Superhero TV Season in Review (Part 1)

We begin our segue into a post-Writers Circle Confidential world… at least while the brain trust figures out what between-season bonus material we’re doing.

So in the meantime, now that I’ve managed to get through all of the big comic series for the TV season… okay, except Walking Dead… let’s do a Year-in-review! No, I’m not going to dig up my blogs on what I wanted to see from geek TV this season, that’s no fun for you or me. Instead… let’s do us an award show! Best and worst in a variety of categories.

That’ll be fun for at least me.

(I considered calling it “Geek TV” instead of “Superhero TV” so that I could accuse Game of Thrones of not being “geek friendly,” because this season it isn’t friendly to any of its audience, it hates its audience and wants us to suffer, but… Walking Dead kind of screwed me out of that by existing and being a show I haven’t watched in over two years.)

This week, best and worst characters!

Best male lead!

Sadly, as far as comic book shows go, saying “Male lead” is virtually redundant. Hurry up, Supergirl.

This year, Oliver Queen failed to avenge a loved one and Phil Coulson lost his team’s trust plugging a plot hole from Age of Ultron… which did nothing at all for the plot of his own show… so three freshmen take the podium.

Bronze medal: Matt Murdock, Daredevil

daredevil

Matt Murdock spent the first season of Daredevil in a dark, dark place, fighting against insurmountable odds to make post-Chitauri Hell’s Kitchen a better place. Charlie Cox did a brilliant job portraying Matt’s exhaustion, growing isolation, and resolve to keep swinging no matter what.

Silver medal: John Constantine, Constantine

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To put it simply, Matt Ryan was note-perfect as John Constantine. He nailed the look, the darkness, the cynicism, the self-hatred, the way that Constantine has to be practically press-ganged into doing the right thing, but when he does, he’s unstoppable.

He’s the perfect magic-slinging con-artist wizard. Sadly, there seemed to be slightly less market for that than needed. If they can’t find a new home for the series, I’m hoping against hope that Constantine finds his way to Starling and Central Cities next year. Maybe do a magical consult for the Legends of Tomorrow.

Gold medal: Barry Allen, The Flash

THE-FLASH-Full-Suit-Image

It’s not just that relatively young Grant Gustin has been unexpectedly good as Flash’s Barry Allen. Which he has. I no longer flinch at hearing a cast member of something is a Glee veteran. It’s not just that he sold every heartbreaking moment in the finale, which oh gods he did, don’t get me started.

It’s that Barry Allen is, simply, the best hero. The inspiration, the light in the darkness, the one who struggles to be on the right side, even in his first year as a hero. The Flash had a stellar first season, and it couldn’t have done that without a stellar lead.

Worst: Jim Gordon, Gotham

Look. He tries as hard as he can. He doesn’t do a bad job as Jim Gordon. But the problem is, “Angry that the system is corrupt” and “So dedicated to doing the honourable thing that he gets himself in trouble” only takes you so far when the show doesn’t let you move forward. As such, Jim gets in a rut while his partner gets all the development.

Best female lead!

Gonna have to stretch the definition of “lead” here, but our gold medallist demanded the category exist.

Ohhhh this is hard. This shouldn’t be so hard. Why aren’t there more female leads. Why are the ones who exist so underwritten. I want to say Laurel from Arrow, but that whole “I’m-a lie to my father for a year until it explodes in my face” thing isn’t doing her any favours… Flash’s Caitlin Snow is not what you’d call a lead… the women on Gotham are almost unilaterally terrible… This isn’t why we can’t have nice things, nerd culture. Shit like this. Okay. Doing my best.

Bronze medal: Skye, aka Daisy, aka Quake, Agents of SHIELD

Skye

Skye takes the bronze just for being Agents of SHIELD’s most-improved character. A weak link of the first season (better than pre-Hydra Ward, not on par with Melinda May), she came into her own in season two both as a SHIELD agent and our perspective character into the world of the Inhumans. While I’m still hesitant to believe that this plotline will have much if any impact on the Marvel movies (even the actual Inhumans movie), it gave Agents of SHIELD something to do besides sit around and wait for a movie to react to, which after their first season they sorely needed.

Skye met her murderous father (a highlight of the season), discovered she’s an Inhuman (and that Inhuman is a thing you can be), gained seismic powers, and became enough of a badass that even without powers she managed a couple of John Wick-level one-take fight scenes that rival any action sequence this season.

