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All posts for the month June, 2017

Okay, let’s wrap this thing up already. Hey, I’m as eager as you are, I started writing these in March.

Ladies and gentlemen, Danny G’s Top Four Comic Book TV Series of 2017. Brace yourself for some surprising comeback stories.

4. Arrow

Arrow had a couple of rough seasons there. After the operatic battle of Oliver vs. Slade in season two, they floundered through the mopey Ra’s Al Ghul story of season three and pushed magic and relationship drama too hard in season four, but in season five they found their groove again in a big way.

Strengths: Stephen Amell may have given his best performance this year, and Oliver Queen has clearly evolved as a person… even if he backslid on the whole “no killing” thing.

Oliver/Felicity drama was, as requested, kept to a minimum.

After two years of decreasing relevance, the flashbacks actually felt important this year. Past-Oliver’s journey towards being season one’s “The Hood” completed, and his return to the island of Lian Yu put a perfect capstone on his “five years in Hell.”

The flashbacks also featured the return of David Nykl as Oliver’s wacky Bratva buddy from his island days, Anatoly Knyazev. He’s always fun. Shame they’re not getting along in the present.

The new team worked out well. Wild Dog took some warming up to but he got there, Ragman was great (while he lasted), Curtis became Mr. Terrific, T-spheres and all, and the new Black Canary is nicely badass.

Speaking of the new Black Canary… I thought they were going to go the Jefferson Jackson route and invent a new character, but when her name turned out to be “Dinah Drake?” That’s the Golden Age and current Black Canary’s maiden name. They introduced a new Black Canary without creating a new Black Canary. Respect.

Episodes that not only featured but were named after obscure characters Vigilante and Human Target? Nice treat for me. Not “Third season of the Human Target TV show” nice but I’ll still take it.

Tobias Church was a great warm-up villain for the new team. Casting Wire veteran Chad L. Coleman certainly helped.

Prometheus might not have made the podium, but he may well be the most chilling comic TV villain this side of Kilgrave. And they found a great way to fool us as to who he was… 

Spoilery spoilers

Adrian Chase may have been an obvious answer in retrospect, but I was too busy thinking he was Vigilante. That is, after all, Vigilante’s name in the comics.

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Oliver forming his own Legion of Doom to face down Prometheus was pretty cool, and involved the return of Slade Wilson. That’s always worth celebrating.

Quentin and Thea made a better duo than I’d have guessed four years back.

Dolph Lundgren. Nice get, Arrow.

Weaknesses: Prometheus was so good at his job that it began to get oppressively dark at times.

…Did they just kill [REDACTED] in the finale? The actor certainly thinks so. Aw. I do not love that.

Why’d you guys write out Ragman? I liked Ragman. He was the best of the new gang. That was a dick move, you guys. I mean I’ll forgive it if Constantine helps him get his powers back next year, but until then…

Four years without a major cliffhanger and you pull that. Thanks, jerks.

High Point: “Invasion!” Now, naming the crossover episode seems as damning to the rest of the season as naming the premiere, but hear me out… “Invasion!” wasn’t just Arrow’s chapter of the big crossover, it was also their 100th episode. And in the middle of this time-travelling, space-faring battle between alien invaders and heroes from two alternate Earths, they managed a perfect, emotional, alumni-filled tribute to the previous 99 episodes. It gave Oliver just the right sense of contentment with his life for Prometheus to stroll in and destroy almost immediately after.

Low Point: “Spectre of the Gun.” Arrow tries to take on gun control, but spends so much time trying to play both sides of the issue that the best answer they come up with is “Gosh, that is a stumper.” After which Mayor Queen proposes “common sense gun laws both sides can agree on” with no, I say no elaboration as to what those might be.

MVP: Stephen Amell. He brought his A-game this year and it rooted the season.

Tips for next season: The end of this year and the end of the origin flashbacks screams “New beginning.” Let’s chase that. (Also how about that thing I said about Ragman and Constantine?)

3. Lucifer

…What. How. How. How did this happen. How did Lucifer go from last season’s guilty pleasure to this season’s appointment viewing? Three words: The Goddess Charlotte. The arrival of Lucifer’s Mother brought the show’s mythology to a whole new level, making it so much more than just a crime procedural about Lucifer helping a straight-laced police detective solve murders. Although it is still that.

Strengths: Nearly every member of the cast was given better material this year. Dan went from “Detective Douche” to a more relatable, likable, rounded out character; Amenadiel went from stubbornly trying to drag his brother back to his post in Hell to struggling with a loss of faith in his Father in the face of his Mother’s arrival; Maze began to define herself outside of “Lucifer’s flunky;” Dr. Linda became the first of the human characters to realize Lucifer isn’t just pretending to be the ex-King of Hell, and had to wrap her head around having clients/friends that include angels, a demon, and the co-creator of the universe; Aimee Garcia is a delightful addition as the perpetually upbeat CSI Ella Lopez; even Trixie, Chloe and Dan’s daughter, was a more fun character this year. And Lucifer himself got a lot more to play with, as his family dynamics expanded beyond “I hate my Dad” and “Screw you, Amenadiel.” Basically, nearly every part of this show was working on a whole new level.

Nearly.

Weaknesses: Two problems.

First, while the new mythology is unquestionably a value add, it did sometimes mean that the murders-of-the-week didn’t get the attention they needed. And given that they took up a chunk of the screen time and were the focus of at least three characters each week, that’s not ideal.

Second… Detective Chloe Decker, in theory the second of two leads, was stuck in a difficult place this year, narratively speaking. While they did give actress Lauren German some fun or meaty material to play with, she was kept at arms’ length from the central plotline, and for an awkward reason. At the mid-season break, Charlotte learns a major secret about Chloe, one she herself doesn’t know and isn’t in a position to understand. So it’s Clara Oswald’s Impossible Girl story all over again… the story is about Chloe, but Chloe herself can’t participate in it, which ultimately weakens her as a character.

High point: “Weaponizer/Monster.” Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel comes to town, on a mission to bring down their Mother. For Lucifer the show and Lucifer the character, everything hits a new level from here.

Low point: …Honestly hard to think of one. My first guess would be “Lady Parts,” for Lucifer’s weirdly newfound obsession with distraction as a lifestyle, but no episode with such a memorable “girl’s night,” drunk Amenadiel joining undercover work with Lucifer and Dan, or less-drunk Amenadiel sulkily defending his choice in drinks (“But cosmos are yummy,”) could be a low point. And hedonistic, carefree Lucifer needed a last ride before Uriel’s arrival. Hmmm… I guess “Homewrecker,” maybe? I mean I don’t remember disliking it but it seems largely forgettable compared to the others.

MVP: Totes Tom Ellis. He was already the best part of this show last season, but he reached new levels this year.

2. Legends of Tomorrow

Does the Berlanti Cape-based Action Fun Factory only have so much fun to go around? Because while The Flash lost a step this year, Legends of Tomorrow found it. They went from the Joey Bishop of the DCW Rat Pack to the Frank Sinatra. They– was that enough metaphors? Too many?

Cutting loose the boat anchor (never enough metaphors) that was the Vandal/Hawkgirl plot certainly helped. Freed of their weakest characters (and, sadly, two of their best for parts of the year), Legends season two took on a more classic story structure: a race to collect the various parts of the magical MacGuffin before the bad guys get it and do something bad with it. It’s a classic for a reason, and it allows for more give and take, successes and failures, making for a more dynamic arc than last year’s “The Gang Continues to Fail at Killing Vandal Savage,” or indeed “Will Flash beat Savitar this week? LOL, no, it’s only April.”

Plus they made better use of time travel as a central plotline, meaning more fun time travel adventures and less brooding around the Waverider about how they haven’t made any progress. Legends of Tomorrow became the most fun and most clever show in the DCW-verse’s line-up.

Strengths: The Legion of Doom. A great showcase for three of their best villains. John Barrowman and Neal McDonough brought just the right amount of evil camp, and played well off of Matt Letscher’s Eobard Thawne. And they all had concrete and clear motives, unlike some of the year’s villains.

The Legends themselves were pretty great this season. Amaya/Vixen was a far better character than the departed Hawkgirl. Just far better. Nick Zano’s Nate Heywood strutted into the cast like Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five: the missing ingredient we didn’t even know we needed. The nerd-fun of the show got cranked way up as historian Nate and scientist Ray Palmer geeked out over time travel and movies together. Ray stopped finding new ways to screw up every week, bringing an end to the Ray Palmer Screw-up Counter. A more sedate Mick Rory/Heat Wave became a more interesting character. Arthur Darville got to flex a little more this year. And Amy Pemberton, after over a season and a half as the voice of the Waverider’s computer Gideon, actually got to be on screen. And it worked out to be delightful.

More, better, and better used time periods.

The finale found a fun and interesting way to raise the stakes and make the Legion as dangerous as they deserved to be.

Weaknesses: Thanks to Arthur Darville filming the third season of Broadchurch back in England, Rip Hunter went missing for sevenish episodes. That’s a lot of episodes without one of my absolute favourite characters. And with Captain Cold not back full-time from season one, that was two absolute favourite characters gone. That only left me, like, three absolute favourite characters! Four with Damien, I guess…

I guess there’s no keeping love and romance drama off the Waverider, huh. Well, it was better this year, at least.

They rushed “Doomworld.” Rushed it and didn’t commit to it.

Can’t say I’m super happy with how they used Rex Tyler and the Justice Society. Or more to the point, how they didn’t.

High point: Either “Raiders of the Lost Art,” in which Rip returns, stopping the Legion means convincing a young George Lucas to stay in film school, and the action beats get Star Wars-y… or “Fellowship of the Spear,” in which Captain Cold returns, stopping the Legion requires help from a young J.R.R. Tolkien, and the plot becomes Lord of the Rings-y. Sure, the bit wasn’t subtle either time, but it was charming enough to work.

Low point: “Shogun,” which is best summed up by the “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” meme Reddit gave it…

No one was their best self that week.

MVP: A tough call with Victor Garber and Brandon Routh in the cast, but it’s Caity Lotz as Sara Lance. Taking over as captain in Rip’s absence, she became a great leader, and worth hanging the finale on. Also, with the man who killed her sister in the Legion, she had the highest stakes without going full “Vandal kills my family.”

Tips for next season: More like that, please. And stop writing out Rip Hunter he has to be on this show forever I can’t take any more time travel shows writing out Arthur Darville.

1. Legion

…Where the Hell did this show come from?

[checks IMDB] Oh. The creator of the Fargo TV show. Gotcha.

The thing about Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe is that they do not super care about how all of their properties link together. While this could prove frustrating to anyone trying to figure out how the timeline of the X-Men films works (spoiler: it doesn’t), it means that creators are free to pitch something like Logan, which doesn’t fit neatly with the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t care. They’re just doing their own thing and trying to do it well. Marvel Studios is selling themselves on “Everything is connected, trust us,” so it sticks out when something obviously doesn’t fit (looking at you, Defenders). X-Men? Their projects have an atmosphere of “Don’t worry about it, just relax and enjoy.”

And thus did Noah Hawley sell the FX network on an X-Men show that features several mutants, but never explicitly admits the existence of the X-Men*. And thanks to the loosey-goosey nature of the X-Men franchise, its self-contained nature doesn’t irritate the viewer like, say, Claire Temple deciding to fly to China to fight ninjas rather than call Daredevil. In fact, the whole show works like gangbusters.

*They hint at Professor Xavier kinda strongly toward the end, though.

Strengths: Legion is more visually daring and inventive than any show on TV, superhero or otherwise, this side of American Gods. (And there is no shame in coming in second to American Gods.)

The costumes, the sets, the angles, every single aesthetic choice is a little fascinating.

Jemaine Clements of Flight of the Concords turns up around the half-way point, and pushes the show to a whole new level of surreally cool.

I mentioned the thing about Aubrey Plaza killing it on this show as Lenny, right? Well it bears repeating. She’s the highlight of a cast that’s already above average across the board.

At a tight eight episodes, it’s all thriller, no filler. Marvel Netflix could learn a thing or two about Legion’s pacing.

You don’t need to have seen a single X-Men movie or have read a single comic to follow the story.

David and Syd, the slightly star-crossed lovers who can only touch each other in the astral plane, are competitive with Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer as my favourite couple in comic TV.

The supporting cast is really solid too. Maybe they didn’t make the “supporting cast” podium, but there’s not really a weak link.

Not many TV shows could write a soundtrack better than what Blake Neely does for the DCW shows… but Jeff Russo pulls it off.

I’m personally fascinated by how timeless the show makes itself. The characters have a modern feel, but the costumes and sets are out of the 60s/70s, and they’re packing 30s-style tommy guns. It really frees the more continuity-obsessed mind from trying to place it in X-Men continuity when you can’t even be sure what decade it takes place in.

The eeriest rendition of “Rainbow Connection” you’ve ever heard.

At the very end, they managed something with the sinister mutant-hunting Division Three that Supergirl and Agents of SHIELD couldn’t with Cadmus or the Watchdogs: they gave the group based around hunting a minority (mutants, in this case) depth and levels. They dared us to sympathize with someone they’d set us up to hate.

Weaknesses: The season finale could have contained more closure. But hey, at least we already know season two is on the way. Eventually.

