Long ago, the premiere week of the new fall TV season was a Big Deal. And as those of you who read this space regularly probably know, in our household, it still is.
Even though Premiere Week, as an institution, went away decades ago, and cable television, Netflix, and other viewing-on-demand options have practically ended the “new TV season” as a concept… well, Julie and I grew up in the era when TV Guide would put out a phone-book sized Preview issue every fall with capsule rundowns of all the new shows.
We enjoy that idea and we treat the fall TV season like it’s still a nerd-holiday extravaganza. So join us in our TV Guide-fueled retro excitement and pretend along with us that everything new rolled out last week, and enjoy this rundown of the new shows and returning favorites.
Gotham: I have such a love-hate thing going with this show… watching it is EXACTLY like it felt watching the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I desperately want to like it, I am a lifelong Batman fan and I would love to have new Bat stories to watch. And there are so many actors in it that are so great to see really running with what they're given—Robin Lord Taylor as the young Penguin, David Marouz as young Bruce Wayne, Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. They are lifting up some really shitty material through sheer talent and force of will.
But it's still, well, shitty material. And sitting in front of my TV getting frustrated at how it’s almost good, it has potential—well, I grew up on stuff like SPACE 1999 and the Nicholas Hammond SPIDER-MAN and I know all about that hamster wheel of nerd forgiveness that keeps us hoping week after week. Been there and done that, thanks.
Bottom line, the primary problem remains that this is a show all about Batman that has no actual Batman in it. Basically you have a series that suffers from the ‘origin problem’ that so many superhero movies are plagued with, only amplified to an exponential degree, because the hero in the bat cape isn't just not going to be around till the final third of the story-- he is, in fact, never showing up at all. But they can't resist the idea that Batman's eventually going to show, and they keep taunting us with it. That's just bad storytelling on a dozen different levels. Now, in fairness, when it’s a show about Jim Gordon against the corruption in the GCPD and he occasionally gets to win a skirmish, it’s pretty cool; but all the other times when it’s spinning its wheels teasing us with the whole Yes-someday-this-will-become-one-of the-apocalyptic-Batman-confrontations thing when we know the show will never actually get there, it’s maddeningly irritating.
I’ll probably keep checking in with it once in a while, because I can’t help myself, but I’ll probably also continue to feel stupid afterwards.
Arrow: On the other hand, if we can’t have Batman on television, this show seems perfectly okay with appropriating all the Bat stuff just lying around unused.
We’ve had Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins, the Huntress, Deadshot, and all sorts of other stuff, and certainly the Arrow as depicted here is much more analogous to Batman than to the feisty goatee’d Oliver Queen I remember. Even the Mike Grell Arrow was lighter than this one. It’s also a treat for those of us that have fond memories of the Titans, what with Slade Wilson, Damien Darhk, and the H.I.V.E. showing up to commit mayhem, and I suspect we’re getting a better Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller here than we will in the upcoming movie, too. At this point I don’t know who Oliver thinks he’s kidding with his mask and secret ID, since everyone seems to know who he is already, including all the major villains. I’m kind of hoping we get to the Mike Grell “oh the hell with it” moment when someone points this out to Oliver and he just throws the mask away.
Of course there’s the required CW shirtlessness and romantic angst but really, we don’t get too bothered over it on this show, especially since the Felicity/Oliver stuff got sorted. That was totally earned and considering it’s the CW, they seem to have a surprisingly adult handle on it. (And we had a huge fit of giggles over how happy suburban jogger chef Oliver turns out to be, while Felicity secretly pines for the crimefighting days.) My challenge to the Arrow writing crew is simple—keep them a couple and find ways to still make them interesting, instead of copping out by breaking them up over and over again. That is TIRED, every show with a fan-worshiped couple does it, and it's a stupid rut too many shows fall into. For that matter, I think it’s a much better show when it’s about the adventure and not who’s getting together with who in any case, and the premiere was all about that. Not going to speculate about who bought the farm “six months later” – nice try, but no way it’s Felicity, guys. Oh, fine, you forced it out of me, it’s gotta be Detective Lance, right?
Anyway, we still like it and it’s a much better Batman show than the ACTUAL Bat show over on Fox. I’m not a Green Arrow purist, so that’s fine with me. Green Arrow copying Batman, as far as I'm concerned, is just a throwback to when I first encountered Green Arrow and he had an Arrowcar and an Arrowcave and a kid sidekick and really was Batman with a bow.
So for me it’s the circle of life.
The Flash: ...okay, I have to get this off my chest first. The Flash is not the only SF/fantasy television show to be guilty of this but the writers screwed the pooch so spectacularly on this in the premiere that I can't stop being annoyed over it. Not since the days of Irwin Allen and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea has a show so cavalierly discarded the storytelling rules that it set up just a few episodes earlier. I'm not even talking about actual science or physics-- after all, those are violated all the time in comics, especially with The Flash. No, I'm talking about the rules for time travel that the show set up for itself.
In a nutshell: according to The Flash, you CAN change the past-- and when you do, NOBODY REMEMBERS what happened before you changed it. The new timeline is dominant. There are occasional disturbing visions and nightmares for someone that died in the alternate, pre-change version, but otherwise? Clean slate.
Okay? Those are the rules the show set up so carefully in its first season. Now let's talk about the season 1 finale.
So-- spoilers, sorry-- the way Team Barry defeated Eobard Thawne in the finale was for his present-day ancestor, Eddie Thawne, to kill himself. A moment of heroic sacrifice that also was meant to ironically underline Eobard's earlier sneer that according to future history Eddie made no mark in life at all. Oh yeah, well screw you grandson, because now you never existed. Bang. At which point Eobard curses and vanishes while a gigantic city-eating vortex opens up, and we are left with the prospect that All History is to be Irrevocably Altered. Fade out.
That was the finale and despite all the holes you can pick in it, it was dramatically satisfying and fun and very much in the spirit of classic Flash comics and the crazy science we always saw there. And it was a clever way to reset the board for the second-season premiere. (Eureka used this trick to great advantage in its fourth or fifth season, somewhere in there. Arriving back from the 1940s the stars of the show found their lives were all different in various ways and that became the new status quo.)
So we didn't know WHAT to expect. I entertained myself off and on throughout the summer speculating on how I'd solve the problem if I was on the writing staff-- because, again according to the show's own mythology, it was Eobard Thawne that engineered the physics accident that created the Flash and all the other metas in Central City. He did that on purpose, creating and mentoring the Flash to insure his own timeline. Moreover, he also killed Nora Allen and framed Barry's father for the crime. No Eobard now, though, he's been wiped from history by Eddie's heroism. So by the rules of time-travel we've seen established already, there's no murder, no Flash, no city full of supervillains. Can't have that, the show's called The Flash. So say they're going to pull a Eureka and reset the status quo. Playing by the show's time-travel rules, carefully established over the first season, how do you do that?
I arrived at a couple of different solutions that I thought worked pretty well. Say you have some sort of Flashpoint scenario where it becomes necessary for Eobard to exist to preserve history, so Barry has to figure out how to go back in time and undo Eddie's sacrifice and still win, and he has to do that in the seconds between Eddie's death and the appearance of the vortex. His running really fast in the finale was actually his attempt to breach the time barrier again and he used the vortex as a speed booster. That's one way out. Or maybe history was only SLIGHTLY changed-- someone else killed Nora Allen, some other time-traveler (Zoom?) who thought that was the primary cause of the Flash's origin, but then stopped messing with time at that point. The particle accelerator accident still happens but this time it's a good-guy Dr. Wells that just plain screwed it up, which keeps Tom Cavanaugh on the show and sets up some weird trust issues for Barry, who as established will be the only one who remembers the original timeline. Or.... well, I could keep going. The point is, I just WATCH the damn show and I'm ready to solve the problem they've set up. I'm all about playing along. I'm willing to go with it. But you gotta give me something.
Nope. In the season 2 premiere the official solution is... to just ignore it. There is no paradox, there's no alteration of history, there's just a big-ass tornado that is solved with a frankly idiotic, un-justified maneuver that involves Firestorm. Even for Flash physics it was silly, and more importantly, it had no effect on history.
That's right. Eobard still did all the bad stuff and in fact left a posthumous message for Barry to be played in case of his death. Barry's dad is still in jail, Nora Allen's still dead, and so is Eddie Thawne. Despite his sacrifice-- which still somehow made Eobard vanish even though everyone remembers him and this is still the primary timeline-- Eddie apparently died for nothing because there was no history re-set AT ALL.
Irwin Allen used this method a lot. It involves throwing a lot of action at the viewer and just ignoring anything inconvenient, and if someone notices the glaring illogic of this, snorting and dismissing that guy as some sort of overthinking nerd loser. In 1967, when there was no such thing as Netflix or DVDs or internet fan communities, he could sort of get away with that-- though Julie's father was an engineer and she remembers that, even back then, it was impossible to watch SF television with him because he would get so annoyed at the rampant inconsistency. I daresay I inadvertently recreated that childhood memory for her with my escalating astonished profanity throughout the Flash premiere. Even seeing Al Rothstein turn into a giant as Atom-Smasher didn't mollify me entirely, or the teases of Earth-2. (Why? Because playing by the show's rules, you can't postulate that Earth-2 was somehow created in the season 1 finale, or that IT is the primary timeline now and Barry and his posse are living in some sort of alternate, because Eobard Thawne STILL VANISHED. By the show's own rules, you can't combine those two things. In the alternate, Eobard wins. In the primary, he never existed. Those are the options.)
Am I thinking about this too hard? Probably. Because if you are capable of ignoring this giant gaping wound of a plot hole-- which sadly I am unable to do completely-- it was an okay episode. But dammit, I expected better.
And then in the final moment... they owned me again, because Jay Garrick shows up.
And he's keeping the hat, even!
Well played, Flash writers. Okay, we're still in. But for God's sake get your time-travel shit together.
iZombie: Or, as we like to call it, "Dead Veronica Mars."
We love this show, and that's despite the fact that I don't care for zombie stories (it's the main reason we don't watch The Wallking Dead) and Julie doesn't even like horror stories at all. But we adore this. it's every bit as smart and fun and internally consistent as any genre fan could hope for. If you loved the comics it might annoy you that it bears only a passing resemblance to the original, but the original comic's creator Chris Roberson loves it and that's enough for us to get over it. Anyway, it's terrific. Season 2 looks to be as good as the first, if not better. David Anders and Steven Weber are especially great as deliciously horrible human villains, but the entire cast is stellar. That's really all I've got. We love it, we never miss it, and you shouldn't either.
Agents of SHIELD: Another one that keeps coasting on nerd forgiveness, but pays it off often enough that we still kind of hang in there with it.
For us it's a variation of the Gotham problem-- in this case, the big stuff is always saved for the Marvel theatrical releases, so basically this is a show about either established Marvel characters that no one cares about, or newly-created characters that they have to persuade us to invest in.
With us the show works about, oh, sixty percent of the time. We are never going to be as interested in Skye/Daisy as the writers think we are and we tend to nod off whenever it's about her. But we like Agent May and her developing backstory with Blair Underwood, we really dig Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi and her weird thing with her ex -- apparently there's been talk of a spin-off series; yes, for God's sake, give THEM their own show, they're awesome-- and Clark Gregg's dry portrayal of Coulson continues to entertain us. We are even coming around on Fitz and Simmons despite the fact that we are SO DONE with quirky computer geeks on team shows like this. So we're still in, but not enough to ever skip iZombie for it. We catch up online when we remember we missed one, but it's not a priority.
*Lightning Round! I'm not going to write lengthy reviews about the rest of these, but here's the other genre and genre-adjacent stuff we've been watching so far...
Scorpion is formulaic and annoying in its insistence that genius is somehow equivalent to autism. It's occasionally entertaining but nevertheless manages to irritate at least one of us every single time we watch it.
Limitless is kind of an interesting throwback to bionic-era superhero shows from the seventies but so far isn't knocking us over with its brilliance. Again, kinda formulaic. Better than Scorpion and an okay way to kill an hour, but not never-miss TV for us.
Minority Report-- the pilot was just 'meh' for us so we haven't watched it since.
Heroes Reborn -- not interested. That show lost all the goodwill we had for it after the first season.
Sleepy Hollow lost us with the stupidity in the second season. We hear it recovered but are probably too lazy to catch up.
Blindspot, we really liked the pilot but kind of lost track of it after that. I'm skeptical of these conspiracy-mystery shows that have such a limited premise though. That's what killed The Blacklist for us.
So far, though, of the new stuff, we still loved Supergirl the best. Can't wait for that one to get going. I know my Young Authors nerdgirls are going to love it.
So that's it for us. Feel free to sound off about these or other shows down in the comments. As for us, we're off to the Antiquarian Book Fair, about which I'll have a report....
...next week. See you then.