PILOT LITE: Mid-season check-up.

Posted: November 27, 2014 in Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Constantine, DC, Flash, Gotham, Hellblazer, Image, iZombie, Marvel, Powers, Vertigo, Walking Dead

This television season is nearing its mid point (when did mid-season finales become a thing? Seems recent to me) and as such a lot of shows are going on winter hiatus. Thus, it feels like a good time to check in and see how everything’s progressing.

The Flash
I think this is the probably been the most consistent show in its first season. It quickly and easily established its tone in the pilot as well as the season-long storyline. There haven’t been any major revelations or changes to the status quo as of yet, and that’s fine. Arrow built up a pretty impressive world within its first couple of seasons. The Flash has taken that world and (literally) run with it. The introduction of Barry back in Arrow‘s second season kind of feels like the Nick Fury stinger scene in Iron Man, in retrospect. Now, we get to see how cool this newly expanded universe can be. The show skews a bit on the formulaic side for now, but its episodic nature only enhances the “comic-bookishness” of it for me. It’s amazing how much more natural a “villain of the week” story can feel when said villains are culled from DC’s long history of characters. Speaking of characters, the actors on this show do a hell of a job. Grant Gustin’s Barry is just idealistic enough to be loveable but doesn’t come off as naïve. Jesse L. Martin’s Det. West has become the soul of the show as his mentorly relationship with Barry has progressed. And then there’s Dr. Wells. Speculation has been rampant as to just what is motivating Tom Cavanagh’s character. I guess we’ll see.

I praised Gotham a lot when the pilot episode aired. I stand by my comments, overall, but the show has definitely not lived up to the potential that I saw in the opening hour. It continues to look beautiful with dynamic camera-work and gorgeous, expansive sets. However, the characters seem hollow and the overall tone of the show struggles. It consistently positions plot to be more important than character and has become rife with silly sequences (Balloonman? Zsasz having a shootout in police headquarters?). And it isn’t helped by the fact that the overarching storyline has no real weight. We all know how it’s going to end already. As for the characters, Alfred is easily the best in the series, thanks largely to the built-in relationship with Bruce and the superb acting of Sean Pertwee. Bullock is becoming less one-note, which is good, but Gordon, Barbara, Nygma, Selina and Fish continue to remain as singularly acted as ever. They’re written and acted broadly with little nuance or momentum in their stories. Overall, the series just hasn’t come together in a very coherent way. I’m hoping that the mid-season hiatus will give them some time to re-examine everything and come back with a character-driven and interesting drama that this show could be.

Agents of SHIELD
I haven’t talked about AoS yet on this blog, so I’ll try to sum up my thoughts on season one in a succinct and precise manner. I didn’t like it. It was bland and boring and focused on newly-created characters that I didn’t care about. After Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the series got a much-needed shot in the arm, plot wise, but it still looked like a c-list impersonation of a Marvel movie. Season two, which is now at its midpoint, has done a lot to address past mistakes but not everything is so easily fixed. It still suffered from a serious lack of style and the fight scenes continued to be shadowy, boring messes. At some point this season, someone involved must have finally watched Arrow, because the fight choreography improved dramatically. I still have issues with the set design and, really, the series as a whole, but there has been a marked improvement since last year. The plot is now very firmly rooted in “SHIELD vs. Hydra” which, come on, should have been the narrative drive since day one. But it’s nice to see the course correction. There’s also been a noted addition of established Marvel characters (Mockingbird, of the Avengers, being the most hyped) which does a lot to maintain my continued interest. This show has shown a marked improvement this season, but it still has a ways to go. Hopefully it will continue to improve.

The Walking Dead
Another show I haven’t talked about much was also the first of this new wave of comic book television. The series has recently started a fifth season and it has had a long history of wildly fluctuating quality. Season one was tight, short and near perfect. The second saw a noticeable drop in quality of pacing and story as the showrunner was replaced. The third found its feet once more and added a sadistic new villain to the mix. And the fourth season languished for its first half before splitting the cast and forcing the narrative in many different directions at once to varying results. Season five brings everyone back together and focuses the group’s story once more. Without going too much into the show’s complicated mythology, I will say that the new season seems to be off to a strong enough start. However, there is one issue that needs to be addressed for this show. Namely that every situation ends the same way. Any small amount of hope, trust or comfort these characters are given is almost immediately taken away. I understand the reasoning behind this, in-universe but as a viewer, it gets tiring. I can only watch characters suffer for so long before I either want some sort of reward for them or I change the channel.