High Point: I wanted to say Chapter Four, which opens with Jemaine Clements talking directly to the audience about the two types of stories we tell children, but then Chapter Seven blew the doors off the place. The chalkboard, David’s “rational self,” Bolero… it’s hard to think of a scene from this episode that wouldn’t have been the single best scene from any other show.

Low Point: The worst thing I can say about any episode is that Chapter Six, from a narrative viewpoint, isn’t really my bag. But without it, you couldn’t do Chapter Seven the way they did. 

Spoiler

Of the three shows that did “Heroes wake up in an artificial reality created by the villain,” Legion did it best. Legends of Tomorrow rushed it and under-sold the Doomworld dystopia, whereas Agents of SHIELD spent nearly their entire third act in the Framework. SHIELD was too hot, Legends too cold, Legion was juuuust right.

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And it gave us this scene, which (trust me) does make perfect sense in context. I’m really not selling this as a “low point,” am I…

MVP: Dana Gonzales and Craig Wrobleski, the cinematographers. The visuals alone would have pushed this show into the top five. Best shot show I’m watching.

Tips for next season: Look… you don’t need to do it, but Patrick Stewart has apparently said he’ll reprise Charles Xavier one last time to be on this show, and I simply do not see how it could possibly hurt. Or get James McAvoy. Or have meeting Stewart-Xavier trigger a psychically implanted memory of McAvoy-Xavier. You never need to say “X-Men,” and we certainly do not, Lord but we do not need Wolverine to show up, but maybe just this one thing?

And that’s the end. The highlights of the best 13 of 15 comic book shows. Well, the best 12 and Iron Fist. Was it only two years ago that I only ranked seven shows? Man. Well, at least next season this process won’t get even more comp–

…Oh no.

SON…

…OF…

…A…

…BITCH.

*Sigh.*

Okay. Meet back here next summer. Until then, Other Things.

And we continue.

8. Supergirl

Supergirl vs. Riverdale was a tougher call than I could have expected a few months back.

The shift from CBS to the CW had an impact in ways I wouldn’t have expected, resulting in a different show than last season. But the important elements remained. And what ultimately pushed it above its teen soap competition is that the writers looked at Trump’s America and said “Hell no.” Witness ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as the President and the title of their finale, “Nevertheless She Persisted.”

They never settled on a primary villain, no. Lillian Luthor and Cadmus took the lead for the first act, but then in the end the villain plot shifted to “Mon-El’s Mother Has a Savage Overreaction.” But I’m not calling that a weakness, like I did elsewhere, because in this case? The villain doesn’t define the season’s arc. Supergirl’s season isn’t “Supergirl Vs. So-and-So.” It’s “Supergirl and Mon-El: a Star-Crossed Romance.” Now whether the central plot of the season being Kara’s challenging relationship with newcomer Mon-El is a strength or weakness depends entirely on your own perspective.

Strengths: In season one, National City’s alien population was limited to Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, and the escapees of Kryptonian prison Fort Rozz. All of a sudden there’s a large population of non-criminal aliens, enough that they have their own bar. Many of them are refugees, and now the DEO is as dedicated to protecting aliens as tracking them down. At a time when the ruling party of their country is trying to build border walls and ban Syrian immigrants, when Marvel Comics has turned Captain America into a full-on Nazi, Supergirl came out as proudly, vocally, passionately pro-refugee and pro-immigrant. This is what Supergirl (and SupermanDC films) should be, the hero standing firmly beside what’s right, even when the mob is trying to back what’s wrong.

They really spent the summer looking at the previous season and asking “What works, what doesn’t, how can we simplify.” Winn left CatCo to work for the DEO, centralizing all of Kara’s superheroing there. Kara and James Olsen had no chemistry, so their romance came to a screeching halt, and her romance with Mon-El felt more earned.

Alex realizing her sexuality, coming out, and finding love with Maggie Sawyer wasn’t just one of the best done romances on TV this year, it also did real good in the world.

While he has nothing, and I mean nothing in common with his comic book namesake, Snapper Carr worked out well. Curmudgeonly? Sure, but every time he clashed with Kara he not only had a reason, he was usually right. He opposed Kara’s hiring because she had no experience. He wouldn’t let her print an opinion piece as news. Later he wouldn’t print her story on aliens being abducted only because she lacked verifiable sources. When he fired her, he had cause, and when she understood that and made it right, she was welcomed back. Snapper was a curmudgeon, yes, but he was a curmudgeon because he cares about responsible journalism. Snapper Carr never would have let Karen Page publish her stupid grade school essay about “what makes a hero” and call it “news.”

Also, props to the writers for allowing Kara not to be brilliant at her new reporter job right away.

Lena Luthor. She’s complex, she’s interesting, her friendship with Kara is well-done, and the seeds of its destruction are well-planted.

Not all of the fandom agrees with me, but I found Chris Wood effortlessly funny and charismatic as Mon-El.

I’m glad they didn’t have Winn become consumed with bitterness over being rejected by Kara and turn to the dark side, because Jeremy Jordan is delightful in that role and I prefer him as he is.

Weaknesses: A sad consequence of moving production to Vancouver was losing Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant for most of the season. Her triumphant return for the last two episodes instantly reminded us how much she’d added.

Also gone? Maxwell Lord and Lucy Lane. After being major players in season one, they not only vanish, no one even says their names.

The writers had no idea what to do with James Olsen this year. As interim CEO of CatCo he did virtually nothing, partially because CatCo stopped being a hub for the story and partially because having Kara run to James when Snapper was mean to her would have been an awful character choice. So they turned him into a masked vigilante, but still could only barely fit him into the story.

On that note. “You can’t be a superhero, James, you don’t have powers!” says Kara, weeks after calling Green Arrow one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I guess she has higher standards for heroes on her own Earth?

Cadmus were fairly one-dimensional as villains (“We hate aliens! Grr!”) and Rhea, Queen of Daxam, wasn’t much better (“My son has a girlfriend? I’ll conquer her planet!”). I dig that they represent the worst parts of the current US administration (xenophobia and elitism, respectively), but it doesn’t make them interesting. Plus they’re still pushing Livewire as Supergirl’s “nemesis.” No, man, just no.

High point: I don’t love what calling the season premiere the high point implies about the season to come, but it is legitimately hard to top “The Adventures of Supergirl” and “Last Children of Krypton.” Tyler Hoechlin made his debut as Superman, and not only was he a great Man of Steel, he and Kara made a wonderful double act.

Low point: “The Darkest Place.” Supergirl falls into one of my least favourite tropes from last year, and Hank Henshaw returns, declaring himself “The Cyborg Superman.” Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, only in the context of the show, it makes basically no sense.

MVP: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers. There is no emotional beat this woman can’t sell.

Advice for next season: That portal thing that happened at the end of the finale? That’s a time portal, right? To the 31st century? Opening the door for the Legion of Superheroes? It had better be.

7. Agents of SHIELD

I will give Agents of SHIELD this… no show on this list has been so devoted to self-improvement and course correction. Each season has managed to improve on the one before it, meaning season four is their best work. Splitting the season into mini-arcs (Ghost Rider, LMD, and Agents of Hydra) made for a season that rarely felt drawn out. When the show moved from Ghost Rider to LMD after the winter hiatus, we had a sense of closure on Ghost Rider and its main villain before things began to transition to Dr. Radcliffe, his poor choices regarding robots, and the Framework. That said… trying to address all three arcs with one finale proved a leettle tricky.

Strengths: All of the main cast did great work this year. Fitz and Simmons in particular excelled as the heart and soul of the team (even if sometimes the heart was supposed to be Daisy).

Diego Luna as Ghost Rider was better than I ever expected the third, least popular, and objectively least cool (He doesn’t. Even. Have. A motorcyle.) Ghost Rider to be. His arc got the season off to a good start.

John Hannah’s well-meaning but ethically flexible mad scientist, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, was a great addition to the year’s blend of magic and sci-fi. He flipped from ally to enemy and back again in ways that made sense. His melancholy last scene was pretty much perfect.

As indicated earlier, Mallory Jansen did an amazing job as Aida, Holden Radcliffe’s prototype Live Model Decoy.

I’ve liked Jason O’Mara since the US remake of Life on Mars, so having him as Jeffrey Mace, the new Director of SHIELD, was a bonus. One day he’ll be on a show for more than one season. One day.

The artificial world of the Framework allowed for the return of the late Agent Triplett and for a satisfying coda to Grant Ward, truly heroic for the first time, even if he was just computer code.

Weaknesses: The Watchdogs were bad. They were just bad. Okay, sure, I am on board with demonizing hate groups, especially now. So maybe humanizing a group of people based around hating people different than them wouldn’t have been a great idea. The problem is, they were the main villain for most of the LMD arc and frequent villains throughout Ghost Rider, and they just weren’t interesting. Also, even with everything that is happening in the government now, I find it hard to believe that a Senator could go on TV and say “I don’t care if a known hate group was proved to be behind the attack, I still think it was [metaphor for real-world minority],” and not get called out more.

The Senator and Watchdog stooge in question, Senator Nadir, was played by Parminder Nagra. I normally like Parminder Nagra. But Senator Nadir was so devoid of interest that I rolled my eyes when I saw her in the credits. They ruined Parminder Nagra.

The head of the Watchdogs is so one-dimensional that even the other characters don’t care about him or his motivations. And yet of all the villains this season, he’s the only one still alive. Great. More of his nonsense to come. (It doesn’t help that he’s played by Zach McGowan from Shameless. Once you’ve seen a close up of someone singing “Kiss From a Rose” while orgasming it’s a little hard to take them seriously as a figure of menace.) Ghost Rider and Agents of Hydra could have propelled this show into the top five, but man, the Watchdogs just dragged it down.

I wasn’t thrilled with how they ended poor Jeffrey Mace. It felt hollow.

Having Mack refuse to leave the Framework because he couldn’t leave behind his artificial daughter just added weaker drama to a finale that wasn’t exactly struggling to fill the time. “Mack, this world isn’t real” might not have been persuasive, but “Mack, this world isn’t real and is in the process of being turned off” should have been.

High point: “Self Control.” LMD may not have been their best arc, but it ended strong, as four of the core team is replaced with LMDs. But which? Things get tense as the robots begin to take over and the humans desperately try to figure who they can trust.

Low point: “Wake Up.” Senator Nadeer begins to overstay her welcome as it becomes clear that May ain’t escaping the Framework any time soon.

MVP: Mallory Jansen came close, but it has to be Iain De Caestecker. Fitz and Simmons finally a couple was adorable. Fitz working with Radcliffe on Aida made it seem like maybe this whole LMD thing might be a good idea. Fitz in the Framework was chilling. Fitz trying to come to terms with what he did in the Framework was heartbreaking.

Advice for next season: …Wait up. Is it happening? Are you doing it? Is SWORD showing up? Oh do say yes. But besides that… you hit a wall at the end of this season, where your ambition eclipsed your budget. What could have been an epic showdown between Ghost Rider an ex-robot with a body made of dark matter and filled with Inhuman powers became as brief and anti-climactic as the worst fights from Smallville because you ran out of money. Budget better.

5. iZombie

If there’s one thing that marathoning the first two seasons of iZombie while waiting for the third to wrap up taught me, it’s how good this show has been at discarding plot elements that don’t work. Liv’s family hasn’t been seen since the premiere of season two, and nobody missed them. Major’s addiction to utopium was mercifully brief. Would-be crime lord Blaine is way more fun as a loveable rascal than the teen-murdering pure-villain of season one.

That said… previous seasons balanced murders-of-the-week with a season-long villain arc that has historically built to a satisfying and (often literally) explosive finale. This season… we had zombie-run military organisation Fillmore Graves trying to build a home for the zombie nation, a group of paranoid gun nuts hoping to wipe out the zombie nation, and like a half dozen various mysteries and conspiracies, only some of which paid off in the end.

Still good… just a little more scattered.

Strengths: The cast is fantastic. Rose McIver always makes the many minds of Liv Moore a fun ride, but the supporting cast all had great material this year and none of them let it down. Major got to be more fun (seriously, Robert Buckley is too good at comedy to keep getting the grimmest plots every year), Rahul Kohli got the flex his dramatic muscles more as Ravi (though his dry wit remains a highlight), Clive got to be in on the secret at long last (technically that happened last season, but here’s where it kicked in, plotwise), Blaine had himself a roller coaster, and Payton is a regular now. There’s no weak links in that gang.

My rewatch also taught me that they established the District Attorney of Seattle’s name is “Floyd Baracus” early season two. Given this show’s established love of gag names, how did it take me a year to spot “DA Baracus?” I pity the fool who doesn’t get that one.

Another veteran of creator Rob Thomas’ cult favourite series, Veronica Mars, showed up in the back half of the season, as Jason Dohring plays Fillmore Graves’ stern commander Chase Graves. That was a fun addition.

Rolling on D&D geek brain, Liv gathers the gang for Dungeons and Dragons to trigger a vision. One of the gang’s reaction is… priceless.

A Clive-centric episode did a great job explaining two facts we learned about him in season two: his hatred of abusive fathers, and his obsession with Game of Thrones.

The side effects of the zombie cure opened the door to a new twist on the brain business. Let’s just say that a bunch of zombies on enhanced choreographer brain was the best thing ever.

