Last time I talked extensively about geek TV projects coming to television next season, which were exciting, and briefly why. Today, I have some specific requests from those shows.
Now, I’m not saying that any TV executives are, in any way, listening to me. I’m not insane. Well, not that brand of insane. But two years ago, as part of an interview process for an entertainment website, I wrote an article about things I wanted from Arrow (it wasn’t actually called “Ways to be better than Smallville” but could have been), and pretty much all of them happened. And then I said “This show would be even better without that voice-over,” and they cut the voice-over a few weeks later.
So what the hell. Here’s my wishlist for some of the shows I’m excited for next year.
Flash: slow build the right things
One of the big stories that will be part of The Flash was set up when Barry Allen was introduced on Arrow: the fact that his mother was killed by something mysterious, his father went to jail for murder as a result, and Barry is on a quest to figure out the truth and exonerate his father. This is based on a recent addition to Flash lore: when Geoff Johns, executive producer on the show, reintroduced Barry to comic readers a few years back, this quest to find his mother’s true killer was one of the twists he added. And then solved.
Which means that comic readers know that this mystery has only two possible answers: either it was the Reverse Flash, travelling back in time to screw with his nemesis’ entire life, or it’s Barry himself, forced to allow his mother to die in order to save the entire world (see The Flashpoint Paradox, now out on DVD, or the Flashpoint graphic novel, for how that makes any sense).
The point is, let’s not make the same mistake Agents of SHIELD did with “How is Coulson alive” and drag things out too long. Mention it from time to time, sure, but as soon as it becomes central to the story, get moving. Don’t linger too long. Fortunately, the showrunners have already discussed the fact that working on Flash Forward taught them that audiences don’t have the same patience for drawn-out mysteries that they had prior to Lost, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
What they should take their time in doing is introducing and building up some of the most complex and interesting supporting characters the Flash has: the Rogues.
Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and the Trickster. And to a lesser extent, Captain Boomerang and Kadabra. When Geoff Johns first started writing the Flash (years ago, when Barry was still dead), he turned Flash’s Rogues Gallery from a bundle of villains so lame they had to hunt in a pack to deadly menaces whose complicated ethics and deep characterization meant they were almost as much fun to read as Flash himself. Each of these characters could be just as fun a recurring character as Arrow’s Malcolm Merlyn or Slade Wilson, so don’t rush their intros. Make a meal of these guys.
And then use the Suicide Squad to set up a crossover with Arrow. Do a damn crossover with Arrow, you’re the only ones who can.
Constantine: plenty of magic users available
Constantine is not going to be crossing over with the Arrowverse, nor the big-screen Justice League. And that’s okay. It’s not my preference, as I may have indicated, but 300 issues of Hellblazer teach us that John Constantine doesn’t need a larger universe of superheroes surrounding him to be interesting. Hell, as much fun as he’s been in the Justice League Dark, Constantine’s kind of better used in a world without Batmen or hooded archer vigilantes. A world where no Justice League is going to swoop in when things get bad.
There are, however, still DC characters that I’d like to see turn up.
There’s the Nightmare Nurse, a recent addition to DC’s magical line-up. She’s the person to turn to if you need healing from a bad spell or curse, the magical equivalent of the doctor who runs an off-the-books clinic where you can get a gunshot treated without a lot of questions or police. Tell me that wouldn’t be worth having in this show.
There’s Andrew Bennett, star of I, Vampire, a character that made a well-received return to the comics after a few decades of absence. I don’t know if Constantine intends to include vampires amongst the things-that-go-bump the main characters will be locking horns with, but if they do, a repentant vampire trying to protect innocents from his psychotic ex, Mary, Queen of Blood, might be a fun way to do it.
And there are others. Detective Chimp, a chimpanzee magically given speech and heightened intellect, was a fun part of DC’s magic books a few years back. If they find themselves with extra budget to throw around, Constantine has a long history with the Swamp Thing. Want to give John a contact in the spirit world? Why not Deadman? (Assuming they’re not still trying to give him his own series) But there is one character who, more than anyone, I want to see on this show.
Zatanna is one of DC’s longest-running magic characters, a sorceress who uses her ability to cast spells by speaking backwards to fight evil while maintaining a career as the world’s most popular stage magician. Done right, she’s also one of their most powerful characters, since she can do practically anything, as long as she can say it backwards. And she’s got an on-again, off-again romantic history with Constantine, often acting as his surrogate conscience in recent years. I shouldn’t even have to suggest that she’d be a brilliant addition to the show. It should be staggeringly obvious. Sadly that doesn’t mean that it is.
Gotham: Watch the Wire and take notes.
