State of Broadcast TV Superheroics 2016

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With Supergirl having its season finale last night and the other broadcast shows winding down, I thought I’d offer a little round-up on the state of things. Spoilers ahead, natch.

 

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Supergirl

Let’s start with Supergirl since that show’s just wrapped things up for the season. This is a show with a great look and some terrific casting but it’s got some serious flaws. First, like nearly all the DC television shows (except Gotham), it’s produced by Greg Berlanti, who has clearly been spread way too thin by the workload. And like all Berlanti shows, it’s required to have that CW-formula brand of romantic drama (which is kinda natural, as three of the four shows air on the CW network). With Supergirl, the drama is in the relationship between Kara and Jimmy Olsen. The two clearly like each other from the very beginning, but the writers keep coming up with one excuse after another to keep them apart, with all of the excuses feeling pretty flimsy. Now it appears they’ve gotten together as of the finale, but I have a feeling something will wind up splitting them apart by early next season.

Another complaint specific to Supergirl: It’s trying really hard to be a feminist show, which is laudable, but it tries just a bit too hard—to the point of beating you over the head with it. It just feels way too forced. The writers need to learn that a little subtlety goes a long way.

Then there are the plot contrivances, like Supergirl’s strength being limitless when it needs to be, and then limited when it needs to be; J’onn J’onzz’s telepathy working when it needs to and failing when it needs to. I know it’s a superhero show and thus is never going to be “realistic,” but it still needs to establish ground rules for itself and then stick to them. This is a problem throughout the Berlantiverse.

More specifically, there are many instances where characters have to make really, really stupid decisions in order to service the plot. Some of the stuff in the Supergirl finale serves as perfect examples, like Alex’s insistence on returning with J’onn to National City after it’s been taken over by Non. Now how does this make any sense? If she goes back there she’s just going to end up mentally enslaved like every other human, unless J’onn provides a telepathic shield for her… but wouldn’t J’onn already have enough to worry about without having to babysit her this way? And for what? She has no superpowers, so what is she going to do; how is she supposed to help?

Worst of all, J’onn agrees to take her. For no discernible reason.

There’s more of course. The all-too-simplistic solution to the Indigo dilemma (Supergirl just makes a speech and problem solved); the bending over backward to keep Superman out of the story… but you get the drift.

Speaking of plot contrivances, that brings us to…

Arrow

Of all the most contrived bullshit one could imagine, I don’t know that anything could beat out the mother of Oliver’s son demanding that Ollie not reveal the existence of said son to anyone else just because. And Oliver then abiding by this laughably ridiculous demand just because. Naturally, this stupidity leads to the break up of Ollicity (that’s Oliver and Felicity for all the non-‘shippers out there).

Again, this is CW-brand, formula drama of the soap-opera variety—the kind rooted in outrageously contrived conflict that rarely ever makes sense. At the heart of it is the notion that you’ve got to keep your romantic pairings apart for as long as possible because the money is in the chase. It also usually involves characters keeping secrets from each other when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

But as terrible as this is, it’s not even the show’s biggest problem this season. The show’s biggest problem was a six-month flash forward of a graveyard scene in the season premiere. This scene was written before writers and producers even knew which character they were going to put into the ground. This seat-of-the-pants planning is just a disaster waiting to happen; you can’t write this way and you can’t run a television show this way.

Plus the whole thing was done just to create some cheap heat. Going for the cheap-shock factor of killing off a character like this is following the worst example from the comics. This kinda stuff has killed the comics industry and I have no doubt it will kill these television shows as well if they keep it up.

Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow was doomed almost from the start due its premise, which involved time travel as a key component. When you’ve got time travel in your story, it always begs the question: whenever something goes wrong in the story, why don’t the characters travel back in time again and fix it? This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make the premise work.

The only way to give yourself any chance is to establish hard rules for how the time travel process is supposed to work and then STICK TO YOUR RULES. With this show, the rules are hazy at best, and what few hazy rules there are will often be rewritten to serve the needs of the plot on any given week.

There are also practical problems stemming from (I assume) the effects budget. Atom and Firestorm barely ever appear as such in most episodes, which makes you wonder why Rip Hunter would have recruited them in the first place. Without their powers, they’re pretty much dead weight.

Even without these problems though, the time travel stuff renders the show a non-starter. Time travel and clones are the two sci-fi tropes that will almost always kill any story dead, instantly. Oh wait, I forgot one…

The Flash

There’s also alternate Earths and/or doppelganger characters, which is what Flash finds itself struggling with. Alternate Earths create a slippery slope for writers, much like time travel does, and doppelgangers are a device that should be used to lend insight on your existing characters, as opposed to being there just for the purpose of plot twists. Unfortunately, Flash has taken the latter road.

More broadly, the show has turned into a preposterous hot mess now that the Earth-2 Flash, Jay Garrick, has been revealed as Zoom. This requires so many twists and turns to properly explain that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this was as unplanned as the grave occupant on Arrow.

The explanation given to us just tonight was that Zoom posed as the Flash on Earth-2 for the sole purpose of giving people “hope” that he could later “rip away from them.” This is so dumb I don’t even know where to start.

Then there’s the explanation for how Zoom managed to appear to “kill” Jay—that is to say, himself. Turns out it was a “time remnant” that agreed to let himself/itself be killed.

…What?

I mean… wha?

Seriously, this may have been the stupidest thing I ever heard.

Then there’s the reveal of Zoom’s true-true identity of Hunter Zoloman—a name and face that Harrison Wells recognizes as a notorious serial killer back on Earth-2. So why didn’t Wells immediately recognize “Jay Garrick” for who he was when he first met him? Who the f*ck knows? I mean, they’ll probably offer an explanation at some point, but it’s likely to be just as shitty as “time remnant.”

This was once a fun (if imperfect) show. Last year’s finale though, coupled with this follow-up season, has pretty much ruined things.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is superior to the DC shows reviewed above. While it has its romantic subplots, it avoids most of the soap opera clichés of the Berlanti-produced DC properties. Still, fridging Coulson’s new romantic interest was a misstep, and the show has other flaws that keep it from being all that it could be.

One of these flaws is that nothing here matters in the films. We’re neck deep in Inhumans at this point, but don’t expect to see Black Bolt or Medusa any time soon. When the Inhumans movie does actually come out, it’s unlikely that anything we see here will have any bearing on it. I mean, if you’re going to have a TV series set in the same universe as your movies, there should be some crossover. Otherwise, what’s the point?

More personally, I’m just not invested in these characters—most of which are new creations or bear little resemblance to their comic-book counterparts. To compound matters, one of the few characters I did actively like, Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird from the comics), was just cut loose to make a spin-off series.

It’s a shame because, as I said, this show is much better done than the DC ones. It certainly does a better job playing “by the rules” and doesn’t resort to plot contrivances to the same extent those other shows do. But I’m just not feeling it.

Summing Up

When Arrow first came on the air four years ago, it was the only show of its kind. Now we’ve got a ton of superhero shows on broadcast TV, to say nothing of the great Marvel shows on Netflix. So basically, a superhero TV show is nothing special anymore. Maybe my feelings will change, but right now I’m inclined to give up on all the broadcast shows. Maybe I’ll check back in if there’s a new character being adapted for live action that’s never been done before (like Red Tornado on Supergirl earlier this season), but at the moment I’m feeling more than a little burned out on all of it.

 

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