Welcome back to “Don’t Touch That Dial,” a seasonal series in which I, your friendly neighborhood television addict, break down some of the shows screaming for your attention. In the first of two very special episodes, we’re looking at new midseason premieres based on comic books—specifically, one that never heard the old adage that bigger isn’t always better (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), one that took the complaint about network television turning everything into a procedural as a dare (Lucifer), and one that almost makes up for the lack of a Wonder Woman movie (Supergirl).
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
The Road So Far: A century and a half into the future, an immortal named Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) conquers the world. The family of Time Master Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) are murdered by Savage during the conflict, but when his guild refuses to intervene, Rip steals a ship and plots his revenge. He kidnaps a motley crew of disparate second-tier heroes and villains from The Flash and Arrow ’verses—Firestorm (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh), Atom (Brandon Routh), White Canary (Caity Lotz), Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée), Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller)—to help him take down Savage. They all have their own personal reasons for agreeing to follow Rip following Savage across the space-time continuum, but it’s their mutual desire for a team that keeps them going. (The CW, Thurs 8p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Out of the four DC shows on TV right now (technically, Lucifer was Vertigo), it’s telling that the most far-fetched show isn’t the one with the petulant demon, alien in a miniskirt, a guy who runs really fast, or a guy who brings arrows to a gunfight. Instead, it features a scientist and mechanic who merge together to throw fire around, a resurrected spy assassin, a pair of temperature-based criminals, two reincarnated ancient Egyptians with a Horus fetish, a rogue time traveller, and a dude who saw one too many episodes of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Legends feels about halfway between Flash’s playfulness and Arrow’s seriousness. The plot is very comic book-y, but not in a bad way. The characters are largely able to sell the silliness as believable if not realistic.
Like its CW compatriots, the action set pieces are top notch. Lotz is especially thrilling to watch in her fight sequences—hell, in every sequence. She vastly out-acts everyone else on camera. Her chemistry with Miller and Purcell is a delight, blending seamlessly with Miller’s dramatic flourishes and Purcell’s gruff simplicity. White Canary has had the best scenes in each episode by a wide margin, thanks in no small part to Lotz. Darvill’s overacting borders on eye-rolling while Routh sells his lines with heart and confidence despite his raging inferiority complex. Firestorm are more interesting apart than together, something that should make for an interesting conflict down the line. A cast this large could be difficult to manage, but so far so good.
Where the show struggles isn’t in mixing and matching personalities, but in character development. The Hawks are as dull as they are mostly because the backstory on which the whole show hinges takes place almost entirely off-camera. The audience doesn’t care about their epic love story because we’ve seen hardly any of it. Rip’s in a similar state. Even though we witness Savage killing his wife and child, we have no connection to them whatsoever, so all it ends up being is useless fridging. If the writers can figure out how to grow the characters without miring them in clichés, we might actually have something decent. As it stands, it’s more mess than potential, with its most interesting elements getting sucked into the void of plot holes and dire scripting.
TL;DR: The writers of LoT learned all the wrong lessons from The Flash and Arrow. Throwing a bunch of moderately popular characters on camera doesn’t automatically make a good show.
The Road So Far: The King of Hell (Tom Ellis) abandons his post for the wilds of Los Angeles. He’s spent the last few years indulging in casual carnalities and wasting his immortality by running a nightclub. The murder of an ingenue he once knew pushes Det. Chloe Decker (Lauren German) into his orbit, and he’s immediately fascinated. She’s the first human he’s ever met over whom he holds no sway. Normally he can entice a person to reveal their darkest desires, but Chloe is immune to his charms. Meanwhile, his brother Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) keeps hounding him about returning to the Underworld or risk further enraging their Father. (Fox, Mon 9p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Remember that beautiful storyline where Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer retires from ruling Hell and instead gives the key to Morpheus and it’s heartbreaking and devastating in its emotional complexity? Lucifer the TV show clearly doesn’t. This version of Lucifer would rather spend his time solving crimes with Chloe and sexing up a shrink (Rachael Harris) than behaving remotely devilish. He’s about as ferocious as Supernatural’s Crowley—all bark and PG-13 bite. So far, his most fearsome tricks are goading two criminals into trying to kill each other (spoiler: they mostly just talk about their past traumas) and putting on a scary demon face. It’s basically 45 minutes of Lucifer flirting/sexually harassing every woman he meets while Chloe investigates a case using evidence based largely on hunches and wild guesses. Every now and again Chloe’s ex-husband, Det. Dan (Kevin Alejandro), and Lucifer’s Number Two, Mazikeen (Lesley-Ann Brandt), wander into frame to say something admonishing and sarcastic but ultimately irrelevant. When they fail to distract enough, Chloe and Dan’s kid Trixie (Scarlett Estevez) says something precocious so Lucifer can demonstrate his uncomfortableness around children. Roll credits.
Lucifer is wholly derivative. It’s Castle and Grimm with more smarm and seasons 1-5 of Supernatural and Moonlight with less angst or interest. Ellis is appealing but never imposing enough to inspire demonic terror. German has one acting mode, and while it’s immensely enjoyable watching her consistently knock Lucifer off his pedestal, it leaves her wanting in the character development department. Alejandro’s Dan is so inessential his character literally has no last name. The idea that Lucifer’s time on earth is humanizing him has potential but doesn’t seem like an arc that can sustain the long haul, especially if we have to sit through endless chats about how he feels about feeling things. The entire show rests on Ellis and German’s shoulders. If you like either of them enough, you’ll probably be able to power through the case-of-the-week slog. If not, you’re better off watching just about anything else.
The Road So Far: As her home planet of Krypton was on the verge of implosion, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) was sent to Earth to look after her cousin Kal-El. Her ship went off-course, and by the time she finally landed, Superman no longer needed her help. Now she works in National City as an assistant at Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) media conglomerate alongside her friendzoned coworker Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), photographer extraordinaire on loan from the Daily Planet. Her adoptive sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), is an agent for the Department of Extranormal Operations, run by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood); Kara as Supergirl assists them in defeating Big Bads who threaten the planet. (CBS, Mon 8p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Tonally, Supergirl is closer to The Adventures of Lois and Clark than any movie DC has put out in the last decade, a trait that works in its favor. The show is bright, feminist, and fun. Benoist is absolutely perfect as Kara/Supergirl, bringing an effervescent charisma that elevates everyone around her. Flockhart’s Cat started out as a flat trope, but over time she’s deepened the character with complexity and grace. In a lot of ways she’s what Kara could become if she can’t learn to balance her personal and professional (and superhero) lives, but she’s also never shamed for her choices. And in a wonderful turn of events, Supergirl inverts the rom-com subplot of pining male friends by never letting her compromise her integrity by hooking up with another woman’s man, no matter how attracted they are to each other, nor does she ever suffer at the hands of Nice Guy Winn.
Greg Berlanti is the driving force behind both Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. Interestingly enough, what Legends of Tomorrow gets right Supergirl fumbles, and vice versa. The Flash may be crossing over to Supergirl’s universe, but I’d much rather have Sarah Lance stop by and teach Kara how to throw a punch. Don’t even get me started on how stupid the flying looks. JFC, CBS. The show could also stand a few lessons on building an effective series arc. The whole thing with Astra fell flat through poor pacing and a lack of focus, and now it looks like it’s happening again with J’onn J’onzz. If Supergirl’s stunts were even half as rich as their characters, we’d have one hell of a show.
TL;DR: Did Jessica Jones get you all jazzed up for badass female friendships and diverse casts? If so, then Supergirl has you covered.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.