Alright. Here we go. The full rankings. Maybe you have some theories about what’s near the top, based on who kept getting mentioned, and who might be closer to the bottom, based on who hasn’t been mentioned at all. Will this be the first year a freshman series doesn’t win, or will the Disney+ era of Marvel keep the tradition going? Let’s find out together! Well, not together, I already know… anyway.
Farewell to some shows that have left us this season, for good or ill…
Agents of SHIELD. First in and very nearly last out of the pre-Disney+ Marvel TV era. It took work to make this show as reliably charming as it was for so long. They had a show with no recognizable characters except Phil Coulson, that claimed to be in the MCU but could almost never get permission to use major Marvel characters, that had to wait 16 episodes to be allowed to have a plot, that got no love or recognition from any other live-action Marvel property, even f**king Inhumans… and it was perhaps the most consistently entertaining and most loved pre-Feige Marvel TV show. Maybe season five was the stronger “final season,” but this adorable band of scrappy misfits/leading experts in their fields kept me invested to the end, even though the last handful of episodes made that super tough. I’m gonna miss the core cast for a while, because whatever the die-hard “it’s all connected” fans think, we won’t be seeing them again. (Seriously, stop speculating that such-and-such SHIELD character is turning up on so-and-so Marvel project, it likely ain’t happening.)
Black Lightning: Honestly this one was a surprise. It’s the first CW superhero show to end after less than six years. Maybe shooting in Georgia made it harder, I don’t know, I just know that it felt like the Pierce family, gadgeteer/tailor/ex-black ops agent Gambi, and albino crime lord Tobias Whale still had some mileage in them.
Jupiter’s Legacy: Are we surprised this one’s cancelled? It had no buzz. Almost nobody was talking about it, and the ones who were weren’t being complimentary.
Stumptown: Damn it, I thought I was getting more of this. Damn COVID for derailing the entire entertainment industry and damn you ABC for giving me hope and taking it away. We all deserved much more of Dex, Grey, Tookie, and the gang. I’m confident I’ll see Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson in something before long, but less confident it’ll be this good.
WandaVision: Like Watchmen before it, they had one story to tell, told it very well, and left it there. Honestly I don’t know how you even could do that show a second time.
That melancholy business complete, time for the rankings, and capsule reviews that vary wildly in length based on whether I’ve discussed this show already. Let’s begin!
(Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t cancelled, Falcon and the Winter Soldier got called up to the majors, instead of a second season they get to be Captain America 4 in Phase Five.)
This part gets tougher every year. More prestige shows drawing top talents, more top talents being discovered on smaller shows… on my spreadsheet (of course I have a spreadsheet, we went over this at the end of Art Vs Commerce, I am absolutely that geek), I used to flag people as green (top performances), yellow (decent but less exceptional), or red (uninspiring), but it’s been ages since I had fewer than six people flagged as green in the most categories. I basically gave up on any other colour, each year has at least one category that’s a game of inches between five to eight amazing performances.
So here’s the results of some tough, sometimes nigh impossible choices.
(Yes, I still have these categories split by gender. When comic book TV has enby, genderqueer, or genderfluid characters other than the sentient teleporting street, I’ll add a category for them as well. For some reason I love adding categories.)
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.
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.
Before we get started… I’ve been sitting on these blogs for a week, because given all of the everything… this felt horribly frivolous. But as protests continue, we all need an occasional break, so I’m taking a piece of advice from someone more knowledgeable than I am in these matters (keep listening, keep learning)… release your art, but also take a moment to point people to ways they can keep helping ensure that Black Lives Matter. Today, I present this: this playlist is a way to support bail funds if you can’t afford to donate. Just throw this video on while you read, and make sure you’re not blocking ads because the ad revenue is going to a good cause.
And now, on with the show.
Another TV season comes to an end, and once again I’ve spent twelve months devouring all (well, many) forms of comic book TV, and I’m here to share with you what my exhaustive research tells us is the best of the best! Who had the best fights, elicited the biggest sobs, featured the best casts, and many more!
