A Flashing Arrow on the Small Screen (super Heroes and a little rant about endings)

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The CW has released its pair of superhero dramas for the fall.  The Arrow continues with its third season, and a spin-off series in the same universe will deal with The Flash.

For the DC comic universe, I like The Green Arrow a bit more than The Flash.  Originally a shameless Batman rip-off, Arrow on the CW has avoided the camp and spoof of the original Green Arrow (boxing glove arrows, anyone?) and caught the edge of the darker, more original Batman when he carried a gun and did kill people.  (Don’t take my word for it.  Look it up.)  When the camp died along with the Frank Miller reboot of the franchise, Batman went darker and The Green Arrow turned into a flaming liberal poster child for whatever PC cause was on at the moment.  (Honestly, in an interview the producers at DC lamented that they had like a whole year with a Green Arrow not written by a Democrat, but a moderate, *Gasp*  *Horror*)  Anyway, Arrow on CW avoided nauseating political hack-jobs (which really get old from any side of the aisle) and kept the edge of a roof-leaping vigilante detective who has the toys and the violent skills to do some justice.  He’s struggled with killing, lying to his family, issues with drugs, issues with intimacy, trust, and what justice means as opposed to vengeance.  These are some pretty cool topics worth looking at.  Season 2 dug into Marvel fan faves Loyd Slate and Ra’as al Ghoul’s League of Assassins, along with the Canary, Tiger Claw, and Deadshot.  There are no ridiculous codpieces or nipples on body armor, there are no spandex uniforms (for which I offer a sincere prayer of thanks to God), and the supporting cast is riddled with solid performances.

The ability to run has never seemed sufficient super-power for a solo magazine.  The Flash is a magazine popular with the Superman crowd (read: seven to ten year-olds) and I think it will be a tough sell to a more mature TV audience.  The show is off to a good start so far, with great effects for a TV show, no painful acting jobs yet, and some more campy humor than Arrow, but that is also true of the magazines themselves.

The premier episode was entertaining, moderately well acted, and had a big enough special effects budget that even if it works I think that they’re going to cancel after one season, not because of ratings but because they can’t afford to keep making the show.  This has been the truth for several excellent shows that I recommend: The Dukes of Hazard couldn’t afford to keep replacing cars.  Almost Human was a decent police procedural that had strong echoes of Isaac Asimov’s buddy-cop android drama, but relied so heavily on FX that there was no way that it was feasible.  Ditto for the groundbreaking concept work on Terra Nova which had some amazing supporting actors supporting a mediocre family.  No Ordinary Family was another heavily VFX laden show that did manage to tell a complete story arc before its inevitable unaffordability.

That really is the key, though, and it is something that Japanese animation has nailed and American television struggles with.  You can have a 1-season, or even a 3- or 5-season story that works just great as long as you tell your story and end at the right point.  Many great anime series run for just a single season, or three, like Avatar: The Last Airbender (Sorry, fan-boys, The Legend of Korra has neither the wonder nor the fun of the original bit of kung fu steampunk).  Here in America that idea hasn’t really aught on.  Babylon-5 in the 90’s told its story in four years and then trashed the franchise to hell and back with a tacky fifth year that killed the sense of victory, and didn’t really complete a single major story in the entire twenty-odd episodes.   I have a lot of respect for the creator of Supernatural, who had a five-year story, told it, and then walked rather than compromise his vision for what happened next.  It was good that he did, because once again in order to keep money coming in characters had to be re-written, the victory despoiled, and mythology-eroding new threats introduced.  Enterprise was another series that told a concrete beginning, middle, and end, from the first true human starship to the foundation of the UFP.

By and large, though, American TV shows are more irresponsible.  The later seasons of Supernatural, and many pilot shows that end on cliff-hangers knowing that they’re going to be cancelled (The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the most egregious of these evil-doers) as a sort of cosmic up-yours to the viewing audience who didn’t want them cancelled in the first place.

My anticipated fall line-up is not complete yet.  The Walking Dead begins soon.  Grimm has another season coming up with a mythology that continues to build organically, and we’ve come a long way from a weekly procedural with animal-themed monsters.  I have mixed feelings about Gotham so far, and the setting throws a lot of weight on the acting chops of a thirteen-year-old kid, who may or may not be able to convince us that he will become Batman as Gordon paves the way and the first of our future whack-jobs rises.  So far so good.  These will all probably get their own posts later.

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