Don’t Touch That Dial: Fall 2016 TV — The DC Television Universe

And we’re back with the second edition of the Fall 2016 “Don’t Touch That Dial.” In this very special episode we’re looking at DC on TV, specifically Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. None of these series are new this fall, but all have had major overhauls since their first season, so let’s see what’s working, what’s not, and where we go from here.

Mild spoilers for previous seasons.

 

Arrow

DTTD16DC_Arrow

The Road So Far: With the death of Laurel Lance, his breakup with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickard), Diggle (David Ramsey) ditching him to return to the military, his sister Thea (Willa Holland) opting for normalcy over superheroics, and Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) drowning his sorrows in liquor, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) finds himself very lonely at the top. He may be Mayor Handsome, but constantly shirking his civic duties for his vigilante ones has hurt his political reputation and personal relationships. The bodies pile up as Tobias Church (Chad Coleman) fights to establish dominance in Star City with the help of corrupt SCPD cops. Corruption has also spread to the US Army and Diggle is suddenly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Season 5—CW, Wed 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Character development is a channel-wide problem for the CW shows. Oliver hasn’t stagnated nearly as much as Sam and Dean on Supernatural, but he’s well on his way. I think I was supposed to be surprised the Green Arrow is back to killing again, but he’s violated his no-kill rule so many times now I can’t bring myself to care anymore. Felicity has moved on, but it’s a good bet her new beau will turn out to be a skeeze she’ll need to be rescued from by Ollie. Thea twists her brother’s arm into taking on new teammates, and he roughs them up as much as he did the old ones with the same tepid results. (Remember, most of Laurel’s fight training came not from Oliver but from Wildcat.)

DTTD16DC_Arrow-inThis isn’t to say the show has overstayed its welcome. There’s a lot of good meat left on Arrow’s bones. Thea and Quentin Lance are engaging foils for Ollie, and Felicity’s sarcastic charm easily carries every scene she’s in. Training the new Team Arrow should be a ton of fun given that Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, and Black Canary 2.0 are all human and unskilled fighters at that. Ragman is meta but his superpower is controlling a thousand-year-old piece of fabric. Ollie using his leverage to backdoor in the cops as his own personal vigilante backup army has “juicy story potential” written all over it. The flashbacks are still a mess, but are better used than they’ve been in past seasons. Ultimately, no matter how clunky the story, I like having a superhero with all the punching and billionaire playboy flair as Batman but with fewer moral conflicts.

TL;DR: Despite the general consensus, I actually liked Olicity last season. As a couple they were sugary sweet, but it was clear the writers didn’t know what to do with their relationship, hence all the crap.

 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

DTTD16DC_Legends

The Road So Far: With the demise of Vandal Savage and the Time Masters, as well as the loss of Captain Cold, Hawkgirl, and Hawkman, the Legends have their work cut out for them. Aberrations are popping up all over the time stream. A disastrous mission in 1942 leaves Rip (Arthur Darvill) AWOL and the group in need of a new leader. Enter historian Nate Heywood (Nick Zano). He, Atom (Brandon Routh), White Canary (Caity Lotz), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), and Firestorm (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh) must stop Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) and Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher) from altering history and find Rip before it’s too late. Unless the Justice Society of America and the Legion of Doom get in their way first. Season 2—CW, Thu 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I was genuinely surprised when Legends was renewed, given its paltry ratings (even for the CW’s standards). Had Supergirl transferred over sooner, I suspect Legends would’ve been put out of its misery. Instead the show underwent some serious cosmetic surgery this summer, not all of it beneficial but all of it necessary. Pacing and structure are still major problems, but with a smaller cast there’s more room for each character to get some much needed development. However, the last thing this show needed was to swap out two people of color for yet another milquetoast white dude. When the superhero team from the 1940s is more diverse than the one from 2016, there’s a problem. Heywood brings nothing to the table and takes away vital screentime for the Heat Wave/Canary snark fest, easily the best part of the whole show.

