Best of Comic TV 2019: The Rankings!

N/A: Riverdale

Image: CW

I dragged my feet on starting season three because Archie got framed for murder, and I could deal with Oliver Queen being sent to jail OR I could deal with Archie Andrews going to jail, but NOT both… and then it was June and I hadn’t even touched Riverdale season three and I didn’t miss it, not even a little.

There’s your review.

I’m not the target audience for this one, and that’s fine, that’s okay, I don’t have to be. But I think we’re gonna shake hands and go our separate ways for now. There is too much legit good TV I’m behind on to spend 16.5 hours binge-watching this one.

21. Cloak and Dagger Season One

Want to spend 10 hours waiting for two teens to do one heroic thing?
Image: Freeform

The few things that worked on Cloak and Dagger’s debut were drowned by too much bland filler. If the entire city of New Orleans is about to be swallowed by dark magic that a corporation is trying to mine like oil, and cutting corners to save money while doing so? Maybe that’s not your C-plot. They tried to do more grounded plots in their debut season, but none of them worked. Keeping bad cop Detective Connors at the forefront meant making the New Orleans PD so comically, irredeemably corrupt that any sense of “grounded” went out the window, when all they needed was a realistic depiction of how white cops rarely face consequences for ending black lives. Also, no other show on this list added a framing device to their penultimate episode to apologize for what a drag it was going to be.

20. The Gifted

Good mutants, bad mutants, and a few too many bland mutants.
Image: Fox

The Gifted had some good ideas and fun concepts, but they never seemed to know which of their many stories those were, and spent too much time on the stories that just didn’t work, like the Strucker family drama or ex-Agent Jace’s descent from cop to hate crime enthusiast.

I’ll miss some of the characters, but not enough to miss the show. Here’s hoping Emma Dumont lands a better gig. Could she menace or team up with Batwoman somehow?

19. Iron Fist

As close as the Marvel Netflix aesthetic let them get to a costume.
Image: Netflix

I have to say, I respect the gutsy choice to take everything that didn’t work about Danny Rand in season one and make it his character arc in season two. Hey, he IS a privileged tool, he IS bad at being the Iron Fist, Colleen IS a more interesting character! It worked weirdly well. Add in a single, coherent villain for the season instead of the previous season’s almost random rotating nemeses, and you have the most improved second season Marvel Netflix produced. Which wasn’t hard, since most of their second seasons go the other way.

That said… Colleen’s non-Danny subplot only existed to be pushed back until a third season that never will be, and in the end, there were really only two big plot points, and each needed five episodes of build-up. Well, each got five episodes of build-up. Bad pacing right to the end.

18. The Punisher

For those who wish John Wick would agonize over the morality of his actions for a few hours between action beats.
Image: Netflix

Remember how I said most Marvel Netflix shows lose a step in their second season?

Yeah.

‘Twas a tale of two conflicting season arcs. The return of season one frenemesis Billy Russo was inconsistent; hinged on the season’s worst character, Hardly Quinn (even Gotham came up with a better faux-Harley); and was based around questioning Frank’s morality while delighting in his violent ways. Meanwhile, in the Pilgrim arc, which opened and closed the season, Frank struggled to balance his need for a good fight with missing being a husband and father, almost finding love again with a bartender, and then finding a sort of surrogate daughter in a teenage grifter, and also all of the “Is Frank more just than Billy” questioning could have been done better with Pilgrim, who at least thought he was working for a greater good. It was the better plot in every way, but kept getting put on pause for Billy.

If you’re going to question who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves redemption… maybe put some thought into how you’re going to address the questions. Because if you don’t, you get a mess.

17. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Somehow less weird than Riverdale?
Image: Netflix

Seriously, how does the show about witches and Satanic deals and whatnot end up more grounded with fewer cults than Riverdale? How does that happen?