Specifically of shows that ended their seasons between July 1st of 2019 and June 3rd, 2020. With these specific exceptions.
Walking Dead:I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.
The Riverdale of it all: I am not the target audience of Riverdale. That’s fine. I don’t have to be. There is so much media that is geared specifically towards me that it’s fine that some of it isn’t. But it hardly seems fair to rank shows meant for a younger female audience against shows weirdly targeted right exactly at me, so I’m leaving out all of the Riverdales. That includes Riverdale Prime, Spooky Riverdale (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Sex And The City Riverdale (Katy Keene, which could not be less targeted to me).
With that in mind, here’s what we are covering, with links to reviews where they exist.
Agents of SHIELD, season six (not the current one)
Sadly, due to Plague Times (or lack of vision by the DC streaming service), a few of those shows didn’t get proper season finales. Which I’m trying my best not to hold against them, but maybe they had a lot of plots going on and maybe I was really eager to get to the point where they started connecting in a more clear way and I don’t know I would have liked to see how they stuck the landing.
Anyhoo, let’s get into the technical awards, starting with what I keep telling you is one of my favourites.
When Spy Kids came out way on back in 2001, I thought “Man that looks pretty dumb.” And then a wise friend said “Sure, but I’d have watched the heck out of it when I was ten.” And I thought, sure, yeah, me too. That was the sort of story I grew up on. Kids my age (or close to) getting into high-stakes adventures with monsters and pirates and other sci-fi/fantasy/espionage elements. Monster Squad, Time Bandits,The Lost Boys, IT, The Neverending Story, and of course the chairman of the company, The Goonies. Sure Spy Kids wasn’t being aimed at me, but why shouldn’t the next generation have similar movies to latch onto?
(As well as The Goonies, of course, it is for all generations.)
That said… I wasn’t the only one who grew up on these magical kids’ adventure stories. And if there’s one thing the entertainment industry thrives on, it’s milking nostalgia in an attempt to squeeze money from audiences.
And so a new genre seems to be forming… 80s-style magical kids’ adventure stories, but designed to appeal to adults and youths alike.
The very obvious example, one that may have sprung into your mind the second I brought this up, is Stranger Things.
Stranger Things is both loved and criticized for the way it weaponizes nostalgia in its narrative, creating a pastiche of the Goonies and the Loser’s Club and having them battle otherworldly monsters alongside a magic girl, using Dungeons and Dragons and sometimes dressing as Ghostbusters. It’s a sci-fi fantasy conspiracy thriller that uses 80s nostalgia to flavour the story the way a fancy cocktail might use simple syrup*, and its a little hacky, but I love it.
(*I did just finish a course on cocktails, why do you ask?)
And on the far side of the spectrum, we have this lot.
Titans is about literal magic teens being mentored by 20-something former teen heroes. It would be perfectly aligned for a teen audience… except they curse like they’re out of a Tarantino movie, the fight scenes are often brutal and bloody, and yeah, in season one they go to Pound Town (if a non-graphic suburb of Pound Town) more often than any other superhero show save for Watchmen. (Sister Night and her husband have a passionate and fulfilling sex life and good for them.)
Or in other words, they act exactly like young people would in their situation. Hand-to-hand fights aren’t clean, they get in situations that frankly require frequent cursing*, and I’ve been reading comics about Nightwing almost as long as there have been comics about Nightwing to read, and I am here to tell you, Dick Grayson fucks.
(*I’m not mad that the Titans swear, I’m mad that Gotham wasn’t allowed to. Given what happened in an average season, Harvey Bullock should have been dropping F-bombs like it would cure cancer.)
It is… it is still a little weird that they took almost the exact lineup from successful kids’ show Teen Titans GO! (save for Cyborg, last seen hanging with the Doom Patrol) and made a hard-R curse-filled punchfest, instead of saying “All those TT:G fans are teens now, let’s make it a blend of action and YA romance, you know, like the entire Arrowverse, which one of our producers created.” But here we are, magical teens and ex-teen sidekicks in a show clearly aimed at adults that teens probably still watch, I mean it’s not the 80s anymore, teens find stuff.
