In 2004, after some cajoling from a friend, I dove into an HBO show called Carnivale, featuring a war between good and evil centred around a travelling carnival in the last age of magic, ie. 1930s dustbowl America. It’s… amazing. It was a great show with a great cast and I was sucked into it so deep… and then it was very suddenly over. The creator had a six-year plan for his story, then despite pruning the cast to save money in season two, HBO dropped them after two years. Without warning. And what sucks is that if it had ended five minutes earlier it would have been a nearly perfect finale, but instead…
I have both seasons on DVD. I can see them right now. But how do you recommend people watch a show that was cut down too soon? I guess by stressing that even if the ending comes too quickly, the ride is still worthwhile.
TV shows are like any other story… eventually they end. Sure, we live in the age of revivals, where any show with enough nostalgia value could come back at any moment. You could probably name at least three without even thinking about it. There’s even talk Happy Endings could return, which… don’t… don’t tease me with that. Don’t give me hope and then take it away.
But even with revivals, shows still end all the time. Some end exactly when they’re supposed to, like Chernobyl or Good Omens. Some end long after they probably should have, like The Big Bang Theory. Some end at what’s probably the right time, but still feels too soon… and some are taken from us cruelly early.
It’s those last two we’re going to talk about today, as I say farewell to some friends new and old.
I know I talk a good deal about TV, but that’s because I watch some really great shows that I really want to talk about, but so few people I know have also seen them. Because they’re consuming a bunch of media I’m not, or spending time with their families or whatever people who aren’t media-obsessed shut-ins do.
So while I figure out the best angle to talk about our two days visiting Spain, let’s just briefly sum up some great TV that you should be watching.
Watch it. Watch it all. None of them are all that long.
Six years after the grand adventure that was Dan and Ian Wander Europe, I and a band of friends left for a trek through the Mediterranean. These are our stories.
And the Jellicle Ball of the seas.
On a Boat
The centrepiece of this group trip to Europe was a week-long cruise through the western Mediterranean, hitting spots in Italy, Spain, and a bit of France. This was not my first cruise of the Mediterranean. It was my third, following two back during high school. (Yes, my high school had a Travel Club; yes, I was in it all three years; yes I got course credit for this; no, I’m not sorry.)
It was, however, my first cruise in [coughcoughcough] years, during which they made some advancements to cruise life, such as being able to take a shower while in port and not get tossed about the stall. It was also my first time aboard a cruise line not selected to fit the budget of a couple of dozen high school students. My last two cruises boasted amenities as lush as two or even three bars, and a movie theatre that might even have English languages movies more than once! Or maybe the only English language choice was Grease and you already didn’t like Grease very much and wow do you ever hate Grease now.
This time was… a little fancier than that. The moment I stepped onto the ship, I was in mild disbelief… this was an order of magnitude fancier than my high school experiences. The first thing I saw was not anything that belonged on a boat, it was a full entertainment district, a street with bars and restaurants and shops. This was like an all-inclusive resort that, if you went to the upper decks, you would learn was somehow on a boat.
Well… not exactly like an all-inclusive. It was a most-inclusive. There were several restaurants that were not included in the cost, even with our fancy drink packages*. There were wines that cost more than $13 for a glass, even more than $100 at the fancy wine bar. But staying clear of these places wasn’t hard. Hell, the pizza joint was included, and I barely ever made it there. The buffet for breakfast, the fancy formal restaurant for dinner, lunch on shore, a drink package to cover beers, non-premium wines, and basically any and every cocktail they had, and I had everything I could ask for**.
*Drink packages are, yes, one of the ways they try to drag some more money out of you, but I knew how much I was going to be drinking, so… I went with the one where every drink up to $13 was included, no regrets.
**Some of our party did tend to hit the buffet for a “pre-dinner snack.” One could have made jokes about eating two dinners, maybe something hobbit-related, but I was likely several cocktails in by then so shaming other people’s vacationing didn’t seem the way to go.
The only time the drink package let me down? The website said it would also cover unlimited milkshakes at Johnny Rockets. After several days, I decided it was finally time to get my milkshake… and found out that milkshakes were only included with a purchase of food.