There are plenty of zombie stories out there, but zombies and humans trying to find a way to live in harmony as discovery looms close? That’s new.

Weaknesses: Season one had the cohesive plot of Meat Cute: Blaine’s brain-supply front stocked with murdered teenage runaways, and Major’s quest to bring it down. Season two was all about Max Rager, and CEO Vaughn du Clark’s attempt to clean up the zombie problem while using them to perfect his new drink, SuperMax. Both ended with big bang climaxes at the central business in question. This year… it’s just this mishmash. The climax does less to pay off the season’s stories than it does to set up next year. Some of those stories don’t really get paid off at all. To wit…
-Fillmore Graves CEO Vivian Stoll had a vendetta against the zombie who turned her husband in order to extort him for brain money, ie. Blaine. But having set that plot up, it vanished into the ether mid-season, never to be paid off.
-So… did the people behind the zombie family murder in the premiere also steal Ravi’s zombie cure doses? How did they know about them? They never came back to that. The cure was simply wished to the corn field so that Liv couldn’t have it.
-And were they also behind the murder of the dominatrix from Spanking the Zombie, and the subsequent murder of the guy who did it? I guess, but I’m not positive why. That one also just fizzled out and really added nothing.

The problem with making the surprise murderer/conspirator the character you least suspect is that it also might be the character you least care about. Everything hinged on that reveal and it was kind of… meh.

Payton tells apparently amnesiac Blaine, who she knows to have been a murderer, drug peddler, and scoundrel of the first order, “We can only hook up if you don’t get your memories back,” and expects him to come clean if they do. Come on, Payton, you are smarter than that. Feigning amnesia to get with you wouldn’t even make Blaine’s top ten sins. I know he’s easy on the eyes but come on.

Perpetual henchman Don E. is sometimes fun, but… he’s the most annoying kind of side-villain. The one who assumes that because he works for a guy with a plan, he can be the guy with the plan, yet his every attempt fails catastrophically. Eventually I get tired of Don E. screwing over Blaine and causing catastrophes in his solo work and just want to see him get stomped on.

Major is still getting the grimmest storylines. They’re better than his one-man crusade against Meat Cute and his fling with utopium, but “shunned by society” Major is still a bummer. No, I’m not making a “major bummer” joke. I am above that (right at this moment), and it would only lead me into ranting about how great that comic book was.

High point: “Spanking the Zombie” provided one of the more fun brains for Liv; fun return appearances for Ken Marino’s slimy defence attorney and Daran Norris as Johnny Frost, the weatherman (and eventual anchorman) who manages to be a person of interest in Seattle’s most scandalous murders; and a heartbreaking choice for Major. So it’s definitely either that or “20 Sided, Die,” featuring Team Liv’s D&D session.

Low point: I think “Some Like it Hot Mess” is what knocked Liv out of contention for best female lead. The first of too many “train wreck brains,” brains that barely help with the murder-of-the-week but do wonders to screw up Liv’s life. Last year’s low point was also a train wreck brain episode, and for a reason. On Smallville I’d call such occurrences “Red Kryptonite episodes,” in which Clark’s personality is changed just long enough to break any progress his relationship arcs had made in the last fifteen episodes, and they are never something you want to be compared to. That said… after Liv sloppily dances her way across the morgue, Ravi’s reaction of “Hot mess club girl brain, you say,” was priceless. Also, if you enjoyed Blaine and Payton as a couple, you’re wrong and I don’t like you. Okay, that was too mean, you’re alright, let’s get a beer sometime.

MVP: Still Rose McIver. Everyone crushed it at points of the season, but like or hate her current brain, no one crushes it like Rose. (I also love that Liv in human-passing wig and makeup is Rose McIvor with her natural hair and skin tone. If Liv had had to disguise herself as a human from Rose’s home country, New Zealand, that would have been even better.)

Advice for next season: …I got nothing. Pretty sure you just blew up the whole premise in that finale, so I don’t know what to tell you. Except maybe give Major a freaking break.

5. Preacher

Preacher is based on a cult but beloved graphic novel from the 90s, but managed to find a way to be satisfying to fans of the comic while still charting their own path. They provided what would have been easily the most gonzo show of the year, had the trippy Legion not come along.

Strengths: The cast is superb. All of them. I could spend another 500 words praising them individually but it’s just all of them. Okay I’ll mention one in particular… Jackie Earle Haley. He’s amazing in basically everything and it’s not different here.

The direction is really solid. A lot of the CW shows get flashy in the action scenes then go more basic in the dialogue, but Preacher has a consistent visual flare that puts it a cut above.

The characters are, on the whole, all pretty fascinating.

It looks like they’re moving Arseface from his role as running gag in the books to replacing the spectral John Wayne as Jesse’s spirit guide. I dig it. That makes sense if you read the comics. I don’t have room to explain it here.

It feels like I’m underselling this one but this got so damn long, you guys…

Weaknesses: Sometimes it felt like they spent the first five episodes throwing crazy shit at the screen before they finally got around to telling a story with it. It’s primo crazy, but it takes a while to form a narrative, and that doesn’t help the pacing. That said… the plot became more cohesive as the show went on, which gives Preacher the edge over iZombie, which went the other way.

Also, if you don’t follow the comics, some of it won’t make much sense. They get around to explaining why every second episode has some sinister cowboy, but the guy in the white suit with the alarming taste in movies? Sure, I know who that is, but Johnny or Jenny First-timer won’t, and they won’t find out until season.

And I didn’t love how disconnected Tulip was from the main story. She’s just off on her own, in the slowest-moving plot, trying to talk Jesse into joining her for some vengeance. It’s a plot that by necessity spins its wheels, since there aren’t many places it can go, and meanwhile there are freaking angels getting in fights with a vampire.

High point: “Sundowner.” Jesse learns the truth about Genesis, there’s an incredible and hilarious fight scene, and we’re not even at the credits yet. The plot kicks into high gear and still finds time for some great character moments.

Low point: “The Possibilities.” Jesse has this new power he’s finally noticing, but Tulip wants him to go get revenge on a former associate of theirs, and nobody knows Cassidy’s a vampire, and this is the one where you start to wonder if all of these elements are going to come together in some sort of satisfactory fashion. And I’m telling you, newcomers might not remember that “Grail Industries” is a thing by the time you get back to that.

MVP: Joe Gilgun as Cassidy. Any scene he’s in pops.

Advice for next season: You have our attention. Stop trying to get our attention with wave after wave of unconnected gonzo craziness and just tell the story. (Which, two episodes into the second season, it seems like they are.) Oh, if we’re doing Jesse’s childhood, could you make it less grim than the comics did? Five months that story ran and four of them were just oppressive. (Fifth was damn satisfying, though.)

Okay. Next time, we finish this.

Let’s get down to it. Time for the rankings.

13. Iron Fist

Oh lawdy, did they bollocks up this one.

Strengths: …um… David Wenham seemed to be having fun? And Ward Meachum somehow went from “irredeemable asshole” to “most fascinating character.” Not positive how that happened.

Weaknesses: I believe I have spoken on this in no small detail. But to recap… it’s a bland, scattered, cautionary tale about corporate edict steering the creative side. Iron Fist wasn’t made because someone was passionate about bringing Iron Fist to the screen. At least I assume not, because it’s impossible to guess what their dream Iron Fist story might have been from this mishmash of conflicting story threads. No, they needed an Iron Fist show to finish setting up The Defenders, so they hired people to film one. And given the amount of time we waste on Rand Enterprises corporate drama, and how little kung fu superheroing takes place, it doesn’t seem like any of the writers actually wanted to be doing Iron Fist. The entire season has the feel of everyone involved saying “Eh, it’ll do.”

And you only gave the lead 15 minutes to learn his fights? No wonder they look like you filmed a rehearsal. Jesus, people.

High point: Episode 12, “Bar the Big Boss,” could have been the most satisfying Marvel Netflix season finale since Jessica Jones, save for two things. 1) The plotlines it wrapped up (in decent fashion) had only started two episodes ago; 2) It was not, in fact, the season finale. It’s like they wrapped the show, put a nice bow on it, and suddenly remembered they needed to do one more. But, you know… everything before that moment was as good as Iron Fist got.

Low Point: The joke would be “With the entire season this bland, it’s hard to pick,” but it’s episode two, “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight.” Nothing of merit happens in this episode that couldn’t have happened in episode one. Two episodes in, and the show was already spinning its wheels.

MVP: Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum. In my 10,000 or so words tearing Iron Fist apart back in March, I took many a shot at Ward, and how cartoonishly dickish he was from word one. What I didn’t find time to get into is how well Tom Pelphrey nailed it. In a show that didn’t so much have “character arcs” as “a bunch of largely random and often self-contradictory so-called ‘character beats,'” Tom Pelphrey made Ward’s journey from “utter tool” to “drug addict on the verge of a nervous breakdown” to “legit friend and ally to Danny” actually feel like a somewhat natural progression. Sure I’ve complained that the Meachum plots were often dead air, and will continue to do so, but still, props to Tom for managing that much with a character I was ready to write off by the end of the first hour.

Advice for next season: You did everything badly. Everything. Every single thing about your show was on the spectrum from “flawed” to “terrible.” And until you grasp that, maybe a second season isn’t the best idea. But since it seems inevitable, start here: Danny Rand is a superhero with magical kung fu powers. Anything that is not serving that concept, drop it. If that’s not what you want to write for, quit.

And schedule time to rehearse some decent fight scenes, damn your eyes.

12. Luke Cage

After two years of Marvel Netflix topping the list, we have arrived, readers, at The Year When Marvel Netflix Got Its Ass Kicked by the CW.

And it’s not because everyone on the CW was trying their best.

Strengths: The soundtrack is pretty killer. The “battle for the soul of Harlem” between Luke and Cottonmouth had promise. As did Detective Misty Knight. And not enough good things can be said about Mahershala Ali (who doesn’t seem to know how to give less than a great performance) and Alfre Woodard as Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Mariah and her henchman /mentor Shades have a fascinating relationship in the back half. Also, given how gleamingly white most superhero properties are (13 shows covered here, 11 with white protagonists), it’s refreshing to have a show so unapologetically black, and invested in the history of Harlem.

Weaknesses: Hoo boy.

Maybe Marvel Netflix should try shorter seasons. They are having real trouble filling 13 episodes. Luke Cage starts slow, gets interesting in the middle, then falls apart at the end. And it’s not just 

the death of Cottonmouth,

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it’s the fact that it’s followed by absolute garbage. They had two strong villains, but they throw them both aside in favour of Diamondback, who is just dull and empty. And he comes out of nowhere! Not Diamondback the gun dealer, no, but how did they spend an entire hour on Luke Cage’s origin and they still couldn’t set up this supposed childhood best friend of Luke’s until he bursts out of the shadows, with zero context, screaming “It was me all along!” I get, I get that if they introduced him earlier we’d have guessed he was a villain, but just because the twist is obvious doesn’t mean you get to just skip the build-up and go straight to the reveal. The twists on The Flash aren’t exactly hard to spot, but they make them work. Moving on.

No, I’m not. Because the other thing that sucks about Diamondback is that the whole “battle for the soul of Harlem” goes right out the window. Diamondback ain’t give a fuck about the soul of Harlem, he just wants to destroy Luke for reasons we didn’t even know were a thing ten minutes ago.

Remember back when I wrote about hard truths for geek media, and listed a bunch of plot holes between all of the Marvel Netflix shows? Well, all of them were from Luke Cage. (Iron Fist not having dropped yet.) Again, I get not wanting to have all the Defenders meet before the big show, but in this case? The absence of Daredevil and Jessica Jones only makes sense if you assume Manhattan is the size of greater metropolitan Los Angeles. If Luke were in Compton, and Jessica in Burbank, and Daredevil broodily guarding Anaheim, then sure they wouldn’t cross paths much. But as it stands, they’re all a ten dollar cab ride away from each other, so a highly publicised hostage situation involving Luke should have drawn everyone else’s attention.

And Misty Knight would have been a contender for female lead, except for this… she’s set up as this master detective, able to rebuild a crime in her mind just by examining the scene. But a) she can’t tell her partner’s on the take, b) she can’t tell Luke’s a good guy, and c) she falls for the laziest frame-up I’ve ever seen. Diamondback throws on a hoodie, kills a cop, and runs off shouting “Luke Cage! I’m Luke CAAAAAAGE! Argle bargle bargle Luke CAAAAAAAGE!” and everyone falls for it! If it’s that easy to frame a guy, then I’m off to New York to shoot at bankers while shouting “MITCH MCCONNELL, MOTHERFUCKERS!”

High point: Probably “Manifest,” where shit gets serious and Mariah makes her big play.

Low Point: “You Know My Steez” provides a perfunctory-at-best final battle between Luke and Diamondback while they desperately try to pretend that the “battle for the soul of Harlem” didn’t end six episodes earlier. And then they end on a cliffhanger that will have to resolve, and be resolved quickly, on The Defenders. Because if Luke spends more than an episode in a different city than the other three, that will suck. Iron Fist’s cliffhanger wasn’t great, but at least they can put a pin in it for a while.