And in between these two, we find Locke and Key.
Based on the graphic novel by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke and Key finds the Locke family (mother Nina, high school students Tyler and Kinsey, and kid brother/possible oops-baby Bode, which against all logic is pronounced Boh-dee) moving from Seattle to small-town New England for a fresh start after family patriarch Rendell Locke is killed by a troubled classmate of Tyler’s. They move into the Locke family estate, Key House… a place Rendell and his brother (Smallville’s Fake Jimmy Olsen, Aaron Ashmore, playing a character who maybe will be important in a later season?) have avoided for years.
Tyler meets a girl he likes, but she’s passionate about causes and he’s only passionate about self-destruction; Kinsey meets some new friends who want to make a horror movie; Bode befriends a neurodiverse teen with a similar affinity for GI Joe. That would all be great, except for two little issues. One, Bode discovers that Key House is filled with magical keys (go figure), each with their own power; and two, there’s a sinister woman at the bottom of their well who wants the keys for herself, and it does not seem like it’s for a good reason.
The Locke siblings must find and decipher the keys, unravel their father’s past, and also try not to let their teenage melodramas distract them from the fact that a murder ghost is targeting their family to steal magical keys.
And the result is… good. Quite good. Really gripping. Yes, the leads can be frustrating, but they’re teens (and one pre-teen) coping with a horrifying tragedy, one of whom has some pretty strong PTSD and one of which thinks it’s his fault, you can’t entirely blame them for not being their best selves all the time. It’s close to the kids’ adventures I remember, but felt much darker and less… kiddy.
So let’s look at Locke and Key and how they built an adult-friendly magical kids’ adventure story, with Stranger Things* as our exemplar and also touching on Titans because it’s weirdly thematically similar, and also Titans really upped their game this season and that’s worth noting.
(*We’re three seasons in, either I don’t need to explain Stranger Things to you or you’ve decided you don’t care about Stranger Things and no explanation will matter.)
Okay. Here we go. But first… one piece of new business.
Every year, some show in the rankings has been in its last season, but never enough to keep the list from growing from seven to twenty-two. But we’ve hit a point where there are enough that they’re killing themselves down to a more sustainable level. Thus, some farewells.
The Tick. Oh, The Tick… like always, maybe you were just a little too cult to live. But while you lived, you were nailing it. Wait– you had one fewer episode overall than Iron Fist? No wonder God has forsaken us.
Gotham. You were never the best show, not by a wide margin, but there were flickers of greatness… well, pretty-good-ness… that meant you weren’t the worst, either. Well, okay, sometimes you were the worst, but not recently.
The Gifted.You may have been the Agents of SHIELD of Fox’s X-Men universe, the red-headed stepchild not allowed to play with the other kids, but you did your best. Still, that Disney buy-out was your death. And come on, man, you did not have the ratings to be ending on a cliffhanger.
Literally all of Marvel Netflix. In the beginning, you set a high bar for comic TV, but you never quite matched those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Until the end you struggled with pacing issues, unnecessary side characters, inability to pick a main villain, and a refusal to do anything too “comic booky.” And yes, you bungled the big crossover. Still, the franchise had more good than bad overall. Even Iron Fist was starting to get its act together. Was Jessica Jones’ third season a fitting send-off for the entire franchise? No, and that’s irrational, it couldn’t have been, that would have required a second, hopefully better Defenders series, maybe involving the “Who can stop Luke Cage, King of Harlem” fight they kept teasing, but “proper send-off” wasn’t on Netflix’s agenda. Disney+ was your franchise’s end. Via con Dios, Defenders.
The idea that the Marvel movies and TV shows share a universe. Not even Agents of SHIELD, which is normally first in line to name-drop any event from the movies, acknowledged the events of Avengers: Infinity War. And given when season six takes place, and when Endgame takes place, it would have to. So… guess that’s over.
Now, on with the show! (I apologize if the last two posts maybe drained some suspense out of who’s taking the top spot.)