BETRAYED. Betrayed, so I felt.
But still… this place had an entertainment district, multiple theatres, an actual park on our deck with yet more bars and restaurants, one of which we even went to, a casino that was hidden enough we never had to enter it… surely this place was so bursting with entertainment options I wouldn’t end up rewatching some musical I’d already seen twice and didn’t love either time, right? Right?
Six years after the grand adventure that was Dan and Ian Wander Europe, I and a band of friends left for a trek through the Mediterranean. These are our stories.
And that old son-of-a-bitch jet lag.
The second I set foot in central London, I feel a wave of peace and happiness; the knowledge that I am, for a brief while, truly home. The second I arrive in Vancouver, I relax, because the city of Vancouver has taken the emotional place of “the house I grew up in” ever since my parents sold said house. The second I leave Cancun airport I feel… a reminder to chill because my resort is probably still like forty minutes away, and that’s after I find my transport.
Arriving in central Rome I felt… mild anxiety. Because I didn’t really feel… anything. I was in Rome. Rome. The Eternal City. Home of so much history, the setting of so many movies, the former hub of western civilization. After a year of planning, here I was! In Rome! With friends! And I felt… nothing. How could this be? I spent so much money on this vacation, now here I was, why wasn’t I happy?
Okay I know it sounds like I’m starting this new blog series on a down note so let me just cut to the chase and tell you what I told myself that first day… I was so tired. That was the problem. That’s all we’re talking about.
The problem with flying from North America to Europe is that it typically involves landing in what the clocks say is mid to late morning but your body is pretty sure is the very dead of night. If you can sleep on the plane, that helps, but as we’ve covered in the past, I cannot sleep on planes. So I arrived in Rome, having been awake for about 18 hours, very ready for sleep that would not come for many hours more. Because I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I made in Dublin (I’m not linking to it twice, I linked to it two sentences ago, click it or don’t) or Hong Kong and set myself into an untenable sleep schedule by napping mid-day. No, this time I would full-on bully my flesh cage into Italian time by staying up until at least 10 PM, then letting the fact that I’d been awake for 30 hours keep me asleep for the whole night.
So upon arrival, having stashed my luggage at my port of call for the night (I would not check into my actual hotel for another day, once my hotel mates Daisy and Ian had arrived), it was time to find lunch and wander the city to stay awake.
There were, in total, ten of us on the bulk of this trip. Myself, Ian (who I apparently have so many travel stories with that my Peru travel mates made fun of me for bringing him up so much), and Daisy; Daniel, in whose honour this trip was planned, and his essentially-wife Jenn; Daniel’s parents, Ruth and Hugh; his younger brother Noel; his youngest brother Matthew, and his wife Laura. Of these ten, only six of us were currently in Rome. And of those six, four felt they could use a break after the morning’s walking tour, particularly Jenn, who does not enjoy high temperatures, and southern Italy is very warm in June. So Daniel and I went for a stroll, got some pizza, and saw the local sights.
The local sights included the Colosseum. You know, THE Colosseum. If anything aside from a designated smoking area in the airport was going to shout “Welcome to Rome” to me, this had to be it. We had a tour booked in three days, so we just did an orbit, and I lapsed into something I cannot help… the need to play tour guide. Sure Daniel had been in town a day longer than me, but this was his first time in Europe, and my… um… fourth? Fourth time in Rome? Pretty sure it was fourth.
So, yeah, as memories kicked in, everything had a story. Over there is where we saw the Ancient Rome cosplayers hoping to get money for photos (and where we’d see them later), that’s the cafe where we got gelato and mocked Patrick, and that construction site is probably where the wall art depicting the rise of the Roman Empire used to be.
I’d really been hoping to spot those. Daniel is a history buff when it suits him, though I have not been able to lure him into joining me for a binge-watch of HBO’s Rome. I guess they’re now part of a light/projection show they do by the Colosseum at night?
We also discovered an entirely new (to me) scam for tourists.
Now, I know all about the people wanting money for photos. Back in the day I had a pricey encounter with so-called “gypsy” begging women hunting in packs in London. The jags with their mixtapes seem to be a US-only phenomenon, or at least not continental Europe. And the dudes selling cheap souvenirs… in particular an item I can only think of as “splat pigs…” aren’t typically pushy, so they’re mostly harmless. But this one I’d never seen before.