Gotham has already taken great strides to ease my initial dislike of its very existence by promising to avoid the teen soap melodrama that made Smallville a show I watched but never endorsed, and by releasing a not-terrible-looking trailer. Instead, we have a show about the early days of the future Commissioner Gordon and the people who will one day become the Penguin, the Riddler, and Poison Ivy. Also they are threatening to include the Joker, even though the Joker can only be the Joker if Batman already exists, and maybe I’m too hung up on the Killing Joke, but a Joker who wasn’t already a vicious criminal when he fell in the acid works so much better.
My point is, this show may focus on Gordon (and, sure, tween-Bruce Wayne), but the villains are also a big part of the proceedings. Oswald Cobblepot’s climb to the top of the underworld is just as much a part of the show as Gordon’s rise in the GCPD. So, if I read the trailer right and know my Batman lore, we have a show based on the cops and criminals of a city beset with crime and police corruption, in which a few select cops are trying to redeem the force and save the city while criminals scheme to gain greater control of the underworld. Turns out, there’s a great show you can learn from that did pretty much all of that, as well as any TV show ever has.
The Wire is widely believed to be one of, if not the best, TV shows in recent memory. Possibly ever. And it contains all the elements you need to make Gotham a success. Watch the cops who form a special task group to oppose the Barksdale Organization’s drug trade have to swim upstream against a corrupt and budget-stricken police force driven more by statistics than justice, and see if it can’t instruct you on how to approach Gordon’s working relationship with the GCPD. Want to keep us hooked on the crime side of the story? Check out the clash between gangster kingpin Avon Barksdale and his right-hand man, Stringer Bell, who’s looking to take their drug revenues and build an empire that stretches beyond fighting over street corners. And if you need a new take on the Joker… maybe give Omar Little some thought.
Now even though I’ve started to admit Gotham might not be as bad as I feared, I see little way it could be as good as the Wire. That feels like a pipe dream. But the guy in charge of the series also brought us the excellent HBO show Rome, so despite a few years of slumming it running The Mentalist, I believe he still has something special in him.
Agents of SHIELD: you’re a new show now, act like it
17 episodes into Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. SHIELD collapsed, leaving the central team with no backup, no resources, and little hope. And man does that make for more exciting television. Finally there was a sense of high stakes, which the show had severely lacked up until then. The CGI touchscreen computers that solved every puzzle were gone, replaced with 60s-style spy gear salvaged from a former Howling Commando’s estate. And the dullest character was revealed to be Hydra, making him 500 times more interesting.
So the worst thing they can do now is backslide on all of that.
It’s still unclear what Agents of SHIELD will look like next year. Apparently their sister show, Agent Carter, will involve Peggy Carter running missions for Howard Stark, as she’s been shut out of the post-war spy business. Maybe Agents of SHIELD will involve them doing covert ops for Tony Stark, via his new employee Maria Hill. But hopefully they continue to grow and evolve as a series, rather than sink back into the so-so NCIS: Marvel Universe… no, they were too afraid of using anything Marvel… NCIS: Funky Sci-Fi that they wasted over two-thirds of their freshman season being, while wondering why their ratings were in a tailspin.
Arrow: Now go nuts.
So there was one thing I really wanted from Arrow that the second season not only didn’t provide, and actually hinted it never would: to be part of the same universe as Man of Steel. That’s apparently not happening. DC isn’t trying to have all of their properties connect: the movies will be one world, the Arrowverse another, and all other TV series and animated DVDs will pretty much keep to themselves.
There is a potential here.
For the longest time, DC kept its properties separate and allowed no overlap. Smallville reportedly couldn’t use Bruce Wayne because the powers-that-be thought it would conflict with Batman Begins. But that’s no longer happening: if Gotham is a success, then Batman will be hitting the big screen in whatever Man of Steel 2 ends up being called right as Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is hitting his teen years. Flash will be turning up in Justice League while a younger Flash is still running around on the CW.
So the seal is broken. Multiple worlds, multiple versions of the same characters. Which I posit means you should be able to bring whatever and whoever you want into the Arrowverse. Especially since the Flash is adding the existence of powers into the world, something not present in the first season. So why not go for it, Arrow? Start name-dropping the big guns.
You’ve mentioned companies like STAR Labs (DC’s ubiquitous R&D company), Kord Industries (founded by Ted Kord, known in the 80s and 90s as the Blue Beetle), and Ferris Air (employers of Green Lantern), now name-drop the big boys… WayneTech and LexCorp.
I’m not saying you should start casting the Arrowverse Superman and Batman, in fact hold off on Superman until we see how well superspeed gels with this more grounded world, but lay some groundwork. Let us know that Gotham and Metropolis exist in the same world as Starling City. And while you (hopefully) keep up your great work in building your own little DC Universe, get a little out there. Introduce some more heroes, even ones with powers like Black Lightning or, since Markovia exists, it’s prince, Geo Force. Season two took everything that worked in season one and cranked it up: I can’t wait to see you do that again.