Three years ago, CW’s Smallville was polishing off its 10 (!) season run, leaving the small screen bereft of superhero television. With Marvel’s big screen initiative exploding, this left a power vacuum. Fast forward to 2014, and superheroes of all kinds are practically bursting out of our TV screens, with a new comic book adaptation announced on a new network practically every day, and dozens more rumored. Last week it was Supergirl on CBS. Inevitably it’ll be Howard the Duck on Cinemax. It’s hard to keep track, even for the most devoted.
It’s an exciting time for comic book nerds. I went from hiding my comic book addiction in high school to being proud of it, a kind of hipster snob, knowing all these heroes before it was cool. Superhero movies and shows have a higher bar, greater expectations, and a lot of competition. As such, for every week of the 2014-2015 television season, I plan on discussing the various superhero TV shows that grace NBC, CW, FOX, Netflix, what have you. I’m still waiting for Lifetime’s Witches of The Astral Plane.
Based on what I’ve seen and know, and my biases, what follows is a ranking of the superhero shows going into this Season of the Superhero.
8. iZombie (CW)
It’s a testament to the comic book TV show crop that a Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down) produced show with a female protagonist is entrenched in last place. But zombie fatigue and the fact that the cool premise of a zombie gaining memories of those she eats will mostly be used as a procedural ploy for another cop show, albeit a supernatural one, drags it down. Plus, the delay to midseason and its recasting doesn’t exactly leave me brimming with hope. I was intrigued to see it at Comic-Con, but it was pulled from Preview Night without an announcement, and replaced by a truly bizarre, unsettling Brony episode of Teen Titans Go!. In so doing, iZombie, deserving or not, was put on my shit list.
7. The Flash (CW)
Everyone is a lot more excited for this show than I am, and that’s even among people who have seen the clunky, cheesy pilot. Yes, Grant Gustin is adorable and it’ll be nice to see a show not defined by its grit and its Christopher Nolan-ness, but if the pilot is any indication, that means we’re in for Smallville 2.0. Which is fine, but I think we can all say we’ve moved past that. As aforementioned, the standard for superhero TV has certainly risen. Flash is also burdened with this holier than thou insistence on defining what a “hero” is all the time, like a re-run of Spider-Man… or Arrow (WE FLIPPIN’ GET IT).
I love that they’re quickly bringing the Rogues into the picture, that Gorilla Grodd may actually happen, but I’m skeptical Wentworth Miller can pull off the Captain Cold I’ve always envisioned. He’s my favorite Rogue, by far. I also wonder if the show can afford to make the kind of SFX required; Flash isn’t Robin Hood/Arrow. Casting Tom Cavanaugh and the fact that John Wesley Shipp (original Flash/THE Mitch Leary) is on the show makes me happy inside, and Flash/Arrow crossovers sound fun, with an eye toward DC building a mini-verse on the CW. Fun seems like the operative adjective for Flash. That’s not a bad thing, but I don’t know if it leaves me with particularly high expectations.
6. Gotham (FOX)
It’s been labeled as the top new show by Andy Greenwald, my more talented doppelganger, and the most promising fall show by people who presumably know something (TCA).
After watching this Monday’s pilot (AKA “The Case of the Shiny Shoes”), I’ve become even less enthused about Gotham. It’s a show that’s marketed as a prequel to Batman, without Batman, yet it can’t help but stuff every scene with a joke, nod, Easter Egg or character from the Bat-verse. When Bullock tells Edward Nygma, the Gotham CSI, “if I want riddles, I’d read the funny books,” it’s as if Gotham is puffing out its chest at how clever it is. But it’s not; most of the references are cheesy, ridiculous and painful. I wonder if this is the directive from FOX, because Bruno Heller, on the surface, appears to be concerned with crafting a dark, old-fashioned cop show. Of course, if that’s the case, he shouldn’t have set it in Gotham City.
