Superhero TV Roundup

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The Flash and Agents of SHIELD lead the charge in quality superhero content on the small screen.
The Flash and Agents of SHIELD lead the charge in quality superhero content on the small screen.

It’s a good time to love superheroes.

With Agents of SHIELD’s second season coming to a close with an insane finish and The Flash’s first racing to a finale that is sure to be as awesome and endearing as the rest of the season, it seems like a good time to step back and take a look at the TV horizon.

As a diehard comics fan and superhero fanatic there’s no danger of burnout when the shows are as good as what’s on TV now, and what is to come. And there’s so much potential for diversity of tone in superhero stories that I think even a general audience is getting the message that superhero stories aren’t all the same.

 

Agents of SHIELD
Agents of SHIELD

To journey into the future, we must begin in the past. Agents of SHIELD was really the first show in this emerging superhero TV era. Sure, I think, technically, Arrow premiered first but that still feels like it’s of a different time… It started out as the old guard superhero show, embarrassed to admit its comic book roots. The character couldn’t have a real codename or a mask. No superpowers. It was real. And serious. SHIELD, on the other hand, was tied directly to its big screen brothers and sisters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This both helped and hampered it in its first season. I’ll admit that even I didn’t love the first season. It couldn’t figure out its tone or its characters at first, and was burdened with some sloppy crossovers. Eventually it started finding its way after establishing its characters and moved on from being a simple freak-of-the-weak procedural.  Then Winter Soldier happened and blew the whole dang thing up. The episodes in the wake of Hydra and the fall of SHIELD were like a new series. The second half of SHIELD proved that despite some weaknesses, the time it took setting up its six characters and their relationships were worth it. With mistrust and betrayal and questions about what could come next, the series became much more exciting.

That momentum carried it into season 2 which has been a much, much better show. There’s still some pacing issues. A couple episodes have essentially just tread water to extend the show’s mysteries, but overall it’s an exciting ride. Season 2 also saw an expanded cast, with new characters: Mac, freelancer Hunter, and Bobbi Morse (the comics’ Mockingbird). Each of these characters brought new elements to the show, along with the fallout of the first season. The change in Fitz, Simmons and Skye provided a lot of great drama. One major loss was Brett Dalton’s Ward who, having betrayed SHIELD, was ostracized from the rest of the cast. While Ward was originally the most boring character of the series, his surprise turn made him one of the most interesting, and Dalton played this new element of the character perfectly. The few times he was able to interact with everyone else this season were some of the highlights, but unfortunately, because he was on his own he ended up being left out for much of the time.

Most importantly, SHIELD became an underdog story, which is a lot easier to root for than a super-NSA/FBI hybrid.

Season 2 has also seen the inclusion of a lot more comic book elements. It brought in an actual character from the books as a major player (Adrian Palicki’s Bobbie Morse, who is charming and badass), as well as villains like The Absorbing Man and Mr. Hyde.

OH! Mr. Hyde. In the show he’s only referred to as Cal. He’s portrayed by national treasure Kyle MacLachlan and was easily the single best thing about Agents of SHIELD season 2. Period. Damn fine actor.

It’s also been able to dive into other aspects of the MCU, like the Kree and even Asgard. The major wrinkle we saw this last year on SHIELD was the inclusion of the superpowered INHUMANS, a comic book concept that I’ve always found aggressively boring. I’m still not terribly excited about them, but their subplot provided a lot of tension and mystery that propelled the series. It also provided major character growth for Skye, who has developed from an annoying know-it-all character into a dynamic, well rounded and sympathetic hero. It was also the reason CAL existed on this show. Seriously, watch Agents of SHIELD even if it’s just for Kyle MacLachlan. The inclusion of the Inhumans also gave the series a sense of purpose and drive, which it desperately needed.

Notably, SHIELD has become one of the most female-driven shows on TV, which I think is just really great. It would’ve been easy for the series to be all about guys bein’ dudes, but it made room for a number of women to really steal the show. Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson remains the steady anchor, an affable everyman with a twinkle in his eye that makes his character irresistibly likable. SHIELD is not perfect television, but it finally knows what it is, and how to make exciting stories full of interesting and fun to watch characters. And the finale was nuts. My point is, Agents of SHIELD season 2 is the show you wanted it to be in the first place.