MVP: Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth. Was a time I wanted to give this to Claire Temple, who usually ends up a highlight of each Marvel Netflix show, but every highlight of this show you could name revolves around Cottonmouth somehow. Could’ve been Mariah if Diamondback hadn’t sucked the air out of her plot the second it got its sails up.

Advice for next season: Look, I’m not saying don’t have a third act plot twist. I’m just saying don’t throw out your only interesting plotline for something lame and hackneyed. Actually avoid “lame and hackneyed” altogether if you could. Just… just do better. Do significantly better.

And try to make The Defenders a little bit fun? “Invasion!” set the bar pretty high.

11. Powerless

Powerless put a lot of work into being as funny as it was, from binning their original concept as an insurance company to firing the showrunner who pitched it being about an insurance company to spending a few episodes experimenting on the best way to write this new idea. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their approach of being Better Off Ted with DC references, but the problem with being similar to Better Off Ted is that that is a damned hard show to live up to.

Look, you should probably just go watch Better Off Ted and come back. I can’t promise I’m done referencing it and it’ll just get confusing if you haven’t seen it, and it was so good you guys.

Strengths: When they really steered into the “Life in the DC Universe” angle, it worked well. When lead character Emily accidentally started dating a henchman of the Riddler (played by iZombie’s Robert Buckley, whose comedy skills are sorely underrated), for instance. That episode was hilarious. Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were reliably funny, and I came to enjoy Ron Funches (even if he’s no Donald Glover, Danny Pudi’s former partner in crime from Community). Natalie Morales made a good Green Fury, which is not a character I expected to see a live action version of any time soon.

Weaknesses: Sure the show is set in the DC Universe, but it also weirdly avoided it, or misinterpreted it. Charm City? DC comics doesn’t have enough made up cities? Do we need to keep inventing new ones? Couldn’t this have just taken place in, like, Sacramento or something? Also, their depiction of Crimson Fox and Jack-o-Lantern were way, way off.

Beyond that… Emily never really found her stride as a lead. I get what they were going for, but it never fully clicked. And I never fully warmed to Wendy, the annoying co-worker. She didn’t turn me completely off the show like Mimi from Drew Carrey, but I didn’t love her like Danny Pudi’s Teddy or Alan Tudyk’s boastful yet insecure Van Wayne.

High point: Either “Sinking Day,” where the staff has to host a delegation from Atlantis to win their business, or “Emily Dates a Henchman,” in… which… well, you can probably guess.

Low point: The pilot, “Wayne or Lose.” While undoubtedly an improvement over the original pilot, they had not fully found the fun yet. Might explain why they didn’t really find an audience.

MVP: Gonna go with Danny Pudi as Teddy. Reliably funny with a more likeable character than Alan Tudyk’s Van Wayne.

Advice for next season: Sadly this won’t be necessary. I guess it’s too much to hope that Emily and her team could find work in Star City at… whatever Queen Consolidated is these days. Palmer Technologies? They’re still around, right? Yeah. Yeah, that’s too much to hope.

10. The Flash

Okay, so, remember when I said not everyone at the CW was trying super hard?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy The Flash, and would rewatch all 23 episodes of season three in one sitting before reliving the back third of Luke Cage or episode two of Iron Fist, but… From tied for first two years ago to tenth. That certainly looks like an alarming slide. How did it happen? The same reason Ocean’s 11 is one of my absolute favourite movies but I would break from shackles to avoid Ocean’s 12: they lost the fun. At first Arrow was the brooding one and Flash was the fun one, but then last year Supergirl was the fun one, and this year it’s Legends of Tomorrow, and each time The Flash gets sulkier, but you know what? You’re allowed to have more than one fun one, CW.

Strengths: Still the most unapologetically comic-booky show on the air, and after Iron Fist, I am officially calling “refusal to be comic booky” a weakness, not an equally valid choice. The cast is still quite solid, even if their characters were on the sulky side this year. And while the season arc wasn’t particularly well paced, they stuck the landing better than last year with a more satisfying finale. The long-awaited Killer Frost arc worked out to be everything we’d hoped.

Tom Felton turned out to be a great addition to the cast. His Julien Albert was a reliably well-done character, his arc from Barry/Flash’s rival/enemy to genuine friend was well done, and I’m glad he appears to be sticking around for another year. I do wonder… did he officially request no “Harry Potter” jokes? Because Julien name-dropped Planet of the Apes but Cisco made zero Potter references.

Two words… Jesse Quick. More of her next year? (Fine, seven words.)

There was never much doubt who Alchemy was going to be, but they went somewhere interesting with it. The Alchemy reveal was so much more than “Well of course it was that guy.”

The reveal of Savitar’s true identity wasn’t a surprise, as they drew it out long enough for the internet to have guessed it months earlier, but it did have one interesting twist. And the best part is?

Giving away the ending, if you care.

After “Barry messing with time” was the metaphorical big bad of half of the season, the literal Big Bad actually was “Barry messing with time.” If this is the end of Barry messing with time (and please let it be), that’s a good way to end it.

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Weaknesses: After threatening to destroy the entire multiverse last season (if there is such a thing as “too comic booky,” it is the line “You’re using the magnetar to destroy the multiverse”), they went far more personal this year… the big threat turned out to be “Iris is going to be killed and then Barry will be sad.” A more personal arc isn’t the bad part, but devoting over half the season to Iris being refrigerated isn’t great.

The best villains have understandable, even relatable motivations. Savitar wanted “to be a god.” To what end, exactly? I mean… does he want to remake the world, or… what’s the end game here, guy? And why was killing Iris at one exact moment, no earlier or, it turns out, no later so important to that?

Brooding Barry and sulky Cisco got old.

The time travel mechanics on The Flash don’t make tons of sense and clash with how time travel works on Legends of Tomorrow and there’s never going to be an explanation besides “speedforce, bitches,” and if that bothers you I can’t help you.

After a season of anticipation, the Flash/Supergirl musical was kind of a let down. The songs didn’t drive the story like they should in a musical, and… who exactly is the Music Meister and why did he do all of this? I don’t know. I don’t think they know.

The filler villains-of-the-week are just getting thin.

High point: “Infantino Street” is a close second for having Barry and Captain Cold work together on a heist that involves King Shark, and if you don’t love every part of that you don’t get me. But I’ll say it’s “Attack on Gorilla City/Attack on Central City.” Could they afford a two-part episode involving Barry fighting an army of gorillas? Not entirely. Was it great? Yes. Certainly the best Grodd episodes yet. Plus two Harrison Wellses, Jesse Quick working with Kid Flash, Julien excited for a field trip to Earth 2, and a great Wells mentor moment, as “Harry” Wells of Earth 2 helps Barry turn away from killing. That’s how that’s done, Iron Fist.

Low point: “Untouchable.” A half-assed meta-of-the-week, “How could you keep this secret from me,” Iris in danger as plot point, and “I wasn’t fast enough!” It’s all of Flash’s worst or most tired narrative devices in one big slurry.

Advice for next season: You’ve leaked that next year’s big bad won’t be a speedster. That’s good. Evil speedsters were getting played out. Some other things you could move on from… 1) Villains from the future who know everything about Barry and the team because from his perspective they’ve been fighting for years. 2) The Big Bad being Barry’s fault. Maybe the opening monologue could not involve “I did a thing and exposed our world to new threats” next year. 3) “We have to keep this secret from the team.” Come on, guys, that has worked out zero times.

And above all… your filler villains are getting weak. I know the Big Bad can’t carry every episode, because the pacing can’t handle it, and I know you can only afford so much Gorilla Grodd, but this is what the Rogues should be for. You need better filler villains, you need the Rogues to unite… short version? You need Captain Cold back. In just the worst way.

9. Riverdale

I mean what the hell. What the hell. I started watching this as a lark, expecting to hate-watch it for a month, have a good laugh, and move on, and now I’m legit hooked on it. Sure, it’s soapy trash with a familiar brand slapped on top of it, but it’s the best kind of soapy trash with a weirdly appropriate brand slapped on top of it. The teen characters are decently complex, to the point where even uber-mean girl Cheryl Blossom has her moments of humanity. The parents can be a bit more straight-up-evil, especially the gothic horror parents that are Cliff and Penelope Blossom and the vicious, judgmental, often cruel Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper as in Betty’s mother, not the heavily made-up 70s rocker of the same name. Though what a show that would be…

Strengths: I kind of love the Betty/Veronica friendship that springs up in the opening episodes. And by episode two, they steer away from the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle as hard as they can. Okay, there’s a hint still there, and probably always will be, but Betty and Veronica refuse to allow it to come between them, nor allow Archie to define them. They’re too clever, too strong, too independent to allow some redheaded wannabe-singer’s affection to rule their lives. (One of them gets with Archie eventually, but it’s earned.)

“Emo crime novelist/narrator” doesn’t sound like Jughead, but it works better than you’d think.

Luke Perry is surprisingly good as Archie’s dad, well-meaning construction company owner Fred Andrews. He’s the only good parent on this show, but not so glowingly good that he becomes some sort of saint.

For a show based around a grimmer, darker version of Riverdale and its denizens, Archie is still unflinchingly good. Sure, he makes mistakes and hurts people now and again, but not because he’s malicious, because he’s a 16-year-old boy and thus is statistically likely to be an idiot. He’s no boy scout, but Archie Andrews always wants to do right by his friends. And even his enemies.

There are some interesting and twisted turns on the road to finding out the who and why of Jason Blossom’s murder.

The producers really take “But does this character need to be white” to heart. Josie and the Pussycats went from one-third to entirely black, Reggie’s Asian, Veronica Lodge and her mother (and, based on the recently announced casting, her father) are Hispanic, and it all works. If characters with the aggressively white names “Hiram and Hermione Lodge” work as Hispanics, ain’t nobody got an excuse to keep whitewashing everything.

As hinted earlier, there is a scene in the finale with Archie and a frozen river that might be in the top three but is still one of the most moving scenes of any show on this list. Way better than anything in Iron Fist.

Weaknesses: For the supposed main character, Archie surely spends a lot of the season in the least interesting stories. Everyone else has murder, intrigue, an evil father figure manipulating the town from prison, a secret asylum, teen homelessness, a brewing clash between the rich and poor sides of town… and while all of that is happening, Archie just wants to sing and play football! Truly, nobody suffers like Archie Andrews.

Perhaps this happened because while all of the other stuff was being established, Archie was busy in their one real misstep: young, sexy Miss Grundy having an affair with Archie. It was gross and weird. Thankfully it didn’t last long.

Sometimes the dialogue, especially Veronica’s, can be a little too hip and self aware. From trying to decide which Truman Capote book Riverdale reminds her of in the pilot to saying “At the risk of failing the Bechdel Test” before asking Betty a question about Archie in the finale, it’s sometimes a little much.

I get why people think that Jughead liking girls is a step backward for asexual representation, since that just recently officially became comic canon. I don’t mind it, but I do mind his blasé attitude towards hamburgers.

Colour-blind casting is good, but a point was raised to me not long ago… with the exception of one scene in which Josie informs Archie that he can’t possibly understand the realities of life as a black woman, there’s not really any insight into race. The fact that the Lodges are Hispanic and Reggie is Asian is never brought up, so what their racial experiences would be like is unexamined. Look, guys, I’m very, very white, so I don’t know what to tell you here. I honestly don’t know which outweighs which, colourblind casting or having something to say about what challenges football star Reggie would have being Asian in a small town. A topic for people with more experience than I have.

High Point: Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats, Kill! Kill! has a few major revelations in the Jason Blossom case, a good showcase for the most underrated character, Val (my favourite of Josie’s Pussycats), and really shows us exactly why Josie is the way she is. And some decent songs.

Low Point: Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend. Betty ignores Jughead’s negative views towards birthday parties, Archie is a dick about Val, Cheryl Blossom loses what humanity she’d gained, and a revelation about Alice Cooper’s past doesn’t go anywhere. There is a key moment between Archie and Veronica, though.

MVP: Lili Reinhart and Camilla Mendes as Betty and Veronica. This is not a show about Archie and his Pals and Gals. This is Betty and Veronica’s show, which they graciously allow Archie and Jughead to be in. Betty and Veronica are forces of nature when challenged, and Lili and Camilla are crushing it.

Advice for next season: I’d hoped for an exciting casting announcement for next season’s probable main villain, Hiram Lodge, but they went ahead and cast someone I’d never heard of and have never seen in anything. Damn shame. Grabbing a Lou Diamond Phillips or even a Richard Grieco would have been fun and on-brand given how many 80s/90s icons are playing parents on this show. So you let me down there, but you do have a way to make it up to me. Four words… Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Do it. Make it happen. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, I want this more than anything.

And as to how the finale ended? Undo it. Undo it. UN. DO. IT.

I thought I could fit all 13 rankings into two posts. How naive I was. Turns out I had a lot to say about Riverdale.

I’ll try to speed this up and spend less time slamming Iron Fist. It’s just, it’s just, it’s a cautionary tale for nearly every instance.

Doing characters second this year because there are a lot of categories and summing up 13 shows took up a lot of space. New faces, a few surprises, and a few obvious answers await. Here goes.

Best Male Lead

Honourable Mentions: Preacher’s Jesse Custer is an interesting character played well by Dominic Cooper, but this being a ten episode origin story, and him spending the second act kind of mad with power, means he doesn’t quite make the podium as a protagonist.

Bronze: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion

Dan Stevens, an actor I was largely unfamiliar with due to not having watched much Downton Abbey, does impressive work as David Haller, a man struggling for sanity only to learn the depth of his true powers. Sure, it takes him a while to accept who he truly is, but it’s a journey worth taking.

Silver: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Arrow

Arrow’s fifth season put past and future Oliver through three kinds of ringers, and Stephen Amell upped his game to meet the challenge. Oliver’s struggles against his past, and his fight to earn his future, led to Amell doing his best work.

Gold: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer

Stephen Amell wasn’t the only one bringing his work to a new level. Tom Ellis’ work on Lucifer was already excellent in season one, enough to keep me watching a show I’d considered ridiculous in premise, but this year? Gone was his over-reliance on “amused surprise and lustiness.” His reaction to the events of his brother Uriel’s visit are heart-rending. His attempts to deal with his mother go from intense to hilarious. When Lucifer’s on top, he’s a delight. When he’s broken, you break with him, and Tom Ellis is charismatic and captivating throughout.

Best Female Lead

Honourable mentions: Ruth Negga did great work as a largely re-imagined Tulip O’Hare on Preacher, but the first season kept her on the sidelines in a go-nowhere plot too long; Rose McIvor always does great work as Liv on iZombie, but this wasn’t her character’s best year; Riverdale haters probably don’t want to know how close Betty and Veronica came to the podium.

Bronze: Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, Legion

Syd Barrett did not exactly win the mutant power lottery. If she touches someone, they instantly switch bodies. (The weird part is that when it wears off, their bodies switch places, not their minds.) This led to an uncomfortably tragic moment in her youth that may have helped her end up in the same mental hospital as David, where despite being unable to touch, they fall in love.

But make no mistake, Syd is no one’s damsel or passive love interest. If anyone’s saving anyone, Syd is saving David. Their allies and enemies may be fixated on his power levels, but Syd just sees the sweet, sensitive, scared man she fell in love with. And if any conspiracy, mutant-hunting black ops group, or sinister [REDACTED] want to threaten him, they have to go through her.

And she does not make that easy to do.

Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl

The training wheels are off in Supergirl’s second season. Kara spent season one learning the ropes, but she opens season two working alongside Superman as an equal, and closes it taking his place as Earth’s champion (his words, not mine). Along the way she becomes an advocate and defender to refugees, immigrants, and the downtrodden. And above most characters this season (save for David Haller and, weirdly, Archie Andrews), it’s her innate goodness that shone through. Punching is rarely Supergirl’s opening move.

And Melissa Benoist is just delightful.

Gold: Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, Legends of Tomorrow

Sara “White Canary” Lance has been many things since being introduced back in Arrow’s second season: island survivor, reformed assassin, Starling City vigilante, corpse, feral ex-corpse, and time travelling renegade. But when the Waverider’s captain, Rip Hunter, went missing at the start of season two, Sara had to take on a new role: leader. After a brief, fumbling attempt by Martin Stein to take command, it became clear that only Sara could captain the Waverider in Rip’s absence. And by the time he came back, it was equally clear that she was better at it than he ever was.

And it’s not just the writers trying to force this despite nothing in the writing backing it up, Sara stepped up. She rose above her desire to alter time by killing Damien Darhk (not that he’s easy to kill), led the team through multiple successes, and held the line against the Legion of Doom. When it falls to Sara to put things right in the end, it’s earned.

And let’s admit, Caity Lotz is pretty badass when she wants to be. No wonder even Camelot’s Queen Guinevere has a crush on Sara.

Best Supporting Male

Honourable mentions: Freed of his unrequited crush on Kara, Supergirl’s Winn Schott was pretty delightful this year; the iZombie writers finally learned how to exploit Robert Buckley’s gift for comedy, meaning Major finally got some fun material this season; Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were often funnier than their material on Powerless; and despite some poor choices his character made, I’ll always enjoy iZombie’s Rahul Kohli’s take on Ravi Chakrabarti.

Bronze: Tom Cavanagh as the Harrisons Wells, The Flash

Tom Cavanagh’s had an odd journey on The Flash. First he was Barry’s secretly sinister mentor, Harrison Wells, but when that character wrapped up at the end of season one, the producers rightfully couldn’t let Tom go. And so we were introduced to Harrison Wells’ Earth-2 doppelganger, known as “Harry” for simplicity. And this season, Earth-19’s “HR” Wells took his place for most of the season.

HR isn’t the scientific genius that the others were; he’s a novelist with a talent for helping actual geniuses (like his partner in founding Earth-19’s STAR Labs) find their big ideas. More important to the season, he doesn’t have any of Harry’s stern and abrasive nature. HR’s peppy, coffee-addicted (Earth-19 lost its coffee crops to a blight), drumstick-twirling cheerleader provided comic relief in The Flash’s mopiest season to date. And when the season wrapped, he broke our hearts.

Cavanagh isn’t the only Flash actor to pull double duty (or even triple), but he is the only one to make fans forget that they were both the same actor.

Silver: Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Agents of SHIELD

One half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable duo, Fitz had a hell of a ride this year. At first all was well as he was finally together with his longtime love Jemma Simmons, although new SHIELD policies kept them apart at the office. But as Holden Radcliffe became a surrogate father figure, Fitz found himself getting deeper involved in Radcliffe’s off-the-books robot research, especially Aida, the AI that’s slowly becoming sentient and making her own plans. Which brings us to where he became truly impressive this season.

When Aida creates her own Hydra-controlled world in Radcliffe’s Framework, she arranges for Fitz to be her right hand. Fitz transforms from the sweet, lovable gadgeteer we’ve known for the past 3+ years to the cruel, cold-hearted, Inhuman-butchering second-in-command of Hydra, led to the dark side by a functional relationship with his father. Hydra-Fitz is chilling, which would be an impressive enough turn for the character, but there’s more. When Simmons practically drags him out of the Framework, real-world Fitz is shattered by what he did. Every line he crossed, every evil act he authorised, and the two real lives ended by his actions in the Framework crush him. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it’s anyone’s guess how he comes back from this.

Gold: Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Preacher

“I am a 119 year-old vampire from Dublin City. And I’m currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes who keep tracking me down somehow. What else? I’m a right-handed Sagittarius. I love Chinese food. I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean. And I think that The Big Lebowski’s overrated.” It’s that last part that sticks in Jesse Custer’s head at first and leads to a great running gag.

You wouldn’t think a hard-drinking, drug-abusing vampire would become Preacher’s moral center. And while that title sometimes falls to Eugene/Arseface, when Jesse’s crossed a line, it’s Cassidy who’s there to call him out. When angels are out to vivisect Jesse, Cassidy’s got his back. And Joseph Gilgun was the most reliably entertaining member of a particularly strong cast.

Also, the sequence in which Cassidy casually explains how vampirism works by answering a series of short questions from Tulip is one of my favourite “explain the magic” moments.

Best Supporting Female

Honorouble mentions: Dr. Linda, Maze, and Ella are all super fun on Lucifer. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple might have made the podium for Luke Cage if Iron Fist hadn’t worked so hard to ruin her as a character.

Bronze: Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD

The other half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable couple also had a great year. The difference being that Simmons didn’t wait until after the Framework to break our hearts.

That Elizabeth Henstridge is an asset to the cast of SHIELD shouldn’t surprise. She anchored what might be the show’s best episode last season, and starting with a riveting performance in the paranoid “Self Control,” she was the heart of the show’s best arc. She fights to prove that the Fitz she loves is still somewhere inside Hydra’s cruel Doctor throughout Agents of Hydra, and is almost as crushed as Fitz himself when he comes out broken by his virtual misdeeds. Daisy’s in theory the lead of Agents of Hydra, but Simmons is doing the emotional heavy lifting, and doing it well.

Silver: Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost, The Flash

It happened. The moment comic fans have been expecting since Caitlin Snow first appeared on Arrow’s second season (or, if you surf entertainment sites like I do, since they announced her casting). We got a tease of it last year, thanks to Caitlin’s evil Earth-2 doppelganger. But after Barry’s Flashpoint meddling with time, in season three STAR Labs’ resident biologist began her transformation into cold-powered and cold-hearted Killer Frost. She spent months trying to hold her powers and the accompanying shift to her personality at bay, but when her would-be love interest Julian Albert unleashes her powers to save her life, Caitlin Snow dies and Killer Frost takes her place.

But this new Killer Frost is better and more interesting than her pure-evil Earth-2 doppelganger. Sure she’s quick to turn on her former friends and side with Savitar, but Caitlin isn’t all gone yet. There’s an ember of her past self still fighting against Killer Frost’s vicious instincts, and Panabaker’s doing a great job of playing it. It’ll be fun to see where that leads next season.

Gold: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Supergirl

Chyler Leigh has acting superpowers. When Alex Danvers cries, you cry. When Alex is happy, you get a contact high. When she straps on a Kryptonite-powered battle suit to help her sister go round and round with Metallo, you cheer.

And Alex also got to be part of one of the season’s best love stories, as working cases alongside police detective Maggie Sawyer leads to Alex coming out and finding love for the first time in her life. It’s a moving story that Leigh absolutely crushes.

Best Villain

Honourable mentions: There was some great villainy happening out there this year. From Jackie Earle Haley’s disturbingly calm but vicious Odin Quincannon on Preacher, to [REDACTED]’s fantastic heel turn as the near-unbeatable Prometheus on Arrow, to Teri Hatcher’s legacy casting as Queen Rhea of Daxam on Supergirl, to Mahershala Ali’s too-brief performance as Cottomouth on Luke Cage, to the overbearing Alice Cooper and the Gothic horror of the Blossom family on Riverdale. And the only thing holding back Lucifer’s Goddess, aka “Charlotte,” is that I’m not always 100% convinced she’s really a “villain,” per se. Okay, sure, the plagues and the floods turned out to be on her, but still.

There are, however, still three standouts.

Bronze: The Legion of Doom, Legends of Tomorrow

Not entirely indicative of the team.

There’s a moment in season two of Legends of Tomorrow when Rip Hunter, thinking he’s a film student, complains that his film about rogue time agent Rip Hunter is failing because his villain (clearly meant to be season one’s Vandal Savage) has no menace, and was possibly miscast. Damning but accurate shade thrown at their own first season. Moments later, Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk stroll up to him. “See?” he says, “That’s better.” A little self-congratulatory, but again, accurate.

Legends of Tomorrow was born out of making a team from the DCW-verse’s best supporting characters, and they took the same approach to building the Legion of Doom: a collection of their best villains (save for Deathstroke). Matt Lestcher’s Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash, Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk, John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members provide the perfect blend of menace and camp for the Waverider crew’s second season. They’re up to all kinds of bad, to be sure, but they’re almost too fun to watch to root against.

Silver: Mallory Jansen as Aida, Agents of SHIELD

Aida wasn’t the villain for a lot of the season, but only because they gave her time to grow into the role. She began as Holden Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy prototype, a computer in a human-looking body, programmed to assist Radcliffe and preserve life. Exposure to evil spellbook the Darkhold grants her sentience, but not free will. She can’t break her programming, but she can bend it just enough to launch a plan… trap key SHIELD personnel in Radcliffe’s artificial world, the Framework, then use it and the Darkhold to build herself a human body loaded up with Inhuman powers. But also with human emotions she isn’t prepared to process. While positive emotions give her a sense of incomparable bliss, despair and rage send her over the edge.

It’s not just the best character arc of any villain this season. Most protagonists should have been so lucky to have an arc that good. And Mallory Jansen is great in it, nailing the transition from Siri with a body to an all-powerful mega-Inhuman driven crazy by her first taste of heartache. And as a bonus, the ex-girlfriend Holden modelled Aida after, which let her use her natural Australian accent. Always a plus.

Really, only one thing could beat an arc like that…

Gold: Aubrey Plaza as “Lenny,” Legion

There weren’t many performances, comic book TV or otherwise, than can compare with Aubrey Plaza’s unhinged tour de force as Lenny, the voice in the back of David Haller’s head, the bad influence in every low moment of his recent life. I can’t say much about Lenny without giving away chunks of the story, which I’m loath to do, but I can say that Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of magnetic every time she’s on screen. She’s the voice of reason. She’s an enabling fellow addict. She’s doubt made flesh. She’s Tim Burton as a silent film monster. As a friend put it, she ranges from calm to chaotic to malevolent to sensual to violent to vulnerable to playful to sympathetic to sinister, sometimes in the course of a single episode. Sometimes in the course of a single scene. She is, simply put, impossible to top.

And that’s not even telling you what she’s doing.

Rookie of the Year

New category this year! See, sometimes a new character comes along who breathes whole new life into a show. This category is for new characters in established shows who really added something.

Honourable mentions: Many, because it’s harder to find a new character not worthy of a mention. Chris Wood and Floriana Lima were both great as the Danvers sisters’ new love interests on Supergirl, Mon-El and Maggie Sawyer; Aimee Garcia as the LAPD’s delightful new CSI Ella on LuciferJason O’Mara as SHIELD’s new director, Jeffrey Mace; and just barely off the podium is Nick Zano as the Waverider’s new steel-skinned forensic historian Nate Heywood on Legends of Tomorrow.

