Best of Comic TV 2020: The Rankings!

10. Batwoman

Fighting crime and pissing off misogynists!
Image: CW

Batwoman combined a solid origin arc for its hero with the most complicated family dynamics this side of Succession. Kate Kane is learning to be a hero in a city that badly needs one; her father runs a private for-profit police force and hates all vigilantes; her step-mother is filled with sinister secrets; her step-sister just wants to love her; and all of this is complicated because Kate’s twin sister Beth, presumed dead after a car accident, has returned, having spent at least her teen years in horribly abusive captivity and is now an insane gang leader named Alice with a Wonderland fixation. Obviously Alice was a huge strength for the show, but Luke Fox’s investigation into his father’s death, Mary’s attempts to be accepted by Kate, their looks into LGBTQ+ struggles, and the arrival of Julia Pennyworth, the 2019/2020 season’s best Pennyworth, all helped make this a great entry to the post-Arrow Arrowverse.

Sure losing two episodes to COVID stung them, as it felt like they were ramping up to a Grand Guignol finale with Alice, but come on… none of us wanted her written off this show, so why pretend to “wrap her up?” So the place where they did leave off, despite Alice not interacting with Batwoman at all in the episode, actually made for a decent finale and opened some fun doors for season two… or it would have, but instead of just recasting Kate Kane, they’ve decided to throw out every relationship and every ongoing plotline to start over from scratch with an original character nobody cares about. Thus shooting themselves in the foot in the dumbest way possible. This is actually worse than Michael Bay thinking he could just swap out love interests for Sam Witwicky and keep doing the same character arc. Batwoman made a dumber choice than Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and don’t like how that feels.

This was a good show. I’ll miss it, but I have no interest in watching them start over with some Patience-Phillips-style knockoff.

9. Stumptown

Her life is a car crash and I never want to look away.
Image: ABC

About a dozen times these past few months, I’ve sat down to do something, or had a specific viewing plan in mind, then turned on my PVR and abandoned all other plans with a quick cry of “Ooo, new Stumptown!” Whether it’s the lovable cast of various screw-ups or just knowing that, while there are ongoing plots and the occasional to-be-continued, by the end of the hour PI Dex Parios will have probably solved a case and stopped a bad person, this show was a comfort. It’s like a big cozy blanket of possible alcoholics and their enablers righting wrongs throughout Portland. Also, Dex’s car’s tape deck randomly turning on and blasting 80s classics to score the show was delightful.

I love Dex, I love her best friend Grey, it took a few episodes for the writers to figure out how to use him but now I’d watch a whole series about conniving taco chef Tookie, this is a really solid ensemble playing complex, interesting characters, doing clever case-of-the-week stories. And when almost everything else I watch is heavily serialized, sometimes I like a little case-of-the-week. Especially since my other favourite unorthodox female crime-solver show wrapped up last summer. No, not Jessica Jones, I speak of–

8. iZombie

As the finale said… Bye, Zombie.
Image: CW

Right up until nearly the end, iZombie delivered what it promised… a show in which a zombie morgue attendant solves murders by eating the victim’s brain and absorbing their memories and personalities. And the final season had some fun brains, too! Film noir detective brain, not one but two salsa dancer brains, 90s beauty pageant brain, Liv and Ravi in a sales competition after both eating car salesman brain, and that’s not even getting into all the brains consumed for the penultimate episode’s big heist. Also, the zombie/human tensions hit an appropriate boiling point, and as final episodes go, they delivered a slightly bittersweet but very satisfying conclusion, even if they needed a big time-jump to do so. And Clive insisting on joining Liv for the big heist? So moving.

That said… the final opposing generals in the battle of zombie and human supremacists were… okay at best. Anti-zombie terrorist Dolly Durkins was easily their darkest villain but lacked the charm and fun of series-long antagonist Blaine DeBeers or their very best temporary Big Bad, Vaughn du Clark, and also lacked the humanity of former Filmore Graves leader Chase Graves. She was just sort of… there, doing evil things, willing to let hundreds of thousands of humans be nuked into dust if it meant the zombies went too. And the zombie leaders weren’t a lot better. Hand to God I will never fully understand what they were going for with that Clouseau/Javert hybrid, Enzo.

Still… they pulled a great final season, free of season three and four’s rushed pacing. Damn I’m gonna miss these guys.