Anyway, the show opened with Sabrina being torn between her mortal life, friends, and boyfriend, and witch life at the Academy of Unseen Arts, but the problem is that the writers aren’t torn between those worlds at all. The magic side of the story has the best cast members (Richard Coyle, Michelle Gomez, Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto), the most screen time, and is frankly way more interesting. When Sabrina’s dealing with magically murderous bullies, next level archaic patriarchy, and even cannibalism somehow, drifting back to her human high school to help her no-maj pals with their mundane bullies* and muggle sexist principal and her boring, boring first love Harvey, who, if I wasn’t clear, is boring, just feels so… redundant. I don’t want to ding this show for challenging the patriarchy, ’cause I support that, and complaining about Sabrina being feminist feels like complaining about CSI having murders… but all the real-world stuff just feels so hat on a hat. A smaller, duller hat on a hat that’s a little over-the-top in its Georgia-state-legislator-level misogyny at times. And they clearly agree, because even their best-done vanilla-world plotline, that of her friend Suzie coming out as a trans-male named Theo, is often an afterthought. (When he was still Suzie, Theo got kidnapped by a demon that turns kids into wax sculptures, and even that only got maybe four minutes of screen time.)

And if Theo (in his last days as Suzie) needed Sabrina’s magical help to make the boy’s basketball team, maybe he shouldn’t have been on it? Maybe “Suzie/Theo was always naturally good at basketball for his size and just needed a magical nudge to make it on the court” was a better way to go than “Sabrina did literally all the work?”

And God damn Harvey is boring. How is he second billed?

(*At one point I wondered “How many rounds of magical comeuppance will it take for these douche canoes to take the hint and stop being dicks?” The answer, as far as I can tell, was three.)

16. Cloak and Dagger Season 2

So they bounced back, huh.
Image: Freeform

Well, if nothing else, I surely do respect Marvel YA’s dedication to self-improvement, given the jump in quality in their two second seasons. The Voodoo Spirit Mall and its Used Record Store of Pain was a better thematic location than the Forest of Spooky Visions from season one. The villain, who could tap into despair the same way Tandy and Ty can tap into hope and fear, was a definite improvement over one corrupt cop and a greedy CEO. And while the arc where Tandy gets abducted and gradually broken by human traffickers was decidedly uncomfortable, I won’t dock the show points for it, because it goddamn should be uncomfortable, lose the magical metaphor and this is happening every day and it’s terrible.

Still, though… my overall impression is that Cloak and Dagger thinks it’s more clever and visionary than it actually is. For instance, in one episode, Ty’s powers trap his mind inside the Voodoo Mall, where he’s stuck playing the 80s arcade game version of he and Tandy’s lives, and I don’t understand why any of that happened, other than Ty had just attempted to rescue Tandy (who was rescuing herself but appreciated the effort), so they needed Tandy to rescue Ty to even it out? It was a weird, unmotivated break in the action.

I can see where they’re trying to go with this, but they ain’t there yet.

15. Gotham

Gotham City spends the year as a trash fire. Fitting.
Image: Fox

In their final season, Gotham tried to create its highest stakes ever… despite being a prequel show which inherently can’t have high stakes because we know what happens to everyone. They blatantly ripped off The Dark Knight Rises, more subtly knocked off The Lego Batman Movie, undermined Batman’s entire purpose, and tried to give Joker an origin despite that fact that his real origin had already happened last season. On the other hand, they refused to let Selina exist as a subset of Bruce, delivered top-notch Penguin and Riddler stories, gave Bruce a great reason to develop an alter-ego, and delivered a conclusion that somehow made it all seem worthwhile, save for that final shot of a bargain-bin Batman mask. They made an episode I hated start to finish (Jeremiah’s redundant Joker-origin, a full hour of reminders about Bruce’s parents, and the Mad Hatter? It’s like they had a checklist of terrible ideas), and a finale I wanted to rewatch immediately. They produced 12 episodes of stupid, engaging, hollow, masterfully shot, and unique comic book television.

I hate that I watched 100 episodes of this show. I miss it already. I have a weird relationship with Gotham.

14. Runaways

Now with actual running away!
Image: Hulu

Like Cloak and Dagger, Runaways worked on fixing all of their problems from season one. Zippier pacing, more mini-arcs, the season finale we should have had in season one halfway through season two… it’s just their slow-burn set up for season three dragged a little, given that we the audience knew exactly what was happening by the end of episode six, then had to spend four episodes waiting for anyone, anyone else to pick up on it.

