In which fan service is apparently a substitute for quality.
I have to be. For the sake of my blood pressure, at the very least. Because these shows have spent an indomitable amount of time angering up my blood. With their go-nowhere plotting, their terrible writing, their laughable character development, their self-imposed and self-perpetuating incongruities, their impermissible disrespect for their own characters and for the intelligence of the audience, and their desperate attempts to cover up all of that with masturbatory fan service (at least I hope it’s a desperate attempt to cover up their failings – the other option is, they are oblivious, and I honestly don’t know which is worse). And if I gave up on Supergirl for exactly these reasons, then I do not owe these shows any more than the same.
My interaction with the Berlanti-lead DCTV is only a year old. I had avoided Arrow in its early years because Green Arrow had long been my favourite of the DC Comics characters, and I was still sore over how the character had been treated on the previous DC TV adaptation, Smallville. So, years passed, and the Flash appeared, and these shows were all the buzz, and just after their previous seasons ended, I binged the lot. Three seasons of Arrow and one season of Flash, in about the space of a month. The reason for my turn-over: the announcement of Legends of Tomorrow, an anthology series that would bring together many of the B and C-List heroes that Warner Bros wasn’t saving for use on the cinematic side, bolstered by characters that had already appeared on the parent series and initial spin-off. In the early footage, there was a shot of half a dozen archers charging through traffic towards some unseen threat, footage apparently from Arrow (it turned out to be from the end of season 2, when they were waging war against Wilson). It was enough of a one-two punch to get me interested in what these series had to offer, despite the fact that the end snippets I’d seen of Flash before Agents of SHIELD started (ughh… the memories) seemed badly written and terribly acted.
Once again, this becomes a lesson in following your gut. And I’ve developed a fairly tuned spider-sense when it comes to bad TV. And I dismissed those concerns, and jumped on the band wagon. And now, I am jumping off. Because these shows are not good. They just aren’t. It is tempting to say that they have slipped down the slope of quality and become shadows of their former selves, but that isn’t strictly true. Arrow in its initial two seasons was buoyed by the fact that there definitely seemed to be a plan in place. All 23 episodes of each season were (mostly) utilized to their fullest extent, and the plot actually went somewhere. There was character development. But that only partially disguises the fact that the acting was never great, the writing (which I differentiate from the plotting) was clumsy and cliché ridden, and the whole enterprise was a very long rip-off of the Nolan Batman films. Flash came into existence with a greater sense of levity, but all the same problems existed. But because it was lighter in tone, and marginally more entertaining (and had the benefit of actors of merit like Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin, which Arrow has never had), people seemed to notice less that the writing was just as faulty, the plotting just as decompressed and the acting just as suspect.
But they look like friggin Greek masterpieces of drama compared to the 2015/2016 television season, the season that everyone stopped caring. I genuinely believe that this is the only reasonable and positive explanation for the meager, consumption ridden seasons we got this year. Best case scenario, everyone who worked on these shows stopped giving a shit. Because otherwise, the explanations run from being grossly incompetent to straight up malicious. And I may be The Disgruntled Individual, but I would still like to think that these professionals deserve the benefit of the doubt. That benefit being that they all just phoned it in this year. If you look back to my episode reviews from the first half of the season, I heap a significant amount of blame on the fact that most of the episodes were too concerned with setting up Legends than it was telling its own story. In retrospect, setting up the Legends spinoff was a saving grace for both series. It masterfully hid the fact that the series had no story to tell. That became evident quickly on in the second half of the season, when they had to stand on their own, and instead they collapsed in on themselves. Arrow’s fight against Darhk and Hive was aimless, Zoom’s reign of terror a toothless empty threat, and Legends was a senseless waste of anticipation.
The problems with all three series, as best as I can tell, were the same. They lacked consistency, they lacked imagination, and they lacked ambition. The consistency problem is their biggest, because it corrupts both their plotting and the very DNA of the shows. Take, for instance, time travel. This is a reasonable place to start, considering that both the Flash and Legends hang their hats on the concept. Kinsberg and Berlanti made big noise about how Legends would follow a very specific set of rules for time travel, as Flash had established them. But the evidence of the series is that there are no rules for time travel between these shows. There are no rules for time travel between episodes. The writers have established no consistent approach, and because of this the series feel disconnected with each other and themselves. Legends tells us that time wants to happen, but seems only too capable of changing things. Rip speaks of unspeakable consequences for doing so, but the team barely encounters these consequences. Certainly, no ramification so bad that it lasted more than an episode before what was put wrong gets put right. Meanwhile, on Flash, time gets changed like a revolving door and nothing ever changes. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the mechanics work, when they erase a character from history and yet they continue to show up from a point earlier in their timeline. To cover this oversight, they create Time Remnants to explain things away. And then bungle what the Remnants are and what they can do to such an extent that they are completely nonsensical. Add in Time Wraiths, which again, have no consistency of action, so as to make them a believable element in the story structure. They become tell-tale signs of the writers trying to write themselves out of a corner, but only back themselves into a deeper one. That big undo Barry did in the finale isn’t going to a damned thing because the writers don’t have a single idea on how to use time travel. They want to use all of them, all at once.