Near the Colosseum, where tourists were thickest, lurked a few black guys. They’d make eye contact, smile, and say “Hey, black and white! Africa!” then zoom in right next to you and try to get a handshake.
We don’t know what happens next. We treated this handshake attempt the same as I treated the mixtape jags after that first run-in… no eye contact, no physical contact, a brisk walking pace is your best defence. So I don’t know what happens if you accept that handshake, but I’m willing to guess it costs at least five Euro. More if you’re not great with confrontation.
Once returned to the hotel, there actually was something close to a nap as I drifted in and out for about half an hour, then dinner at a nearby restaurant, where I saw mozzarella and prosciutto in one dish and said “I’m having that,” and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.
I cannot believe we never went back there.
Following dinner was a walking quest to find internet-recommended gelato, a quest well worth taking, because I’ve never had spicy ice cream before but this place had it, and man it delivered. They called it “Dracarys,” after Game of Thrones, something that will last shorter and age better than anyone who named their children “Daenerys” or “Cersei.” I didn’t think to get a scoop for myself that night, as I’d discovered the flavour “creme de leche,” or milk cream, which was like ice cream and cheesecake in one creamy package, and I would not be denied another hit.
By the end of that excursion, I’d done it. I’d stayed up (more or less) until 10. And faffed about until 11, so I was sure to acclimate to local time.
Okay. Here we go. But first… one piece of new business.
Every year, some show in the rankings has been in its last season, but never enough to keep the list from growing from seven to twenty-two. But we’ve hit a point where there are enough that they’re killing themselves down to a more sustainable level. Thus, some farewells.
The Tick. Oh, The Tick… like always, maybe you were just a little too cult to live. But while you lived, you were nailing it. Wait– you had one fewer episode overall than Iron Fist? No wonder God has forsaken us.
Gotham. You were never the best show, not by a wide margin, but there were flickers of greatness… well, pretty-good-ness… that meant you weren’t the worst, either. Well, okay, sometimes you were the worst, but not recently.
The Gifted.You may have been the Agents of SHIELD of Fox’s X-Men universe, the red-headed stepchild not allowed to play with the other kids, but you did your best. Still, that Disney buy-out was your death. And come on, man, you did not have the ratings to be ending on a cliffhanger.
Literally all of Marvel Netflix. In the beginning, you set a high bar for comic TV, but you never quite matched those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Until the end you struggled with pacing issues, unnecessary side characters, inability to pick a main villain, and a refusal to do anything too “comic booky.” And yes, you bungled the big crossover. Still, the franchise had more good than bad overall. Even Iron Fist was starting to get its act together. Was Jessica Jones’ third season a fitting send-off for the entire franchise? No, and that’s irrational, it couldn’t have been, that would have required a second, hopefully better Defenders series, maybe involving the “Who can stop Luke Cage, King of Harlem” fight they kept teasing, but “proper send-off” wasn’t on Netflix’s agenda. Disney+ was your franchise’s end. Via con Dios, Defenders.
The idea that the Marvel movies and TV shows share a universe. Not even Agents of SHIELD, which is normally first in line to name-drop any event from the movies, acknowledged the events of Avengers: Infinity War. And given when season six takes place, and when Endgame takes place, it would have to. So… guess that’s over.
Now, on with the show! (I apologize if the last two posts maybe drained some suspense out of who’s taking the top spot.)
Okay! Let’s get into the best superheroes, supervillains, and other comic-related characters of the season!
Honourable Mention: Real talk… few of these characters delighted me like the one character who defies every single category I have: Doom Patrol’s Danny the Street.
Danny’s a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street that houses a community of misfits and outcasts, and they’re delightful, and I was so happy the writers embraced the Grant Morrison weirdness of the Doom Patrol franchise enough to include Danny. Their debut episode, “Danny Patrol,” was a blast.
(I may eventually need more non-gendered categories, especially if one of these shows casts Liv Hewson or Asia Kate Dillon or another non-binary actor of their caliber… but not today.)
Anyway, on to characters a little easier to categorize. So easy they don’t even need introductory paragraphs to explain the categories.
Best Female Supporting Character!
Honourable mentions: Carrie-Anne Moss and Rachel Taylor had some good spirals into self-destruction on Jessica Jones; Yara Martinez remained fun as Miss Lint on The Tick; Julie Ann Emery had great edge as Featherstone on Preacher.
Bronze: Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker, Jessica Jones
For the first two seasons of Jessica Jones, and a bit of The Defenders, Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister Trish pushed Jessica to be a better hero, to use her gifts to help people and fight evil. But after the events of season two, Trish finally has powers of her own. She can finally be the hero she’s always wanted Jess to be. Sure the process that gave her powers has a slight history of also causing homicidal rage, and yes, her need to feel powerful caused all sorts of bad choices in season two, but this should be easy! Right?
Trish’s journey over season three is a rollercoaster, I tell you what, and Rachel Taylor came to play.
Silver: Tala Ashe as Zari Tomaz, Legends of Tomorrow
Playing a character whose classic hero name they can’t really use anymore, Tala Ashe’s dry wit was a welcome addition to Legends last season, and it remained so this year. But we also got to watch Zari’s tough shell begin to crack, as her survival instincts from the ARGUS police state future she came from began to relax. Her gradual, mutually awkward flirtation with fellow Legend Nate Heywood (spurred by something simple: pretending to be a couple for a heist and then thinking “Huh, we’re both hot, we could just do this”) was consistently adorable, and led to both one of the year’s best musical numbers (see last entry) and an emotional finale where she has to risk having her entire history rewritten to save Nate.
Plus she cut loose on some witch hunters (emotional), impersonated a 70s DJ (funny), and got turned into both a cat and a puppet (legendary). And if all of that weren’t enough, she opened the season with a powerful monologue on how fear took over her society, ending with one small but killer line. Lots of shows tackled fear and hate this season, but few managed as simple and powerful a moment as Zari watching her hijab-wearing mother smiling and laughing with young Zari in a playground, and asking “How could anyone be afraid of her?”
This season may have had slightly too little time for all of its character arcs, but Zari always shines.
Gold: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl
There is a marvellous subtlety to Katie McGrath’s performance as Lena Luthor. She went through a lot of unpleasantness this season, loss and heartbreak and betrayal and more betrayal and a global hunt for her brother, and Katie McGrath managed to convey all the pain and sorrow Lena went through without dropping the cold, hard exterior she’s had to develop as both a successful businesswoman and a Luthor. Not the most open and loving family. Katie handled Lena’s bleak year with incredible nuance.
Katie is masterful at this role. Lena’s heading to a dark place, but I’m hoping she doesn’t go full-villain, because I don’t think I can bring myself to root against her.
Best Male Supporting Character!
Honourable mention: Jay Ali’s take as the tortured Agent Nadeem on Daredevil; most if not all of the male cast of The Umbrella Academy. Unless you consider all the Hargreeves kids to be leads, in which case just Hazel and Hargreeves Sr, I guess.
Bronze: Jesse Rath as Brainiac-5, Supergirl
Last season, Jesse Rath swiftly won me and others over as Querl Dox, aka Brainiac-5, the Legion of Superheroes’ resident super genius. In season four, he takes the departed Winn Schott’s place at the DEO, working as both a DEO agent and secret superhero ally to Supergirl and her band of alien do-gooders when relations between the two groups deteriorate.
Rath’s always done a good and amusing job at portraying Brainy’s alien, calculating nature, existing somewhere between and to the left of Data and Spock, but as he began an awkward flirtation with Nia Nal, who he swiftly recognized as an ancestor of his old teammate Dream Girl, Brainy found new levels of cute.
But what really gets him on the podium came late in the season, as the alien-hating Children of Liberty accidentally unleashed Brainy’s dark side. As anyone familiar with Superman’s rogues gallery knows, the Brainiac line is not filled with pleasant people, and under torture, Brainy lost control of his ancestral memories. After an emotional moment, a darker, crueler Brainiac was unleashed, and Brainy went from cute to chilling.
I miss Winn sometimes, but damn Brainy’s fun to have around.