Bronze: Tom Felton as Julien Albert, The Flash

I basically created this category to give a shout-out to Tom Felton’s CSI/meta-human expert Julien Albert, even if he didn’t make it to the top. Felton was a great addition, gradually and naturally evolving from Barry’s rival/nemesis to a truly valuable member of Team Flash. He had the edge and the know-how of earlier variations of Harrison Wells (the season three edition lacking both), with enough heart under his crusty exterior that you root for him just the same.

Silver: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl

Lena Luthor arrives in National City looking to redeem both Lexcorp and the Luthor name following her brother’s arrest in Metropolis for, I don’t know, something related to trying to kill Superman, I assume. Can she be trusted? Is she truly out for redemption, or will she eventually follow in her brother’s footsteps? Who knows. McGarth perfectly walks the line between earnestness and darkness. What we do know is that her friendship with Kara feels real and heartfelt. Kara truly believes in Lena, and Lena’s gratitude for that blooms into one of the show’s closest friendships. Maybe it’s doomed to turn sour, like Clark and Lex, maybe not… I mean, Lena’s more sinister mother Lillian has a point, Lena might not react well to being literally the only major character who doesn’t know Kara’s secret identity. But if it does go bad, it’ll be heartbreaking. Smallville wishes they’d done Clark and Lex’s doomed friendship this well.

(There are those in the fandom who feel Kara and Lena make a better couple than Kara and Mon-El. But since neither of them has indicated being attracted to women… it just feels like seeing two women bonding and yelling “Now make out!” Which is just a gross thing to do.)

Gold: Tricia Helfer as “Charlotte,” Lucifer

Well why even do this category if gold isn’t going to the Goddess Charlotte? No new addition, or returning player for that matter, did as much for their show as the tumultuous arrival of Lucifer’s mother, trapped in the slightly murdered body of adulterous lawyer Charlotte Richards. Her very presence brought the series’ mythology to a whole new level, and Helfer nailed it. “Charlotte’s” love for her angelic children, disdain for humanity, and confusion about how to function on Earth are all spot-on. And even if none of that were true, she’d nearly have this category locked down just from her hilarious delivery of Charlotte’s views of humanity: “All they do is eat. Then later the food comes out changed. And not for the better!” or “They breathe through their mouths and will NOT. SHUT. UP about something called ‘gluten.'”

Best Guest Star

Second new category! Sometimes a guest star makes enough of a splash that you wish their appearance weren’t so temporary. I’m defining this as guest stars outside the main ensemble, which includes both credited principals (eg. Buffy, Willow, or Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and major recurring characters (eg. Tara, again from Buffy, who was only a credited principal for one episode but was consistently around for three years). Which sadly means no love for Arrow’s Anatoly, ’cause he was around all the time, or Jemaine Clement’s Oliver Bird on Legion, because he’s basically part of the ensemble.

Honourable mentions: Michael Imperioli’s game-changing guest spot as Uriel on Lucifer; Natalie Morales’ dry wit as the only live-action Green Fury I’m ever likely to see on Powerless; Gabriel Luna as a surprisingly effective Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD; Timothy Omundson as a mental patient who might be Lucifer’s Father.

Bronze: Dolph Lundgren as Konstantin Kovar, Arrow

Oliver Queen has been through some dark and scary things over the last five years of Green Arrowing and the previous five years of flashbacks. Shipwreck, torture, arrow wounds, having his life force magically drained… but very little of it seemed as scary as getting worked over by Dolph Lundgren. As Russian gangster Konstantin Kovar, Lundgren was perfectly cast as the final boss of Oliver’s flashback journey from playboy to The Hood. And their final confrontation made for a surprisingly good capstone to the flashback saga, even with the way they meandered in seasons three and four.

Silver: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, Supergirl

Supergirl’s more famous cousin finally came to visit at the top of Supergirl’s new season, and he was basically perfect. Hoechlin’s Superman had the folksy charm, positivity, and innate goodness that some people feel is missing from Henry Cavill’s version. He played well against basically everyone. Obviously he can’t come by super often, because nobody wants Supergirl to be overshadowed on her own show, but when he can swing by, it’s special.

Gold: Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, Flash/Legends of Tomorrow

The DCW-verse has made its share of mistakes. Laurel’s pill addiction, mixing up Earths 2 and 3 (although pretty much only I care about that one), introducing Jason Rusch before they knew they were going to need a replacement Firestorm, uninspired versions of Ra’s Al Ghul and Vandal Savage… but nothing was quite as big a mistake as killing off Captain Cold at the end of Legends of Tomorrow’s first season.

Yes, it was a good scene, yes, he had a killer final line, yes it was a fitting end to his season arc. But every time Leonard Snart swaggers onto the screen, we’re reminded of what a perfect addition to the Flash world and crewman of the Waverider he was. This year he haunted his ex-partner, was present for the origin of Mirror Master (who is not filling his shoes), and helped Flash steal an alien power source that was guarded by a giant man-shark, and all of it was great, and it all me sad he’s not around more.

Okay. Next up, the rankings. Brace yourself, there’s a lot to cover.

It’s that time of year again. The time when I go through all the comic book-based TV shows of the year and tell you who did what the best.

Because if I have to think about it, you get to hear about it. That is the arrangement. That is what happens here.

The field has started to get a wee bit crowded, folks, so instead of recapping what ended, what started, etc., let’s just take a look at the players for the 2016/17 season.

Agents of SHIELD: In the wake of the Sokovia Accords (one last desperate link to the Marvel movies), SHIELD is reborn. With a new Director in place and Daisy “Quake” Johnson having gone rogue, Coulson and company deal with Ghost Rider, a mad scientist and his robots, and anti-Inhuman terror group the Watchdogs, all connected by the evil, slightly sentient spellbook the Darkhold.

Arrow: Call it “Green Arrow and the Forgotten Heroes.” After most of Team Arrow went their separate ways at the end of season four, Oliver Queen juggles being mayor of Star City with leading and training a new crew– featuring, among others, obscure DC characters Wild Dog, Ragman, and Mr. Terrific– to take on rising crime lord Tobias Church and the more vicious and lethal crimefighter Vigilante. But waiting in the wings is Prometheus, who’s out to prove that Oliver himself is Star City’s greatest monster.

The Flash: After altering the timeline while trying to save his parents, fastest man alive Barry Allen must come to terms with what he’s done to his friends’ lives, while also fending off Savitar, the self-described god of speed, and his acolyte Alchemy.

Iron Fist: Danny Rand, having gone missing after a plane crash when he was 10, returns to New York to reclaim his place at his family’s company, only to discover that it’s been infested by ninja death cult The Hand. Who as the Iron Fist, protector of the mystical city of K’un Lun, he is sworn to destroy.

iZombie: Eating brains to solve murders gets complicated when the all-zombie private military corporation Fillmore Graves (this show and their gag names) comes to Seattle, looking to make it the new zombie homeland… and word about the brain-eaters gets out around Seattle’s more gun-happy whackjobs. Seattle’s zombie population is stumbling towards Discovery Day.

Legends of Tomorrow: After taking down the corrupt Time Masters last season, the crew of the Waverider are now history’s only line of defence against time aberrations. With their captain missing, they’ll have to get good at it fast to stop the time-travelling Legion of Doom: speedster Eobard Thawne (Reverse Flash), Damien Darhk, Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members, who are out to rewrite reality itself.

Legion: David Haller has long struggled with hallucinations and voices, but begins to realise that these aren’t delusions, they’re manifestations of his mutant powers. But something dark and terrible is hiding in his memories, and it’s a threat to David, his new mutant friends, and pretty much the whole world. Loosely based on the X-Men character and set in a non-specific corner of the (or at least an) X-Men film universe.

Lucifer: Lucifer Morningstar, former King of Hell turned bar owner, finds his efforts to solve murders with LAPD detective Chloe Decker complicated by the arrival of his mother, forgotten co-creator of the universe, escaped from Hell and out to reclaim her place in Heaven.

Luke Cage: Ex-convict Luke Cage moves to Harlem, where he finds himself at odds with local crime lord Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard.

Powerless: Witness everyday life in the DC Universe as Emily Locke moves to Charm City for her new job working for Bruce Wayne…’s vain, idiot cousin Van Wayne as the head of a Wayne Industries R&D department, designing products to protect civilians from superhero battles. It’s Better Off Ted with superhero references!

Preacher: Jesse Custer, a small-town preacher with a shady past, finds himself bonded to an entity called Genesis, which grants him the power to make anyone do whatever he says. He sets out the save the souls of his town, with help from his single-mom assistant Emily, hindrance from his criminal childhood sweetheart Tulip O’Hare, and a little of both from Irish vampire Cassidy. Then things get weird.

Riverdale: Aka “Sexy Archie.” Wannabe musician Archie Andrews, tightly wound girl-next-door Betty Cooper, aspiring crime novelist Jughead Jones, and recovering mean girl newcomer Veronica Lodge deal with a series of intrigues, at the centre of which is the murder of classmate Jason Blossom. From the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics and Greg Berlanti, mastermind of the Flarrow-verse.

Supergirl: As both Supergirl and a reporter for Catco World Media, Kara Danvers/Zor-El fights to protect the humans and alien immigrants of National City from anti-alien terrorists Cadmus, while helping recent arrival Mon-El of Daxam find his place on Earth. Sure hope Mon-El isn’t hiding anything…

Not submitted for review: Gotham and Walking Dead. Look, guys, I just… I just can’t. I’m six seasons behind on Walking Dead and not hearing a lot of reasons to catch up, and I considered catching up on Gotham, but when the third season premiere involved the second season’s two worst characters opening a nightclub, I just couldn’t. And everything I’ve heard about season three sounds awful. They are no longer portraying a variation of Batman lore I want to be around. My blog, my rules.

Those are the contestants. Let’s begin!

Best Fight Scene!

With Daredevil taking the season off, this category was Iron Fist’s to lose. And boy howdy did they ever lose it.

Honourable mentions*: The heroes of four series battle the Dominators at the end of “Invasion!” on Legends of Tomorrow; Team Arrow and Team Prometheus’ big throwdown in the finale of Arrow; nearly two complete teams of Legends take on the Legion of Doom in Legends of Tomorrow’s finale, which showed how much better the Legion were as villains than Vandal Savage… the Legends split up to fight three Vandal Savages, and all three kind of went down like punks, whereas against the Legion it took two teams just to keep casualties to a minimum.

*There are 13 shows and a lot of them did good work so we’re going to have to do some honourable mentions this year, deal with it.

Bronze: Bolero, Legion, “Chapter Seven”

It’s not entirely a fight scene… I mean, there is a fight happening. A few fights happening. Just not, you know, entirely punch-related. But it is definitely an action sequence, and it’s visually, musically, and stylistically beyond compare. The only reason it’s ranked this low is because, again, much of it is not technicallyfight sequence in the classic sense.

I’m not going to try to explain what exactly is going on here. It’s… it’s really complex. I promise you that if you watch the show it all makes sense in context but if I just try to explain it I’m going to sound like a crazy person.

Embedding YouTube videos sells these scenes better, but they do kind of tend to get taken down for copyright reasons, so… here it is, but if you haven’t watched the show, it’s not going to make a ton of sense. Or, well, any. But it is gorgeous.

Silver: Meet Cassidy, Preacher, “Pilot”

Our first exposure to Preacher’s Irish vampire Cassidy has him pouring drinks and snorting lines as a bartender on a private plane filled with jovial businessmen. But Cassidy comes across an… enthusiastically annotated bible, and we swiftly learn that the businessmen aren’t as jovial as we thought, and the plane is filled with more medieval weaponry than commercial air allows. Cue one epic ass-stomping.

Video while it lasts.

Gold: “You ready for that noise now?” Preacher, “Pilot”

Yes, Preacher made the list twice. In its first episode. Fight me.

When we meet Jesse Custer in Preacher’s pilot, he’s a broken man. Ineffective as a preacher, quiet and withdrawn, but as the character’s creator Garth Ennis once described a different Preacher character, “in his eyes burn the embers of what was once an inferno.” When a kid in his parish asks Jesse to make his father stop hurting his mother, Jesse tries to look into it, only to find out this is more 50 Shades of Grey than Ike and Tina Turner. But the father, Donny, takes offence. While Jesse is drowning his sorrows, Donny and his buddies, fresh back from a Civil War re-enactment, strut into the bar looking for trouble.

They find it. They find more of it than they anticipated. The bad, bad man Jesse once was is re-awakened when Donnie threatens his own son. (And yes, the fact that they’re dressed as Confederate soldiers when Jesse stomps them down does make it more satisfying.)

Here’s hoping this video is still up when I publish this.

Most Emotional Moment

Given how many shows on this list are, in theory, action-based, you wouldn’t think this category would be harder to whittle down than “best fight.” But here we are. (Spoilers ahead, by the by.)

Honourable mentions: Three moments that narrowly, narrowly missed the podium, because it is Hell of competitive this year: Alex coming out to Kara and then breaking down when Maggie rejects her on Supergirl, because when Alex cries, I cry; Archie punching through a frozen river, bones breaking and blood spilling, in a desperate attempt to save a drowning classmate on Riverdale (Yes, Riverdale, FIGHT ME); Oliver’s confession to the team after falling for Prometheus’ trap on Arrow was both a crushing moment and proof of Oliver’s growth, since a year earlier he would have left certain details out.