Okay! Let’s get into the best superheroes, supervillains, and other comic-related characters of the season!
Honourable Mention: Real talk… few of these characters delighted me like the one character who defies every single category I have: Doom Patrol’s Danny the Street.
Danny’s a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street that houses a community of misfits and outcasts, and they’re delightful, and I was so happy the writers embraced the Grant Morrison weirdness of the Doom Patrol franchise enough to include Danny. Their debut episode, “Danny Patrol,” was a blast.
(I may eventually need more non-gendered categories, especially if one of these shows casts Liv Hewson or Asia Kate Dillon or another non-binary actor of their caliber… but not today.)
Anyway, on to characters a little easier to categorize. So easy they don’t even need introductory paragraphs to explain the categories.
Best Female Supporting Character!
Honourable mentions: Carrie-Anne Moss and Rachel Taylor had some good spirals into self-destruction on Jessica Jones; Yara Martinez remained fun as Miss Lint on The Tick; Julie Ann Emery had great edge as Featherstone on Preacher.
Bronze: Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker, Jessica Jones
For the first two seasons of Jessica Jones, and a bit of The Defenders, Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister Trish pushed Jessica to be a better hero, to use her gifts to help people and fight evil. But after the events of season two, Trish finally has powers of her own. She can finally be the hero she’s always wanted Jess to be. Sure the process that gave her powers has a slight history of also causing homicidal rage, and yes, her need to feel powerful caused all sorts of bad choices in season two, but this should be easy! Right?
Trish’s journey over season three is a rollercoaster, I tell you what, and Rachel Taylor came to play.
Silver: Tala Ashe as Zari Tomaz, Legends of Tomorrow
Playing a character whose classic hero name they can’t really use anymore, Tala Ashe’s dry wit was a welcome addition to Legends last season, and it remained so this year. But we also got to watch Zari’s tough shell begin to crack, as her survival instincts from the ARGUS police state future she came from began to relax. Her gradual, mutually awkward flirtation with fellow Legend Nate Heywood (spurred by something simple: pretending to be a couple for a heist and then thinking “Huh, we’re both hot, we could just do this”) was consistently adorable, and led to both one of the year’s best musical numbers (see last entry) and an emotional finale where she has to risk having her entire history rewritten to save Nate.
Plus she cut loose on some witch hunters (emotional), impersonated a 70s DJ (funny), and got turned into both a cat and a puppet (legendary). And if all of that weren’t enough, she opened the season with a powerful monologue on how fear took over her society, ending with one small but killer line. Lots of shows tackled fear and hate this season, but few managed as simple and powerful a moment as Zari watching her hijab-wearing mother smiling and laughing with young Zari in a playground, and asking “How could anyone be afraid of her?”
This season may have had slightly too little time for all of its character arcs, but Zari always shines.
Gold: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl
There is a marvellous subtlety to Katie McGrath’s performance as Lena Luthor. She went through a lot of unpleasantness this season, loss and heartbreak and betrayal and more betrayal and a global hunt for her brother, and Katie McGrath managed to convey all the pain and sorrow Lena went through without dropping the cold, hard exterior she’s had to develop as both a successful businesswoman and a Luthor. Not the most open and loving family. Katie handled Lena’s bleak year with incredible nuance.
Katie is masterful at this role. Lena’s heading to a dark place, but I’m hoping she doesn’t go full-villain, because I don’t think I can bring myself to root against her.
Best Male Supporting Character!
Honourable mention: Jay Ali’s take as the tortured Agent Nadeem on Daredevil; most if not all of the male cast of The Umbrella Academy. Unless you consider all the Hargreeves kids to be leads, in which case just Hazel and Hargreeves Sr, I guess.
Bronze: Jesse Rath as Brainiac-5, Supergirl
Last season, Jesse Rath swiftly won me and others over as Querl Dox, aka Brainiac-5, the Legion of Superheroes’ resident super genius. In season four, he takes the departed Winn Schott’s place at the DEO, working as both a DEO agent and secret superhero ally to Supergirl and her band of alien do-gooders when relations between the two groups deteriorate.