The pilot is so distracted by a murder we’ve seen committed umpteen times (and likely positions the mystery as the central season-long arc), that it doesn’t really give any of the characters something interesting to play. Logue’s Harvey Bullock was a reason to be optimistic, but Harvey is a composite of every drunk, corrupt cop we’ve ever seen, complete with a flask, perpetual hangover, douchey hat, greasy hair and Pepto Bismol. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney says things like “Who’s this cool glass of milk?” and means them seriously. She’s so over the top, that Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin, in case the billion references fly over your head), a snivelly, effeminate creep, seems almost normal.
There were reasons for optimism. Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon was the best part, and that’s reassuring, since he’s presumably the star when we’re not worrying about all of the origin stories inching forward. He’s the lone beacon of honor in Gotham, and it’s easy to root for McKenzie in that role. He’s stolid, honest, with anger behind his eyes. He still hasn’t escaped Chino/the war. The show also improves as the hour drones on, when the case expands, and Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Penguin references become less visible. It’s weird to almost want less comic book stuff, but if what we’ve gotten in the pilot is any indication, then that’s exactly what Gotham needs. It might be the only way it doesn’t collapse in on itself.
The appearance of Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen from the Major Crimes Unit bring rays of hope, that this show might just be more Gotham Central than the X-Men: Evolution equivalent of Batman. But really, it just serves to make me wish that it was an adaptation of Gotham Central and aired on HBO.
5. Constantine (NBC)
John Constantine has his die-hard fans, and the show’s been under fire for shrouding his penchant for smoking and bisexuality. Sensitive Constantine fans have been down this road before; they were burned before by the 2005 film that inexplicably starred Keanu Reeves in the titular role.
David S. Goyer, the pinnacle of mediocrity and writer of EVERYTHING DC does explains that he still smokes, and still may be bisexual, but didn’t feel the need to show it. That’s mostly a cop out, but I also kind of buy it, in spite of myself (I at least get why they don’t want to show a hero smoking, though this kind of thing should be rectified by its late Friday night time slot). Because of these omissions, people think Constantine is gonna be lite/Diet/light Constantine, but judging by the impressive pilot, I don’t think that’s the case. The Friday slot takes away the pressure and lets NBC dial up the crazy (but nothing as crazy as gay sex and cigarettes!). I think it’s going to be a lot like Sleepy Hollow, but less silly (and less John Noble, which is unfortunate). I liked Liv (Lucy Griffiths) in the pilot, so it was certainly weird that she was shown the door, but if the writers mean what they say, and that they chose Zed as her replacement to quicken the pace, jump into the mythology, and pair Constantine with an equal, to avoid the chosen one/origin story/coming to grips with her power BS we’ve all seen before, then I think it’s ballsy and a breath of fresh air on the show’s part. Unlike Gotham and Flash, I think Constantine benefits from having low expectations, and could be the perfect kind of cult show to pair with Grimm on NBC’s Friday night.
4. Arrow (CW)
This will get me a lot of flack. I love Arrow (see: last season’s sarcastic recaps), but I also kind of hate it, because it is so ridiculous sometimes (the island hair, the island itself, everyone’s dialogue except Felicity’s, “I will save this city,” its superhero shortcuts, Caity Lotz), and relies on the same heroic motifs over and over, slamming it into your skull like a jolt of mirakuru, another super soldier plot. I know that’s part of the mythology of Arrow and all superhero shows, but it’s exhausting. I hope the new flashback location will breathe new life into that segment of the show (and am excited to see another side of Oliver’s past), and while I’m bummed by the white Ra’s al Ghul casting, Ra’s is about the only villain this show could reasonably portray that could top Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson at this point. I’ll always watch this show because of the characters, and John Barrowman becoming a series regular again alone is probably enough to put it in the top 3, but I’m more excited about the others going forward. Katie Cassidy opened my eyes with The Scribbler, but it’d take divine intervention to look forward to her eventual emergence as Black Canary at this point.
Read my live-blog of Arrow‘s San Diego Comic-Con panel for more information on Arrow‘s forthcoming third season, which premieres Wednesday, October 8th at 8 PM.