In my review of the pilot, I pointed out some narrative issues that the show had but that it seemed like they were being addressed. Now that we’re halfway into the season, it’s obvious that the showrunners were on the same page. This series has improved by leaps and bounds over the pilot. The show’s done a great job fleshing out John Constantine and the complicated world that he exists in. One of my favorite aspects has been the depiction of magic and the “cost” associated with it. It’s great to see that level of care and subtlety taken from the comic and placed into the show. Speaking of the comic, the fourth episode, “A Feast of Friends”, has so far been an exceptional high point of the season. It adapts the first issue of Hellblazer and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the ending. As a dyed-in-the-wool Hellblazer fan, I have been extraordinarily happy with how this show has been handled and with Matt Ryan’s depiction of the titular anti-hero. The show is currently in a state of limbo as NBC hasn’t decided if it’s going to be given a second season or not (a twitter campaign has been launched to ensure it sticks around) but series creator Daniel Cerone is hopeful, he just needs fan support. #SaveConstantine!

The herald of CW’s DC Universe continues to go strong into the third season. The second was an astonishingly well-made year of television. Despite a premiere that felt like an epilogue for the previous story, the third season has had a great start. Superman of years past Brandon Routh has joined the cast as Ray Palmer, and he plays the hell out of the role. I thought it might feel a bit odd seeing one DC hero play another, but it turns out the only odd bit about it is how perfect a fit he is for the character. We’ve also been introduced to Ted Grant as he helps Dinah Lance on her path toward becoming the Black Canary that we know her as. I’m not yet sure if this season will end up being quite as strong as the last, but it sure will be fun to find out. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Amell. He has steadily grown as an actor episode after episode, season after season. The role of Oliver Queen is now a well-worn glove for him and it fits absolutely perfectly. The leader in comic-book-based television definitely still has it.

Post-hiatus, we’ll also be seeing some new television series added to the mix. Agent Carter, Marvel’s newest spinoff, will be a miniseries on ABC. The CW will be getting iZombie, Rob Thomas’s (not that one) adaptation of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred’s Vertigo comic. And on the Playstation network, the long-gestating Powers will finally see the light of day. I can only speculate on the new shows, but if the current crop of comic shows are any indication, we should be in for another great year of comic book programming.

  1. J.R. says:

    I still have to disagree with you on the look of Gotham.

    I feel the CG exteriors of the city look cartoony. It's not as bad as Birds of Prey but I find it distracting.

    As far as the “gorgeous, expansive sets” go, sure, all four of them.

    Wayne Manor only seems to have one room. We saw a new stairway in the most recent episode. Other than that, we've only ever seen Bruce and Alfred in the study. The fact that every interior scene takes place in the same room stands out to me. Is Bruce going to listen to death metal and act emo in the privacy of his bedroom? Nope. He goes to the study for this. Gordon comes over to say, “I promise to find Joe Chill” for the dozenth time. Do they go to the living room or a meeting area? Nope! Off to the study. Does Bruce watch TV in a theater? Nope. Study. Alfred teaches Bruce to fence with canes. Surely they must go to a room with a ton of space for this? Why bother when you have a perfectly good study?

    I hate the Gotham Central interior. It is literally one big room. The police desks are in the middle of the room, the holding cells are at the back of the room, and the administration is above the holding cells on a second floor. It is an impressively big set, but no sane police station is laid out like this. At least out the holding cells in a separate area that requires a key to access.

    The Gordons live in a loft. It's just another big room. And I can't look at the clock tower without thinking, “Is this where Oracle is going to be operating out of? Her mom's old apartment? Why would she base her secret lair in a place with a paper trail leading to the identity of her parents?” I assume that's the implication.

    Mooney's club. It's another big room but they use it wisely. Fish is never at the same table and they seem to find the best parts of the club that match the mood of each scene. That being said, doesn't she have an office to work out of? Is it wise to tend to mafia business in the middle of a club filled with people? On a side note, I'd like to see where she lives.

    I give the show credit for doing so much outdoor-location shooting, but everything else happens in one of four rooms. Unless we are talking about a sitcom, I find that unacceptable.


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