What Legends does well is add depth to the Arrow-verse. Darhk, last season’s big bad on Arrow, has history with Ray and is now Sara’s target in Legends because of Laurel. He and Reverse-Flash, Barry’s first nemesis, have teamed up, impossible before Barry’s mucking about with the timeline which also makes Barry directly responsible for everything happening to the Legends. Vixen, a character introduced in Arrow, is in the JSA, and the Legends were rediscovered from their burial at sea by none other than Oliver Queen. When Supergirl crosses over later this year, the merger will be complete. Creating an DC Universe on the small screen is a massive undertaking, one I didn’t think the CW could pull off a few years ago but so far so good. Legends has carved its own niche in the ‘verse, telling stories none of the others could tackle. I just wish the writers were better at actually telling those stories. Like Gotham, Legends gets lost in overcomplicated plots and fails to deliver character development or emotional depth. If the show can keep the frenetic fun while also helping the characters grow into the legendary heroes they’re supposed to become, it’ll be well worth watching.

TL;DR: Here lies Alex, dead from a lack of ColdAtom fics.

 

The Flash

DTTD16DC_Flash

The Road So Far: At the end of season 2, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) saved his mother from being killed by Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher), thus creating a whole new timeline. Soon he was forced to undo the undone murder and established a third alternate timeline, this one closer to the original—that way the whole Arrow-verse isn’t thrown out of whack—but just different enough to cause problems. Reverse-Flash dubbed Barry’s mess “Flashpoint” despite the whole event being done and dusted in the premiere, but there is plenty of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey nonsense without it. Iris (Candice Patton) and Det. West (Jesse L. Martin) aren’t speaking to each other and poor Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) is caught in the middle, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) is depressed over his brother’s death, Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) is finally living up to her surname, and Barry has a fussy new colleague, metahuman specialist Julian Albert (Tom Felton). Worse, Doctor Alchemy and his ability to turn normal humans into metas that throws everyone for a loop. At least Harry (Tom Cavanagh) is back. Silver linings! Season 3—CW, Tue 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Where Legends of Tomorrow has finally tapped into what makes its premise so much fun, The Flash seems determined to ignore it. Flashpoint could’ve easily been several episodes, but despite all the hype it was all of 42 lackluster minutes. Barry’s third timeline has Gotham’s gloom and Arrow’s doom. Doctor Alchemy looks to be just as pompous and self-serious as Zoom, which does not bode well for the fun factor but could pose an interesting villainous threat worthy of Barry’s effort. Julian Albert is also an intriguing addition, as is metahuman forensics now being a standard branch of the Central City Police Department. If he’s The Flash’s version of Albert Julian Rothstein, Barry could be in some serious trouble.

DTTD16DC_Flash-inSeason 2 of The Flash was wildly uneven, with contrived coincidences overtaking organic plot development and characters going OOC whenever the plot needed some goading. This is the only DC show on the CW to be retooled over the summer and come out feeling just as off-kilter as it did before. Fundamentally it’s a decent show worth watching for its great actors and a oddball premise. I’m nowhere near ready to abandon Barry and co., but it worries me to have so much untapped potential three seasons in. The complications wrought by Doctor Alchemy, Harrison Wells, and the ever-increasing number of worlds and timelines is ripe with storytelling possibility, yet even after a few eps in I still can’t tell if the new season is on the upward or downward slope.

TL;DR: Can we please get back to the timeline where The Flash was a cheery antidote to Arrow? Those were the days.

 