Silver medal: Karen Page, Daredevil

Karen-Daredevil

Daredevil had a slight problem with throwing its female characters into peril for plot purposes, but I give Karen Page props for never fully becoming a damsel in distress. She saves herself about as often as Matt and Foggy do (Really? She needs Foggy to save her at one point? Goddamn), even if in one case she potentially does considerable damage to herself in the process. On top of that, she’s instrumental in the crusade to expose and convict Wilson Fisk, and when Matt can fight no longer, it’s Karen who picks him back up.

Matt saved her physically, and she saved him spiritually.

Plus Deborah Ann Woll was amazing in the role. That helps. It was the kind of performance that gets characters brought back from the dead in the comics. Assuming she survives season two, anyway… no guarantee there…

Gold medal: Peggy Carter, Agent Carter

Carter

Was there any doubt? Comic TV was hit and miss at best when it came to writing female characters, but with Peggy Carter they nailed it. Having female showrunners couldn’t have hurt. Haley Atwell made Agent Carter’s eight-episode run appointment viewing. And Haley herself is advocating increasing the diversity on their white-ass cast.

The best written and best developed female character in geek TV, and a certified badass to boot.

Worst: Iris West, the Flash

Ugh. Again, it’s not the actor’s fault. The Flash didn’t have many flaws in season one, but their treatment of Iris goes right to the top. Greg Berlanti and His Amazing Friends learn as they go… mostly… and one thing they’re learning is that “I must protect my identity from those closest to me” gets old FAST.

It certainly did with Iris.

The problem is, the wider the circle of characters who know the hero’s identity becomes, the weirder it gets when certain characters are left out of the loop. So it was with Iris. When nearly the entire cast knew Barry’s secret by the end of the pilot, “We can’t tell Iris to protect her” just… lacked credibility. It stuck her in a shallow and unflattering story for nearly the whole season.

Also… if you’re going to set up a romance plotline between two characters, you really need more than “Well, they got together in the comics” if you’re going to ask your audience to get invested in them. That’s all that Oliver and Laurel had on Arrow, and by the end of season one, the writers wisely moved on.

Best supporting character!

It’s generally understood that a comic book show needs an ensemble. Obviously team shows like Agents of SHIELD and Legends of Tomorrow need an ensemble, but even shows based around one guy like Arrow, Flash, and Daredevil still need a strong supporting cast, like the team from STAR Labs or Wilson Fisk’s cabal of international stereotypes. And man, by and large it’s working. The Daredevil cast helps build a surprisingly blood-soaked 13-part epic, the Arrow ensemble saves us from the godawful voice-over narration from the first episodes, and the crew from the SSR in Agent Carter are what sell the overall theme of “the difficulties facing women in post-war America.” Here’s some standouts.

Bronze medal: Harvey Bullock, Gotham

Bullock

Gotham’s supporting cast is one of highs and staggering lows, but Harvey Bullock is one of the highs. Gotham could jump from often okay to great if they fired most of the cast and just made it Bullock and Alfred solving crimes while Penguin conquers the underworld in the background.

Where Jim Gordon was stuck in a holding pattern of “Curse this city’s corruption that by the nature of the show can’t change in a hurry,” Harvey Bullock could grow and evolve. Harvey started out symptomatic of the GCPD’s corruption, but has been gradually changed by exposure to Jim Gordon’s honest ways. If the entire show could be a little more like Harvey Bullock, they might get somewhere.

He also gets basically all the best lines.

Silver medal: Ray Palmer

Arrow

As I said when I talked about Legends of Tomorrow, the best thing Arrow’s third season did was introduce Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer. Sure, they turned him into a nerdier, ad-hoc Iron Man, but damn it it’s working. Routh’s quirky charm made Ray Palmer a highlight of any episode he was in, and justified making a second spinoff, which means DC is now the CW equivalent of CSI at its peak.

Gold medal: Joe West, The Flash

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His mother may have died when he was a kid, but Barry Allen has a wide variety of dads. His actual father, Henry Allen, who he hopes to one day see out of prison; Harrison Wells, his mentor, the man who’s teaching him to be the Flash; and Joe West, the cop who took him in after his father went to jail. And while nearly all of Barry’s scenes with his father are touching, and Harrison is there to teach him how to use his speed, there’s a real love between Joe and Barry. Joe was Barry’s lifeline, the first in line to help him through his tough times. By midseason, I was terrified that the bloodlust Greg Berlanti and the Funky Bunch demonstrated on Arrow would turn on Joe.

And to be honest… he might not have gotten the gold a week ago, but his scenes with Barry in the finale were incredibly touching. Barry wasn’t born Joe’s son, but damned if Joe hasn’t become the father he needs. A father willing to make a sacrifice beyond measure for the benefit of the man he raised.

