Looking at Super Televsion
Last week I looked our television consumption overall and my friend Pat brought up the second season of Gotham which got me to thinking about the abundance of comic-based television currently airing. I have not seen the second season of the CW’s iZombie so have nothing to say here although those I know watching it, like it a lot and it sounds like Rob Thomas is having fun producing it.
Pat mentioned Gotham because last year I had nothing good to say about it. Despite its high ratings, I found it bared no relationship to the source material and made arbitrary changes to the established characters for some netherworld version of the DC Universe.
I have seen the first half of the second season and the serialized format is an improvement. Once you get past the notion it has any connection to the comics, you have to judge it as a crime drama. I find it still sloppily conceived and poorly written and yet, and yet I still watch it. It is an oddly compelling mess.
The producers are burning through villains and characters with amazing speed with the addition of the Firebug and the Order of St. Dumas in the first half and the arrival of Mister Freeze in the second half. With Sarah Essen dead and Barbara seemingly dead (no body, no proof of death), the show continues to veer further from the comics.
The theme of the series is that of corruption. An already corrupt city has been slowly corrupting Jim Gordon, who continues to think he’s doing the right thing but is increasingly making choices that has him tripping over the morality and ethics line. Similarly, Bruce Wayne’s involvement with Silver St. Cloud saw him doing things that blackens his soul a little and has even worried Selina, who likes that he remains good and mostly innocent.
That Theo Galavan can get a minor to sign away Wayne Enterprises without a lawyer or involvement of the corrupt board beggars the imagination and demonstrates the sloppy writing and thinking that continues to plague the series. Similarly, Galavan’s entire election arc makes no sense whatsoever from declaration to election. The dialogue remains flat and characters strain against their two-dimensional nature.
One reason the show rankles so much is that it pales in comparison with the CW shows that honor the source material, adapting it successfully for the small screen. If anything that plagues Flash and Arrow is that so many episodes are devoted to expanding the DC Televerse with new heroes and villains that the main cast gets short shrift. I applaud the worldbuilding and like how they’ve set up the forthcoming Legends of the DC Universe but wish it was a little more confined to the excellent November crossover.
Another concern is that characters like Thea and Iris, even Barry, appear not to have friends beyond the core cast. They had lives before powers and yet no real social life to speak of which I think robs them of some interesting challenges.
Part of that, I suspect, is the production team’s thorough dislike of secret identities (hence why everyone seems to learn secrets really fast). If Thea had girlfriends to socialize with, why gosh, how could she explain aches and pains or the sudden need to leave the others. By making each show increasingly insular, I feel, takes away from the very grounding that we like about the series.
From the same crew is CBS’ Supergirl and while much has been made about the female empowerment and brilliant casting, it is not without its flaws. First, some of the writing is as ham-fisted as Gotham. Little subtlety and the characters needed rounding and dimension. They have rushed the budding relationship between Cat Grant and Kara Danvers and as we await Monday’s episode, were left with Cat guessing Kara’s secret. Just to make a point, I think, Jimmy revealed Clark Kent’s identity to Winn recently.
Another problem is that the show follows the CW template too closely with Supergirl having support from the DEO and Jimmy and Winn (son of the Toyman no less!) with their own computer-laden lair. And we’re already rushing through character introductions as we’ve met Reactron, Jemm, and the Martian Manhunter. Now I hear female heroes may be coming in as well long before Supergirl/Kara clearly establishes herself. The focus really should be on her and her adjustment to being a hero, a sister, and a good employee.
There’s also a cheap feel about the series with the Red Tornado looking like he was designed for $1.98 and the DEO remains in shadow rather than building complete sets.
On the other hand, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. belongs in the shadows and likes it there. The third season has been about growth and development with the embracing of the Inhumans. Yes, we have another secret agency and the death of Constance Zimmer’s character was pleasantly surprising. The parallel world and its monster has proven to be the Big Bad of the season and how this plays out will be interesting. The one thing the show does better than the CW shows is keeping its focus on the main cast and their relationships which has been nicely maturing and evolving.
Maybe it was because it was only eight episodes, but Agent Carter was refreshing and engaging. The acting, production design, and writing was sharp. It nicely adds to the backstory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a variety of ways without suffocating the main story. Getting two more episodes for the second season is an encouraging sign of faith and I am looking forward to its return.
As good as these are, Netflix’s first two series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, are in a class of their own. Freed from prime time restrictions, the shows were allowed to go dark, really dark. Again, strong writing and casting (I’m looking at you Vincent D’nofrio) made these joys to watch. They take the source material and the parameters of the movies and find their own corner to develop. Sure, there may have been some pacing issues for both shows, and I can quibble over Ben Urich’s death, but overall, these are strong television shows that just happen to have comic book roots.
A generation ago, we delighted in faithful animated adaptations but now, we’re enjoying the kind of superhero television we only could have dreamed of and for that I am pleased.