7. Arrow

The founding father of the CW’s superhero empire does a victory lap on its way out.
Image: CW

Arrow had an insane to-do list in its final season. In just ten episodes, they had to a) take a farewell tour of meaningful locations/storylines from the previous seven seasons; b) bring back as many alumni as possible and give them all a meaningful farewell with Oliver Queen; c) wrap up that flash-forward storyline they introduced last season; d) set up the most ambitious crossover event in TV history; e) do the penultimate episode of said crossover; f) do a backdoor pilot for a spinoff; g) wrap things up in a satisfactory way.

And god damn it they nailed all of it.

They nailed it so well, that for the first time in years, the crossover episode was not my favourite episode of the season. (Look, the Paragons should have needed to do more than stare at a sky-beam and think really hard, that’s all I’m saying.)

Arrow turned in everything I look for in an intentional final season. It was a perfect victory lap for a show that spawned TV’s best overall superhero franchise. Arrow’s farewell tour was a delight, and the finale was incredibly emotional, I want to see that spinoff, and on top of all of that, it also served as the perfect build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths. That’s a hell of a high-wire act.

Sure the season hinges on you having liked Arrow up until this point, but they ended strong.

6. Preacher

Come Hell or high water. Or angels. Or cowboy terminators. Or religious armies. Or…
Image: AMC

Preacher was a great show, no question, and this season had all of what made it so… crackerjack performances from Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Pip Torrens and more; stellar action scenes (find me a better fight between Jesus and Hitler, I dare you); gonzo sequences (witness the real reason the dinosaurs died); and unexpected twists and turns. I just have one note… having overestimated how many seasons they were going to get, they had to race through a bunch of key moments from the comics… Masada, Jesus de Sade, the atomic conclusion of War in the Sun and it’s slightly gruesome aftermath, and of course, the Alamo… all while also building up their own home-brewed apocalyptic climax, with a wonderfully downplayed denouement. Sure it made for a satisfying conclusion, probably better than the comic, but it was all a little rushed. And just not quite as impossible to put down as our next entry…

5. The End of the F***ing World

Sometimes the best apocalypse is the personal one.
Image: Netflix

And in this corner, Britain’s best nihilistic comedy/romance about broken people trying their best to find a way to exist… well, the best that isn’t Fleabag.

Last season was a doomed road trip/crime spree for our slightly star-crossed young protagonists, the delightfully caustic Alyssa (just trying to escape a dysfunctional home life) and the quiet, repressed James (who had mistaken profound PTSD for antisocial personality disorder, and found murder… less satisfactory than he expected). Two years after the tense cliffhanger, Alyssa and James are doing their best to move on in life (one more successfully than the other), but the consequences of their ill-fated road trip come calling in the form of Bonnie, another young woman with a personal connection to their crime spree. Bonnie’s abusive upbringing has left her with a deep belief in punishment, and, well, as the show puts it… “The problem with a person having a lack of love is that they don’t know what it looks like, so it’s easy for them to get tricked…”

These three leads just kill it, from Alyssa’s struggles to feel anything but the traumas of last season, to James’ awkward attempts to reconnect, to Bonnie’s deadpan tone and really half-assed murdering attempts… Also the direction and editing, using quick flashes of previous scenes to show Alyssa’s lingering trauma, it’s all very clever.

This show, as dark as it can be, is just a joy to watch. My only real complaint is that it’s over fast, and there’s no telling when or if we’ll get more.

4. Legends of Tomorrow

Protecting history from whatever’s too weird for normal heroes.
Image: CW

For sheer, unbridled fun, you can’t beat the Legends of Tomorrow. They have rich characters, sure, and strong conflicts, and great arcs, but they also have such a “Screw it, why not” approach to their stories that every episode ends up at least a bit of a joy. The villains managed to rewrite society into a full-on 1984 dystopia, with free will being outlawed, but it was still such a fun episode and spoke to the dangers of trying to repress and ignore the problems in the world rather than face them head-on and wow that bit was more timely than I thought on first read… I mean I wasn’t happy they wrote out yet another of my favourite characters (neither was he), but in the aftermath… they finally had just enough show for all the remaining cast? No one was being underwritten for the first time since season two or three? That was good.

Also the mileage they got out of their Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood pastiche “Mr. Parker’s Cul-de-Sac” was really impressive, up to and including wrapping the season with Maisie Richardson-Sellers belting out a punk cover of the theme song (before sadly, but understandably, saying her farewell to the series after four years and two characters).

Such a fun show.

