Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wave 2 of the Superhero Shows Brings Girl Power

Over the last couple of years, superhero shows have seen a boom.  The resurgence really began with Arrow on the CW and then there was Agents of SHIELD.  And Arrow begat The Flash while Agents of SHIELD begat Agent Carter.  Fox joined in with Gotham.  And then there was NBC's stillborn Constantine.  And then Netflix entered the fray with Daredevil.

This season has brought on an increasing roster of superheroes with Supergirl, Jessica Jones, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow.  The interesting thing here is that female heroes are starting to rise to the fore.  And again there's some awkwardness for me as a writer of several female superhero novels, because just as with a number of female superhero comics, I'm just not that much of a fan.

Supergirl is an OK show, but I quickly got sick of all the "my cousin" crap in reference to Superman.  And of course we can't ever see Superman on the show, despite that it's pretty obvious that this is not taking place in the Man of Steel universe.  The real problem for me, though, is the same problem I had in trying to watch The Cleveland Show:  it feels like we've already done this.  You can watch Family Guy and American Dad because they're two different shows with different styles even if they're both created by and starring Seth MacFarlane.  In the same way you can watch Arrow and The Flash because they're so different tonally, with Arrow being grim-and-gritty and The Flash a lot more upbeat.  Where The Cleveland Show just felt like Family Guy recycled, Supergirl feels like The Flash recycled.  A few episodes seem like they just took scripts from The Flash and changed all the pertinent character names and locations.  For instance, the Toyman I know is a long-running Superman villain, but the whole booby-trapped toy thing and planting multiple bombs thing had already been done in Trickster episodes of The Flash, so I just yawned and said, "Been there, done that."  A lot of people might not mind, but for me to care about the series long-term, it needs to find something to differentiate itself.  But then it is on CBS.  They're not exactly known for original programming; I mean, most of their comedies still rely on laugh tracks.

I already related some of my struggles with Jessica Jones in an earlier post.  The pilot episode was so messy that it really made it a struggle to continue watching.  As the series ground on, it became clear to me that the biggest problem was this wasn't a superhero show.  With the themes of stalking, abusive boyfriends, rape, and abortion this was more like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.  I tuned out a lot of it while multitasking.  Really I don't give a shit if there's a season 2, but it did make me interested in seeing the Luke Cage show--at least if that's a little more of an actual superhero show.

Only a quarter of the heroes on Legends of Tomorrow are women, but I suppose that's something, isn't it?  I haven't really warmed to the show yet.  I'm not a big fan of time travel for the most part.  I did like Quantum Leap but this is obviously different.  But maybe this is one of those shows that takes longer to gel.  A couple of weeks ago there was an episode where they were in space fighting "time pirates" and I Tweeted that next season they should say the heck with the time travel crap and just do a Guardians of the Galaxy-type thing.  Or Firefly with superheroes.  I think that would be a lot less limiting than the time travel thing.

I have to say though that the best representation of a female hero so far is on the Playstation Network series Powers.  The show focuses on a male hero who lost his powers and now works as a cop policing superheroes, but in the show's universe the top dog among superheroes is Retro Girl.  I think what makes her stand out is she is pretty much Superman--only female.  Throughout the series she's shown as an inspiration to other heroes and yet facing that Superman-like struggle on how best to use her powers while still having something of a life.  I think what her character has that these other shows lack is maturity.  I guess because for the most part we're not dealing with her origin or anything.  Anyway, beyond that the show is not really for the casual viewer.  It's a lot like Watchmen in how it examines the superhero community, not always in a positive light.  The plot also has a lot of intricacy that can be hard to keep track of.  I did mostly enjoy it on Crackle and I'd watch a Season 2 if given the chance.  I'd probably watch a Retro Girl spinoff too, though it'd have to be a prequel since (spoiler) she dies in the last episode.

I'm not sure what properties are going to be adapted next beyond Luke Cage and Iron Fist for Netflix, but there are still plenty of male and female heroes available.  More than a decade ago the CW (or WB maybe back then) tried a Birds of Prey show.  Since they've already introduced Black Canary and Huntress, all they need to do is find a Barbara Gordon to put that together.  Though I'd probably hate it.  Now a Scarlet Knight show, that would be awesome.  Call me, CW!

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