He’s also the conscience of Team STAR Labs, Barry’s first and best ally in the quest to find the Reverse Flash, and has the best reactions to Barry’s powers.

Worst: Barbara Kean, Gotham

God damn. Barbara is just the worst. The absolute worst. Remember what I said about needing something other than “they get together in the comics” to make us invested in a character? At least the Flash writers tried. Barbara is… she’s nothing. She started useless and kind of whiny, became something to throw in danger to motivate Jim, and when it was clear that she was the worst character on a show that wasn’t exactly knocking their whole ensemble out of the park, instead of trying to course correct they doubled down. It was like they went out of their way to find new awful plot points for her.

She ruined Renee Montoya. Created for the animated series, hero of No Man’s Land, primary character of Gotham Central (one of the best Batman spinoffs ever), heir to the title of The Question, that Renee Montoya. In a better world, she’d be the lead character of a Gotham Central TV show. Instead, she’s the second worst character on Gotham, was barely in the back half of the season (did she or her partner even show up after the fall finale? I can’t remember, they were that unmemorable), because her story was tied to Barbara and Barbara was fucking toxic.

As of the season finale, she may be god damned irredeemable. This woman cannot possibly be Batgirl’s mother. I will not accept that.

Best Villain!

Now here we have an embarrassment of riches. If you’re a comic book fan, then this season brought you Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins, Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Absorbing Man, Hydra, the Kingpin, a 1940s Black Widow, Felix Faust, Eclipso, most of Flash’s rogues gallery, Mark Hamill reprising the Trickster, and even Gorilla Grodd.

Gorilla Grodd. On network television. What a time to be alive.

And those aren’t even the three who made the podium.

Bronze medal: Cal Zabo, Agents of SHIELD

Cal

 

The first season of Agents of SHIELD, like any Marvel movie but the first Thor, had a villain problem. None of them were interesting until after Winter Soldier. Season two fixed that with Hydra’s Daniel Whitehall, but more than that, Skye’s murderous father, Doctor Cal Zabo, known to comics fans as Mr. Hyde. They never said that on the show, though. Which would never happen on The Flash. Someone would have been calling him Mr. Hyde by the end of his first episode. Just sayin’.

Cal flipped from genial to rage filled at the drop of a hat. He was capable of sudden, brutal, even horrifying violence. But deep down, he was just a man trying to bring his family back together, after they were torn apart (metaphorically, and in one case disturbingly literally) by Hydra. All he really wanted was to find his daughter, and bring her home.

And thanks to Kyle MacLachlan, he was riveting.

Silver medal: Oswald Cobblepot, Gotham

Oswald

Is Oswald even really a villain? His main targets are Fish Mooney and Sal Maroni, far worse villains than he was at the start. But I guess he does kill a lot of people along the way… that flower delivery guy didn’t deserve what happened…

What he is, though, is the most fascinating character on the show. Jim’s crusade to clean up Gotham can’t really succeed, because if it did, why would the city need a Batman? But Penguin’s bloody climb to the top of Gotham’s underworld? That’s good television.

Although… he is weirdly selective about when he’s capable of violence. When Fish or Maroni confront him, he cowers. Any other time, he takes the knife train right to throat town. Which is enough to bump him down to second place.

Gold medal: The Reverse Flash, I think you can guess which show he’s on

Reverse Flash

“I’m not like The Flash at all. Some would say… I’m the reverse.”

Fifteen years after Barry’s mother was killed by a mysterious man in yellow, Barry came face-to-blurry-face with him in Flash’s fall finale. He uttered those words above, and we had our arch-villain. Those words, along with his other signature quote, “To me, you’ve been dead for centuries,” are still echoed across the internet wherever Flash fans find a chance to comment on something.

Reverse Flash’s long game provided The Flash’s central mystery, and its conclusion was the season’s best finale. That’s really all I can say. There’s some serious spoilers involved here.

Worst: Raina, Agents of SHIELD

God I hate Raina. She was insufferably smug when she thought she was on the right side. She moved from villain to villain, be it the go-nowhere Centipede plot of season one, Agent Garret, Cal, Hydra, or the Inhumans, so that every major plot had Raina smugging it up. She was obsessed with “What we become,” something that only made sense because corporate synergy kept the show on the air long enough to reach the Inhuman plot, and when she finally did “become,” she was instantly whiny about what she got, blaming everyone but her own hubris. Until she saw a way to use her newfound powers to be a big shot again, and then bam, right back to smug.

Thank god the actress playing her is on Preacher now. Season three should be Raina-free.

Next time… best stories, fights, and more!

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