PILOT LITE: 2015-2016 Season in Review

Posted: June 13, 2016 in Pilot Lite
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This television season saw some great strides in comics on TV, but also a bit of stumbling. New series, for the most part, premiered strong while many of the returning shows seemed to have a bit of trouble maintaining their footing. Without going into it too much, here’s my ranking for this year’s comic book television shows:

iz13 (kind of) iZombie: Season 2
I feel kind of bad about this, but I also don’t: I didn’t watch iZombie this season. Not a single episode. That makes it the only comic based, prime-time series that I didn’t watch. I slogged through some rough shows this season, but this one has the distinction of being utterly unwatchable to me, such is how negative my reaction was to the first season. I just wish the writing and characterization would rise to the talent level of the actors involved or the awesomeness inherent in the premise.

ftwd12.Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1
The pilot for this series established a pace that could charitably described as “interest-haltingly slow” and the rest of the short season pretty much stuck with that. It seems that every major plot-development was saved for the last couple of episodes while the rest of the season was spent setting up story cul-de-sacs and characters with such singular defining traits, they’d feel underdeveloped in vaudeville acts. The second season has been promised with a more interesting location (if not premise) so we’ll see if the characters are able to muster up some development.

lcf11.Lucifer: Season 1
This may be my iZombie of next year. The cast is great, the source material is amazing, so why is this show such a mess? Because instead of giving us a unique look at good and evil with complex characters and motivations (like the comic) it gave us a boring police procedural (like iZombie). I kept hoping, week after week, that it would transcend those trappings and make something that, if not great, was at least engaging. The show never once delved into the deeper supernatural world hinted since day one and seemed hell-bent on humanizing and de-powering the titular hero at any cost. Hey idiots writing this show, the key isn’t to make the hero weaker, it’s to make the threats/villains stronger. Think about that for season 2.

twd10.The Walking Dead: Season 6
Ugh. I complained last year about the glacial pace and lack of development for the characters. This season was more of the same except with one incredibly ill-conceived mid-season cliffhanger involving a character’s “death” thrown in. Add to that the awful season finale that was pure build-up for an ending whose climax was saved for next season’s premiere and you’ve got a show that is going down the tubes more rapidly than usual. If not for the (still excellent) cast, this show would be irredeemably awful. Sad, considering the first season was so excellent. I continue to hope that it gets a bullet in the head soon to alleviate its suffering.

bdw9.Gotham: Season 2
Gotham showed early signs of strength at the beginning of the season. It rallied a proto-rogues gallery and established a sorta-Joker as their leader. And then it promptly killed them off and shifted the focus squarely on a boring, corrupt politician character. Gordon, the ostensible hero of the story, continues to behave more like a baby-faced Bullock, while Bullock is shifting ever closer to being the full-fledged moral compass of the story. The show continues to look pretty (although that one street under an elevated train platform is beyond overused) but is ultimately just as soulless as it ever was. Its only redeeming quality this year was the addition of BD Wong as Hugo Strange in the latter half of the season. Can he just have his own show?

secw8.Agents of SHIELD: Season 3
Before the season premiered, there was months of lead-up and hype discussing the show’s “new direction”. We were promised, teased, and guaranteed that this season would not only be more cohesive but that the Secret Warriors (a relatively new super-team from the comics) would be taking center stage. However, in true AoS fashion, getting to the Secret Warriors was quite a trek. By the mid-season break they’d introduced a couple of the members, but there was certainly no team. Episode 17 finally brought them together and then quickly disbanded them. What’s more, only one of the comic team-members had any representation on the show. Add to that a thoroughly boring plot-line involving a new alien villain (who happens to take over former big-bad Grant Ward’s body) prone to monologueing, and whatever momentum was promised early on vanished insanely quickly.

ga7.Arrow: Season 4
This season seemed dead-set on reversing the dour course set by the last one in the premiere. It promised a somewhat lighter tone, a well-adjusted hero and a villain with immense power. While the villain (Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk) was a welcome addition, the other promises were in vain. The “Olicity” subplot that many fans dislike finally took up so much screen-time that even I (while not a supporter of the plotline, I didn’t actively criticize it) couldn’t take any more. The season was anchored with a “who will die?” opening that had a fairly odd payoff. The way it was handled made it very obvious that the expended character would surely be returning eventually. However, with all of that, the season did feature Matt Ryan returning as John Constantine in an absolutely stellar guest spot. And, really, it had a lot of nice moments, just not a great cohesive whole.

lt6.Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1
Did someone say “no cohesive whole”? While it should probably be a little lower on the list, the novelty of a “best of the DCU” kind of show really struck a chord with me. That said, the time travel “rules” established in this season are fairly asinine, as is almost any time the team goes up against their arch-rival, Vandal Savage. At one point in the 3rd episode or so, they actually manage to hobble him and instead of taking him prisoner or flying him to the sun or something, they simply leave him be and escape. However, the one-off characters were great as was the chance to get more Firestorm and Captain Cold. Although, it was a bit odd that Cold and Heat Wave’s weapons seemed to be so under-powered compared to when they appeared on The Flash. Regardless, here’s hoping the second season will bring with it a better sense of plotting.

