A few months ago, I pre-ranked the 2014-15 superhero/comic book TV shows. Once Agent Carter airs next week, almost all of the superhero-y shows on that list will be at their halfway point, or just past it, for the season. (The lone hold-out is Daredevil, which debuts April 10. I’m also punting the Zombie Division from my September post, because while I’m not really qualified to discuss anything I post about, I’m especially unqualified to talk about those shows I’ve never seen and have no intention of seeing.)
So how are things shaping up with this (over)loaded superhero TV season? Let’s check in on them with an updated ranking!
Pros: Um…? (Thinking.) Oh! The lead characters of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) were well-cast, so those actors could be really likable on a well-written show.
Cons: This is not a well-written show. It might just be the least subtle show I’ve ever seen. Characters change motivations randomly and with hardly any explanation. Everyone (literally: everyone) acts like a fucking idiot almost all the time. And the show is far more concerned with crass nods to Batman’s future than it is with telling just a decent story in its present.
Outlook: Despite my near-certainty that I would be dropping the show after the first few episodes, I actually managed to suffer through the entire fall set. There were mild bright spots; Ben Edlund wrote the series’ best episode (“Spirit of the Goat”), and we got to see Alfred kick some ass in the fall finale. But the sheer, consistent, unrelenting stupidity was ultimately too much for even my rather generous patience to bear, and I dropped it. Not even the promise of seeing Morena Baccarin was enough to get me to come back for the spring.
5. The Flash
Pros: There are plenty. The cast is pretty strong, led by Grant Gustin mostly nailing Barry’s aw-shucks good-guy personality. The effects are mostly pretty good, especially for a CW show. Sisko, the character whom I thought would be most annoying, has turned into a convenient plot device to introduce the proper comic book names of various characters, which is a nice change from Arrow. Speaking of Arrow, the two shows’ first crossover managed to be lots of fun (and ridiculous in a good way). Just in general, the show really cares about the greater Flash mythos, and while it’s been clunky at times, has set up a lot of stuff I want to see in a Flash show: the mystery of Reverse Flash, the building of the Rogues, the possibility of time travel, the unexpected but delightful possibility of the Crisis, and most importantly, hints that we’ll see GRODD.
Cons: There are plenty here, too. The writing is often sloppy, the dialogue is frequently poor, and the freak-of-the-week villains have been more miss than hit — especially note the truly painful Girder episode. The show has been particularly (if unintentionally) unkind to poor Iris, who has been written to be just the absolute worst. The show plays to cliches and standard tropes more than it should, and has little in the way of three-dimensionality. Also, I can’t get over how no one seems to even notice (much less actually care) how fucked up that supervillain prison is; it’s really bothering me.
Outlook: Flash has certainly had its high points, and it ended its fall schedule on an upswing. Interviews have also been teasing that there are further reveals about Dr. Wells than what we’ve already seen, to be revealed at season’s end, so that should pack a punch. The show is usually fun even when not great, so with Season 2 already officially picked up, I think it can find its way over time.
Pros: The core cast members are still great enough to make a lot of stuff work that otherwise might not. Roy has been solidly developed into a pretty strong hero in his own right. Brandon Routh has been a pleasant addition in my opinion; I don’t think he should be spun off into his own show, but I do think he’s worked well as a change of pace here. I might be the only one, but to my surprise, I’ve found the progression of Laurel toward being the
Black Canary to be a pretty solid storyline. Again, the crossover with The Flash was fun, and like its spinoff, it overcame a weak spell to end the fall on an even higher note. Major, major kudos are due for how quickly and successfully they made Ra’s into a formidable and awe-inspiring Big Bad, plus the willingness to do something of a shakeup this spring (or at least at the start of the spring).
Cons: But oof, that dry spell before the late upswing was pretty rough at times. “Cupid” may have been the most eyeroll-inducing thing to ever happen on this show — and while I love this series, that’s still saying something. The show may be slowly figuring out something to do with Laurel, but it still has no clue how to handle Thea. After bringing her back as a remade badass, they immediately dumped her back into the same teen angst stories of running the nightclub and dating the world douchiest DJ (which is also really saying something). Malcolm Merlyn hasn’t been used remotely near enough. And finally, Felicity got treated rather like shit, with two men basically inventing bullshit reasons to not be with her, when they should instead be giving up anything for her because she’s an angel, dammit.
Outlook: It’s hard to say much about this without giving spoilers, so I’ll suffice myself to say that I think and hope that the fall finale gives us a shakeup that lasts most of the spring; I’ll be disappointed if things are back to status quo in two episodes. I think a chance to give more time to supporting characters and take the situations out of the familiar zone could be the shot in the arm that the show was needing much of the first half of this season.
