I don't remember the last time I've done a best/worst list, or, for that matter, if I've ever done one. I don't feel like re-reviewing the shows based on DC Comics' properties, yet I still have a lot of enthusiasm (and criticism) for them. I could have made this a best/worst of Comic Book TV but I (finally) gave up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. partway through this season, I don't watch The Walking Dead, I haven't seen Powers, I still can't figure out how to watch Vixen, I haven't seen the Preacher pilot, and I'm sure there's a half dozen or more cartoon series I don't regularly watch.
It's almost embarrassing how dominant comics culture has become, to the point where we as nerds and fans don't need to watch and support everything that comes out anymore. We can altogether skip movies and TV shows with impunity without worrying that it will impact the production of more. Hollywood is all-in on comics like never before, and they're starting to trust that the stories told in that medium don't need to be wholly neutered or dumbed down in translation to screens of all sizes.
So yeah, here I'm talking about the best and worst aspects of the last season what we can effectively call the "Berlanti-verse", named after the creator and producer of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.
BEST SURPRISE! - The Martian Manhunter revealed
(Supergirl S1-Ep 7: "Human for a Day")
Runner-Up: Mick is Chronos!
(DC's Legends of Tomorrow S1-Ep9)
In almost every episode of the show, a time-traveling bounty hunter named Chronos was on the tail of the Legends. He seemed to know their every move, frustratingly so. How could he always figure out where they were. When the team finally get the drop on him, they're shocked to find it's Mick Rory, their old teammate, whom Leonard Snart implied he'd put down like a mad dog two episodes prior. It was an out of left-field surprise (afterall the show killed off Hawkman early on so nobody was really safe). Mick was saved by the Time Masters, given additional training and exceptional weaponry to take on his former teammates, with a particular thirst for vengeance. Of course Chronos knew where they were going, he was there.
BEST TEAM-UP! - Barry and Kara, Super-pals
(Supergirl S1-Ep18: "Worlds Finest")
The Flash S1 was noted as the sunny, fun, comic-booky counterpoint to the oft-brooding, hangdog Arrow, and yet this past season of Flash had too much brooding Barry Allen. Far too much. The season ended with brooding Barry Allen for pete's sake. But this much anticipated, much loved crossover episode (part stunt in order to put more eyes on the CBS series) was the Barry we always want to see and don't see enough of. Supergirl's National City is a bright place, and as down as Kara can get at times, her surroundings cast very little shade. So when Barry winds up in National City it's like he gets a break from being the sad, lost puppydog he is in his own show, and gets to be the bounding, playful golden retreiver instead. The greatest moments of "Worlds Finest" are all in how the characters relate to one another. The team up of Livewire and Silver Banshee as villains of the piece was okay, but it wasn't the draw. The draw was watching Barry interact with Kara's world and how much almost everyone seemed to delight in each others' company. When Barry and Kara hug at the end, it's not one of romance, but of kinship. It was the perfect antidote to the utterly dour Clark/Bruce eyeroll of Batman v Superman (coming out the Monday after that film's release was brilliant timing). And of course we'll always have ice cream:
Runner Up: Vixen
(Arrow S4-Ep15: "Taken")
The WB made a 6-part animated series starring Vixen for their "Seed" on-line programming. It was built as an extension of the Berlanti-verse (with guest appearances from Cisco, Flash and Green Arrow), and fans were optimistic that the character would find her way into the live-action universe. In the episode "Taken", Oliver called upon Mari McCabe's help to challenge Damien Darhk and help rescue his son (who seems to have been forgotten about after this episode). Megalyn Echikunwoke is awesome in the role, looking the part of Mari (in the comics Mari is a model, and Echikunwoke is gorgeous) and moreover inhabiting the role of someone who's totally comfortable with summoning the spirit of animals and gaining their abilities. If CW won't commit to a full series for Vixen, then give her a live action mini-series at least. I would gladly sacrifice 2-3 episodes of both Flash and Arrow for 6 episodes of Vixen.
BEST USE OF CGI! King Shark
(The Flash, S2-Ep4: "The Fury of Firestorm", S2-Ep15: "King Shark")
Let's face it, sometime this universe doesn't quite nail its characters (more on that later), and they didn't quite get Firestorm right when they introduced him last season. Due to scheduling conflicts, they killed off Robbie Amell's Ronnie Raymond in the first episode, leaving Professor Martin Stein (the show's replacement for Harrison Wells as STAR Labs' resident supergenius for the first few episodes) in dire need of finding another metahuman to merge into Firestorm with. It was a decent story, but the show ended with a damn exciting surprise. Teasing throughout that Joe and new partner Patti Spivot were hunting for a shark-like metahuman, fans in the know were thinking King Shark, but also thinking there's no way to pull that off on TV budget. We're so used to the restrictions of budget and limitations of technology giving our superhero shows the short shrift, always teasing us with names and hints of superhero/villain/events that couldn't possibly be depicted. King Shark was just another one of those...until he shows up and almost bites Barry's head off at the end of the episode! One would suspect this would be just a quick one off tease, but then we get a Flash and Diggle crossover later in the season as King Shark escapes ARGUS custody and they have to hunt him down. This was awesome.
Runner up: ATOM vs Leviathan
(DC's Legends of Tomorrow, S1-Ep13: "Leviathan")
A full week before Ant-Man went Giant Man in Captain America: Civil War, DC's shrinky guy, the Atom, went in the opposite direction to battle a giant robot. Now, obviously the Civil War sequence had a much higher budget to accomplish their sequence in the bright of day, but this day-glo mech battle with a Tron vibe just tickled me silly. Legends of Tomorrow underused its characters' super-powers (obviously for budgetary reasons), Ray most of all (considering how many fights or situations he could have resolved by doing his shrinking thing, there were a lot of logic gaps in the show as a result). This almost made up for it by giving Ray a massive spotlight (figurative and literal).
BEST GUEST STAR! Matt Ryan as John Constantine
(Arrow, S2-Ep5: "Haunted")
The Constantine TV show ran on NBC through the Fall/Winter of 2014/15, and failed to capture any of the excitement of the growing comics-to-TV fervor. It wasn't a terrible show, and Matt Ryan legitimately made for the perfect John Constantine, but something just didn't click (probably being on NBC). But pulling Constantine into the Berlanti-verse clicked perfectly. Matt Ryan and Stephen Amell seemed perfectly paired, and this team-up -- while not exactly a team-up -- was aces. The show worked Constantine seamlessly into both the show's troubled flashbacks and modern day, and connected the two sequences in a meaningful way. Constantine's impact on the show was felt multiple times, and his absence from it was felt. He belonged in the fight against Damien Darhk, and each subsequent attempt on Darhk without felt more and more hollow. Apparently the Berlanti-verse's ability to use Ryan's Constantine was a one-shot deal, for which the Berlanti-verse is all the poorer.
BEST SCENERY CHEWING! Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart, aka Captain Cold
Adopting a disaffected, James Cagney-like croak, Miller takes his time with his lines, savoring the words, making a meal out of them. His emphasis is confidently erratic and there's a know-it-all wryness that implies a genuine sense of self. Miller makes the transition from villain to hero a pained one for the character. Doing good when it aligns with his own desires, is easy. Doing good just for the sake of doing good seems to be like brain freeze. But it's all nuance, Miller's transition into someone whose nature is to be bad, but desires to be better. It ultimately puts him at odds with his partner, Mick Rory, and into the good graces of Sarah Lance. Snart becomes somewhat enamored with Sarah, but doesn't make much of an issue out of it, knowing he's not her type. Likewise his pain at having to abandon Mick, and then his pain when Mick returns, is wholly believable, even through his affected exterior. His sacrifice in the penultimate episode is both meaningful and earned (if undercut a little by the premature announcement that Miller had signed on to a full-time role in the Berlanti-verse for next season).
Runner-up: Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk
The Damien Darhk plot wasn't a terrible one for Arrow this season, but they had too much track and not enough gas to get it all the way to the end without too much pushing. In spite of some treading water, McDonough made every appearance from Darhk quite enjoyable to watch. A perpetual glint in his glassy blue eyes, Darhk walked around everywhere he went like he owned the place, because generally he did. His magic made him almost untouchable. It made it all the more satisfying every time team Arrow found a way to get through his magic or under his skin. McDonough made Darhk equally intense and hilarious, seemingly passionate and apathetic at the same time. He never quite made it to scary, which I think he should have, but making him a family man was a brilliant touch that somehow made him even more dangerous.
BEST CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! Mick Rory aka Heat Wave
One could mistake Dominic Purcell's grunting, monosyllabic meat head of a villain a one-note character, and at first that's pretty much what he was designed to be. Pairing him up with Wentworth Miller's scenery chewing Captain Cold on The Flash last season meant Purcell had to create something on par, or at least complimentary, to make a dynamic duo that would resonate with the fans. But graduating to series regulars, I had my concerns. Snart had already been given a bit more depth in The Flash, but it was kind of clear that Mick was a maniac. This season of Legends of Tomorrow seemed to take extra pains to make him so, at first. It was all to build to that climax where Snart-as-George has to take Mick-as-Lenny out into the woods and put him out of everyone's misery. The show had made it a point to establish Snart and Mick's long-time partnership was more than just one of convenience, they were practically family. When Mick returned as Chronos, instead of accepting him as a villain, the team decided to reform him. It was only Mick encountering his younger self, though, that gave him perspective on who he was and what he'd become. And with his reformation, though their relationship still strained, Snart showed him what it meant to be a hero. In the final episode of the season, Mick seemed lost, even uncomfortable with being a criminal. He had forged a bond with Ray, surprisingly and reluctantly, and he turned to Snart as an example of taking ownership over his nature. If you had told me at the start of the season that I'd be accepting Mick's transition to hero, I never would have believed it. But I do now.
Runner-up: Laurel Lance aka Black Canary
For almost three full seasons, the team on Arrow didn't seem to know what to do with Laurel. The comic fans all knew that Laurel was supposed to be the Black Canary, so when they bait-and-switched Sarah into being the Black Canary in season 2 she became almost completely extraneous. Without the CW relationship triangle between Laurel, Ollie and Tommy (remember him?) she almost served no purpose. Her desire to follow in Sarah's footsteps after Sarah's death in Season 3 gave her a new sense of purpose, but the show didn't effectively transition her into the role of Black Canary, and a character with a real sense of ownership to her own life, until Season 4. Becoming Black Canary with only a few weeks of boxing training under her was a stupendously dumb decision in season 3, but season 4 launched with Laurel, Diggle and Thea having spent months as the guardians of Star City, and Laurel was given confidence and respect as a vigilante. Where Sarah really spent more time being part of Oliver's story in season 2, she became a big part of Laurel's story for season 4, when Laurel decided to resurrect her. Thrust into both her sister's world of Assassins and Oliver's world of Vigilante-ism, she found a home on the show existing between the two. Her death had meaning to the show but still leaves a bitter taste. Everyone's role in the show got better once they were inside the team (Laurel, Thea, Quentin, Curtis and even Malcolm) and it felt like the showrunners were finally getting a handle on her (her being DA never worked for the show as well as it did when she was using it for Team Arrow's gain) and there was certainly more that could've been done with her beyond making her a martyr.
Arrow Seson 4:
Ep5 "Haunted" (The one with Constantine), Ep12 "Unchained" (The Calculator, Nyssa, Roy returns), Ep20 "Genesis" (great Thea and Diggle-led storylines)
The Flash Season 2:
Ep6 "Enter Zoom" (Zoom is scary as hell), Ep7 "Gorilla Warfare" (more Grodd and an Earth 2 solution), Ep17 "Flash Back" (Barry had an idea to travel back in time and replace himself to learn from the Eobard Thawn Wells, Barry shouldn't time travel anymore)
Supergirl Season 1:
Ep7 "Human for a Day" (Kara has no powers, Hank is exposed), Ep11 "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" (J'onn's past comes calling when a White Martian attacks), Ep18 "Worlds Finest" (The Flash pays a visit),
DC's Legends of Tomorrow Season 1:
Ep2 "Pilot Part 2" (the gang hits the 1970's), Ep9 "Left Behind" (Kendra, Ray and Sara are stuck in the 50's for a year), Ep12 "Last Refuge" (meet the gang as children, as they save themselves from elimination from the timeline), Ep16 "Legendary" (in which they really stick the landing)
WORST CHARACTER! Kendra Saunders, aka Hawkgirl
Oh, I barely remember a time when I actually liked Kendra. Early this season on the Flash when she was a love interest for Cisco. Cisco seemed so self conscious about asking her out, especially after seeing visions of her as a hawk-person. But their relationship (despite always seeming to have their dates at CC Jitters) was hella cute. I was going to say "then Carter Hall showed up and doinked it all up" but even then it's not Carter's fault. The Flash/Arrow crossover which introduced Vandal Savage, Carter Hall and their Egyptian/resurrection backstory established this Hawkgirl as one with absolutely no ownership over herself! Kendra couldn't even enter the Berlanti-verse fully formed as a hawk-person, she had to be guided to jump off a damn building to do so. And it just got worse from there, and never got better. The whole season of Legends of Tomorrow was absolutely marred my Kendra's very presence. It's not that Ciara Renee is a bad actress, necessarily, but her character was given no authority over herself. At every turn she was being told what to do or how to think about her life or situation, even when characters were insisting she make her own decision, her decisions all seem made for her anyway. There's a good arc to be had in a character rebelling against destiny, rejecting patterns of the past, and the show would say Kendra wanted to do that, but then she never could, always falling back into the same mopey discussion. Pairing her up with Ray was a huge mistake and only served to take that character down even more. I think pairing her up with Jackson would have been better, seeing as Jackson's younger and perhaps more inexperienced with relationships, it would have been more interesting seeing him deal with this. And yet, it just shouldn't have happened at all. Kendra should be strong, a fierce warrior, one who's always willing to take charge of her fate, and no man can hold her down. By the midway point I was exhausted with her story, and by season's end I literally cheered when we found out they weren't returning for the second voyage of the Waverider. There was a long stretch of scenes in the final episode without Kendra and she wasn't missed in the least.
Runner-up: Malcolm Merlyn aka Ra's Al Ghul aka The Dark Archer
I find John Barrowman's portrayal of Malcolm to be highly amusing and I'm never disappointed to see him on the show...what his character does, however is so fucking annoying at this point. The showrunners seemed to include Merlyn in as an afterthought on almost every occasion. His tour of duty as Ra's against Nyssa never really panned out into anything terribly meaningful to the show. It was dealt with a little too quickly and how it impacted Merlyn doubly so. He got his hand sliced off by Ollie, which was awesome, but again, dealt with too quickly. And Merlyn's constant jumping sides between team Arrow and HIVE was beyond annoying. Merlyn's a free agent and does what he want, which both sides should know better than to trust him as an accomplice. And his relationship with Thea has grown tedious. It's the same conversation.Every.Damn.Time. Darhk's running of HIVE should have ended after his totem was destroy, and he was incarcerated. Merlyn should have taken over. But for Merlyn to not take the opportunity to take control and instead become subservient to Darhk was a huge mistake on the writer's part, because that didn't seem true to the character who lusts for power, and seizes it whenever he can. At this point I hope not to see Merlyn at all next season, save maybe one or two cameos where absolutely needed. His story is beyond done at this point.
WORST ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENT! Kara and James Olsen
Given what I said above about Kendra and Ray, I bet this one surprises you. After all, I kind of got the feels when James and Kara finally managed to express their feelings, and even though it took a couple of tries before they got it right at the finale, it was earned. I mean, in practice, James and Lana Lang's relationship was utterly painful to watch, but then it was supposed to be a trainwreck (and their breakup was actually very well done). Then why are Kara and James "the worst"? It's purely the subtext. James Olsen is Superman's best friend. Now he wants to get with Supergirl. Think about it. I hope the show actually deals with it (it would be a marvelous thing for Cat Grant to point out), because it's bugged me from the first moment where the show implied he had the hots for her (I thought it was more than acceptable for Kara to like James, but thought it was very, very wrong the other way around).
Runner-up: Kendra and Carter
WORST ACTOR: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers
|That pose says it all|
Runner-up: Falk Hentschel as Carter Hall, aka Hawkman
Blerg. This guy. His eyes are wide open but it's like he's asleep. Carter Hall should be either a complete looneypants, coming at Kendra trying to convince her they've been in love for thousands of years, or he should be so utterly goddamn charming that she wants to believe him even if she really doesn't. Falk is neither of these things. He delivers his lines without much intonation, and there's nothing alive in his performance. He seems overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of his character and has no real thoughts on how to play him. Later in the Legends of Tomorrow season he's called upon to be a brainwashed drone of Vandal Savage and even then he's more asleep than mindless. When he starts to come around, when his memory starts to return, he should have a conflict between his brainwashing and his memories. But there's absolutely no nuance to his portrayal. One minute he's doped up, the next he's old Carter again.
WORST GUEST STAR: Red Tornado
(Supergirl S1-Ep6, "Red Faced")
|The only League Reddy is joining is the|
Space Hockey League
Wow, did they ever get this wrong. And by wrong, I just mean ugly. Fugly ugly. Just totally unappealing. Terrible. A hot mess. Wholly unattractive. The story of "Red Faced", having T.O. Morrow create a robot that can take on a Kryptonian backed with military funding is not inherently bad. No what was bad was the atrocious costume design for Red Tornado. It's like they saw the Vision in Age of Ultron and said "cheaper. No, cheaper. No, like Doctor Who in the 70's, but cheaper. We want him to look like the Tin Man from the 1939 Wizard of Oz, but red...and cheaper."
In the comics, Reddy started out as a weapon and then became a good guy, and later one of the Earth elementals, if I remember correctly. So when Tornado gains a bit of sentience at the end after Morrow is killed by Alex, there was maybe a sense they were going down the path of Reddy the robot stopping his actions. Alas, he was programmed to kill Kryptonians, so he kept at Kara, forcing her to go all supernova (which was all kinds of awesome... it was this scene where Melissa Benouist took ownership of the character gif:)
Runner-up: Parker Young as Alex Davis
Parker Young isn't a big name. He was tremendous on the little-watched but well-loved sitcom Suburgatory as a dopey teenaged himbo, and he was equally entertaining as the dopey himbo brother on the little-watched but well-liked Enlisted. My wife and I became quite fond of both of his characters and of him as an actor. The differences between his two dim-witted characters was actually quite good for contrast, and showing how talented an actor he is. So his position here as "worst guest star" isn't to do with him, but how stupidly under-utilized he was. When Alex Davis showed up at Oliver Queen's headquarters extending an offer to run his Mayoral campaign, my wife and I were excited at the prospect of who Young could be. He's a very handsome, likeable guy with a great physique, so he would make a superb costumed hero or villain. Yet it became very clear by halfway through season 4 of Arrow that he was, at best, a love interest for Thea, in a season which really had no time for love interests. Alex seemed forgotten at the best of times and was unceremoniously killed by Anarky in the series' 20th episode. In the series' penultimate episode Thea is seen weeping over his dead body but he's laying down and shown from behind and it's obvious it's a body double at this point. What a waste.
WORST FINALE: The Flash S2-Ep23: "The Race of His Life"
What a terrible mess this was. Having the finale culminate with Zoom asking Flash for a race is totally on the dumb side of comic-booky. Also, yet another superhero climax with a space laser. Zoom went from being the scariest villain in the Berlanti-verse (particularly after he crippled the Flash on television for all to see around the Christmas break) to being so. damn. annoying. He was so full of threats, saying he *could* kill at his leisure anyone he wants, that he could massacre the city in a matter of hours. So why didn't he? I don't know. And as usual the show had to find excuses to stop Zoom from killing any of the regular cast, most of which were half-hearted. The reveal of Jay to be Zoom was a good one, actually, and it should have led to a more propulsive, proactive, and smarter Team Flash attack on him. But it wound up being a lot of stupid mistakes, miscalculations, and woe-is-me inferiority complexes. The finale telegraphs how the Flash is going to beat him in the opening sequence, and then slogs along getting to the final moments. It has its touches, but it's all over the place in terms of closing out story and emotional threads that were left to linger far too long this season. Iris thankfully has more ownership of herself this season and isn't even annoying anymore, so hooray for progress. The set-up of Wally and Jesse as having somehow gained some benefit from the speed force didn't play out this season. And Earth 2 was criminally underutilized. The reveal of Jay Garrick as John Wesley Shipp was a decent one, but it needed more time to breathe. As happens far too often in the Berlanti-verse, they bring characters together but then separate them immediately giving no real time to establish connection or new directions. People just keep taking off. Both Arrow and The Flash's final moments were fill only with people taking off. Hell, even Barry takes off at the end... and showing that he, as a character, has learned nothing, goes off and saves his mom, undoing all the drama and growth of his character last season.
Arrow Season 4:
Ep13 "Sins of the Father" (Thea's bloodlust reaches peak annoyance, Malcolm does more dumb Malcolm Merlyn crap), Ep14 "Cone of Silence" (Where Felicity breaks up with Ollie for the most hypocritical of reasons, she also gets healed out of the wheelchair)
The Flash Season 2:
Ep2 "The Flash of Two Worlds" (Jay Garrick shows up and it's not exciting at all, it's kind of dull and annoying, in hindsight it bodes ill for the rest of the season), Ep12 "Fast Lane" (everyone gets preachy with Wally, some dumb villain named Tar Pit makes a nuisance of himself), Ep23 "The Race of His Life" (no payoff at all)
Supergirl Season 1:
Ep5 "How Does She Do It" (The requisite "stretched-too-thin" episode), Ep16 "Falling" (The requisite "hero goes bad" episode)
DC's Legends of Tomorrow Season 1:
Ep10 "Progeny" (should I kill this kid who's going to grow up into an evil guy, plus too much Ray and Kendra), Ep14 "River of Time" (the requisite "captured bad guy makes heroes do dumb things" episode, too much Kendra)
Supergirl became an easy favourite because of my daughter's huge love for it. The ending was incredibly rushed but closed out the season well enough. Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant became the MVP of the series rather quickly, and with the show's move to the CW and Vancouver there's a chance we might lose her as series regular or altogether. That would be a shame. Looking forward to a hopefully decent Cadmus arc in season 2.
Legends of Tomorrow would have been a much bigger success with either better Kendra characterization or no Hawkpeople altogether. They dragged it down so much. So much in fact it was hard to see flaws in anything else (even though there were). Season 2 looks tremendously brighter without them, plus that great tease of the JSA with Hourman showing up in the finale. Hooray!
The Flash didn't have a bad season episode by episode. I quite enjoyed Patty Spivot but found Barry's resistance to being honest with her damn annoying (thankfully it wasn't Iris-related), but I was still sad to see her go. Barry has had good chemistry with a lot of female characters (see also Felicity, Kara) but his relationship with Iris is one of the least convincing. Iris' turnabout makes it less annoying (as is having her in on Team Flash) but there's still a lot of work to be done to make it something that works on the show. The weakness this season was it's main thread of Zoom. As it ramped up in the second half it just didn't have staying power. Once "Jay" was revealed as Zoom so much bite was taken out of that character, and Teddy Sears didn't pull off evil nor heroic particularly convincingly. It by the final four episodes the story was feeling long in the tooth.
Arrow had a solid year. It didn't have many peaks like the prior two seasons, but it also didn't have the valleys either. Even its worst episodes weren't unpalatable. Unlike many episodes of The Flash or Legends where I was rolling my eyes or yelling at the TV to "get on with it", Arrow kept me fairly entertained week to week. Again, the Darhk storyline got a little long-winded which made me realize that all of these shows main arcs (Darhk, Zoom, Genesis, Vandal Savage) all took far too much time and energy on the show for not enough payoff. Supergirl's 20 episode season felt more satisfying than Flash and Arrow's 23, while Legend's 16 felt like a breeze (except the Hawk stuff). Maybe truncated seasons for all are the answer, or two (or three) major arcs per season would be better.