But beyond that, there is no consistency of character. Oliver has never been a consistent character, but Felicity and Diggle switch sides and opinions on an episodic basis. Barry’s mood shifts so often you’d think he was bipolar, and none of the Legends cast have anything remotely approaching an established character base, which means they are incapable of having a character arc. They might have done, but because the writers seem incapable of allowing any development to last more than two episodes, the effect these dramatic developments might have had on the characters is never allowed to play out. Felicity gets crippled, making her (quite literally, in dialogue) a second class Oracle, which presumes to set up a major emotional arc. Except the show cures paralysis before the month’s end, and barely mention the fact again. Zoom is dramatically revealed to be Jay Garrick, except that when Earth-2 Wells was introduced, it was made quite clear that Jay was well established on Earth-2 before Zoom’s one-man terror squad came to town. Jay being Zoom seems like a last minute addition, an idea thrown out in the room that everyone just said “sure, why not” to, and never did the leg work to make any sense. It was a sensational twist added when they realized they didn’t have the first clue as to where they were taking the Zoom plot. Zoom too was all bark and no bite, taunting and teasing two Earths with mayhem and destruction he rarely unleashed, and then when he was revealed as Jay, just blathered pouty faced over Caitlyn and how unfair it was for Barry to have been raised normal. My off the cuff idea of Jay working the Big Belly Burger fryer was far more believable than what they came up with, which was most opportunities for Zoom to kill several people but never Joe.
Lack of imagination and ambition kind of go hand in hand, and nowhere is it on more constant display than in the clear fact that none of the writers give a damn about the characters. With the main characters, because there are contracts signed and names on main titles, they just slot them into whatever in-congruent nonsense they call a plot from week to week. For the secondary characters, they don’t even put in the effort. When a character reaches a point where they don’t know what to do with them, rather than find a way to work them in organically, or actually earn their paycheck and put some effort into finding a way for them to remain a useful part of the story, they literally put them on a bus and get rid of them. Flash owns this trope, sending Daddy Flash, Patty and Jesse away. Likewise Oliver’s bastard child. Legends actually irked out a reversal of this by getting rid of Heat Wave, then bringing him back, only to then get rid of half the rest of the cast just ‘cause. Or, after seasons of not bothering to give Poppa Allen or Laurel anything to do, they killed them to make Zoom and Darhk seem like credible threats. They were stupid, useless deaths, Laurel’s especially. And done in such high mellow drama that I was certain it was a ruse. And what did it achieve? It didn’t change the dynamic of the show any – Laurel was such a non-player, to the point where I figured it was between her and Speedy back after episode one – and like everything else that happens, it was largely forgotten after a couple episodes, except in passing, empty mentions.
The baddies this season all had dasterly plans to do nothing much at all. Darhk’s plan was completely unknown until the very end, where it became “nuke everything,” a plan that again smacks of a last minute “sure, why not” shrug from the writer’s room, and caps the series Nolan trilogy rip-off streak, by giving the baddie a bomb and even staging a street brawl between goons and the good minded citizenry. Zoom’s plan seems to have been “run around, be sad, then race” with a world bomb thrown in for… no reasons that I could discern. His rambling before then seemed more concerned with getting attention then tearing apart reality (though I did see it coming, though I more expected all realities to merge into one rather than being ripped apart). And Vandal Savage was hell bent on… living a really long time. Yeah, he murdered Rip’s family, but Rip was an asshole and I never cared if his son lived or died. It seems to me that, rather than waste 15 episodes time jumping from place to place, the Legends could have just stayed in 2016, started the Justice League, and bolstered a line of defense and threaded harmony in the world to the extent that Savage’s WWIII would have found no willing takers once 21whenever rolled around, and they would have accomplished a hell of a lot more.
But the shows have no ambition on top of their lack of imagination. Legends especially presented all kinds of tantalizing possibilities. Having two immortal characters who recur throughout time could have been fun, encountering them over and over in new lives. Or building on the idea of leaving character behind and picking them later on down the road. Time travel is a great plot device because you can do so much with it, and this show managed to do absolutely nothing at all. And that is because, I am convinced, that the writers have no basic understanding of how it would work. Darhk, with his vast reserves of magic, could have been up to anything other than a by-the-books Bond villain plot. But the writers were clearly too distracted name dropping Constantine despite the fact he wasn’t going to show up again (a trait they clearly picked up from their buddies over at Supergirl). These shows promise us the fantastic, drawing from decade’s worth of comics stories where the purely bizarre happens regularly. And they give us bargain basement ideas, with no initiative, enthusiasm or follow through. Except when it comes to pornographic fan service. Which is really just another distraction technique, meant to distract us from the fact that what is happening both makes no sense and is stupid as hell. But it doesn’t matter, because “hey, remember this guy, from the comics!” We can live in awe of Gorilla Grodd or King Shark actually appearing on our screens (something that will never happen on the cinematic side, I can promise you that), but is it worth it if what they appear in has no substance beyond “hey, remember that mean gorilla, from the comics?!” I’d rather have a show that was well constructed, that challenged the characters and the viewers, that was entertaining and purposeful, that earned it’s giant telepathic gorilla rather than presumed itself worthy. But we had that, we all did. It was called Justice League Unlimited, and it was spectacular.
These shows aren’t spectacular. They aren’t even mediocre. They are uninspired, and lazy. They disregard continuity and have no interest in trying to be anything other than the minimum standard. I can’t imagine the actors (aside from Amell) actually enjoy going to work, but work is work, and it’s setting them all up for a lifetime of con appearances. Clearly, the writers don’t give a shit about their jobs. Personally, I think what they need is to be gone. But that isn’t going to happen, so they need a change in leadership. Berlanti and Kinsberg need to be gotten rid of, the writing staffs need to be overturned, and these shows need to be course corrected. Well, Arrow needs to just be done, period. Flash has time travel to explain away a massive overhaul, and Legends… well, they straight up lied to us about that. Legends was sold on the idea that it would be an anthology series. That characters would die, would get left behind, and that each season would focus on a new group. I predicted they would get Constantine to headline a second season. But nope, they’re sticking with Captain Asshole and the Time Bandits. A group of characters they gave me no reason to care about in the first place. Why would I bother giving them another chance?
Personally, I was routing for the nukes.