It blows my mind sometimes to think of how far we’ve come in my time as a superhero fan. The genre started as a niche market, then grew steadily in popularity in movies until they now dominate the big screen; and now, we’re in the midst of a full-fledged TV superhero explosion. Four of the shows on this list debuted this year, and only one failed (with Constantine getting canceled); at least four more new superhero/comic book shows (Supergirl on CBS, Legends of Tomorrow on CW, aka Jessica Jones on Netflix, and Preacher on AMC) will join next season. This list is going to get so damn long.
So while we still only have seven superhero shows, let’s get to the ranking. Previously: season rankings for supporting characters, for lead heroes, and for villains. You can also see the preseason rankings of these shows and the midseason rankings, plus two mean posts about Gotham (one and two), and Andy’s excellent breakdown for the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Some SPOILERS will be mentioned for the involved shows: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Daredevil, Constantine, Arrow, Flash, and Gotham. And my halfhearted apologies to iZombie, The Walking Dead, and Powers for not watching or including you.
Looking back: At some point, this is just beating a dead horse. I’ve discussed my distaste for Gotham plenty, and I’m sure it says something bad about me that I’ve spent many more words writing about a show I obviously disliked than I have on the shows I do enjoy (which is all other six on this list). So let’s just briefly recap here: this show was over-the-top in a bad way, beating us over the head with obvious developments and over-acting.
Looking forward: The show could be interesting by toning down how corrupt everyone but Jim (and also kinda Jim) is at policing, and cooling it on the pre-Batman references. But Bruce discovered the Bat-cave in the season finale, and Harvey Dent will join the show as a series regular next season. So, yeah. See you at next season’s finale, Gotham.
Looking back: Arrow had a solid first half, leading up to a great fall finale. But then the show immediately walked that back, having Oliver survive injuries he couldn’t possibly have survived. The second half only grew more cringey from there, with the angst and melodrama becoming excessive even for its CW standards. I think it would have been far more interesting to introduce the Lazarus Pit right away in the spring (to heal Ollie), then dramatically move up his ascendancy to head of the League of Assassins and let him try to help Starling City from that post. Oh, and just letting Felicity be happy with Ray, and more of a badass on her own instead of just pining for Oliver. Alas.
Looking forward: I have no clue. Merlyn as the new Ra’s is an intriguing development that could pay dividends, and I’m excited for a new Team Arrow featuring Thea’s Red Arrow, Laurel’s Black Canary, and a costume identity for Diggle (Guardian, perhaps?). But how will Oliver and Felicity riding off into the sunset be undone? (Because you know it will be undone.) Is Damien Darhk (and H.I.V.E.) the new Big Bad, and can he/they succeed where Ra’s failed in the spring? Is the entire CW-verse about to reset because of the finale events in The Flash? I think Arrow has a strong bounce-back season in it, but I’ve not sure the angle.
Looking back: This show had the best lead character on television this year, in my opinion, as you’ll note from John’s placement in that post. It had solid supporting characters, though it only sometimes took advantage of them. And it had moments of true greatness — I freaking loved the Anne Marie episodes and the fall finale, especially the use of the Rising Darkness, Brujeria, and the Invunche. But it also had such mediocrity to go with that framework. The show mostly used a demon-of-the-week format that was almost never compelling. It didn’t build up its big picture fast enough or with a good Big Bad representation. And as a result, it ended up a very fun show on the strengths of its characters, but also a disappointing show on the weaknesses of its plots.
Looking forward: NBC canceled the show after its short 13-episode run, which was disappointing but understandable. There was some initial hope that another network could pick it up (I don’t know why Syfy didn’t; that should have been a no-brainer for everyone involved), but now, that too looks unlikely. So, goodbye Constantine, and especially goodbye to actor Matt Ryan’s freaking perfect portrayal of the Hellblazer himself.
4. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Looking back: AoS had a really strong first half of the season, taking my top spot in the winter rankings and looking so full of potential (despite its unfortunate waste of actor B.J. Britt’s charming Agent Triplett). But the second half fell apart in a bad way, with the “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D. plotline turning the show into absolute garbage for a while, with almost every character acting insane and irrational, including the keeping of ridiculously unnecessary secrets (why couldn’t Coulson have told at least May about the helicarrier?) and ridiculously bad character turns (Agent Simmons’ casual pro-murder stance). And then, it suddenly became awesome again with a surprise twist leading to an excellent season finale that only The Flash’s finale could equal.