fl5.The Flash: Season 2
I wanted to be in synch with this season, I really did. I enjoyed the first few episodes and really got into the whole “Jay Garrick as mentor” idea. I appreciated the way Wells was brought back and how it didn’t feel like a cheat. Unfortunately, after the table-setting, there wasn’t much of a meal. The main villain this season is the mysterious Zoom, a speedster from an alternate Earth who seeks to steal Barry’s power. While his identity is a mystery, an early hint tipped most comic-fans off. Sadly, the payoff was incredibly underwhelming and not only (seemingly) threw a well-loved character under the bus but also essentially copied a story-beat from the first season. While some of that was corrected in the finale, there’s no escaping the obvious and glaring parallels to the big “twist” in season 1. Here’s hoping a third season brings back the creativity that the first so openly embraced.

AC4.Agent Carter: Season 2
Moving to Hollywood was just the thing for Agent Carter. In all the ways AoS is clumsy and unsure, Carter seems steady and confident. Hayley Atwell is one of the most engaging and likable leads on television currently and her personality shines bright this season. The cast is slightly expanded with Jarvis’s (awesome) wife being introduced as well as Madame Masque. The returning cast all handle their roles well, especially Dominic Cooper (whose Howard Stark has never been more Howard Hughes). Like last season, my only complaint is that it wasn’t given a full season order. And, sadly, now that it’s been announced it won’t be renewed for a third season, this is the last we’ll get of the titular Agent…for now, at least.

DD3.Daredevil: Season 2
While the first season was one of the best things Marvel Studios has created (in my opinion), the second featured a noticeable dip in overall quality of storytelling. That’s not to say it was bad, but it doubled down on iconic Marvel characters and at times felt a bit more like a commercial for a sure-thing Punisher series (which was announced shortly after). That said, the series gives a nice glimpse into Matt Murdock’s formative years before becoming Daredevil which creates an interesting and complex relationship between he and Elektra (aptly played by Elodie Yung). The fight scenes also continue to be the best Marvel produces. So, while it may not be as strong as the first, it’s still incredibly watchable.

JJ2.Jessica Jones: Season 1
Netflix proved that fans who had concern over a sophomore slump in quality with its second Marvel series had absolutely nothing to worry about. The studio that is famous for making fun, inoffensive and easily-accessible programming are now also responsible for what is probably the most “adult” comic book show to ever exist. That’s not to say that it provides titillating sex or gratuitous violence (which the term “adult” seems to connotate) rather it creates a very human set of characters with very human fears and desires. Jessica is a hero who has survived incredible trauma and uses that as a means to try and better herself. The cast of this series is insanely strong (Krysten Ritter giving a career defining performance) and perfectly matches the quality in writing and tone. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do so.

SG1.Supergirl: Season 1
Supergirl is everything a show with SUPER in its title should be. It’s fun, nostalgic and packed with characters from all of DC’s tiers. What’s most important about this show is twofold. First, it offers an amazing protagonist who is positive and heroic without being naïve. Melissa Benoist is an absolutely perfect choice to bring the role to life. She makes playing the dual roles of Kara and Supergirl look as effortless as when Reeve was on the big screen playing Clark and Superman. Secondly, the spirit of the show is absolutely spot-on. It captures the hope that the ‘S’ logo should inspire and puts it front and center. In the season finale, that’s even made into a plot-point. At a time when DC seems to be doing everything in their power to turn their films into dark, morally dubious affairs, it’s nice to see that people who understand these characters are still allowed to honor them on television and take them seriously. It was recently announced that the series was saved from cancellation by the CW (home of The Flash, which shared a crossover with this series) so here’s to more great stories and characters in Supergirl‘s future.

So, there we have it. Supergirl was far and away my favorite show this season. As mentioned above, I feel like there was an overall dip in quality throughout all the networks but with the sheer amount of comic book television right now, I guess that’s to be expected.

rdWhile most of the shows (yes, even iZombie) are returning next season, unfortunately Agent Carter got the axe. This summer sees the premiere of Preacher on AMC as well as the second season of Powers on the Playstation Network. This fall, the CW will also be premiering Riverdale, based on the Archie series of comics, that will add to its long list of comic based shows. FX is also getting into the comic show business with Legion coming sometime this season. While pitched as an X-Men spinoff, further marketing material has attempted to distance the series from the cinematic mutants. Marvel also had another show in the works that was to feature the two popular cast members from Agents of SHILED titled Marvel’s Most Wanted, but it has since been shelved before the pilot was completed. If that sounds like deja vu, it’s because that series has already been passed on once before being brought back. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how AoS weasels those characters back into the main roster again.

That’s it for this season of comic based TV. I know I’ll definitely be keeping up with Preacher in the off season and look forward to what’s to come next year.

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