Sort of super: Successes and failures in modern attempts to bring superheroes to the television screen
By BEN RAUZI (@benrauzi)
Photo credit goes to moviepilot.com.
(WARNING: Spoilers related to “Arrow,” “The Flash, “Gotham,” “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
If you had come to me to discuss this topic a year ago, I would have answered you with enthusiastic gusto. I would have launched into some big speech about how both “Gotham” and “The Flash” had phenomenal first seasons; I was waiting on the edge of my seat for season two of each.
I then would have gone on to respectfully explain how Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Arrow” had continued to successfully create entertaining episodes following their respective tones and plotlines. While they hadn’t captured my attention like the aforementioned smashing successes, they were still quite enjoyable. Things can change a lot in a year.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen, as season four of “Arrow” has been the most disappointing season of television I have watched. Season one and two of “Arrow” had me by the scruff of my neck, tossing my emotions around with every tantalizing twist and turn of the story. I was strongly considering it a candidate to be one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Flash forward one year (no Barry Allen puns intended), and I find myself more depressed with every episode of “Arrow” I watch.
In hindsight, I probably should have seen the hints in season three of the atrocities to come this year. With every episode, Felicity Smoak had an increasingly large role, for whatever mind-boggling reason the writers chose. Somehow, someway, a serviceable side character has been escalated to the level of most important character -- yes, even more important than billionaire Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow.
Set aside the fact that I find Felicity Smoak to be the most unbearably annoying character in the show, it still makes zero sense that for every episode centered around the show’s titular character, there is one centered around this unimportant tech geek. I’m sure her comic book creators, Gerry Conway and Rafael Kayanan, are as shocked as I am to see her inheriting such a large role. I need to take a deep breath; I’m fuming about the whole thing just thinking about it.
"I find myself more depressed with every episode of 'Arrow' I watch."
"Arrow." Photo credit goes to moviepilot.com.
Instead of continuing to take potshots at Felicity, I will instead explain some of the other catastrophic mistakes the writers or “Arrow” have made this season. There has been a drastic change in the overarching tone of the show. Instead of continuing with the widely adored dark and even Batman-esque qualities, they instead opted to go for the lighter approach adopted by “The Flash.”
Why on earth would a show so successful for its dark, no-way-out, lots-of-death-and-destruction, there-are-no-winners attitude adopt such a side? Sure, “The Flash” was a rousing success, but they doesn’t mean you should abandon an already winning formula for another successful idea?
DC has fallen into this trap with its most recent movies, as well. Christopher Nolan created Gotham City and Batman in a way no one has in the past, or ever will again. His dark and grimy tone perfectly matched that of the bat’s comic book crusades. Yet, this is not a tone meant to be applied to all DC characters.
Superman is no Dark Knight. Rather, he is a beacon of hope and a light of justice for all. In “Man of Steel," he is portrayed as a sad man with a dark past and no friends on which to lean. Superman, much like The Flash, should be a happy character that everyone can look up to as a model of all that is good. Oliver Queen is portrayed as a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and that is how he became Green Arrow. Yet, the show has tried to take away his dark side and make him into a mirroring of Barry Allen.
My message to the minds behind “Arrow”: Go back to what made the show successful at the beginning. That is how you will recapture the attention of your audience.
This message can be applied to “The Flash” as a warning. While fresh and new plot points must be incorporated, do not fall into the same traps “Arrow” has. Stay true to what makes your show enthralling. This season of “The Flash” has been very good, it but has shown me glimpses of mistakes made by “Arrow.”
The whole parallel universe plot point is an excuse to bring dead characters back to life, in the form of their parallel self’s. Such antics makes each subsequent death in the show much less emotional, as it is impossible to tell whether a character is actually dead. “Arrow” fell into this trap with Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus pit bringing both Thea Queen and Sarah Lance back from the dead.