3. Daredevil (Netflix)
This rating should have an asterisk, because I’m kind of cheating, and ranking Daredevil with a dash of what follows it: the revolutionary Netflix initiative that will feature Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage miniseries, following by a Hell’s Kitchen team-up called The Defenders for some reason. Probably because I want a Steve Englehart/Steve Gerberian gonzo Defenders movie with Dr. Strange, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Namor and other impossible things, I wish the crossover was called Marvel Knights or Hell’s Kitchen, or Daredevil’s Super Friends (not really), but it doesn’t lessen my excitement for what Marvel has planned here.
The Netflix model is PERFECT for Marvel’s cohesive, interconnected cinematic/TV universe, and it’ll (theoretically) allow Marvel to push the envelope with some darker, more adult storytelling and themes. We could get a Daredevil series that is more Frank Miller and/or (the good version of) Brian Michael Bendis, hopefully taking into account Alex Maleev and David Mack’s orgasmic visual style. I have no preconceived notions of Charlie Cox (who will play Matt Murdock), but everyone else that Marvel has hired on this project is awesome (Vincent D’Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Rosario Dawson, a guy from Mighty Ducks). Former showrunner Drew Goddard’s departure was sad (he went to work on the potentially doomed Sinister Six movie), but Steven S. DeKnight has just as good a track record, with his similar Buffy and Angel roots, and the unrivaled delights of Spartacus.
I tend to rank with an eye on potential rather than certainty, so this could blow up in my face, but Daredevil might have the highest potential of all of these shows. Plus, if this show and the Defenders conceit is successful, we’ll surely see a Moon Knight TV show. And that’s important.
2. Agent Carter (ABC)
Most short season shows are better, more exciting, necessitating a tighter story, and that will behoove Agent Carter. You can’t waste any time in 8 episodes. It’s nice just to know that we won’t have to worry about reruns when it comes to S.H.I.E.L.D. programming; we just have to buckle up and travel in time to a time before noxious acronyms.
If successful, the format could inspire some other fun Marvel miniseries/short shows (Cloak & Dagger, maybe that’s how Runaways will finally happen). I hope/believe there’s a very real possibility we see Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, which would KICK ASS (in two scenes he’s been the second best villain in the MCU after Loki), and really, I just think this show has the best chance of emulating Winter Soldier’s quality, which might be the best Marvel movie (though Guardians might be everyone’s favorite).
Plus, it’s a show predicated on a female hero, and the able Hayley Atwell, and we’ve already seen Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark attached, James D’Arcy as the human version of Jarvis, Dollhouse extraordinaire Enver Gjokaj as a member of the SSR, and Chad Michael Murray around to hopefully die a tremendously painful death. I originally had this #1, until a certain show premiered last night.
1. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Read my recap of 2×01, “Shadows,” HERE.
Any doubt that I had on whether Marvel/ABC knew they can no longer rest on the Marvel prefix of the show’s title like much of the first season tried to do was erased by the second season premiere, which didn’t skip a beat from the awesome run the first season ended on. We got Absorbing Man, a new MacGuffin, a new Big Bad (the underrated Reed Diamond as the Kraken/Daniel Whitehall), heartbreaking stuff (Fitz) and creepy stuff (Ward). Plus, Mockingbird is coming, with Adrianne Palicki given a chance to erase the sting of David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman.
Amazingly, in spite of one of the most frustrating seasons of a show in recent memory, AOS somehow came away with an ensemble full of characters I care about (even Skye), along with a TON of questions and plot avenues to explore. I think the movies will mostly stray from SHIELD and Hydra, or at least the stuff that Coulson’s team will have to deal with, so I think AOS has more freedom to explore the world, one that hopefully is much more Marvel tinged.
If only Peter MacNicol hadn’t signed onto CSI: Cyber and he had brought James Van der Beek along with him, to join the cast. If that had happened, I would end this weekly rundown immediately, because no superhero show could hope to compete. But it’s early. Gotham could doom itself with such a poor start, or because we have a tendency to over react to opening weeks and premieres, maybe we’ll look back at Gotham‘s pilot as a fluke.