How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV 2


They’ve renewed all the DC ‘Arrowverse’ shows on the CW Network, which is fine by me so far as Legends of Tomorrow is concerned but, barring a complete reversal of form in the last six episodes of the fourth season, I’ll be bailing out on The Flash before it returns later in the year.

When it started, The Flash was a perfect contrast to Arrow, showing much more of the fun side of superpowers, and the sheer joy of superspeed. Gradually, as the show’s worn on, it’s taken on more and more of Arrow‘s pervading air of seriousness, and its general woe-is-me, all-my-fault grimness. Barry Allen has turned into a junior league, not justice league, version of Oliver Queen, and it’s a pain in the neck.

The show’s been off air for four weeks, during which I haven’t missed it and despite a couple of intriguing twists along the way, there was one central point that left me despairing.

This season, the show has introduced a version of Ralph Dibny as The Elongated Man. It’s not particularly faithful to the original, but it does maintain the tradition of treating a man who can stretch his entire body in unpredictable ways as a light and humourous character.

This week, that proved to be a problem for Barry ‘The Flash’ Allen. Team Flash is up against The Thinker, a meticulous and superhuman planner. But Ralph keeps straying off the plan, trying to improvise, joking his way through, and it leads to Barry benching him, refusing to let him join the battles.

Of course, it’s Ralph’s unpredictability that’s needed to win the day, but before that, Barry has to go through the everything-on-me phase, grimly determined that Ralph should be just as miserable, sober, stone-faced and in lockstep with everything Barry says and does. And when he accepts that Ralph has his own way of doing things and always will have, we get this awful, cheap, cliche of a speech from Ralph about how the misery of his younger years turned him into a compulsive joker to conceal his fears. It really is the most awful piece of writing I’ve ever heard on The Flash.

So, I’ll stick around to see how the season wraps up, then, unless there’s some seriously refreshing twist, or season five offers up at least four Justice Society members as regulars, I’m out the door. Please, Legends of Tomorrow, stay as gloriously clunky, goofy and awkward as you are: I need you. (And more of Caity Lotz and Tala Ashe in bikinis won’t go amiss either).

How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV


One…

As long term readers of this blog will know, I have been a long-term comics reader, with a lifelong allegiance to DC Comics, going back over fifty years. I’ve even had a soft spot for Green Arrow, going back to the days when he was still a non-entity with a Robin Hood costume and nothing but elaborate trick arrows to his name.

To see these characters being put on screen, these past few years, starting with none other than Green Arrow, has been delightful. The kid in me, still lying on his bed in the back bedroom of the long-demolished 41 Brigham Street, Openshaw, Manchester, is forever awed by the fact he’s watching these colourful characters ‘for real’, without having to turn the pages.

Since those early days of Arrow, which maintained a substantial distance from the actual comics to portray a gritty, urban outlaw drama, the cast has expanded, and the palate has broadened. First off was The Flash, given a backdoor pilot in Arrow series 2 then unleashed to its own brand of goody, good-time fun, showing the underlying excitement and fun of having such crazy, more-than-human powers.

Then the hodge-podge that is Legends of Tomorrow, a ragbag, shambling assemblage of characters, none of them massive successful but most of them dating to the years of my youth and adolescence when my enjoyment for this genre was at its most pure. And Supergirl, initially kept separate, with the delightful Melissa Benoist and that short-skirted costume.

…two…

And off to one side, because it derives from Marvel, I have from the first enjoyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and over its first four seasons I have particularly relished the performance of Ian de Caesteker as Fitz: he has been knocking it out of the park on a regular basis for years now.

So during the main American TV season, I have regularly been watching five superhero shows. And enjoying myself immensely, especially when I spot an Easter Egg, designed for us long-term knowledgeable fans, planted in such a manner as to not interrupt the enjoyment of those not in the know. Two of the finest of these have come in The Flash.

None of the series have been perfect, nor have they fallen exactly into line with my own, longstanding impressions of the characters, even where I understand the imperatives the series are working under. I don’t like the way Mr Terrific is being handled in Arrow, because the character is a long-term favourite of mine, but he’s also an obscure figure and I’m weird.

And like all series, there are good and bad episodes. Supergirl had a lot of the latter in season 1, mostly in relation to the Girl Power side of things, but it upped its game in season 2, at least to start with.

…three…

The first real problem started with Arrow season 3. One of Green Arrow’s problems is that the character doesn’t have an impressive Rogue’s Gallery. The show has compensated by ripping off a lot of Batman’s mythos to cope, which is irritating yet somehow approriate, given that Oliver Queen originated as a knock-off of Bruce Wayne. Season 3 used R’as al-Ghul and the League of Assassins for its arc.

Not many people liked Matt Nagel’s portrayal of R’as, but I was an exception. Nagel played the character very low-key, with an air of world-weariness. This is someone who has lived long enough to have seen everything, done everything and worked everything out. He can’t be surprised any more, he is completely in control and whilst slightly bored with his absolute command of everything, has no intention of relinquishing that control.

The problem was with the overall arc, Oliver Queen’s actions, and the feeling that Arrow‘s characteristic grim’n’gritty approach was getting a bit too heavy. Having such a superficially passive villain contributed to the general downbeat tone. Much the same could be said about season 4, though Neal McDonough’s vigorous performance as Damien Dhark was a much-needed uplift.

Frankly, the series was getting boring. I decided to stick with it through season 5, just to get to the end of the flashbacks, though these had dipped into the ridiculous with the revelations that Oliver’s five years of exile on Lian Yu had been interrupted by a year in Hong Kong, and another in Russia. Oi!

Back at The Flash, I thought season 2 was excellent. This had a lot to do with it featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is going back to my roots with a vengeance: the scene where the two Flashes both respond to a call of ‘Flash!’ and run either side of a wall, was Easter Egg number one, a glorious chocolate extravaganza with its deliberate echo of Jay Garrick’s first Golden Age appearance in The Flash 123, unveiling the DC Multiverse and starting a revival I lapped up avidly.

But even this season had problems. Barry’s romance with Patty and its abrupt cut-off, the increasing angst being developed in Barry himself, moving the show’s tone closer to that of Arrow when it’s ethos should have remained the opposite. But it was still fun and I still looked forward to it avidly.

Supergirl‘s first series was a bit damp, though the revelation that Hank Henshaw – a villain in Superman’s continuity, especially prominent in the Death/Rebirth of Superman sequence in the early Nineties – was actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was a trick I didn’t foresee and a lovely touch.

Season 2 started more strongly, except for the loss of Callista Flockhart after production and filming moved from LA to Vancouver. It got about halfway and then started to sag, badly. The Mon-El storyline was tedious, and the threat posed by his Daxamite origins and his possessive parents got less and less interesting as Teri Hatcher camped it up as the Queen, and Kara Zor-El/Danvers constantly refused to wise up as to what needed to be done and kept putting a brave ‘we can work it all out’ face on things that manifestly could never be worked out.

Back to that in a moment. Let’s switch to Legends of Tomorrow. This show has problems. It’s clunky, crowded, awkward and silly. And I love it. You can criticise Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Ray Palmer as a socially awkward, shallow and ineffectual person when the comicbook Atom s routinely treated as the scientific expert in the Justice League, and you’d be correct to do so, but I still love every minute of it and my old The Atom comics haven’t been affected.

The thing is, Legends is throwing in kitchen sinks worth of people who I would never have even dreamed I’d see on screen. I mean, Jonah Hex, people! And B’wana Beast! The acting is OTT, especially when Wentworth Miller drops in, but I am having the time of my life with this show and wish it a very long future.

I haven’t mentioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, because it’s the outlier. It’s Marvel, it doesn’t connect in any way to the other shows, it’s perennially in danger of cancellation, but I’ve enjoyed it all along.

Until season 5. I’ve always admored the show’s ability to re-invent itself every season, and indeed every half-season. Season 4, which basically consisted of three different mini-seasons, ended with the gang captured by the authorities. Season 5 started with them in prison. In space. In the future. Orbiting a half-destroyed Earth. Without Fitz.

I really don’t know quite what happened, but I watched the season-opening two-parter with no feeling whatsoever. I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t in the least bit intrigued. I haven’t even looked up what has happened from episode 3 onwards, because I simply have no interest in what happens to the programme. It’s as if it’s under gone a mental cancellation in my head and is no longer there.

…four…

I’ve given up Supergirl too. I said I’d get back to the season finale. To be honest, I was struggling to stay with the show during its second half, but the final episode was the killer. Supergirl and Superman battle it out to see who’s strongest and who will challenge the Daxamites. Supergirl wins. That’s right, Supergirl is stronger than Superman.

Now, I’m not stupid. The show’s name is Supergirl, not Superman, so she’s got to go up against the Daxamites. But in no universe that I can recognise is Supergirl stronger than Superman. This is one of those baseline conditions on which existence is based. So that was that series crossed off the list and no longer of the least concern to me.

So that was already five down to three. I had already made plans to exit Arrow at the end of season five. Though this was much better than the previous two seasons, the show was stuck on a downwards trend. There was little to distinguish one season from the next. Oliver had long since turned into a bore, with his self-obsessed demeanour and his constant gloominess, and whilst I still fancy Emily Bett Rickards more than somewhat, her scatty performance as Felicity is starting to get repetitious.

With the flashbacks finally curling back in on themselves to meet season 1 episode 1, I planned to drop out. But the cliffhanger, threatening to wipe out potentially all the cast, dragged me back in to see who survived (answer: everybody). I decided to give the show a TV.com four-episode test. And was promptly screwed in episode 4 when Michael Emerson turned up as Caden James, the new big bad.

Now, I love Michael Emerson and have done since he first emerged as Ben Linus in Lost season 2, so that committed me.

Meanwhile, back at The Flash. This lost a certain amount of lustre for me in season 3, where the big bad, Savitar, was cleverly but ultimately wrong-headedly revealed to be a twisted future version of Barry Allen himself. Adding to this Barry’s ongoing and ever-increasing insistence on blaming himself for everything that goes on, his slow merging with Oliver was the wrong path for the series to take.

The current season made a smart move by switching to The Thinker as big bad: a super-intelligent villain instead of the usual super-speedster. And Clifford Devoe, even though he bears no resemblance to either of the comics Thinkers, is certainly way ahead of everybody, although we still have no idea what his big, bad overall plan is.

But he’s run rings around Team Flash for the first half of the season, and he certainly has a mad on for Barry Allen. The midseason finale had Devoe transferring his consciousness out of his physically failing body into that of a thought-reading metahuman. His dead, stabbed body was planted in Barry and Iris’s flat and Barry has been framed for Devoe’s murder and arrested.

…five

This week, the superhero shows started to filter back from the Xmas break, or at least The Flash and Arrow did. It’s Barry Allen’s trial. And, like it did when The Flash was tried for murder in the mid-Eighties, immediately prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, he’s found guilty. And it was pure crap.

As a former Solicitor, I am always sensitised to the presentation of trials on TV. I’m also aware that dramatic licence will be flourished and that I can’t expect pure realism, but there are degrees and there are degrees, and this was ridiculous.

The Prosecution has substantial, indeed convincing evidence. Not a single attempt was made to challenge that evidence in any respect. The Defence’s case throughout the Prosecution was literally no more than ‘Barry Allen is a good guy’. Even when this was challenged, by pointing out 72 instances of lateness on his personnel record and his recent unexplained six months absence, the Defence is not prepared for this and has no explanation.

The Defence is being conducted by the DA, by the way, acting as a private lawyer. This is not a novice.

The Defence case is no case. Barry won’t testify. He won’t admit to being the Flash (which everybody assumes will get him off the hook, the Prosecution evidence notwithstanding, because nobody will convict the Flash, gee, the respect for Justice), he won’t perjure himself, he won’t lift a finger. This is beyond stupid. No lawyer with the least amount of self-respect would fight this case in this way. No lawyer who expected to be taken seriously as a lawyer ever again would fight this case in this way. It’s a joke, a complete failing of the writer’s imagination, interest or willingness to demonstrate any plausibility – and in a show based on superhuman powers, everything else has to retain plausibility so as to underpin it.

No, the name of the game is to get Barry Allen into prison (choke, sob, irony, into his Dad’s old cell) with no delay. Now, one assumes Barry has some cunning plan, despite the absence of the least evidence of this. Or is he just indulging his Oliver Queen-esque guilt trip to the nth degree? Where is this going?

I will find out because I intend to stick with The Flash, because it can’t possibly be as bad as this again, or if it is I will bail out.

But what this episode has done has killed me on Arrow.

Now that’s obviously unfair. Why should Arrow suffer for the failings of The Flash? To which the answer is because my enthusiasm for the universe of DC on television has been badly disrupted. I have given up one of their shows because I lost belief in it, and I have been suffering from diminished expectations for this show for several years, and this cord is easy to cut. I cannot recover interest in Oliver Queen, and Team arrow, and their latest horribly convoluted mess. It’s getting harder to access these shows after their original broadcast, and frankly, if I’m going to have to struggle, I’ll do it for shoes that I still have some connect to.

I mean, DC series number five, Black Lightning has started this week, and I’m not even interested in checking it out.

So, from five series, I’m down to two, one of which is limping along on residual goodwill, in the space of half a TV season. What happened to the lifelong DC fan, relishing the fun like a pig in clover?

Some of it is the issues I am dealing with personally. I am growing less and less interested continually on the entertainment of the current day and more and more attracted to what I used to enjoy. The juice is going out of new things for me, and this is part of it. But the shows themselves, and perhaps the fact that there are so many of them, with their inherent limitations, their imperfect representation of my individual interpretations, and the law of diminishing returns are all combining to reduce my interest overall.

But the common factor between The Flash and Legends is that they are the most fun. I’m not too enamoured of the deep angsty stuff. I want the thrill I got out of these gaudy mountebanks. The Flash has been sliding away from fun for a couple of years: Arrow never had any.

I’m slowly falling out of love with Superhero TV. The problem is mutual.

 

Uncollected Thoughts: Crisis on Earth-X


The TV promo

Where there are four DC Universe TV shows appearing on the same network, you’re going to get crossovers, especially as three of those shows are practically incestuous to begin with, having spun-off each other.

Last year, the crossover was spread over four consecutive nights, with each of the shows retaining their own identity and concerns for the most part against the background of invasion by distinctly unconvincing CGI aliens. It was fun, but most of that came in the last part, when everybody got together for a mass superhero brawl.

This year, it went a whole lot better. Firstly, the four-parter was stripped over only two nights, in blocks of two hours (for which Arrow shot forward three days),which maintained the momentum far more successfully, and secondly it went out under its own title, Crisis on Earth-X, and played as a distinct, four part mini-series, which worked fantastically.

The title alone had a nostalgic ring for veterans like me. Ever since the first JLA/JSA team-up back in 1963, Crisis has been the DC got-to title for big events. And Crisis on Earth-X is personally significant to me because that was the title of Justice League of America 107, all those years ago, my gateway back into reading comics.

The mini-series borrowed the same principle but built its story upon a colossal twist. This further forward in time, their Hitler has died (in 1994) and a new Fuhrer is in charge, supported by a female General. The Fuhrer is an expert archer with a mainly green leather costume, the General is a superstrong, flying, blonde-tressed Aryan type: yes, it’s the Earth-X Oliver Queen and Kara Danvers Queen – his wife!

And supporting this unlovely pair of versions, we have the Reverse-Flash, still wearing Harrison Wells’ face and, if we don’t have enough allusions to early series, another expert Archer called Prometheus, under whose mask is… Colin Donnell, aka Tommy Merlin.

The main thrust of the story is that Super-X-girl is dying due to some form of radiation poisoning and needs a new heart – that of Kara Danvers. As she’s going to be on Earth-1, attending Barry and Iris’s wedding, our villains bust in on the ceremony (does anyone have any objections? Pouf: Minister is vapourised).

The wisdom of trying this on just when the Church is crammed packed with the superheroes of four whole series may be questionable but not to Green-X-Arrow: in fact, the show is heavy with speeches, from him, from Super-X-girl and even from poor Tommy (before he chucks a cyanide capsule down his throat after being captured) wholeheartedly espousing Fascist ideology, and despising the heroes and, by extension, all the other 52 worlds of the Multiverse, as weak, deserving only of serving their betters.

It’s horribly contemporary, though nobody makes that connection outside the audience, and the F-word is never used, though Nazi is bandied around with comfortable ease. But this strength through purity, contempt for the weak, the poor, the non-Aryans: tell me that doesn’t ring a bell with a lot of what we see around us.

The Comics promo

I particularly liked the way that each show abandoned its individual identity in favour of the four episodes going out as Crisis on Earth-X. This was particularly welcome in the case of Supergirl, which I’ve given up watching.

Generally, there was a common core cast of the principals and a couple of essential supporting characters, with the other supporting players having only relatively limited roles, in passing. For instance, Kara brought her sister Alex with her to the big wedding (whereupon Alex copped off with Sarah Lance at the rehearsal), and Oliver Queen brought Felicity.

The Flash got the best of it, but then the story was mainly taking place in Central City and was built around Barry and Iris’s wedding, so having the full cast play through was pretty much a given. And whilst only Sarah, Mick, Jax and Professor Stein went to the wedding, the positioning of Legends of Tomorrow as the close-out show again ensured the rest of the Legends got a good look-in too.

There were more than a couple of surprises along the way. Russell Tovey turned up for the back half as a Concentration Camp victim on Earth-X, imprisoned for being gay but, as advertised, he’s also a superhero, the solar-powered The Ray. Though the Ray is actually from Earth-1, once the whole thing was done, he went back to Earth-X to continue the good fight, but his lover (from Earth-X) decided to stay on Earth-1 for a bit. His lover was captain Cold, the Earth-X version, Wentworth Miller enjoying subtly camping things up as ‘Leo’ Snart, his interactions with Dominic Purcell a total delight.

And despite the vapourised Minster, Barry and Iris did get married at the end. They’d had the ceremony, all they needed was the Licenced Minister, so Barry speed-snatched John Diggle out of Star City.

Not to be outdone, having rather loudly turned down his proposal in part 1, because she did not want to get married, Felicity had a sudden change of heart, and got Dig to tie her and Ollie’s knot too. Aww!

But there was one thing I didn’t expect, not in itself but especially not in a more or less self-contained mini-series with only a minor degree of relevance to each show’s ongoing plotlines. I rigorously avoid spoilers, so I have had no idea where the Legends plot of Professor Stein and Jax trying to separate themselves as Firestorm, to enable the former to return to his wife, daughter and grandson, was going to lead. Was Victor Garber leaving? He is the first name in the credits, after all.

So the cliffhanger for part 3 was that he and Jax had separated to speed up what needed to be done to get everyone home to Earth-1, but they were all being attacked by machine-gunning Nazis, and Stein made a run for the lever he needed to pull, and was shot. In the back.

In the final episode, he made the final effort and pulled the lever, but at the cost of another bullet. So he was rushed back to the medbay on the Waverider, and his physical suffering fed back to Jax, but it rapidly became very clear, that Martin Stein should be dead from his wounds, that he would be if he wasn’t sustaining himself on Jax’s life-force, and that Jax would die alongside him. So Stein refused to drag Jax in with him. And he died.

It was a shock and it was felt by everyone. Next week’s Legends is the Fall Finale and I’m eager to see where they go with this now: I mean, Stein could ‘survive’ as a ghostly voice in Jax’s ear, as Firestorm, or maybe Franz Drameh is out of the series two, and depending on the reaction to Russell Tovey, I’m guessing on the Ray joining the Legends before the season is over.

But this was really a surprise, even if it did turn the last part into Two Weddings and a Funeral (I’m sorry, but the producers were angling for that, obviously).

Speaking of Supergirl, I didn’t see anything to suggest I’m missing anything, and with the exception of Sarah helping Alex get over her separation from Maggie (and I don’t mean by that that her… head was turned by a lesbian one night stand, you filthy-minded sods), there was nothing to do with ongoing continuity there: Kara/Melissa Benoist was in it for the mini-series story only, and thank the TV Gods for that.

So, a palpable hit by being almost purely superhero geek from start to finish. Keep this format for 2018 and, as one who has recently watched Justice League on the big screen, take a bloody big dose of Crisis and inject into everyone who will have anything to do with the sequel: this is how you do it, you pompous bastards!

The nostalgia…

Arrow – The Four-Episode Test


Though I’ve watched the series since it first appeared, in 2012, my interest in Arrow has been steadily waning over a couple of poor seasons. Privately, I promised myself that I would quit after season 5, which would bring the flashbacks full circle, up to the start of season 1.

This promise persisted even though, generally, season 5 was a better series than the previous two. Unfortunately, the cliffhanger ending to the series, suggesting that every single member of the supporting/recurring cast could/should have been killed, meant that I had to at least watch the premier of season 6, to see who survived.

The answer being, disappointingly but unsurprisingly, practically all of them. One recurring character dead, one cast member – Oliver Queen’s little sister, Thea – in a coma but still in the cast credits.

So I decided I would apply the classic TV.com Four-Episode Test: four episodes in which to convince me it was worth my time to watch on.

I nearly didn’t make it. As early as episode 3, I forgot to even bother with it until Sunday week ago, and even then didn’t watch it until the Monday night after work. Then, during the week, I caught sight of a bit of troubling information about the series. A guest star. And a guest star whose presence was balance-tipping.

So I watched last week’s episode over the weekend. He wasn’t there in the opening credits as a Guest Star. If I hadn’t seen that reference, I would have been totally unprepared for his appearance. As this season’s Big Bad, Cayden James.

Step forward, Michael Emerson. aka Ben Linus from Lost and ‘Harold Finch’ from Person of Interest, two of my favourite series and two of my favourite characters of the last decade.

As Cayden James, he’s sort of crossed the two characters over: Ben’s underlying atmosphere of menace belying his appearance as a small, unprepossessing man in late middle age, and ‘Harold”s near invisibility.

But the thing is, he’s here, and he’s going to keep appearing. So four episodes has given me a reason to keep watching, when I would have preferred to end my relationship with the show.

I’m stuck with it now.

Now look what you’ve done

Five Finales


It’s not just the football season that’s over, barring the FA Cup Final, but the 2016/20117 television season is now over. Though I’ve enjoyed the latter perhaps a little more, I’m glad of the respite. The week has been shaped around various series for so long that the chance of a change is very welcome. I have things I’m looking forward to watching this summer now that I have free time.

The Big Bang Theory

My favourite comedy series ended its run a couple of weeks ago, with another classic season-ending cliffhanger. I remember the days when sitcoms just came in individual episodes that could more or less be shown in any order and certainly without inter-season cliffhangers. And I’m not just talking about the era before Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

I realise that TBBT is and always has been marmite TV and I know plenty of people who either hate it or at least find it completely unfunny (my ex-wife couldn’t understand why I was laughing so hard, when we usually shared a very close sense of humour). But from the very first, I have got this show. It’s on my wavelength, I know its referrents, I am geek enough to get where everything comes from, and whilst the show has slowly adopted more prosaic tropes about relationships, marriage and now a baby, it’s still funny to me.

This last season has been the last of the three year contract it was handed, and I’ve recently learned that it’s been renewed for two further seasons (hardly surprising given that a spin-off, Young Sheldon, about Sheldon as a boy, has been commissioned: I am pretty dubious about that one). That suits me.

Overall, season 10 has been an improvement over the sometimes lacklustre previous year, though I can wait to hear the outcome of the cliffhanger, which is Sheldon on one knee, proposing to Amy, as a result of being kissed by Riki Lindholm (not the first thing I’d have thought of, admittedly, if I’d been kissed by Riki Lindholm, even if we’re talking about the real Mayim Bialik).

To be welcomed back, whenever it likes.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This one hit the end last week. Agents has struggled for audiences ever since it started and lives a season-to-season life-style, which was addressed for season 4 by a) making radical changes to the internal set-up and b) dividing the season up into three ‘pods’ or mini-seasons, widely separated and loosely linked. Another massive change of set-up has been trailed for season 5.

The three ‘pod’ experiment won’t be repeated, with the show not returning until January 2018, with a straight-through, no interruptions storyline.

Of the three ‘pods’, the ‘Agents of Hydra’ sequence in the last of these was by far and away the season’s strongest element, being genuinely creepy and, in the person of Fitz (another head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest season performance from Ian de Caesteker) incredibly thought-provoking on a personal level, since Fitz’s regret relieved was having his father raise him, instead of his mother, and what a bastard he turned out to be. If so great a change can arise from so seemingly small a change, what does that imply for me?

Though whilst de Caesteker was his usual excellent self, the real star of the season, acting-wise, was Mallory Jansen, as Aida etc. The range she was called upon to demonstrate, and her note-perfect performance, especially after she became human and had feelings to feel, was incredible. This woman deserves to be a star.

To be welcomed back, as a New Year treat.

Supergirl

This was the first of three DC series to conclude this week, and by far the weakest. Supergirl’s second season, which saw it transfer from CBS to the CW, was better than its first, though Callista Flockhart’s guest appearance in the last two episodes showed just how much the show has suffered from a lack of Cat Grant.

But better certainly didn’t butter any parsnips since the show’s first season set the bar very low. An appearance by cousin Superman, played brilliantly by Tyler Hoechlin, who channeled Christopher Reeve in his Clark Kent persona to magnificent delight, set things off to a great start, but I can’t say the same for his appearance in the last episode, in which the character was demeaned by being made to be weaker than and inferior to Supergirl. No. Just no. Not in any universe is that convincing and whilst I realise that Supergirl having her name on the show demanded she be the champion, this was crap that ruined any good work done this year.

To be honest, getting to the end of the season has been the only thing keeping me watching this series for the last couple of months, and unless and until people are going around shouting, ‘Oh, wow, oh, WOW!’ about season 3, Melissa Benoist in a short skirt and knee-length boots just isn’t enough to get me commit to forty minutes a week.

To be gently ushered out of sight

The Flash

This has always been my favoutite of the superhero series, because of the expert way it blended the sheer rush and excitement of speed and power with the darkness of the drama. That’s tended to slip more towards the basic Arrow package of doom and gloom and guilt, especially with Barry Allen having fucked everything up at the end of season 2 by creating ‘Flashpoint’.

Barry’s propensity to blame himself for everything is taking on quite Oliver Queen-esque proportions, which is a shame because it’s blurring a quite vital distinction between the two series. On the other hand, these two shows, and Legends of Tomorrow (which finished several weeks ago), have settled comfortably into the concept of the shared universe, not on the strength of continual guest appearances, but more the mention of each other’s members.