Bronze: Major takes the Cure, iZombie, “Spanking the Zombie”

Poor Major Lillywhite.

Ravi’s second attempt at a zombie cure came with some unfortunate side effects: eventually it wears off, and then an indeterminate time after that, your lungs start filling with fluid and, despite your undead nature, you die. The only solution is his third attempt at a cure, but a few days after taking that, you lose your memory, possibly forever. Major’s not thrilled about losing his entire life to amnesia, but midway through the season, his time runs out. Major says a tearful farewell to his two closest friends, knowing that once he takes this injection, soon they’ll be strangers. He and Liv have one last night together before Major becomes human and every happy moment they ever had is swallowed by the fog. It’s sweet, but heartbreaking.

Silver: Oliver’s farewells, Arrow, “Invasion!”

In the middle chapter of last season’s big crossover, all of the characters with significant connections to the previous four seasons of Arrow woke up in a world where the doomed voyage of the Queen’s Gambit never happened, where everyone’s life worked out simpler and happier. Oliver never became the Hood, let alone the Green Arrow, and instead is about to marry a still-alive Laurel in front of his not-dead parents. But it doesn’t take long for him to figure out something’s wrong. And he knows, on some level, that he’s going to have to give all of this up to make it right. He tries to elope with Laurel before the ceremony, just to be married to her for even one moment before she’s gone, but simulation-Laurel doesn’t go for it and soon it’s time. Instead of marrying Laurel, he has to say a final goodbye to his father, mother, and a tearful Laurel. It’s crushing, and Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy rose to the occasion.

Gold: Lucifer’s choice, Lucifer, “Weaponizer”

Lucifer’s little brother Uriel has come to town on a mission: his ability to read patterns and foresee their outcomes tells him that their Mother escaping Hell will lead to her returning to Heaven, being forgiven by their Father, who she’ll then destroy. So he gives Lucifer a choice: deliver Mom to be destroyed by Uriel (not returned to Hell, as they expected, but destroyed entirely thanks to the purloined blade of their sister, Azrael, angel of death… who by the way I’m dy– no, I’m above the feeble wordplay… desperate to see turn up in season three), or he’ll kill Lucifer’s partner, Chloe. Given that he’s already nearly killed Chloe twice by a) moving a skateboard a couple of inches, and b) bumping into someone so they drop their clipboard, then watching the ripples play out, we know he’s serious, and that there wouldn’t be much Lucifer could do to stop him.

Lucifer must make a painful choice. And the consequences of that choice tear him apart.

Best Story

Fire as many arrows as you like, make all the quips you can, fill the show with spectacular action… but while you’re doing that, you’d best be telling a good story.

Honourable Mention: This year’s annual DCW crossover, “Invasion!” didn’t just set a high bar for Netflix’s Defenders series, it set a high bar for the Justice League movie. It progresses stories for everyone, I can watch clips of the heroes just hanging out and celebrating their win over and over, I love that it opens with Barry and Oliver under attack, and closes with Barry and Oliver having a beer and talking about life… Keeping it off the podium was a heartbreaking call to make. But…

Bronze: Agents of Hydra, Agents of SHIELD

Aida, the Life Model Decoy prototype with dreams of free will, teams with the Russian leader of the Inhuman-hating Watchdogs to replace SHIELD’s leadership with LMDs. They place the real versions into a digital world called the Framework, which Aida designed by removing the occupants’ largest regret, starting with Agent May. Only Simmons and Daisy are left free, but they have to enter the Framework to free their compatriots. What follows is an intense, high-stakes, emotional journey through an artificial world ruled by Hydra.

Lovable characters go bad, bad guys become good, long-dead old friends return, new friends are lost, the season’s best villain takes centre stage, and Grant Ward gets a touching send-off, as we see the hero he could have been if not for his twisted mentor. And it all wraps up with the return of Ghost Rider.

Silver: The Secret Origin of David Haller, Legion

There’s a dark secret lying in David Haller’s memories. One he himself only seems occasionally aware of. What that secret is, what it means to the man who may be the most powerful mutant alive, and what that means for the world (nothing good) is the heart of Legion’s first season. It’s twisted, trippy… and pretty riveting.

Gold: “Sanvers,” Supergirl

Supergirl’s adoptive sister, Alex Danvers, never really had much luck in the love department. While season one didn’t go into this much, she certainly didn’t have any love interests. The closest she came was Maxwell Lord, but his occasional attempts to kill her sister really reduced his appeal. But then came Detective Maggie Sawyer.

Alex’s realization that the reason she’s never made it work with men is because she’s really into women, and specifically Maggie, is at times uplifting, heartbreaking, and adorable. Her coming out to Kara was a moving scene, and the pitfalls of her relationship with Maggie were reliably strong plot points. And if that’s not enough, check out this Twitter story about how Alex’s coming out did real good in the world. I mean, I loved Invasion! as much as anyone, but I highly doubt it helped anyone out of suicidal depression.

Worst trend

You know what’s worse than a bad plot point on a show you’re watching? The same bad plot point on five shows you watch.

Honourable mention: I don’t actually mind that four different shows involved the main characters waking up in an artificial reality created and controlled by the villain(s). None of them are bad episodes. Most of the time it was even the show’s high point. I just think it’s weird that there were so many, and three of them were right on top of each other.

Bronze: Who is the villain, anyway?

This one just barely makes the podium, because there’s a spectrum from good to bad. Sometimes not committing to one single Big Bad worked out: Arrow, Flash, and Agents of SHIELD had training villains/mini-bosses while the real Big Bads got their evil ducks in a row, and in most cases it worked. Moving along the spectrum, there’s Riverdale and iZombie, which didn’t present one main villain because they were murder mysteries and we weren’t supposed to know who the killers were right away. How that worked depends on how invested you were in the mystery. It gets murkier with Supergirl, which never committed to a main villain, but then the villains were secondary to the real season arc. Still though, it meant that when the major villains turned up, it got just a blasé “Oh, you again” reaction.

And on the far end of the spectrum we find Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Luke Cage had two to three good or even great villains, then threw them and their plots away to really focus on the half-assed Diamondback, at which point the show fell apart. Iron Fist could not make up its mind about who the main villain was: first it was obviously Ward Meachum, then Madame Gao and The Hand, then out of nowhere came Bakuto and his different branch of The Hand, and then in the finale they decided to ignore all of that for a sudden betrayal from Harold Meachum, finally paying off all of those plot threads that started earlier in the finale.

Some series made multiple villains work, so this only takes the bronze, but when this trend goes bad it goes really bad.

Silver: In name only

So you have a show based on a comic book character. What’s a great way to keep the Fan Service train running? Bring additional, hopefully related comics characters into the supporting cast. A sound idea I’m in favour of. But what seems to keep happening is that the shows are bringing in characters with familiar names who have nothing to do with their comics equivalents, and it’s weird and I don’t care for it. Now, doing your own thing with a character works to a point. I’m not going to trash Flash for not making Vibe a breakdancer who affects an offensively stereotypical Latino attitude around white people like comics Vibe did in the 80s, securing him the status of “worst Justice Leaguer” for years upon years. I’m not even going to get into Arrow or Flash handing characters different first names for no discernible reason (Curtis Holt instead of Michael Holt, or Dinah Lance going by Laurel… changing “Paco Ramon” to “Cisco Ramon” is probably okay, though). I’m not even talking about Arrow tweaking Prometheus or Supergirl making up their own Mon-El story, because of course they did, and they still have enough of the basic elements of their comics counterparts.

And I’m certainly not complaining about changing race or sexual orientation to add diversity. Turns out there are still an overwhelming amount of white, straight, cis-male characters on all of these shows, so black Jimmy Olsen, Latina Maggie Sawyer, and gay Mr. Terrific are doing more good than harm.

I’m talking when a TV version has nothing at all in common with the comic character whose name they’ve been given. Examples.

Supergirl: There is no single shred of Snapper Carr, the Justice League’s teen mascot who grew to be a mentor for young and inexperienced heroes, in Supergirl’s cranky news editor of the same name. Not one molecule.

Flash: Apparently “Gypsy” has become a controversial word, which is fair, since it is technically a slur against the Romani. So why court that controversy by naming a character “Gypsy” if she’s going to have a completely different powerset, costume, backstory, and personality from Vibe’s old Justice League Detroit teammate? The only thing they have in common is gender.

Arrow: Konstantin Kovar was a Russian superhero who worked with the Teen Titans, not a gangster. Just saying.

Powerless: This probably wasn’t the place for rigid comic accuracy, but comic Jack O’Lantern wasn’t a villain and Justice League Europe’s Crimson Fox shares nothing in common with Charm City’s local hero except similar costume aesthetics.

Gold: Secret Identity, Schmecret Identity

Secret identities sure used to be important to heroes. Helped them operate. These days? Luke Cage and Danny Rand didn’t even bother trying to hide their identities, which was stupid for so many reasons. All you need to do to get Flash to tell you who he is is say “How can I trust you when you’re wearing a mask.” It even works if you were trying to kill him an hour ago. The only major character who doesn’t know Kara Danvers is Supergirl is Lena Luthor; even her evil mother figured it out on her own. Entire government agencies know Flash, Green Arrow, and Supergirl’s identities. And things sure would have gone easier for SHIELD if Daisy Johnson had bothered to hide her identity when she went rogue between seasons.

Seems like the only character who can keep his real identity a secret is Lucifer, and he’s trying to tell everyone who he is, they just won’t believe him.

Next time… the best characters.

American Gods is a 2001 novel from master fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. It’s one of my favourite books. It’s also a 2017 TV series that happens to be the best thing on television, and y’all need to know about both of them.

Now, you might have a reflex to judge this, if you’re like me and have really gotten over movies or horror anthology shows slapping the word “American” in their title for… why do they do that, exactly? Because American Beauty and American Pie were successful?

I get using it in American Sniper, because unless you really drape that story in aggressively jingoist patriotism all you have is a story about a racist who likes shooting brown people that does a terrible job of portraying PTSD, but what is, say, American Horror Story gaining by slapping “American” on the title? Is it necessary? Is it helping? When the international market is more important than ever?

But for any of you that do have my weirdly specific issue, rest assured that in this case, it’s earned. The rest of you probably just wonder why I’m still talking about this.

The Basics

The basic plot of either American Gods is this: ex-thief Shadow Moon is released from prison just in time to attend his wife’s funeral. On the way he meets enigmatic conman Mr. Wednesday, who wants to hire Shadow to be his body man. Wednesday takes Shadow on a road trip through the back roads and small towns of America, where he learns a hidden truth: gods are real, and they’re everywhere.

People believe in gods because they exist, but gods exist because people believe in them. From the Bering Straight until relatively recently, every time that people came to the American continent and worshipped their god(s), said god(s) would appear in America. But worship dwindled, and with it, the gods’ stature and power. And in their place, new gods are rising, representations of what the modern world worships: Media, the Technical Boy, and their mysterious leader Mr. World. War is brewing between the old gods and the new, and Shadow is stuck in the middle.

The Book

Gaiman’s novel is a sweeping epic that still manages a languid pace, which is perfect for how the story unfolds. Shadow and Wednesday move from town to town, encountering and attempting to recruit gods from various pantheons, and Gaiman relishes in exploring how they’ve acclimated to modern day America.

And sometimes he just puts the main story on pause for a “Coming to America” story, about gods or human lives they’ve touched along the way.

It’s a story about faith, and how it affects people’s lives. It’s a story about immigrants, if “coming to America” wasn’t enough of a clue there. It’s a story where a major character can just hang out in small town Wisconsin for the winter and it’s still fascinating.

The Series

American Gods has been adapted to television in part by one of my all-time favourite TV writers, Bryan Fuller. Fuller was behind the delightfully whimsical fantasy procedural Pushing Daisies, and the gorgeously shot nightmare fuel that was Hannibal. That one’s particularly relevant.

Hannibal used the original Hannibal Lector novels as a loose guideline. Fuller’s team wove the backstory of the Red Dragon novel into some of the most compelling television you could ask for. The relationship between Hannibal and his friend/nemesis, haunted profiler Will Graham, is both hunter/prey (though which is which constantly shifts) and a touching yet seriously twisted bromance. And through all of his work is a visual flair unlike anything else on television.

Which makes him basically perfect to take on this story. The visual style of Pushing Daisies and Hannibal brings American Gods to lush life beyond what I could have hoped for, and the writers have an instant rapport for Gaiman’s characters. Ian McShane’s take on Mr. Wednesday is incredible, Ricky Whittle is nailing Shadow, and the guest cast is filled with great choices. Peter Stormare’s Czernobog, Gillian Anderson as the many faces of Media, Kristen Chenoweth as Easter… and I didn’t know Orlando Jones could even be as good as he is as African trickster god Anansi/Mr. Nancy, a character from the novel so beloved that he got a spin-off.

And all of that is putting aside the fact that they’ve formed an improbably compelling duo out of two more minor characters: Shadow’s dead wife Laura and Mad Sweeney the Leprechaun. The unapologetically unpleasant Laura Moon and the hilariously put-upon Mad Sweeney are such strong characters that Shadow and Wednesday can disappear for entire episodes and you don’t even mind.