Still… improvement noted, let’s have more of that next season. Wait, Morgan le Fay is in the next season? That… that is a sharp left turn right there.

13. Arrow

With as many plotlines as they had, some of them are bound to be good.
Image: CW

If I were to name the biggest flaw of Arrow’s seventh season, it’s that it felt like it they never 100% knew what they wanted the season to be. The first third was cleaning up the cliffhanger from season six (Oliver in prison, Ricardo Diaz on the loose), the second third was all about getting to know Emiko Queen, the new Green Arrow, and then in the last third Emiko made a massive and kind of left-field heel-turn and became the season’s Big Bad. Why? Couldn’t tell you, but it felt like they were experimenting with ways to continue the show without its main character, and when the CW told them that wouldn’t be happening, they called an audible and Emiko went bad.

That said… a lot of season seven worked. The prison arc was better than I’d have expected (especially the redemption of Bronze Tiger), Katherine McNamara’s Mia Smoak and company helped make the flash-forwards the best different-time-B-plot since season two, and Oliver trying to legitimize super-heroing was a fresh angle. And “fresh angle” are not words that can frequently be applied to seventh seasons.

12. Jessica Jones

They certainly could have ended the Defenders franchise on a worse note.
Image: Netflix

Jessica Jones’ third season was a bit of a mixed bag. The first three or four episodes were quite interesting, the last three were really good… good enough that in three episodes they made me believe this Jessica vs [redacted] fight was what all three seasons had been building towards, despite not even thinking it was an option a few episodes earlier. But the six or seven in between those were a real drag.

The cast is still really good, they wrote a hell of a climax, buuuut… the supposed main villain, a serial killer out to prove the hero isn’t all they think they are, was just super basic; Hogarth’s latest selfish scheming subplot didn’t grab me like last season; I’m not even sure what the point of Jessica’s ex-partner Malcolm’s subplot this season even was, or what it was supposed to be about; the “are vigilantes at all ethical?” debate was one more nail in the “if you don’t like superheroes, Marvel Netflix, don’t write a superhero show” coffin; and if we’re being honest “You’re no hero and I’ll prove it” as a villain motive was a little too Gotham and would have been a better fit on literally any other Marvel Netflix character* than the one who’d spent every appearance up until now fleeing from that exact label.

*Sure it ended up being done much worse on The Punisher but it could have been done better, if done, you know… competently.

But hey, at least they dropped Pryce Cheng without a word. I appreciated that. Shame two of their core cast took his place as “tacked on side characters.”

11. The Flash

I told you guys you were better than season four. Keep at it.
Image: CW

Nora worked for me. And that, above everything, is what makes or breaks Flash’s fifth season. Do you enjoy Jessica Parker Kennedy’s take on the young, inexperienced future speedster XS enough to deal with her many, many mistakes along the way? I certainly think it’s possible, and found the West-Allen family plenty charming. Plus Ralph Dibney began his journey to being a proper detective, DA Cecile became a more important part of the team (especially with Joe West missing for a third of the season thanks to Jesse Martin’s back injury), Caitlin’s two personalities are getting along splendidly now, and we got another great season-one-style long con from Eobard Thawne.

That said… as a central villain, Cicada started strong, and ended okay, and I really appreciated Cicada being less unstoppable than the Thinker from last season… but mid-season he became a little too stoppable. Too many episodes ended in Cicada taking a hit, giving an angry glare, and flying away, while Team Flash did nothing to stop him. Also Iris, Iris was able to take him down with a freaking pen and then had time to deliver a quip on her way out? This is why those chodastains on reddit are always complaining about Iris, you guys. I want Iris to be a key part of the team, but not if it means breaking the show.

So it wasn’t quite the return to form that Arrow’s fifth season was, but hey, progress is progress. And since Jessica Jones had all the same issues (lacklustre second act, superperson-hating villain who’s basic enough they had to swap him out for the finale), but Flash had much better subplots for the supporting cast (seriously, that Malcolm subplot was barely even a story it was so half-assed), Flash takes the win. If not a place in the top ten.

Next page: The Top 10!

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