3. The Boys

I said nobody would ever make this show. I’m so glad to be wrong.
Image: Amazon

Executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg learned a few lessons from Preacher they clearly taught to showrunner Eric Kripke… first, they followed Preacher’s procedure of keeping as true as possible to the characters as originally written (although Hughie’s American now and Mother’s Milk isn’t as big, but on the other hand giving The Female an actual name was an upgrade), but charting their own course through the story. So the show lacks the gruesome takedowns of twisted versions of famous heroes, but it keeps the “maybe superheroes run by a for-profit corporation are going to be assholes” thesis statement. Instead of indulging in anti-superhero ultraviolence, as the comic did, they focused on and really excelled at two of the book’s early central narratives: the indoctrination of nervous everyman Hughie into the anti-“supe” black ops team run by Billy Butcher, while Annie “Starlight” January achieves her lifelong dream of joining the world’s biggest superteam, the Seven, only to find out that it is much, much worse than she ever thought.

The titular Boys are all well done, if rolled out slower than I’d hoped; Starlight’s story is horrifying in all the right ways; Homelander is a spectacularly effective monster, with the powers of Superman but the conscience and empathy of Ted Bundy or Mitch McConnell; and even if they don’t get to go four rounds with “the X-Men, but horrifying,” they do not skimp on the shock value of the books, in the best way. From fights to crimes to a smaller scale but disturbingly real take on Starlight’s… initiation into the Seven, they found so many different ways to make you say “Holy crap, what did they just do?”

Did the first season end where I’d have liked? No. Am I eager to see where they’re going? Damn right.

2. Legion

Godspeed, you fancy bastards.
Image: FX

How do you tie a bow on a show like Legion? A show that has defied being a conventional series in every way? A show that has grown from one man’s struggle with his own mind into a fight for the fate of the world… whose primary battleground remains one man’s mind. To give us the end, creator Noah Hawley brought us back to the beginning… the moment that the Shadow King took up residence in baby David Haller’s mind, and the fight with David’s father, one Charles Xavier, that led to it. We learn how much of David came from his famous father, and how much came from his mother, still haunted by her time in a concentration camp, still wrestling with the demons in her mind. David, his ex-lover Sid (still pretty angry about getting her mind messed with to make her love David more, which, fair, but arguably she’s causing more problems than she’s solving), Charles, Gabrielle/Mrs. Xavier, and Shadow Kings past and future must grapple with one key question… if hate and violence have put the world at risk, can more violence and hate really fix it? What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? In the end, as the Doctor put it, hate is always foolish, and love is always wise.

Well… to a point. David, ya made some choices we don’t endorse.

But it all leads to a sweet, quiet, simple ending, whose only real flaw is how many of the cast don’t get to play, having hit their series wrap three episodes earlier. And along the way, we got fistfuls of trademark Legion craziness, with trippy visuals and musical numbers and rap battles and the beautiful fairy tale of Chapter 25, a break in the action that set the stage for the big climax.

Legion was something special, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

1. Watchmen

Did not expect this to work. I love a pleasant surprise.
Image: HBO

Two things kick off this look into a possible future for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel… a child inspired by a fictional masked lawman, and the real-life Tulsa Race Massacre, in which racists burned down a prosperous black neighbourhood, killing approximately 300 people in the process, and then the government and law enforcement said “Whatcha gonna do” and kept it quiet. So that’s our tone. Like the original graphic novel, one murder sends our lead (Regina King, killing it) down a path to a larger, darker, conspiracy, where the hows and whys and whos-dunnit bring several disparate characters together in a moment that could reshape the world, for good or ill. It’s a tight and thrilling ride filled with great characters, familiar and new, and reminds us that stopping nuclear annihilation keeps the world alive… but it doesn’t fix it.

It is, in the end, perfectly Watchmen… it brings us to a deep and fascinating world, tells us one great story, fills it with memorable characters, good and bad and somewhere in between, and takes its bow while we cry out for an encore that isn’t coming. Well, not right away. That OG Watchmen eventually got a series of prequels (Before Watchmen), a movie adaptation, and two sequels in two mediums (this and Geoff Johns’ Doomsday Clock) shows that as Dr. Manhattan said, nothing ever ends.

And that is a wrap on year six! As for what’s to come… well, Plague Times and chaos in the States can’t entirely stop year seven. Stargirl and Agents of SHIELD are currently airing, with Doom Patrol and Umbrella Academy right around the corner, and those Disney+ Marvel shows are theoretically on schedule to bring the actual, proper MCU to TV for the first time (yeah I said it)… so even if society doesn’t recover enough for TV to start filming again in time for, as an example, The Flash to kick off its no doubt abridged seventh season in January… we have those.

In the meantime, be kind, stay healthy, support the charities trying to make the world more just when you can, listen to the stories of POC… and even if you can’t be a hero, try to be a net positive.

See y’all next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *