Okay. We made it through the 1950s, a decade in American history revered by middle-class white cishet male Christians, and rightfully seen by everyone who doesn’t fit that description as a patriarchal ethnostate dystopia, and wow but their choices in movies backed that up. But it’s the 60s now: the early days of the sexual revolution, the Civil Rights movement, war protests, hippies, rock music gets better, it’s a decade of change and upheaval.
So how, if at all, did the movies reflect that? Well, off the top of my head, when the decade started the Hays Code was officially still in place, and by the end an X-rated movie won Best Picture, so… bit of a shift there. In fact, in honour of that, this decade’s Recurring Bit will track how Hollywood’s self-censorship gradually collapsed with “What’s Good, Hays Code?” Parallel to that, this is the decade that the old-school studio system finally died out, and New Hollywood was born. It was, in a way, the end of history.
Sword-and-sandal epics didn’t go away in the 60s, in fact we’ll cover one soon enough, but the big ones did get dramatically less “Yay Jesus” and the Oscars seemed to be kind of over them. Sure some got best picture nominations, because we still have a couple decades of the Academy thinking “Look if that many people watched it, it must be worth a nomination,” but when it came to handing out the big prize it’s like they were saying “No, we gave Best Picture to Ben-Hur, now we’re done, that was the deal,” and went back to throwing the trophy as far away from a biblical epic as they could.
And one correction to my last entry: I was misinformed about when the Three Stooges retired. Apparently they had a resurgence in 1958, swapped Joe for Curly Joe, and that trio kept going all the way to 1970. Look that’s not a major part of film history, frankly the Curly Joe years aren’t even a major part of Stooges history, but I reported a false fact and felt the need for a correction.
Into decade three of our deep-dive into Oscar history! And where are we spending most of the 50s, Patton Oswalt?
Big name producers started spending a lot of time on Bible stories. A lot.
Biblical epics are all over this decade, and when they won the box office, it often wasn’t by a narrow margin. Audiences seemed to love these things so much they’d flock to one even if it wasn’t, you know… good. At all. And they tended to be so long. On the other hand, they’re the first movies I’ve seen in this project to say “You know, slavery is pretty bad,” even if they’re so laser focussed on Roman or Egyptian slavery that even I can’t tell if American audiences were supposed to think “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have done that either.”
I’m gonna warn you right up front. Audiences in the 1950s made some dumb, dumb choices at the box office. There were a lot of classic, iconic films being made in the 50s, but they kept getting passed over for trash. Hot trash, to be fair, but trash all the same. We start to see some proper musicals much more often this decade, so I may slip in some musical flair here and there, but successful or not, they ain’t all great.
Between the runtimes and the constant reminders that Jesus Was Pretty Good Actually, if any decade of this project were gonna break me… this would be it.
Meanwhile, the Academy drifted into… very bland waters. There’s weird variety in subject and tone, leading to serious tonal whiplash if you watch them all in a row, but still often bland. Yes, we often accuse the Oscars of picking movies that speak to their oddly specific preferences rather than movies of lasting influence or impact, but this decade… honestly I’m not sure what possibly could have drawn Oscar buzz to a lot of these. Sure there are three or four bangers from film history, but some of these winners…
I have a friend, or possibly a nemesis, depends on mood, who would pretend that he was finally going to watch the first season of Pennyworth, and then out of, I can only assume purest spite, instead watch the dumbest trash reality show available and text our group chat all about it*. (Flirty Dancing? Really? Come on, you are only hurting yourself, man.) In this case it’s like sometimes the Oscars said “We are not giving one of your Jesus epics a Best Picture Oscar, we will give it to literally anything else.” Why were they so set against big religious pics? Well, my main theory is they’re not very good, but most of them still managed Best Picture nominations, including the two worst/most aggressively Christian so… I don’t… I’m definitely not out to say “Jews control the film industry ” but–
And we are back for another decade of cinema history: the Best Pictures and box office rulers of the 1940s. Last installment was a dream for screenwriters, for it not only provided the looming presence of the Rise of Disney, but gave us a hero in Frontier Journalist and Vigilante Preacher Yancey Cravat, Attorney at Law, and a villain in C-grade Groucho Marx/Blackface Enthusiast Eddie Cantor. But as we leave the 30s behind us, it’s sadly time to say goodbye to impossibly noble Yancey, and thankfully also to Eddie.
You know, unless there’s a really good reason to bring them up.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the Golden Age of Hollywood was all about the producers. Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, that handsy son-of-a-bitch Louis B. Mayer, these were seen as the men behind the movie. Today, it’s the director who gets that acclaim, with the exception of Hollywood’s reigning king, Kevin Feige. Look at Argo. Did anyone make a fuss about the producers? No, and one of them was George goddamn Clooney. The possible first large exception to the producer being a bigger deal than the director came to Hollywood this decade, and we’ll talk about him very soon, but for now, it’s Goldwyn, Selznick, DeMille, and Mayer’s world.
What’s interesting to me about the 1940s is that black and white was still the default. Gone With the Wind was in full Technicolor, Wizard of Oz was mostly Technicolor, so obviously that was an option, but plenty of films we’re about to talk about, in this entry and the next one, were still black and white. I find this peculiar given how fast silent films dried up in the wake of The Jazz Singer. This blog series covers 166 films, and only three were silent: Wings in the late 20s, when sound was in its infancy; City Lights in the very early 30s, because Charlie Chaplin was loath to adapt with the times; and one in the 2010s of all damn places because someone thought it would be clever. But black and white stayed the standard for over a decade after Gone With the Wind.
(Yes I’m aware black and white film is still a thing but for good or ill it’s an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one, The Lighthouse wasn’t trying to save money.)
So while sound was an industry game-changer that every studio rushed to incorporate, the the 40s colour was more like 3D or IMAX now. Not every movie does them, fewer still use the right cameras the whole time, because that’s added expense, and you need to be sure you’re getting it back. The big tentpoles might shoot in 3D, or just get the post-production conversion, but your Get Outs and John Wicks, for example, do not.
So, if colour is only for the Big Shows, how would World War II and the post-war era treat cinematic tastes?
At least one very high high this decade, and a spectacular low, and they were the same year.
Welcome, welcome, patrons and party people. I know it’s been a minute since I’ve done much here… well, done much that got published. I had 4000 words and change on fixing the DC movies, but I was only five movies in and hadn’t even gotten to “The Worst Reasons People Defend Zack Snyder” yet and sure we all have a surplus of time this year but come on, man, get there.
So instead… starting a big and ambitious new project.
As I’ve said at least once a year since starting this blog, the Oscars are my Superbowl, my World Cup, my Wrestlemania. I’ve watched the show nearly every year since 1987. For a decade and change, I’ve watched every best picture nominee. So I know, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they screw up all the time. They’re nervous about diversity, reward safe movies that claim to have a message, and hand out acting trophies based on who’s due rather than deserving. They have made some epic, clown-shoes, disastrously bad choices in the past 93 years… and the time has come to dig into them.
Over the next nine posts, I’m going to be discussing every best picture winner in Oscar history, from moderate-Jeopardy-question Wings to reigning champ Parasite… and if it takes too long to do this, whichever of the seven movies that made it into theatres in 2020 that wins next year. Tenet? Invisible Man? Or will they throw an Oscar at Apple+ if it means not nominating Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot for Best Picture? Who knows. Life is chaos right now, chaos and stress and tragedy, so for a minute let’s talk about movies instead.
With each post, I’ll be looking at a decade of Oscar history*, and examining each year’s Best Picture according to the Academy, and the year’s box office champion. What did the Academy choose to crown, and what did the crowds flock to, and how different were they?
Art Vs Commerce, Oscars Vs Box Office! It should be an interesting journey through film history, or a window looking into my descent into utter insanity.
I’m gonna try to watch as many of them as possible, because there are a lot of movies on the list I’ve never seen and several I feel I should… but I likely won’t get to all of them. Maybe because they’re hard to find, because streaming services aren’t here to be a history lesson, and they sell more subscriptions with Hubie Halloween than The Life of Emile Zola. Or maybe they’re hard to find because no matter how much audiences in the 20s loved them, some movies have aged even worse than Gone With The Wind. Or maybe because I’ve seen them enough times to be able to discuss them at length. I mean I’ll watch The Lord of the Rings again, I’m cool with that, but I’m unlikely to learn something new about it.
And if anyone was wondering whether this was going to descend into “Damn kids don’t appreciate the classics, they’d rather TikTok than watch a true classic art film,” old-man-yells-at-cloud territory, two days in I swiftly abandoned my viewings for this project to watch Sarah Z’s 90-minute YouTube exploration of the dark side of Sherlock fandom and have no regrets. I am… not fancy.
So. Let’s hop in the old Wayback Machine, and see what sort of movie scored an Oscar in the Great Depression. My general impression? In these, the first years of handing out Oscars, they seemed to be experimenting with what an award-worthy movie even was. Choices range from war epics (both grim and congratulatory) to historical pieces to quiet character pieces to screwball comedy. And audiences… audiences liked a laugh, they liked spectacle, and as we’ll see, they liked some things 2020 says they really shouldn’t have, while also undervaluing a true king.
Allow me to explain as we examine… whoof… twenty movies.
*I considered one post per year but that seemed like madness. That’s 93 posts, at which point I’d definitely need a 94th for Best Picture Winner Bill and Ted Face The Music and box office champion Sonic the Hedgehog.
Gonna be real with you, readers, I had a different post, a single-page short story I hammered out to exorcise the lingering emotions of an affecting dream, but… maybe that’s just for me? I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s anything there worth y’all reading. Instead, I present Tales From the Nerd Farm.
So there came a time after my last marketing gig when the EI had run out and I needed some form of income, and as we may recall the post office wasn’t a good fit. A friend owned an internet cafe, one I’d long patronized for Thursday night gaming sessions, and they needed someone to work weekends. A few months later, I was the new manager. Time passed, and this job I took to keep busy while trying to get a career going became the longest I’d ever worked anywhere.
And then COVID happened, and five weeks of no revenue and no rent relief meant the city’s last standing internet cafe, home to gamers, people with no home computer who need to do an online training course, and people who need documents scanned, closed for good.
I’ve never talked about it here, because I tend not to discuss current employers on the internet. But now that it’s gone, I may as well share some stories of some of the oddities, the times good and bad, the weird things you get used to working at an internet/gaming cafe… a profession that might be going the same way as my old gig, projectionist.
(Digital projection basically killed that as a specialized skill. Ushers can download a movie and press a button.)
And I’m going to start each section with “Something I Always Wanted to Say to a Customer but Never Did.”
The year was 2013. A year and change after The Avengers changed the game for the film industry. Marvel Studios had gone from uppity newcomers to the juggernaut of Hollywood, and it seemed like they were announcing their intention to conquer TV as well, starting with the unexpected return of recently deceased fan-favourite character Phil Coulson in Agents of SHIELD, created by Avengers writer/director and nerd icon Joss Whedon.
We did not yet know that Marvel Studios and Marvel TV were very different entities, and once Joss Whedon stopped working for either, the connections between the two would suddenly and irrevocably cease. Or that Joss’ ex-wife would publicly air his infidelities, and Ray Fisher would openly complain about his behaviour during the Justice League reshoots, leading to some shit from Buffy coming up, and now liking Joss Whedon is a problem…
So to get past that, we’ll instead credit Agents of SHIELD to its true showrunners, the husband and wife team of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.
Agents of SHIELD was Marvel TV That Was’ first salvo, and it was nearly the last show standing, with its final season airing after Cloak and Dagger, Runaways, and all of Marvel Netflix wrapped up, knowingly or otherwise. So they’d be first in/last out… except that similar to Fox’s X-Men franchise limping across the finish line withthe long, long delayed New Mutants, apparently Marvel decided to film and release supernatural series Helstrom despite the fact that the shows based on better known characters it was supposed to be paired with were all cancelled when Kevin Feige shut down Marvel TV. Seriously, everything got shut down, but they still said “Go ahead, do a season of Helstrom.” That show had better not end on a cliffhanger.
In any event, Agents of SHIELD had its work cut out for it. Other than Coulson, the show starred no familiar Marvel names, just a bunch of original characters. The most notable name in the cast had to be Street Fighter and Mulan’s Ming-Na Wen, who is not the household name she goddamn deserves to be. People expected weekly crossovers to the movies, but the movies never ever acknowledged them back. Other than a couple of appearances each from Thor’s Lady Sif, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, for known Marvel characters they were mostly restricted to at best C or D-list villains for the first three years. And because they debuted seven months before Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they weren’t allowed to have a plot until episode 16 or so, meaning that the first season moved at the glacial pace of early Lost and played more like NCIS: Fringe Science than something connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only wouldn’t the movies recognize or acknowledge them, neither would other Marvel TV shows, not even the ones on the same network. You were NOT good enough to pretend to be above AOS, Inhumans.
Somehow despite all of this, despite everything working against them, they managed to be Marvel TV’s longest running and, according to studies, most popular series. And there are reasons for that, and also reasons why it’s always been a middle-of-the-pack show in this blog’s annual rankings… save for the one year it came last because the bar was much higher and their “Oh crap we’re still on the air now what” sixth season couldn’t compete.
The final season of Agents of SHIELD wrapped up recently, in which the Agents found themselves jumping through history, trying to stop a race of robots called Chronicoms from wiping out SHIELD in the past to facilitate their invasion in 2019. And much like The Punisher’s final season allowed us to examine Marvel Netflix as a whole, the final season of Agents of SHIELD shines a light on everything the series did well, and all the places they struggled.
Let’s begin with our core cast, the nobodies who became fan-favourites.
The leading voice in fighting climate change is a Swedish teen girl, furious that inaction by world leaders has jeopardized her chances of having an adulthood. Some of the strongest responses to both COVID and gun violence are coming from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. My home province has been steadily collapsing ever since all the right-wing idiots decided to vote out the woman running it and replace her with an inept hillbilly out to privatize health care during the worst health crisis in living memory. And to my left-leaning ears, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to be the only person in Washington talking any sense.
Seems obvious to me, if anyone can save the world, and the world needs some saving… it’s gonna be the ladies.
So it’s fitting that Quarantine Times brought us two teen girls with a mission to save the world: DC’s Stargirl, featuring a character DC wunderkind Geoff Johns created in the 90s as a tribute to his sister who died in a plane crash; and Warrior Nun, based on a manga by Ben Dunn. On the surface, they seem very different, but they have some interesting connections in the ways that they’re completely opposite.
Today I’d like to get into all of that, but before I can, let’s cover…
Stargirl: Teenager Courtney Whitmore finds her life upended, as her mother Barbara (Amy Smart, nice to see her again), her step-father Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson, doing pretty great), and step-brother Mike leave Los Angeles for Barbara’s childhood home of Blue Valley, Nebraska. Nothing seems to be going well… until among Pat’s things Courtney finds a powerful weapon called the Cosmic Staff, which is slightly alive and has chosen her to wield it.
See, ten years ago, on the same night when Courtney and Barbara lost touch with Court’s father, Pat was the sidekick to Starman, leader of the Justice Society of America… but nearly all of the JSA were killed in battle with the incredibly cleverly named villain group the INjustice Society of America… cold and cruel telepath/telekinetic Brainwave, master tactician the Gambler, the musically-powered Fiddler, the magical Wizard, deadly fighters Sportsmaster and Tigress, evil scientist/slightly immortal Japanese war criminal Dragon King, the hulking monster Solomon Grundy, The Shade (who doesn’t really appear as apparently he rage-quit the group a while back), and their ice-powered leader Icicle.
And damn, can we give props to Geoff Johns and the other writers for going to DC leadership, saying “Which villains can we use on this show,” being handed Sportsmaster and Icicle, and still somehow nailing it.
Courtney decides that the staff chose her because Starman is her long-absent father, and the reason he never showed up for Christmas ten years ago (or ever since) is because that’s the night the JSA fell. And so despite constant protests from Pat that this is far too dangerous and Starman is not her father, because despite a resemblance to the blurry photo Court keeps in a locket, her father was not named Sylvester Pemberton*, she takes up the staff and becomes Stargirl, and not a moment too soon, because the ISA have pretty much taken over Blue Valley, and they are up to no good. So Courtney turns to the outcasts among her new classmates to build a new Justice Society to take them on… while Pat breaks out the giant robot armour he’s been working on to begrudgingly help as S.T.R.I.P.E.
*I’m probably the only one who was bothered by the fact that there have been at minimum six different heroes who called themselves Starman and Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid, was not one of them… but I get it. Comics-Courtney initially adopted the legacy of the Star-Spangled Kid, then became Stargirl when Starman #5, Jack Knight, gave her his cosmic staff to carry on in his name. For the TV version, it’s hell of simpler if she takes her inspiration from one person, so sure, make Sylvester Starman, it cleans things up.
Warrior Nun: for centuries, the fighting nuns of the Order of the Cruciform Sword have battled demons on Earth, with weapons made of an unearthly metal called Divinium and under the leadership of the Warrior Nun, who is bonded with an angel’s halo, giving her powers and abilities to fight the demons that possess humans for evil purpose, and with some more difficulty, the hulking Tarask demons that seem to hunt the Warrior Nun.
After an ambush on the Order, led by people who somehow know the Warrior Nun can be killed with Divinium and also have some, the current Warrior Nun dies, but instead of her heir apparent Sister Lilith, the halo ends up inside recently deceased 19-year-old Ava Silva (Alba Baptista), who has spent most of her life a quadriplegic living under the care of an abusive nun. This is not seen as a great result for the Order, as Ava doesn’t have a strong interest in fighting demons for the church that made her life even more miserable than the car accident that crippled her and killed her parents already had. Plus not-quite-nun Shotgun Mary is out to uncover the conspiracy behind the assassination of previous Warrior Nun Sister Shannon (who it’s strongly implied was Mary’s girlfriend); scientist CEO Jillian Salvius thinks she can use Divinium to build a portal to heaven; and papal candidate Cardinal Francisco Duretti thinks the Order needs some restructuring. It’s a hectic time. Sure hope there aren’t any shocking revelations coming about the Order’s history, boy that wouldn’t help anything.
So already we see a few common threads between Stargirl and Warrior Nun. Both have teen girl heroes (although Ava is only barely still a teen); both invest a lot into the ideas of legacy and destiny; both have their heroines inheriting a weapon capable of deciding who is and isn’t worthy to wield it (the halo sometimes rejects an unworthy host, I failed to mention that); and each has a reluctant mentor figure who is convinced she shouldn’t have said weapon but were rejected from wielding it themselves. But once you get past those similarities, it’s a little interesting how these two shows tackle their first seasons in completely opposite ways.
Remember that time John Oliver did a deep-dive into the US bail system, and how it’s weaponized to keep lower-income people, especially African-Americans, in jail? The best way to combat that right now is The Bail Project, a charity committed to paying the bail of those who can’t afford it, so that, say, being arrested for protesting police brutality doesn’t financially cripple you. Visit them at https://bailproject.org/, spread the word, and if you can spare a donation, they can always use it.
Back to it.
Okay, here we go… 21 shows ranked! And let me say… this might have been the highest-quality season since I started doing this. Shows that would have made the top ten easily in previous years, if not the top five, are down where we used to find shows I’d make fun of. There are some very high highs, but none of the low lows that marred previous years. No Iron Fists or Inhumans, or even bland Cloak and Daggers or wildly inconsistent Gothams. The worst we have is “Okay, but not nearly their best work.”
But first, press F to show respect to the following fallen shows.
Arrow. How crazy is it that the grand mack-daddy of all superhero crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, got adapted on network television all because of the success of a show about Green Arrow, of all people? Arrow wasn’t always the best Arrowverse show… actually according to these annual rankings, it wasn’t ever the best Arrowverse show from the first year there were other options… but, as the name suggests, without it, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. No duelling speedsters, no spaceship full of time travelling misfits, no annual crossovers putting Defenders to shame over and over… no Beebo. You did good, Arrow.
iZombie. In the general scheme of things, five seasons was pretty much just right for their overarching storyline of the zombie outbreak and subsequent conflict with humanity. In another sense, five seasons was never going to be enough time to spend with Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, Payton, and even ne’er-do-wells Blaine and Don E. This show was a delight, and I’ll miss its core cast for a long time. You were the least faithful to your source material of any show I’ve covered, lacking even a character in common with the comics, but you were special while you lasted.
Krypton.I admire Krypton’s dedication to self-improvement. From halfway through the first season, they did their best to find more interesting takes on their story. And they delivered a decent Lobo, a solid General Zod, and by second season a really interesting Brainiac. They were just way too confident they’d have as much time as they wanted to tell the story, and that was not the case. So… are we done with shows about the pasts of famous heroes named after the place they’re from? Smallville lasted a decade, sure, and Gotham made it half that, but Krypton is over after twenty episodes and Metropolis seems to have died in development. So… we’re done?
Legion. Some shows can’t run indefinitely. Some shows need a set plan. And Legion was one of those. Noah Hawley brought us a three-act story told over twenty-seven mesmerizing episodes, with a stellar cast and visual flair like nothing else. There has never been a show like Legion. There may never be again, because you can’t be Legion if you’re trying to be like something else.
Preacher. To my chagrin, I think Preacher’s legacy will be how weirdly unbalanced the pacing was. The slow-burn first season and the final season’s race for the finish line almost feel like different shows. They spent three years really digging into key moments from the comic run, then when AMC said they had one year to wrap it up, they had to slam on the gas to get to the climax. Still… they delivered an amazing, gonzo yet character-driven adaptation, one which provided some key lessons (including not taking your time in early seasons) for the even-less-probable Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys. I wish it had run another four years, but I’m glad I had it while it lasted.
Swamp Thing. We hardly knew ye, Swamp Thing. You delivered the exact Swamp Thing series we needed, a perfect fit to the R-rated tone of every other DC Universe show they’d made (prior to Stargirl). You had great takes on a lot of DC’s magic characters, characters I’m mad I won’t get to see again. Apparently, the only people who didn’t think a dark, horror-themed Swamp Thing was the way to go were the people running your network. Idjits. Here’s hoping the CW reairing it in a desperate bid for fall programming leads to a revival.
Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof brought us a collision of the dark side of America’s history and the possible future of Alan Moore’s world of masked crimefighters, twisted masterminds, and one living god with a broken view of time, mixing real-life atrocities and racial tensions with the aftermath of the Watchmen graphic novel, and it was great. He poured every idea he had into this one season… meaning he had nothing left in the tank to keep it going. Like Alan Moore before him, he never envisioned a follow-up. So for now at least, Watchmen ends again as one self-contained story, and we should be thankful we got it.
Marvel TV as we knew it. For the past half-decade, there were two sides to live-action Marvel entertainment… Marvel Studios, as run by Kevin Feige, reporting directly to Disney; and Marvel TV, run by Jeph Loeb, reporting to Feige’s former boss Ike Perlmutter. And while fanboys clung to the hope that the Marvel TV characters would appear, or at least be referenced, in any of the movies, people paying attention (such as me, hello) could tell they were very clearly separate worlds that would never mingle. But now Feige has been put in charge of the movies, TV and comics, so Marvel TV as we knew it now yields to Feige’s empire, and everything from before is cancelled. And maybe that’s for the best, because while we might lose the smaller, street-level stories like Daredevil or Runaways, frankly Jeph Loeb brought too much of Smallville’s old “No flights, no tights” aesthetic to Marvel TV, leading to an apparent fear of seeming “comic-booky” that made the whole franchise a little… bland. Basic. Routinely embarrassed of their source material. (Google, find a supercut of Marvel Netflix characters hating their costumes from the comics–no? Damn it.) The fanboys are waiting for the Defenders, Runaways, Agents of SHIELD, and Inhumans to find their way to new seasons on Disney+ or Hulu, but… I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Expect, at best, reboots. Eventually. Probably best to say goodbye to them all now and beat the rush later. So farewell, Cloak and Dagger; bon voyage, Runaways; via con Dios, Agents of– what’s that? Still on? For how many weeks? Huh. First to arrive, last to leave, I guess.
Honourable mention: I don’t include animated series in these things because a) that feels like a hole with no bottom and there are already 21 shows on the list… again…; b) I don’t know how to find most of them; c) I’d mostly be comparing cartoon shows made for pre-teens to Preacher and how do you even do that, even Riverdale was a stretch. But all of that said, if you can find a way to watch Harley Quinn, then do it, because oh my god it’s so hilarious, and also weirdly heartfelt. Do what you have to, but check it out.
Apparently YouTube videos whose ads donate to BLM charities are a moving target, as YouTube pulled the last one right after I posted it. I’ve replaced it with this one, which hopefully also works, so give it a spin, and while you’re doing that, check out this list of ways you can help fight racism. Find something that works for you, then meet me in the next paragraph.
No, really, I’ll wait, go do that. Done? Okay, let’s get going.
Alright nerds, we’re through the technicals, into the performances. Some of the most brutal, hard to call categories coming at you, ’cause there was some talent this season.
Let’s see if I can do them in a sensible order for once.
The Wentworth Miller Award For Best Guest Star
Putting aside series regulars and major recurring characters, who brought something special to their limited appearances, as Wentworth Miller did on The Flash as Captain Cold?
These people did!
Honourable mentions: Haley Joel Osment as a formerly famous child hero on The Boys was just perfect casting; Neal McDonough made one last appearance as Damien Darhk on Legends of Tomorrow, and was delightful as always; and of all the alumni they brought back for Arrow’s final season (damn near all of them), the one who most reminded us what they brought to the show, and how much they’re missed, was Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance. His brief reunion with Oliver and Earth-2’s Laurel Lance was particularly emotional.
Bronze: The Crisis Cameos, Crisis On Infinite Earths
Really all I can do here is present a complete list, except for the dozen and change that were pretty clearly recycled footage from DC Universe streaming shows.
Robert Wuhl reprising Knox the reporter from 1989’s Batman; Burt goddamn Ward reprising Adam West’s sidekick Dick Grayson; Wil Wheaton as a doomsayer; The Tick’s Griffin Newman hosting a trivia night; Erica Durance as both Supergirl’s Alura and Smallville’s Lois Lane; Johnathon Schaech reprising Jonah Hex; Tom Welling back as Smallville’s Clark Kent (punching out Lex Luthor, no less); Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series bringing his iconic Batman voice to live-action for the first time; patron saint of this category, Wentworth Miller, as the voice of Leonard Snart on an alternate-Earth Waverider; Tom Ellis bringing Lucifer Morningstar to the Arrowverse, face to face with John Constantine; Ashley Scott back in costume as the Huntress from the short-lived Birds of Prey series; John Wesley Shipp reprising his 1990 Flash one last time; Black Lightning finally joining the crew; Ezra Miller giving us a brief meeting of the cinematic and television Flashes; and original Crisis author Marv Wolfman hitting Flash and Supergirl up for autographs (he loves the team-ups, you see).
Is that everyone? I think so? And each one delightful.
(If I had to pick one, it’d be Tom Ellis by a nose, but I don’t so I won’t.)
Silver: Thomas Lennon as Mr. Mxyzptlk, Supergirl
A quick lampshade-hang about why they’ve swapped out the original actor for someone less dreamy, and Mr. Mxyzptlk came back to Supergirl, and he came back doing what Mxy does best… being an adorable trickster and screwing with the fourth wall. And Thomas Lennon excelled, always finding the humour in Supergirl’s 100th-episode trip backwards through the past four seasons, as Mxy and Kara tried to find a moment to tell Lena Luthor the truth about Kara that maybe wouldn’t destroy either their relationship or the world. Some of them destroyed the world.
I could really go for an annual Mxyzptlk appearance, if that’s an option.
Gold: Jemaine Clement and Jason Mantzoukis as Oliver Bird and the Big Bad Wolf, Legion
I feel like we discussed this episode and it’s rhythmic climax plenty last time. So for now I’ll just say that it was an immense delight seeing Jemaine Clement back, and the only thing that improved it was having Jason Manzoukis show up as the (symbolic) Big Bad Wolf, shouting to Oliver not to wait before teaching the baby about syphilis.
And then they rap battled. Come on.
Such a great episode, and these two (with help from Jean Smart) really anchored it.
The Tricia Helfer Award for Rookie of the Year
What new characters on an established show really brought something special, like the way Tricia Helfer’s Goddess Charlotte kicked Lucifer up to the next level?
Honourable mentions: Switch on Legion made the entire season three story possible, but she sometimes felt like more of a device than a character; Connor/Superboy was a fun addition to Titans, but he more created his own subplot than added to what had been the main story; Natalie Dreyfuss was great fun as Ralph Dibny’s long-awaited true-love-to-be Sue Dearbon on The Flash, but was only in three episodes, and due to reasons probably won’t be back.
Bronze: Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne, Titans
I’m not a big fan of “middle-aged Batman” in general, and I’m not sure what Glen was going for with that Brooklyn accent… sometimes it seems “neutral American” is too tricky an accent, so actors from, in this case, Scotland, aim for something more regional… but damn having Bruce Wayne around was a good and necessary addition to this show. Given how much of Titans revolves around Dick’s difficult history with his complicated surrogate father, never seeing him throughout season one was kind of awkward. Whether Bruce was there in person, or an illusion created by Raven, or a hallucination brought on by Dick’s guilty conscience*, Bruce added a lot to the season, and if you could roll with the accent, Glen was kinda killing it.
*That last one was actually pretty great, and involved Bruce Wayne doing the Batusi with burlesque dancers, and it was amazing.
Silver: Naomi Ackie as Bonnie, The End of the F***ing World
Series one of The End of the F***ing World was about James and Alyssa running from their traumas; series two was about having to confront the consequences. And so it made sense to have the consequences of their crime-ridden road trip personified in Bonnie.
The End of the F***ing World has always been about broken people finding inadvisable ways to face their traumas, and series two brought a new style of trauma to the mix in angry, confused, vengeful Bonnie. “I learned about punishment from a young age,” she tells us. Bonnie was raised with abuse and discipline instead of love, and now she has them mixed up in her head. Led astray by what she thought was love, she was personally wronged by the events of series one, and has come to deliver punishment to James and Alyssa. Poorly thought-out, at times hilariously inept punishment. Bonnie makes our road-tripping duo into a trio, and was a welcome addition.
Gold: Shayan Sobhian as Behrad Tarazi, Legends of Tomorrow
In the third season finale, hacker and freedom fighter from the future Zari Tomaz finally altered her past/our present enough that her dystopia never happens… which means that her family was never hunted by a government that hated metahumans and also Muslims (I think we know any fascist American regime, fictional or currently-in-progress, is gonna come at Muslims), so her brother Behrad was never killed by ARGUS agents, so she never inherited the Zambesi air totem from him… and never joined the Legends. And also her last name is Tarazi now? Don’t fully get that last bit. But anyway, the last moments of the previous finale saw Zari erased from the team’s history… and replaced by Behrad.
So that left Shayan Sobhian with a bit of a trick to pull off… make this new character feel like a long term part of the team, make his relationships with the other Legends feel lived-in, and make us like him enough that we’d be invested in him sticking around instead of checking our watches wondering when “Internet Celebrity Zari” was going to blow over and things would go back to the way they were last season.
And damned if he didn’t nail it.
Behrad instantly felt like an old friend. Whether he was being best bros with Nate and Ray, or revealing that he’d had a secret tryst with Charlie the shapeshifter (which they probably kept on the DL since her primary form looks exactly like Nate’s ex), or dealing with his vain, shallow older sister Zari finding out he’s a time traveller, Behrad was a welcome addition from episode one, and I was quickly frightened something bad was gonna happen to him since he was only credited as a guest star.
And his presence let them do something fun and new with Zari, which was neat.