Gotham

DTTD16DC_Gotham

The Road So Far: Last season this Batman-less Batman show introduced metahumans with Dr. Hugo Strange then busted them out of Indian Hill to wreak havoc on Gotham. This season the revived Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) has a new crew of pseudo-prototypes of lesser known DC supervillains. On the political front, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) wins his Trumpian mayoral campaign with the backing of his goons and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), meanwhile, is busy sulking over his split with Lee (Morena Baccarin), bounty hunting the escapees, hitting on reporter Valeria Vale (Jamie Chung), and picking fights with his bonkers ex-girlfriend Barbara (Erin Richards). That leaves Det. Bullock (Donal Logue) and Capt. Barnes (Michael Chiklis) to root out GCPD corruption on their own. And I haven’t even mentioned the two Bruce Waynes (David Mazouz), Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) holding down their own subplots, the Tetch siblings (Benedict Samuel and Naian González Norvind) manipulating Jim, or the looming Court of Owls storyline. Season 3—Fox, Mon 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Never let it be said Gotham is short on material. Just wish it knew what to do with all that story. That ungainly recap above? I had to cut out about half the characters and subplots just to keep it from overtaking this entire article. It’s not that the myriad plots and subplots aren’t interesting, but that there are so many of them happening at once that none of them stand out. The audience can’t care about the aftermath of any cruelties if the writers don’t build in breathing room for the impact. Just as the Tetches are introduced, Alice is killed off, meaning she never becomes anything more than a plot delivery system. Jim’s suicide story should be a homerun, but since he never gets introspective about why he’s so willing to let the Mad Hatter drive him to kill himself nothing comes of it.

DTTD16DC_Gotham-inThe other side of that coin is the show’s emotional tone. Where the CW generally leans light, Gotham idolizes Zack Snyder. Most characters are either angry or miserable, and the few that aren’t, the perkiest they get is cautious optimism. The stories are grim, the palette dark, and the characters gloomy. Gotham doesn’t need to be Supergirl, but it also doesn’t have to be the network knockoff of Batman v Superman. Moving Jim back onto the police force and into buddy-cop eps with Bullock would help, but for now the show is so relentlessly dour that finding room for Gotham on my increasingly packed television schedule is becoming less of a priority.

TL;DR: Hey…so…are Penguin and Nygma dating now? Because they act like they’re dating. Their scenes together, like, I’ve read slash with less flirting.

 

Supergirl

The Road So Far: Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), is the older cousin of Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and a powerful superhero in her own right. Now a newly minted reporter for Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) media conglomerate, Kara uses her investigative instincts to ferret out misdeeds and her might to protect those in need. With a Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) causing a ruckus and a new big bad creating villainous metahumans, Kara, her adoptive human sister Alex (Chyler Leigh), the last Martian J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood), and BFF tech geek Winn (Jeremy Jordan) are National City’s last line of defense. Not to mention the mysterious, comatose man found in a crashed Kryptonian pod… Season 2—CW, Mon 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: There’s something to be said about a show like Supergirl. Supergirl can kick ass, but Kara isn’t kick-ass. She’s shy, mousy, nervous, and unsure. Kara’s more confident as Supergirl, but even then she doesn’t make people quake in their boots the way Cat or Alex can. She’s a normal young woman more worried about figuring how how to achieve an adequate work-life balance than in military conspiracies and kryptonite.

DTTD16DC_Supergirl-inThe channel shift solved most of the first season problems. Supergirl was always a better fit for the CW, and just as Kara dumps her fledgling relationship with Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), so to does the show shed its darker locations, tones, and subplots. The only downside is the loss of Flockhart from series regular to recurring guest star. Kara benefited tremendously from having Cat as a role model, as the show did with Flockhart’s sharp delivery and cutting remarks. But if that reduction means more room for Kara to grow into all that potential squandered by CBS, then by all means.

Last season’s crossover with The Flash was a sugary delight—I will never stop smiling about that ice cream scene—and the arrival of Superman in season 2 is twice as nice. (As an aside, this is first time I’ve genuinely liked Clark since The Adventures of Lois and Clark…and now I’m even angrier at the DCEU.) Supergirl never forgets who its star is. Superman may be more famous than his cousin, but he defers to her leadership and the writers always give her the biggest fight scenes, with Alex next in line. Not only that, but he respects her authority without hesitation or complaint. Women are front and center in the best way. There’s no Joss Whedon 90s-era grrl power, no Trinity Syndrome, no longing over undeserving boyfriends. Kara gets to eat pizza and pot stickers, wear unflattering jim-jams and khaki skirts, and be quirky without being a manic pixie dream girl. She doesn’t exist for men to ogle but for women to be inspired by. The show needs some work on the diversity front (two cis-het Black guys does not diversity make), but it’s streets ahead of everyone else when it comes to feminism.

TL;DR: This and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are the only two shows I can watch and smile all the way through. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Alex Brown is a teen 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.

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