Pros: Matt Ryan IS John Constantine. Look, this show is almost definitely never going to get a second season, so we all need to appreciate the fact that the casting was nailed so perfectly for such a difficult character, because it’s looking pretty certain that we’ll only ever have 13 episodes of it. Additionally, the supporting cast has grown in strength as Zed has developed into an enjoyable character, with nice recurring characters like Papa Midnite and especially Sister Anne-Marie. There’ve been other nice comic book nods as well, including the introduction of Jim Corrigan. Despite my fears that being on network television instead of a premium cable channel might neuter the inherently adult content of John’s world, the show has managed to still be fairly dark and violent. But really, other than Ryan himself, the biggest thing this show has going for it is the incredible turnaround it’s pulled off midstream. After a great pilot, the show went through a string of mostly duds before pulling out a killer end to its fall schedule (and more recently, a promising spring return). The biggest key was delving into an adaptation of the outstanding storyline “American Gothic” from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (only without Swamp Thing himself, which works better in some ways). The Brujeria and the Rising Darkness have become the Big Bad this show needed.
Cons: Unfortunately, that slow start killed the show. Ratings went down and have stayed down. Obviously the show was trying to build a foundation before really getting into the “American Gothic” elements, but those early episodes were mostly mediocre, or at least not good enough to build a fanbase. Another problem is that the show seems to sometimes forget what to do with a supporting character in any given episode. Manny, in particular, usually has nothing to do, but shows up anyway for no helpful reason; Chas also got the shaft in some early episodes, though they’ve used him better lately. In general, there have been several episodes where the characters were great, but the plot didn’t really work as a vehicle for them.
Outlook: The Brujeria storyline could be a truly great one, but unless the pace speeds up dramatically, we’ll likely never see where it could go. Barring a miracle, there are probably only four episodes left in the history of this series. Recent returns suggest that they’ll be really, really good ones, but that’s probably too little, too late.
2. Agent Carter
Pros: I honestly loved the first two episodes of this series — which aired back-to-back to form something closer to a two-hour pilot — more than at least a couple Marvel movies. Hayley Atwell is just superb in this role, and the series thus far has really nailed the perfect mixture of showing how incredible Peggy is, while still allowing her to be vulnerable and human. The supporting cast is mostly strong, particularly the delightful Jarvis. The short season format seems to have lent itself to a much tighter overarching story.
Cons: The sexism of the era is obviously a major plot element, which must and should be an inescapable point of the story, because it was an inescapable part of that reality. Yet for a TV show, it can start to feel like too much at times, because too many characters are too awful for it to be as fun of a ride. This hasn’t been a big issue yet, but I think it could start to become one, especially in hypothetical future seasons. I also don’t care much for Peggy’s waitress friend, but I have a feeling there’s a twist there that will still make it worthwhile. But the biggest negative to me is one that technically hasn’t happened yet. In an interview at io9, showrunner Michele Fazekas said the show will always exist before the Marvel One-Shot that saw Peggy being tapped to run S.H.I.E.L.D. That’s fine for this season, and maybe even one more; Peggy’s early trials are clearly a strong source of material. But I truly hate the idea that we’ll never get to see her jump forward in time; a show of Peggy being the triumphant badass boss could be every bit as entertaining and fulfilling, and I’m pretty damn sad that we’ll apparently never see it.
Outlook: This is the hardest show to rank, with only 3 of 8 episodes under its belt. But while the third wasn’t just great (I still liked it), the first two were still so impressive to me that they solidified this spot. And the plus side of the Fazekas interview above is that if Fazekas has reason to be thinking about the show’s ultimate end point, then that’s probably a good indication we’ll get more beyond this season. And that’s fantastic, because if this small sample of episodes has confirmed anything for me, it’s that I absolutely want more of this show. As I’ve incoherently babbled about before, Marvel needs to improve its women characters, and I trust that Peggy will continue to be my favorite as this season rolls on.
1. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Pros: Everything? Yeah, pretty much everything. Until Game of Thrones returns, this is my favorite show on television. After a strong home stretch of Season 1, Season 2 of AoS has been fulfilling all my hopes for how good this show could be. The plots are much stronger, the connections to the greater MCU are more extensive, and the arcs are deeper and more meaningful. The cast’s chemistry is wonderful, and characters like Skye and Ward have paid off so much. The new additions have also been great, with Kyle Maclachlan and Reed Diamond playing strong villains, and fun new good guys in Lance Hunter and especially Bobbi Morse. Plus, we ended on a great cliffhanger that should result in a fun/crazy second half.
Cons: Not many this season, but can we have the show please finally just say the word Inhumans? Or Attilan? Or Terrigen Mists/Crystals, or Absorbing Man, or Mr. Hyde, or Mockingbird, or Kraken, or any number of comic book references that the series keeps showing but without letting us hear their proper name. I know it’s probably a relatively minor tic, but it’s one that really does bother me. I was also highly disappointed by the lack of screen time Agent Triplett got this fall, when I felt after the end of Season 1 that he should have become a big player for the team.
Outlook: Sunny days ahead! This show has gotten so, so good, and has had a nice long midseason break to recharge for its homestretch. Now that certain big events have happened, it’s a little hard to even guess where we go now, but the series has built up so much goodwill with me recently that I’m down for anything at this point — especially having Edward James Olmos come on board, which he will this spring in a mysterious but apparently important role.