The FlashThe Flash. Oh, The Flash. Flash, Flash, Flash, Flash, Flash. The Flash is the superhero show I’ve always wanted. It is a show about a good guy running around saving people having a good time and doing the right thing. It’s a show about  a guy who runs really fast fighting a dude with an ice gun, a dude with a flamethrower, a guy who controls the weather, and Mark Hamill with a bunch of explosive toys.

This is a superhero show made by people who love superhero stories. It wasted no time getting Barry Allen into costume. The only thing keeping us from getting Gorilla Grodd immediately was introducing the audience to enough crazy comic book ridiculousness (Flash ran so fast to stop a giant wave from destroying the entire city he ran himself back in TIME!!!) to let us buy a talking psychic gorilla. And when we finally got him, we got the best episode of the entire season. Grodd was genuinely terrifying. The show embraces its comic book roots, but treats it with respect, a straight face, and takes it seriously. And when the creators respect and take seriously their source material, you get a show that is unafraid to break every rule about what a television show is supposed to be, a show unafraid of whether or not fans will “accept” what is happening. When the creators are confident in the material, you get a show that can have fun. The Flash is a far cry from the ultra depressing trailer for Batman v Superman and the color sapped melodrama of Man of Steel. Barry Allen is a good guy who wants to save as many people as he can. And it’s great. 

Grant Gustin is effortlessly charming as forensic scientist (at least that’s what his title is, he hardly does any of that and is a TV scientist, so basically he knows any kind of science) Barry Allen. His supporting cast is full of fantastic actors and characters. Jesse L. Martin brings gravitas and genuine emotion as surrogate father Joe West. Then there’s characters like Cisco Ramon, the goofy genius played by Carlos Valdes. Flash also has his budding rogues gallery, headlined by Captain Cold, portrayed with a fantastic sneer by Wentworth Miller. There’s also Tom Cavanagh, proving that he can do a lot more than play the goofy smart aleck. Harrison Wells is an amazing, layered performance that balances so many different things. It’s the best thing he’s ever done. Saying more is a spoiler, but not much of one.

Flash has been picked up for season 2, and given that it started off strong and only got better, I can’t wait to see where it goes. Early episodes are a little weaker, trying to shake off the burden of CW teen drama expectations, but it quickly kicks into full-on comic book, soap opera fun. It might not be the best thing on TV, but for my money it is the most fun and exciting show out there. I can’t remember the last series that so regularly had me on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding from excitement. It’s that good.

Agent_Carter_Official_Logo

Marvel’s Agent Carter was a longshot for a second season, but it seems fan pressure was enough to give Peggy another go. Picking up shortly after the end of the second World War and the events of the first Captain America, Agent Carter finds Peggy trying to adjust to peace time. She has to face sexism and discrimination in 1940s New York. Pride won’t let her quit, and she is desperate to reclaim the respect and influence she had during the war and knows that she deserves. Her coworkers back at home don’t care what her past may have been, all they see is a woman who doesn’t know her place. When Howard Stark (Tony’s dad) is framed and his inventions go missing, he recruits Peggy to clean up his mess. Which she does expertly and while taking no crap from anyone. She’s got all the makings of a rockstar feminist icon.

Hayley Attwell is the definition of leading lady. She can do just about anything, and the series is a showcase for her talents as an actor. It is fascinating to watch Peggy, who is very much the same character that we saw in Captain America, in such wildly different circumstances. Agent Carter was an eight episode midseason replacement, so it was in effect, a miniseries with a clear beginning, middle and end for its seasonlong arc. This allowed the show to retain its focus and build toward a great conclusion. It also provided insight into the MCU’s past, and a hint at some of the stuff we saw about Black Widow in Age of Ultron. It was a  unique, breezy adventure completely different than anything else on TV. Season 2 should be even better, and it has the staying potential of a superhero-tinged Mad Men period piece. I hope that they keep James D’Arcy around as Jarvis.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow sort of jumped out of nowhere. There were months of rumors about a new spinoff of both The Flash and Arrow coming to the CW, and suddenly there it was. A strange assortment of returning and new characters are recruited by time traveler Rip Hunter (Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill, all the way on the left there) to stop the evil immortal Vandal Savage. Sound comic booky enough for you yet? The preview looked as much fun and crazy as The Flash, so I’m pretty much sold. The inclusion of the goofy and too-rich-for-his-own-good Ray Palmer (played by former Superman Brandon Routh) is great in and of itself, but throwing in Wentworth Miller’s villainous Captain Cold and newcomer Hawkgirl has me really looking forward to it. It promises to be high concept adventure, which is what DC Comics does at its very best. If you hate superdark grim stories with no fun, then I think you’ll probably be happy with what the CW is doing with the DC heroes. It looks like it will be different enough to stand apart from The Flash, in that it focuses on a dysfunctional team of misfits. Where Arrow has been about a journey through darkness, and Flash about using ones gifts responsibly, Legends looks to be asking the question, what makes a hero? Check out the just released preview here, and see for yourself!