This year’s Tom Cavanagh as a Harrison Wells had the propensity to be extremely irritating, but turned out fun in the end, and his sacrifice to get everyone out of the death of Iris West worked surprisingly well, considering it could easily have been seen as a cop-out. And on a shallow level, kudos to the team that, when they finally followed up on the inevitability of Caitlin Snow’s comic book heritage, they put Danielle Pannebacker in a short skirt and high boots.

The finale gave itself a hostage to fortune with Barry sacrificing himself to imprisonment within the Speed Force. Whether this is a stunningly bold change of lead character or just as temporary as ‘Flashpoint’ was this season but with a much higher bar of credibility to clear when reversing this , it certainly creates anticipation for season 4.

To be welcomed back avidly, but cautiously

Arrow

Ah, the daddy. In television terms, Arrow is where it all comes from, and it’s still been mister gloom and guilt for another twenty-three episodes. Season 5 has been a considerable improvement on seasons 3 and 4 collectively, but they set a bar so low that even a three month old baby could clear it.

Of the new team, Curtis ‘Mr Terrific’ Holt has been played as a joke which is a terrible approach to one of my favourite characters, whilst Rene has been surprisingly successful at a shitty character like Wild Dog. As for Artemis and the new Black Canary, neither of them has demonstrated enough personality to be interesting, let alone memorable. In this respect, Katie Cassidy’s return as the evil Black Siren of Earth-2 has finally made her interesting (and dare I say it, even sexy).

And the show has started, towards its season end, to repair the terribly manipulative splitting up of Oliver and Felicity, which was the point at which I decided that I didn’t care any longer.

I only watched season 5 for the closure in respect of the flashbacks, bringing these round full circle to the beginning of season 1, and that’s now taken place. In fact, Oliver’s final hours on the island, facing an implacable opponent on a kill-or-be-killed basis was neatly contrasted with the contemporary set-up, which was pretty much identical, giving us a chance to contrast Oliver-then and Oliver-now and measure his journey.

Whilst season 5 was better, it wasn’t so much better that I want to stay with it into season 6. On the other hand, the massive cliffhanger, with Prometheus detonating bombs all over Lian Yu so that everybody except Green Arrow might be dead, requires me to at least watch episode 1 to find out who lives and who dies. Given the cast announcements for season 6, Wild Dog, Black Canary and Black Siren are givens, so I may be able to avoid that by watching for news.

To be watched to see who survives, and then it’s on its own

So that’s 2016/17. Summer lies ahead. Maybe I can finally fit in that long-overdue Tales of the Gold Monkey re-watch?

The Great DC Crossover – Part 4 – Legends of Tomorrow


Well, the Distinguished Thing has now been completed, and Legends of Tomorrow got the conclusion bit, along with most of the CGI budget, and most of the plotlines about the crossover itself, but not the final word or the final scenes. It was at least enough to lever the whole event up to B+ status, retrospectively. but I’d suggest going for more of this throughout next time round.

After the diversion yesterday into Oliver/Flashpoint, there was no room for manoeuvre. So the two unused Legends, Steel and Vixen, plus the ever entertaining Heatwave, took the Waverider back to 1951 where, with the help of our two tech geeks, Cisco and Felicity, who ended up wielding big, biiiig guns, interrogated a Dominator and found out what it was all about.

In keeping with the original crossover event that inspired this week, Invasion, it was all about the metas. The 1951 Dominators were there because of the Justice Society, checking out the potential menace of superheroes, complete with a young and slimy government agent, eager to torture, who happened to agree with them.

Dial it forward sixty five years and not only is said agent still going strong and ruthless, but this year’s crop turn out to be here – and planning to drop a Metabomb that will kill all metas on Earth, plus two or so million collateral – because of none other than the Flash and Flashpoint. Apparently, there’s been a truce based on a promise not to interfere with the timeline, and Barry broke it, and can save the day by handing himself over.

Barry being Barry and becoming as boringly hard on himself as Oliver by the day, that’s what he’s going to do, no negotiation. But the others won’t let him. Including Cisco who, having changed the past himself in the past, suddenly gives up on this hate he’s had for Barry, calls him ‘friend’ again, and that’s enough to get Barry to fight instead.

