist, is not the abomination that some people may make it out to be. It’s definitely got problems, but based on the amount of negativity that people have heaped upon it you’d think it was a raging dumpster fire (which it’s not). Perhaps it’s greatest sin is that it’s not as good as the other 3 series in the Defenders line (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage).
For me, the most notable problem is with the martial arts choreography early in the series. There are some times where the movements just look very sloppy and amateurish. Since the series’ release, there have been a number of reports explaining that there may have been reasons why that was the case. Even so, it does get better as the show goes on. Again, I think what really makes it stand out is the fact that Daredevil had such amazing fight choreography.
Among the problems, it’s easy to overlook that there are some real positives to this series. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is a great character and may actually be the strongest female to come out of the Marvel Netflix universe outside of Jessica Jones herself. The Meachum Family: Joy, Ward and Harold (played by Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey and David Wenham respectively) are great. Their screwed up family dynamic actually ends up driving a lot of the plot in the series.
Fortunately for Iron Fist, it’s already embedded as part of the the Defenders property. That, and the fact that Marvel has built up so much good will that they can easily support a mediocre show (again, mediocre not bad), means that we’ll very likely see an Iron Fist 2 with a lot more “oomph” behind it.
There were two big winners in this season for me. In both cases, it was because they were shows that have been on for a while and have seemed to flounder a bit over the last season or so. This season, these two shows seemed to have a big resurgence.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
Before the season started, SHIELD would’ve been high on my list for series that were likely to be cancelled after or during this season. They had become the unwanted child of the MCU; born out of a surprise love affair between the fandom and the Avenger’s POV fanboy, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The show existed within the MCU and seemed beholden to it, while simultaneously being ignored by it. This season, they made some changes that suddenly made the show feel like it had found a new, better direction. In short, the changes can be summarized by saying, “they made it darker and it worked”.
They started by grabbing the Ghost Rider character. Admittedly, I thought this was just a desperate name grab. What they didn’t announce before the show was that this isn’t the traditional Johnny Blaze version of the character, but the modern Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna). Then they made the season more about the survival of SHIELD as an organization, not so much how they were going out to clean up the little messes of the MCU. The SHIELD team was split up and overhauled under the direction of the military. Daisy/Skye had gone solo in order to fight against the Watchdogs and runaway from Lincoln’s death and the decisions she made in the previous season. Everyone was kind of split up into their own little groups and working with or against each other. A far cry from the “let’s find a new way to split the party every episode” pattern that earlier seasons put the show in. Then, the Ghost Rider story led into what I believe is one of the show’s best two story arcs: Agents of HYDRA. This part of the season sees the team trapped in a world that is ruled by HYDRA, where several of them find themselves as agents of HYDRA. Most notably, Fitz is now the leader of HYDRA alongside Ophelia aka AIDA, the rogue LMD who’s quest to become a real girl is responsible for their predicament.
The back half of the season is tense, suspenseful and stressful in the best ways. The characters are constantly in danger and they face some really well put together dilemmas. I think what makes this work so well is that they literally take themselves out of the world of the MCU and put SHIELD property into it’s own situation. There are parts that are a little rushed or a little convenient but, overall, it’s a great season for SHIELD and it seems to have bought them at least one more season.
Like SHIELD, Arrow seemed like it was on a downward slope. The patriarch of the CW DCTV family of shows, Arrow had lost some steam while spending time and effort trying to launch and help maintain other shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Then, last season, despite having a charismatic villain, the show just didn’t seem compelling. They got bogged down by continued flashbacks that seemed to be escalating to a ridiculous point and the Olicity relationship drama (some of which felt very forced) and just seemed to be losing momentum.
This season started with a very lukewarm feeling. They were riding off of the death of Laurel and trying to introduce a new set of “recruits” into Team Arrow while the original team members (minus Felicity) move on with their lives. Then, as Oliver is trying to move forward, a remote figure from his past resurfaces as the killer, Prometheus, and just starts to pick his life apart. At first, it’s small things but, eventually, he becomes this Machiavellian monster who’s got Oliver completely trapped. What’s really great about this season is Prometheus but, also the agency he has on forcing the other characters to reveal or confront things about themselves. The reason it’s so great is that it allows the characters to actually show how much they’ve changed/grown or to reveal things that we didn’t know about them 5 years into the show.
My favorite moment/example of this was a point earlier in the season where Prometheus tricks the Green Arrow into killing Felicity’s boyfriend. I was watching and expecting Felicity to go all, “you killed my boyfriend” but, instead we got a strong, understanding reaction from her. Yes, she was upset but she actually placed blame where it was due, a decision that is surprisingly rare for love interests on TV shows. I really loved everything about how they handled the Olicity (Oliver and Felicity) relationship during this season. It just seemed a lot more mature.
From there, the show gets more intense for everybody. There are varying levels of success and some of the newer characters get kind of forgotten towards the end of the season. Even so, it’s an outstanding way to culminate the first 5 seasons of the show, ending with the cathartic blowing up of that stupid island.
In much the same way that the failure of Iron Fist was dictated by it’s reception, so was the success of Legion. This is a show that could really only exist after the success of so many other comic book properties. It’s a small character with HUGE powers and relatively little backstory. However, it’s also a character who, by his nature is very weird and very hard to visualize/interpret. The show was a small order (only 8 episodes), which also made it easy for people to get into without investing a lot of time. It ended up being weird, but not too weird and captivating enough to keep audiences coming back for more. Special shout out to Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal of the gender (and existence) fluid Lenny “Cornflakes” Busker, who is easily one of the standouts of the show.
There is a 3rd category of shows, which aren’t necessarily winners or losers.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Legends is like the popcorn of the comic book TV schedule. You can just sit there and consume it without really noticing anything. There’s not a lot that will stick with you one way or another. This is definitely an improvement over their first season, which felt like eating a bowl of popcorn that was full of unpopped kernels. The show was mostly innocuous until they took a misstep that you were forced to pay attention to. The season just went down smooth, but didn’t do much more than that.
Supergirl pretty much stayed the same as it was during it’s last season. The show didn’t do much to raise or lower my opinion of the show (which was already decent). I am still generally put off by the idea that the show is really more of a bunch of Superman stories where they’ve switched out Superman for Supergirl. However, it’s recently been pointed out to me that I could just view this as a Superman show. Admittedly, through that lens, this is actually a pretty good Superman show.
I do think that the show is starting to move away from those stories now that the characters are more established, which is a good thing. I like where they’ve put their characters now and how they’re working the relationships into the show. Yes, I would prefer fewer relationships but, it’s a CW show now, so there’s no way around that. If you are going to have them, this show has figured out a good way to do it. I particularly enjoyed Winn’s new girlfriend, the alien wild woman Lyra.
I’ll keep this one short. I have not watched any of Gotham season 3. Of all the comic book shows that I’ve watched and continue to watch, this is the only one that burned me out. It was just too much of the parts of the Batman mythos that I don’t care about. I’ll come back to this when the new season is streaming but, if it doesn’t get better than season 2, it’ll be completely out of my rotation.
So, that’s it for the comic book shows this season. The episode write-ups will reappear over the summer with the episode thoughts, but they’ll be there more for reference than live following.