 

CBS gave the go ahead on this new Supergirl series before they even had a pilot. With the same production team behind The Flash and Arrow, that’s not surprising. Supergirl promises to be an exciting and fun look into the life of a young, inexperienced hero who lives in the shadow of her much more famous cousin. I think you’ve heard of him. Watch the preview and decide for yourself, but I think it looks like a great time. I’m really rooting for it, because we really need more room for women headliners in the superhero universe, and Supergirl looks like she’ll be a great role model for young girls. With a breezy, eager tone apparent in the clips on display here, CBS should have a family-friendly winner on its hands.

Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, and David Tennant on the set of AKA Jessica Jones
Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, and David Tennant on the set of AKA Jessica Jones

I’d be remiss if I did not mention Marvel’s slate of Netflix series. We already saw the stellar first season of Daredevil, whose production values and quality took the internet by storm. Still ahead of us are AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Defenders, not to mention Daredevil season 2. These series are still a bit of a wild card, in that we don’t know how different they all will be from one another, but they seem like a much safer bet following the success of Daredevil than they did before then. I would expect them to all feel familiar to one another in that they have a smaller scope than the other Marvel projects, but I would be shocked if they tread the same ground as Daredevil. I know one thing is for sure, though, there’s going to be a lot of binging to do in the next few years.

arrowgothammockingbird

Rounding out the forecast are some odds and ends. Yes, Gotham is still around. No, I don’t watch it. It lost me pretty early on. It had nothing to do with “But it’s different from the comics! How can Riddler be an adult if Bruce is a kid!” and everything to do with the show just…not being very good. I missed a few episodes right around the midseason finale when it seemed like it might be getting good(ish), but it wasn’t good enough to compel me to continue watching. Bad dialogue, hammy acting, and laughable, overly glorified violence. Yawn.

I also don’t really keep up with Arrow, but I have heard generally positive things about it. Stephen Amell seems like a cool guy, but what I’ve seen of “The Arrow” on The Flash has not really made me want to go and watch his show. But then, I like my Green Arrow more along the lines of blonde goatee, robin hood cap, boxing glove arrow kinda guy. (Basically I’m saying I want a show based on Green Arrow from Justice League Unlimited.)

Marvel also sounds like they have more stuff in the works. There’s a mystery series in production from producer John Ridley. Descriptions of that are vague and generally talk about something a little more diverse. A lot of people are throwing around the Kamala Kahn Miss Marvel character, who happens to be Muslim. But I haven’t seen any basis for that rumor. There’s also been talks about a spinoff following two characters from SHIELD, Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter. These two are the dysfunctional power couple of the series and two of my favorite parts of SHIELD. I’ve heard conflicting reports that it is both dead and not yet dead, so it’s a bit of a Schrodinger’s cat kinda situation right now. Personally, I don’t want to lose Palicki and Nick Blood from the ensemble, so I hope the show doesn’t go forward.

TNT just delayed production on its “Titans” series, which is to be generally based on the groundbreaking New Teen Titans comic book by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. That is set to follow Dick Grayson, the original Robin, setting out on his own to get out of Batman’s shadow. Who knows if that’ll actually get made. NBC also just canceled Constantine which is only vaguely a superhero book, but I thought I’d mention that.

Between what Marvel is doing in the movie theaters and everything coming to television, I feel like comic book fans have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. So, which show are you most looking forward to?

 

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