Silver: Robin Lord Taylor & Corey Michael Smith as Penguin & Riddler, Gotham
There were definitely a few things Gotham did well, in the sea of things they did poorly. The art design, cinematography, at least half of their villain creations. But if I were to point to one thing that kept me going through all 100 episodes, one facet of the show that made coming back worthwhile through all the Mad Hatters and Jeromes and Jim Gordon never bringing backup, it was Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. There is a time and place for restraint in acting, and Taylor understood that Gotham is not it, throwing every inch of himself into every scene he had. But he worked best when part of an unexpectedly great double-act.
Because when Penguin’s plots linked up with Ed Nygma’s? Magic. As begrudging allies, best of friends, or sworn enemies, their scenes together routinely popped. As we bid farewell to Gotham, it seemed fitting to give a final tip of the hat to their two best and most consistently entertaining villains.
Gold: Pip Torrens & Joseph Gilgun as Herr Starr & Cassidy, Preacher
Last year I talked about how perfectly Pip Torrens captures the cold, vicious, and utterly captivating Herr Starr, chief enforcer for the Grail, Earth’s secret rulers. Well, I’m not going to do that this year.
Because if anything he is surpassing his comics counterpart.
The chilling calmness with which Starr goes through his bloody business is always riveting to watch, and often hilarious. It’s at the point where I’ll be sad to see his joust with Jesse come to an end. And not just because I wasn’t ready for the show to be over after next season.
Meanwhile, Cassidy had some big moments this year, from fighting his best pal Jesse (a few times) over Tulip, even taping himself back together to go an extra round; to a quiet, sad, moment of choice where he realizes there are lines he can’t cross to keep Tulip; to his discovery of Les Enfants du Sang, a group of vampire wannabes led by the first fellow vampire Cassidy’s met in decades. Gilgun found new depths to Cassidy this season, and nailed them all. And he keeps the humour of the character, if his debate with the Enfants over how to kill a Grail infiltrator proves anything.
It’s that time again! Time to look through a season’s worth of comic book TV shows, look at who did what best, and deliver a conclusive ranking, based on my highly scientific standard of “Which ones I liked more, and also you didn’t watch them all so you don’t know I’m wrong.”
So, here are this years’ competitors, with links to blog posts if posts there do be:
(Why are the two seasons of Cloak and Dagger ranked separately but not Sabrina? Because Netflix ordered twenty episodes of Sabrina then released them in two chunks and a Christmas special, while Cloak and Dagger did ten episodes then had to get renewed before they made ten more.)
TV shows are constantly being released. Krypton and Legion started up new seasons in the past couple of weeks, and The Boys is coming up fast. So I have to draw the line somewhere. As such, I’m only including shows that ended their season between July 1st 2018 and June 30th 2019. This means some personal favourites are off the list this year because their finales are still a few weeks or months out, and Game of Thrones reminds us not to build monuments to the living, for they can still disgrace the stone. Or in other words, any show can trip over its own feet at the finish line.
So this year doesn’t include the latest seasons of Agents of SHIELD or Krypton, the final seasons of iZombie and Legion, or what is apparently the only season of Swamp Thing.
Or Walking Dead because I don’t care and you can’t make me care.
Or anything I hadn’t heard of until it was already cancelled, like whatever Deadly Class was.
Things are bad out there, you guys. Really bad. The world is dangerously close to climate-based mass extinction, and instead of banding together to stop it, more and more of the world is getting sucked into alt-right, arch-conservative, anti-science, bigoted, “us first” nationalism. The American south is attempting to treat women and reproductive rights with all the care and respect that the Confederacy treated people of colour, and Canadian conservatives are watching it happen and thinking “Say, that gives me an idea.” Nobody’s willing to call a mulligan on that whole Brexit debacle. Disney owns 40% of the concept of entertainment, and the layoffs have begun.
It’s dark out there. But I don’t have a lot of answers for that, outside of STOP. VOTING. FOR. CONSERVATIVES,so today I’d just like to talk about something related to the apparent collapse of human society.
How do superheroes respond to today’s world?