The death of Laurel Lance this season seemed less believable as a result. “Arrow” is known for having very emotional episodes following a character’s death to bring about a lesson and turning point for all of the characters. The lack of belief in Laurel’s death resulted in an episode that would usually be great to seem tedious and uneventful. If “The Flash” can divert from such plot lines, the show can maintain its level of quality viewing experience.
"I would consider it the best television show on air right now."
"Gotham." Photo credit goes to screenrant.com.
Characters like Cisco Ramon and Harrison Wells have carried the show through any questionable thematic elements, and I look forward to the finale because of it. If only The CW’s shows could follow such an upward ascension as “Gotham,” which has become increasingly better with each subsequent episode. I would consider it the best television show on air right now (of shows that I have seen, of course).
What began as an interesting take on the ever common and popular police television dramas has quickly branched into an elaborate and in-depth view at the rise of crime and super villains in Gotham City. In other words, the comic book nerd’s paradise. It takes the definition of origin story to the next level, as Bruce Wayne is only about twelve years old in the time period the story takes place in.
We get to see just what motivates Bruce Wayne to become the Batman and exactly how he learns to be the caped crusader and crime fighting hero so loved throughout the world. As Gotham waits for the Batman, detective Jim Gordon must deal with the new class of villain rising from the ashes left by Bruce’s parent’s murder. We see every horrifying origin of Batman’s worst nemeses, while Gordon struggles to be a cop without corruption in a city where you must corrupt yourself to stay ahead of the game and keep your own head.
I have almost nothing bad to say about this show. It is the most intricate and unique origin story I have ever encountered, and it is always entertaining. My one suggestion to the creators would be to watch their casting carefully. The man who portrays Hugo Strange in season two is hard for me to take seriously, as his acting seems very forced. Overall, this represents the best of what superhero action/dramas have to offer.
That brings us to Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Much like everything Marvel does, it is, at its worst, an average show. Unfortunately, it has been painfully average at times. However, it is worth it to fight through the doldrums of the show, because the good episodes are phenomenal. This show fits perfectly into the Marvel universe, and I will always admire Clark Gregg’s impersonation of Phil Coulson.
If not for any other reason, the show is worth it just to see Gregg work his magic, as a mysterious secret keeper and yet straightforward and trustworthy leader. Nick Fury’s right hand man is a hero in his own right. While I would say some of the supporting acting is questionable at times (I have a particular dislike for Skye/Daisy), overall the good outweighs the bad. If you are looking for the best of the best, this isn’t that. Marvel has, however, discovered how to provide quality entertainment through many mediums, whether or not the show happens to be the best thing on television.
"Much like everything else Marvel does, it is, at worst, an average show. Unfortunately, it has been painfully average at times."
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Photo credit goes to flickeringmyth.com.
Marvel has also teamed up with Netflix to provide two series that fly far above all others. While they aren’t television shows in the traditional sense -- seeing as Netflix releases all of a season’s episodes at once -- “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” are the pinnacle of fifty-minute-episode entertainment. Hell’s Kitchen represents the darkest and grimiest of criminal underworlds, and that tone is reflected in both shows with their dark and adult plotlines. The best part about these shows are how well written they are.
The plotlines are always entertaining and not easily predictable, with many twists and turns to keep viewers on edge. As far as television action sequences go, these are the best, as they have movie quality martial arts scenes as well as your typical beating-the-crap-out-of-various-henchman action. Relatable and well-developed characters seal the deal, as these are the most watchable and enjoyable Netflix Originals for adult superhero fans.
In conclusion, superheroes in modern television are both a smashing success and a disappointing rollercoaster ride. “Gotham” and “The Flash” represent the best of the best, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” represents the good enough and “Arrow represents” just how badly things can end up going when writers aren’t careful. Netflix is, of course, leading the race in premiere television entertainment with “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.”
I highly encourage all superhero fans to check out these shows, no matter how harsh I may have been (I’m so sorry, “Arrow”… but not really), as I believe each show has provided top notch entertainment for myself, whether or not it has done so consistently. Don’t just take my word for it. Go out and form your own opinions on these shows and how super they truly are.