Diverting From the Course

At first, they’re pretty faithful to the source material. Entire sequences in the first three episodes seem to be chapters lifted directly from the book and brought to exquisitely vivid life. Exquisite, gorgeous, sweet-yet-holy-hell-graphic life. That… doesn’t last. By the halfway point of episode five, we’re in completely uncharted territory.

Well, not completely, necessarily. They’re still on the same basic path, they’re just taking some diversions along the way.

Normally “diversion from the source material” is the opening salvo of a massive nerd rant about “How dare they change so-and-so,” but not today, readers, not. Today. Too many things I’ve seen have done well with diversions from their source material. Preacher spent its entire first season in a town that blew up in the first issue of the comic (with a villain who didn’t show up until year four), and it’s great. iZombie has almost nothing in common with the original comic and it’s one of my favourites. And apparently the novelizations of Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and something) have all sorts of superfluous characters and apparently go-nowhere plots (Lady Stoneheart seems to lift right out) that the show does fine without.

(By the way… TV fans spent five seasons saying “No spoilers no spoilers” to book fans, and then the very instant the TV show passed the books, spoilers everywhere. That was messed up, guys. That was a messed up thing we did. Or let the entertainment media do.)

But most relevant? Hannibal.

Bryan Fuller knew Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector novels inside and out, but his goal wasn’t to do a chapter-by-chapter remake of Red Dragon. Hell, it took two and a half seasons to get to Red Dragon. Instead he used the characters and backstory of the various novels to weave his own story about Will Graham and Dr. Lector, and it was amazing. So if he wants to add his own digressions, his own spin on Gaiman’s story, he absolutely has my trust.

Especially since Gaiman is an executive producer and is around to say “Yes, sure, do that, that’s neat.”

Similar to the highly underrated Before Watchmen comics– yes, I called Before Watchmen underrated, fucking fight me– Fuller takes single chapters and minor characters and brings them into the spotlight, expanding on characters only glimpsed in the book. And sure, fine, okay, there are plot points and character meetings happening in the back half of the series that in no way happened in the books. But you know what, that’s fine. It’s fine. Because A) if I haven’t been clear, they’re great, and B) the worst, the worst thing they could have done is try to just cram the entire book into one season. Even if it had been longer than eight episodes. Racing through this story would have killed it.

Okay, there is middle ground between “racing through the story” and “padding said story with new stuff,” but I refer you back to point A. If Fuller going off-book brings us Corbin Bersen as a white nationalist Vulcan, Lost/Justified’s Jeremy Davies as Jesus Prime*, and an early confrontation between Wednesday, Crispin Glover as Mr. World, and Gillian Anderson as Media as Marilyn Monroe? I say bring it on.

*The novel admits the existence of various regional Jesuses but avoids having any turn up. The TV show has dozens.

So Which Should You Try?

Well that’s kind of up to you. Both are excellent in their ways. I guess the question is, are you in it for the destination, or the journey?

If you want to know the full story ASAP, the show is no help. They are in no rush to get through the events of the novel. The first eight-episode season barely makes it a fifth of the way into the book. (Sure, spending two entire episodes on non-Shadow/Wednesday stories and one entire episode and chunks of two more on new Shadow/Wednesday stories slowed them down just a smidge.) I doubt they’ll even reach Lakeside, Wisconsin until season three or four. So if you’re impatient, read the book. Just devour it. Get all up in all 600+ pages of that long and winding sumbitch. Then read it again and savour each chapter.

Sure but you’ll know how it ends. Might end. Assuming the ratings stay high enough to see it through, the TV show might not end with the end of the book. In addition to the spin-off, Anansi Boys (which some have said Gaiman wrote to prove that the late, great Terry Pratchett didn’t write all the jokes in their classic collaboration Good Omens), Neil Gaiman is reportedly working on a sequel. And since he’s better at getting these written than George RR Martin*, it’ll be done and in stores by the time the series catches up, and that’ll be another five seasons right there.

*Relax, Song of Ice and Fire fans, by “better” I just mean “faster.” I’m not saying Gaiman’s objectively a better writer than Martin. You might have inferred it, I might be thinking it, and it’s true, but I didn’t say it.

And take it from someone who’s read the book multiple times… knowing where they’re headed isn’t detracting from the ride. I mean, you heard me mention the new stuff, right? And my opinion on it was clear?

On the other hand, if you don’t mind spending a few years making your way down a long, winding, and fascinating road, and would rather have no idea where it’s going, then watch the show. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything for you.

But pick one. Book or TV series, it’s going to be brilliant. So pick one. Read it, watch it, get on it.

Get on it.

Get. On. It.

(This has been “Dan heartily endorses American Gods.” Thanks for tuning in, see you next time.)

Continuing some shorter reflections on Ireland before we get into some super-long nerd blogs.

My last proper solo vacation was Peru, last year. We’ve talked about it, you remember. No need to go back into it in detail. There was one large difference between these trips. Well, other than language. And amount of hiking. Local alcohols. Weather. Quality of hotel room and existence of night buses and pressure to eat guinea pigs–

Okay, there were a lot of differences. Obviously there is one difference in particular I want to talk about. Hint: it’s in the title. Compared to everything I did in Peru, Dublin was crowded, yo.

Maybe it’s a difference in time periods… Peru was in early March, Ireland was in early June. Those three months seem like they could have an impact on tourist volumes. Peruvian summer was just ending, Irish summer was about to begin. Maybe Dublin’s just a more popular city than Arequipa. I don’t know what exactly it was, I just know this… nearly every tour I went on in Dublin was packed, and nearly every tour I went on in Peru was mostly empty. Cliffs of Moher? Full bus. Dune boarding? Just me, Kate, Amy, and Tayla. Belfast? Nearly full. White water rafting outside Cusco? Just me. 

Well, there were obviously exceptions. There were plenty of people condor-spotting at the Colca Canyon. And Machu Picchu is probably always crowded. That’s the one place that definitely had crowds to match the Guinness Storehouse. Yes, Machu Picchu had crowds the same size as the Guinness Storehouse.

I had to go to a world heritage site in Peru to find crowds that matched the Guinness Storehouse. People know what they like about Ireland, I guess.

The weird thing, though? I actually felt more alone in the larger groups. The more people in a tour, the easier it became to feel isolated. The bus to the Cliffs of Moher on day two hadn’t even left Dublin before I stared to miss Maria and Kate and Amy and Tayla. Before I missed being part of a long-term group.

(I’d miss my same-city friends later, when I lacked people to drink with.)

I guess it’s not that weird. I didn’t invent the phrase “Alone in a crowd.” And it’s not like I was the only person on the buses not bonding. People don’t go on 40 person tours to bond with people. You do that on a 14 person hike up the Inca Trail.

Now don’t go thinking this is some prolonged pity party about solitude. It’s not like I never talked to people. I managed that just fine, albeit often with the assistance of the whiskey tastings that came with distillery tours. One of the bartenders at the Jameson Distillery was particularly delightful, and pushed me in the direction of one of the museums I visited.

I guess the point is, Dublin is a bit on the crowded side during peak season, and the smaller groups were always better. Easier to meet people, easier to chat with. Large tours, people stick with the people they already know. Or maybe they just want to read their comics or listen to their podcasts on the drive to and from places. Certainly some people on my tours did. Well, one. Minimum one on each tour. Doesn’t matter who.

Day four in Ireland. Day one turned out to be all about visiting one pub and then slowly but surely succumbing to jet lag backed up by two nights of bad sleep. Day two was a day trip through the countryside. Day three was getting a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour and hopping off when I saw something neat (primarily the Teeling Distillery, the first new Dublin distillery in 125 years). Now day four… I had a plan.

  1. Up at 8:00.
  2. Exercise?
  3. Breakfast at the hotel. It’s included with the room, after all.
  4. On the hop-on-hop-off bus by 9:00. Ride it to the Dublin Zoo.
  5. Check out the zoo. It’s included with your three-day Dublin Pass, after all.
  6. Back on the bus before your 24 hour ticket expires at… 12:10? Hoo. Thought it was later. That’s fine, that’s fine…
  7. Ride the bus back to the core, find a pub for lunch.
  8. Hit some other attractions covered by the Dublin Pass. Cathedrals?
  9. Back to the hotel by 7:00 for the Dublin by Night tour.

How things actually went.

  1. After a prolonged and unknowable amount of time, give up on getting back to sleep. Check the time. It’s 6:45? Damn.
  2. Instead of, I don’t know, starting the day early and ensuring the success of your timeline, stay in bed and watch another episode of The People V. OJ Simpson on Irish Netflix.
  3. Yeah, exercise.
  4. Breakfast at the hotel. It’s included with the room and lunch might be a ways off.
  5. Back up to your room to use the washroom.
  6. Remember that there’s a new Cracked After Hours this week.
  7. Get briefly sucked into a Cracked hole. Pull yourself out of it before you get too deep.
  8. On the bus by 9:30 and away. Not so terrible.
  9. Spend a lot of time hearing the guide complain about construction and traffic because this route has plenty of both.
  10. Arrive at the zoo between 10:30 and 11:00. Being back on the bus by noon is… problematic.
  11. Monkeys! Penguins! Lions!
  12. Yeah, we’re not making that bus. But on the plus side, red panda! Cuuuuuute!
  13. Leave zoo. Realize that you’re in a lush green park, the weather is the best it’s been since you got here, and maybe a walk back into town isn’t the worst thing in the world.
  14. Reach central Dublin faster than you would have on the bus.
  15. Lunch, later than planned.
  16. Other attractions, as planned. No cathedrals. Line was too slow.
  17. Back to the hotel in time for the Dublin by Night tour at… 9:30? God damn it. Look at the itinerary once in a while, man.
  18. …Italian for dinner?

As Captain Cold put it on The Flash… “Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan.”

I guess I did offer whiskey facts last time. Here’s a few.

  • Spelling “whiskey” with an “e” is something Dublin distilleries did to be snooty and superior.
  • Irish whiskey held 60% of the market share until a few small snags in the early 20th century… refusal to adapt to modern technique, warring for independence costing them the Commonwealth, and Prohibition costing them the US. If only Irish distilleries were as willing to work with the mob as the Scots.
  • In order to make whiskey, you must first make beer. So one could say that beer is just whiskey that someone gave up on.

An annoying thing about traveling to a different country is that your body has this rhythm. You sleep during these hours, you’re awake during those hours. Then you land in a new country and all the rules have changed.

In recent trips, I’ve discovered a handy trick for this many people claim to know already. They say “take a nap.”

I’ve had some success with this. When Ian and I were in England, and I nearly passed out while standing up during a Beefeater tour, a quick nap before dinner made all the difference. In Peru, a quick nap really helped shake off the fact that I barely slept during the trip down from Houston. On another England trip with my parents, a nap might have really helped had the staff of the hotel not insisted on checking the mini bar no less than 3 times in 90 minutes. I should have started yelling earlier. Or put up a Do Not Disturb sign. I just didn’t think that would be necessary when there was no need for housekeeping.

But there are some situations in which this nap plan will not work.

Maybe on the Wednesday night before the Friday when you left, you had, perhaps, a couple too many adult beverages with the boys. And as such maybe you didn’t get the best sleep that night. So, one would say, that’s not a big problem. You’ll just get better sleep on Thursday.

Except perhaps your traitorous flesh body will betray you. Perhaps you will get no sleep on Thursday either, or at least far less than you intended.

Was it having a Coke at the 10:20 screening of Wonder Woman? That can’t be everything. It might explain why you had trouble getting to sleep, but not why you had trouble staying asleep.

No matter. Now it’s Friday. You’re leaving early in the morning– well not super early in the morning but early enough. And since you haven’t slept well for two nights in a row you’re pretty tired. Well, this must be ideal. Now you’ll be able to sleep on the plane with no problem, right?

Don’t be ridiculous. You have never slept well on a plane and you certainly aren’t going to start now.

So now it’s Saturday morning in Dublin. Your body still thinks it’s Friday evening. More to the point, it has not slept well since Tuesday. So it’s time to try that nap thing, right? Ninety minutes. One full REM cycle. That’s all you need. The problem is, as far as your body is concerned you have now spent two days on minimal sleep, and now your body clock thinks you just crawled into bed at 2 a.m. and then asked it to get back up at 4.  it’s like fasting for a week and then having one slice of pizza and thinking you’ll be full.

And that is how you spend your first day in Ireland too tired to function in public.

Desperate times, desperate measures. Like some 90 year old narcoleptic, you go to bed at the embarrassing time of 5 p.m. The plan? Get those 12 hours of sleep you need in order to make up for all the sleep you haven’t gone since Tuesday.

And that, sports fans, is how you end up awake and ready to go at 3 in the morning while the rest of central Dublin is finally putting itself to bed. But that’s ok. It gives you a couple of hours for Irish Netflix before you have to be at your tour at 6 o’clock. And then all you need to do is stay awake (more or less) for 20 hours and you’re finally ready to be acclimated to local time.

Join us next time when our topic will be: “Before you get off your hop-on hop-off bus tour, make sure you actually are near your hotel. Because you might be in for a longer walk in harder rain than you anticipated and then everything in your jacket will be soaked.”

Huh. Not sure that will require an entire blog now that I come to say it out loud. Maybe just some fun facts about Irish whiskey I learned.