So, one massive, multi-scene fight later, Firestorm uses those matter-transformation powers everyone’s forgotten about in Legends season 2, and transforms the Metabomb to harmless water (I still wouldn’t drink it if I were you). Martin Stein’s time-aberration of a daughter, Lily, invents a device to give Dominators extreme pain: and she seemed such a nice girl, too. Ollie, who earlier gave Supergirl the bums rush because, well, he didn’t want super-powers around, admits that making the single most powerful member of the Earth-Saving Crew sit around and file her nails was maybe not the brightest idea, since it’s her and Barry wot save the (first part of the) day. And it  all ends up with a wrap party which was genuinely enjoyable just to see everybody getting down and mingling.

Call out to Melissa Benoist who, despite starting out unconnected to everyone except Barry, was a delight mixing it up throughout, and who mixed Agent Nasty by getting the new female President (hot enough for both Mick and Sarah to notice) to assign him to Earth-1’s future DEO – in Antarctica.

No, overall it was good, clean superhero fun, goofy and full of holes, as such things are always going to be. If it’s repeated, it really does need to make more time for the menace, and the mix’n’match of the characters than the ongoing continuities of each series, but it was good enough to make a repeat something to anticipate rather than dread.

Next week is fall finale time for our favourite four (and you thought I couldn’t do extended alliteration), and then the Xmas break.  Let’s be careful out there, ok.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 3 – Arrow


At least the two on the right appeared...
At least the two on the right appeared…

As crossovers go in general, this episode was pretty much of a bust, the last five minutes excepted, when the Dominators and their plans to invade Earth and give it some serious welly with ‘the weapon’ became more than a MacGuffin for the real intent of Arrow‘s 100th episode.

On the other hand, as episodes of Arrow go, this was bloody brilliant and better than anything we’ve seen in the last two series, if not more.

So: where we left off last night, Team Arrow (aka Ollie, Dig, Thea, Sarah and Ray) vanished. Back in Star City, Felicity and Cisco, with the respective aids of Rene/Wild Dog, Curtis/Mr Terrific and Rory/Ragman, tracked down where they were being held captive. This required a brief altercation with some real throwaway enhanced woman, for which Flash and Supergirl turned up to turn her over. Our missing quintet were found to be on the Dominator spaceship, which they exited in some kind of mini-ship, pursued by a whole swarm of mini-ships intent on death and destruction, until rescued by the Waverider and Nate Heywood (who’s been left out so far).

All of which was the mainly thin gristle around the meat of episode 100, which featured Ollie’s own version of Flashpoint, the life he could have had, which perhaps he should have had, if one thing hadn’t happened. That signifying point was The Queen’s Gambit cruise.

Ollie didn’t die. His Dad didn’t die. Deathstroke had no reason to kill his mother. Sarah never joined the League of Assassins. Without one Black Canary there was never a need for a second, so Laurel didn’t die, in fact tomorrow is her wedding day. To Ollie. His Dad wants him to take over Queen Consolidated as CEO, without which the board will accept Ray Palmer’s buy-out. Detective Lance isn’t an alcoholic. Thea doesn’t know who her real father is. Tommy Merlin’s alive, and of all things he’s a doctor in Chicago (on Chicago Hope?). There is an arrow-wielding vigilante, nicknamed the Hood, and assisted by Ray’s fiancee, Felicity, but it’s Diggle.

It’s wrong, all wrong, every bad thing undone. I’ve seen it before in comics, it”s not original, it’s the idea that underpins The Last Temptation of Christ and I don’t expect it was new then. The hero’s real enemy is not defeat, or death, it is happiness. It’s been the underpinning of Arrow since episode 1 and it’s been the dire ruination of the series for these last two miserable seasons, and here it is, overthrown. What it could have been, what has been sacrificed.

It’s unreal, and at every turn things are thrown up, things that trigger all five victim’s memories, although mostly Ollie’s. The story is always the same and the end is always the same: the hero rejects peace, rejects fulfillment, the dirty and desperate reality is restored. But it’s so hard. Thea refuses at first, the little girl who has her parents back, her mother and her father, who can’t bear to repeat the loss. Who among us doesn’t respond to that? You know what I would give to havve my father come back, to have had that life instead. But she comes out to fight with the rest, for no reason given, overcomes her obstacles, awakens with the rest.

It’s The Flash 300, Cary Bates’ greatest story. It’s that episode of Red Dwarf where they discover it’s been a virtual reality game all along. It’s every story that’s ever ended ‘and they she woke up, and it had all been a dream’, except that the dream is the thing you want to carry on forever.

It’s a fine and memorable episode, but in terms of the crossover, they’re dumping one hell of a lot on Legends of Tomorrow‘s shoulders for the final part, and assuming all for get renewed for another season each (and there’s a very good case for denying Arrow the chance to get any more turgid), and they decide to do another crossover, they need to do something a lot better next time.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part.