The CW superhero shows, still known as the Arrowverse and not the DCW-verse because we are incapable of coming up with good names*, devoted themselves this question this season, potentially their final season as The Best Superhero Franchise on TV. (The CW shows are of higher average quality than Marvel Netflix was, fight me, but the DC Universe streaming service came to play, peeps. Titans was better than it deserved to be and Doom Patrol is so good you guys.) Each of the four Arrowverse shows (Black Lightning remains separate for at least another half-season) spent their season addressing the state of the world in some way or another, some more nakedly than others.
So instead of a typical review of the Arrowverse shows, I want to look at how each one tackled the state of the world and their home country.
*The Canadian two-dollar coin is called the “toonie,” as the dollar coin was called the loonie, but “dubloonie” was on the table. I will never forgive my country for making the wrong choice.
Five years ago, Fox greenlit a series about Gotham City in the years before Batman. Why? Out of faith in one of comicdom’s better supporting casts of flawed do-gooders and colourful villains? Maybe, but as I’ve explained in the past, there were better ways to do that. Maybe it was because Smallville lasted ten years and– ten years. Son of a bitch. I watched that show for a decade. That is not a trivial percentage of my life. I was young and married and full of hope when that started, thinking George W. Bush was as bad a president as we’d ever see… all of that sure changed…
Anyway, five years and 100 episodes later, Young Jim Gordon’s quest to redeem Gotham City but not to a point where it wouldn’t eventually need a bat-themed superhero saviour has come to an end.
Earlier this season, I did defend portions of Gotham, if only to underline all the problems I had with Cloak and Dagger’s first season, but in the end… and we have hit the end… it was unique. Not in its subject matter… “DC Prequel Show Named After a Place” is basically a genre at this point… but in its devil-may-care bonkers approach to the subject matter. Gotham’s willingness to try any idea, no matter how insane or ill-conceived, led to some truly operatic battles between order and chaos, many of them really stupid, some of them bizarrely compelling.
As we say farewell to Gotham and brace for the showrunner’s new prequeller prequel Pennyworth…
I thought it worth a look back, through the veil of this 12-episode final season.
If anything else… they made 100 episodes of a show about the origins of Batman and a large amount of his rogue’s gallery that never said “Batman,” “Joker,” or “Catwoman” out loud, and that’s… kind of an achievement?
This season, because I love nerd stuff more than I apparently like myself, I decided to binge my way through two shows that I had very little reason to suspect I’d enjoy. Very little. But so determined am I to keep up on any and all comic book TV series… based on comics I’ve heard of… that don’t rhyme with “Smocking Smed…” that I dove in anyway.
On the one hand, we have the Runaways.
Their second season hit back in December. Their first season was… okay… (ranked 15th of 22 last year) but sluggishly paced, and didn’t really get anywhere. I described it as a ten-hour pilot, because I can’t really remember any storylines that weren’t just gradually getting pieces in place for the origins of the runaways or storylines from season two. Sure Preacher’s first season (5th of 13, 2017) did kind of the same thing, ending the season at the end-point of the first story arc, but it felt like Preacher had a lot more going on than Runaways did (hint: Preacher almost always has more going on, it’s great). Runaways isn’t the first show I’d name when describing how a slow burn can go wrong, but it’s on the list.
Titans, the first entry from the DC Universe streaming service (available here through Netflix), didn’t have a predecessor to compare to, favourably or otherwise, but it did have a super dark and very baffling trailer that made it look like an impending train wreck.
So we have two shows, based around younger heroes, that I had every expectation of not being good… and both surprised me. Runaways seemed to take my criticisms to heart… which, yes, heavily implies that I wasn’t the only one making them… and Titans managed to be the season’s biggest surprise so far. I came in expecting to make another “Let’s laugh at how bad Iron Fist was” post, and instead it’s… legitimately interesting?
That’s nearly all they have in common. One’s a YA series with occasional mild profanity that’s as grounded as a show with aliens and magic and a dinosaur can rationally be; the other is a hard-R, curse-filled, graphically violent tale of four damaged youths trying to learn to be a team. So I guess they both have “found family is sometimes better than blood family” going on as well, and that’s all I need to justify the joint post. And along the way, I bet we find more. Rock it.