Rath’s always done a good and amusing job at portraying Brainy’s alien, calculating nature, existing somewhere between and to the left of Data and Spock, but as he began an awkward flirtation with Nia Nal, who he swiftly recognized as an ancestor of his old teammate Dream Girl, Brainy found new levels of cute.
But what really gets him on the podium came late in the season, as the alien-hating Children of Liberty accidentally unleashed Brainy’s dark side. As anyone familiar with Superman’s rogues gallery knows, the Brainiac line is not filled with pleasant people, and under torture, Brainy lost control of his ancestral memories. After an emotional moment, a darker, crueler Brainiac was unleashed, and Brainy went from cute to chilling.
I miss Winn sometimes, but damn Brainy’s fun to have around.
Silver: Robin Lord Taylor & Corey Michael Smith as Penguin & Riddler, Gotham
There were definitely a few things Gotham did well, in the sea of things they did poorly. The art design, cinematography, at least half of their villain creations. But if I were to point to one thing that kept me going through all 100 episodes, one facet of the show that made coming back worthwhile through all the Mad Hatters and Jeromes and Jim Gordon never bringing backup, it was Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. There is a time and place for restraint in acting, and Taylor understood that Gotham is not it, throwing every inch of himself into every scene he had. But he worked best when part of an unexpectedly great double-act.
Because when Penguin’s plots linked up with Ed Nygma’s? Magic. As begrudging allies, best of friends, or sworn enemies, their scenes together routinely popped. As we bid farewell to Gotham, it seemed fitting to give a final tip of the hat to their two best and most consistently entertaining villains.
Gold: Pip Torrens & Joseph Gilgun as Herr Starr & Cassidy, Preacher
Last year I talked about how perfectly Pip Torrens captures the cold, vicious, and utterly captivating Herr Starr, chief enforcer for the Grail, Earth’s secret rulers. Well, I’m not going to do that this year.
Because if anything he is surpassing his comics counterpart.
The chilling calmness with which Starr goes through his bloody business is always riveting to watch, and often hilarious. It’s at the point where I’ll be sad to see his joust with Jesse come to an end. And not just because I wasn’t ready for the show to be over after next season.
Meanwhile, Cassidy had some big moments this year, from fighting his best pal Jesse (a few times) over Tulip, even taping himself back together to go an extra round; to a quiet, sad, moment of choice where he realizes there are lines he can’t cross to keep Tulip; to his discovery of Les Enfants du Sang, a group of vampire wannabes led by the first fellow vampire Cassidy’s met in decades. Gilgun found new depths to Cassidy this season, and nailed them all. And he keeps the humour of the character, if his debate with the Enfants over how to kill a Grail infiltrator proves anything.
It’s that time again! Time to look through a season’s worth of comic book TV shows, look at who did what best, and deliver a conclusive ranking, based on my highly scientific standard of “Which ones I liked more, and also you didn’t watch them all so you don’t know I’m wrong.”
So, here are this years’ competitors, with links to blog posts if posts there do be:
(Why are the two seasons of Cloak and Dagger ranked separately but not Sabrina? Because Netflix ordered twenty episodes of Sabrina then released them in two chunks and a Christmas special, while Cloak and Dagger did ten episodes then had to get renewed before they made ten more.)
TV shows are constantly being released. Krypton and Legion started up new seasons in the past couple of weeks, and The Boys is coming up fast. So I have to draw the line somewhere. As such, I’m only including shows that ended their season between July 1st 2018 and June 30th 2019. This means some personal favourites are off the list this year because their finales are still a few weeks or months out, and Game of Thrones reminds us not to build monuments to the living, for they can still disgrace the stone. Or in other words, any show can trip over its own feet at the finish line.
So this year doesn’t include the latest seasons of Agents of SHIELD or Krypton, the final seasons of iZombie and Legion, or what is apparently the only season of Swamp Thing.
Or Walking Dead because I don’t care and you can’t make me care.
Or anything I hadn’t heard of until it was already cancelled, like whatever Deadly Class was.