Looking forward: Andy already covered where we go from here on a character-by-character basis. The most intriguing to me is his Dark Simmons idea, because I would rather the show just embrace that and take her full villain than continue her weird second-half characterization. The only other thing I’ll add is that the show needs to take a page from Flash‘s book and embrace its comic book-y side. I shouldn’t be so bothered by the refusal to ever call anything or anyone by its comic book name, but I am. Embrace the weirdness, man. Just because you can’t play with the A-list heroes and villains doesn’t mean you can’t give us a little more than just Deathlok and original Inhumans creations.
3. Agent Carter
Looking back: The show really nailed a fun adventure ride of spy thrillers while embracing some comics goodness by giving us the early Doctor Faustus and Black Widow. Peggy was a great anchor character, and most of her supporting cast was a lot of fun too, particularly the great version of Jarvis. The rampant sexism of the era was almost like a character itself, which was an important historical accuracy, but could feel at times like it overwhelmed the story.
Looking forward: Season 2 will apparently take Peggy to Hollywood, but we know little else. More appearances by Howard Stark or the Howling Commandos would be welcome; I’d love to see Dum Dum Dugan become a series regular. But my main hope is that we arrive at the place where we left Peggy in the Agent Carter One-Shot: getting the call that she’ll run S.H.I.E.L.D. The showrunners previously said that would never happen (or, essentially, that it would be the end point of the series), but I hope they reconsider, or at least find other ways to get Peggy into more places of authority. I think seeing her constantly looked past and discriminated against will eventually cease to be good TV.
2. The Flash
Looking back: What an interesting first season for The Flash. Its first half had a lot of rough moments (looking at you, Girder), and even the mostly excellent second half had its bumps, as well. It was clearly a show finding its footing, and growing more confident as it went along. But when it was good, it was better than anything else on this list. It embraced its comic book origins so strongly and with such a sense of fun that it just kept getting better and better, hitting on Flash’s excellent cast of villains to really reach another level. It was so good near the end, including a wonderful finale, that part of me wants to put it #1. But the fact remains that at least about a quarter of its episodes this season just weren’t very good. That has to matter in these rankings, I think. Flash‘s bad was bad, and its good was the best. Only a series that was more consistently hitting very high points can top it.
Looking forward: I have no idea! That finale leaves so many unanswered questions. Shouldn’t Barry’s mom be alive now? And the real Dr. Wells? Is the timeline going to reset? Hell, is the entire CW-verse about to have a new status quo now? I don’t know. How will the start of Legends of Tomorrow affect The Flash? The show had really hit its stride with Captain Cold, and we were right on the verge of The Rogues, and now Snart is at least going to have to split time between two series. There are a lot of questions marks, but I think this show now knows what it is and can navigate them.
Looking back: The first season was a gritty masterpiece that might be as good as almost anything to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The acting was spot-on, the characters were engaging, and the fight scenes were often transcendent. Even Matt’s black costume grew on me; hopefully the new, real Daredevil suit will, too. This was such a great proof of how Marvel can go darker and still maintain what makes its cinematic universe so fun.
Looking forward: It sounds likely that Elektra will enter, after being teased in Season 1. One imagines this will go head-in-hand with The Hand playing a much larger role. Vincent D’Onofrio’s excellent Kingpin will of course be in the thick as well, though in what capacity will be interesting to see. I would also like to see the show start developing more of DD’s extended rogues gallery; I’m glad they held off on Bullseye for a season, and wouldn’t necessarily mind if they held off again in Season 2, but bringing more non-gangsters in could be nice (looking at you, Stilt-Man!). It’ll also be interesting to see how the next additions to the Marvel/Netflix venture affect this show, if at all yet; we know The Defenders are eventually happening, but I can’t imagine this Daredevil as part of a team yet. In any event, I have little doubt that bringing this whole group back will result in more great things.
So that wrap up my series of rankings. What (if anything) did I get right, and what (if not everything) did I get wrong? Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again in the fall with even more of these shows, as superheroes work toward taking over the entirety of TV and film.