Friday, July 8, 2016

2015-16 TV Season Recap, Part Four

Major props if you made it to the fourth and final installment of my 2015-16 TV Season Recap blogs. This part is all about superhero shows. If you have yet to catch up on my other installments of the TV season, check out the following links:

Part 1 (South Park, Simpsons, Family Guy, American Grit, 30 for 30)
Part 2 (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Jamz)
Part 3 (Game of Thrones, Leftovers, Ballers, Agent Carter)

Gotham (light spoilers) - In my TV Season recap last year I mentioned how Gotham surprised me a few times with its unpredictable nature by taking a few unexpected twists and turns. They do the same thing again this season, especially with the villains involved. In this season’s early episodes they tease a young version of a very anticipated Batman villain, but then FOX pulls the rug from under us and instead Theo Galavan (James Frain) is revealed as the mastermind of a new group of villains underneath him, including one Barb Kean (Erin Richards). The theme of this season of Gotham is ‘rise of the villains’ and that slogan does not disappoint as one Hugo Strange (BD Wong), the head honcho of Arkham Asylum is up to all kinds of vile science projects and is responsible for unleashing several major and minor villains in the second half of season two.

Given the all-star roster of classic Batman villains I was intrigued and not let down by most of the contemporary takes on the villains that Strange unleashes this season. Minor spoiler ahead, remember how much I detested Fish Mooney’s (Jada Smith) character last season, well they bring her back for a few episodes this season and they are easily the least enjoyable episodes in season two. Penguin (Robin Taylor) and Riddler (Corey Smith) both make up for the Fish’s drawbacks with their own far better arcs this season. In season two, they both get too over their heads and wind up with the cast of misfits in Arkham Asylum where they wind up part of all kinds of fun projects. I really dug Penguin’s arc the most this season as he spends the last several episodes trying to change himself for the better, but of course realizing he was being played and embracing his inner darkness in the most vile ways that resulted in my jaw being dropped in a moment that I was surprised made network television.

For the protagonists or more like shades of gray characters leaning heroic, Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue are terrific reprising their roles as partners Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, respectively. Bullock seems to take a backseat in more of this season which is unfortunate as I really dug his character, but he does have a few moments to shine. Gotham debuts a new sheriff this season with Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis). As much as I loved Chiklis in one of my all time favorite shows, The Shield, he is not so affable here. Barnes sets Gordon up with his own squad of rookie cops early in the season and makes them come off as this new serious force not to be taken lightly, but the rookie cops wind up tying Tommen and Rickon with my award as dopiest characters in from the 2015-16 TV season and I am certainly not going to miss any of them. Luckily, Gordon overcomes that lackluster arc, and clears his name of corruption charges after a few intense episodes he spends in Gotham Prison that lead up to a great season finale.

Props to David Mazouz for a much improved performance as Bruce Wayne in season two. Young Bruce Wayne last season probably would get my most dopiest character award, but this season he develops an edge while roaming the streets with young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). His standout moment is a long coming face-to-face encounter with the hitman who gunned down his parents at the beginning of the series. I am knocking off points for making me suffer through a few more episodes of Fish Mooney and a few episodes of incompetent rookie cops, but other than that this is a big improvement over the last season of Gotham. Kudos to FOX for having the show to stick to its dark, gritty nature and pushing the major network restrictions to their limit.
Grade: A-

The Flash - Flash was the catalyst last year that lead to me watching an ungodly amount of CW programming this past season. Season two retains its perfect lighthearted-yet-serious balance that won me over last season. Grant Gustin did another superb performance as Barry Allen, and the producers behind the show came up with a more lethal season long foe for him to tangle with in the form of Zoom (Teddy Sears). This season the DC TV universe debuts the beast that is Earth-2 in The Flash, and by time traveling to an alternate reality, the cast meets alternate versions of themselves and past villains. It is too bad most of alternate reality doppelgangers also get worthy honors of my ‘biggest dopes’ of the season and I felt absolutely zero remorse that most met an early demise.

I did however dig new, not-so-evil Earth-2 Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) as he proves to be a useful and trusting ally for Star Labs. Last season there was a little too much emphasis on the token ‘villain of the week’ that were throwaway foes that served just to fill in TV time while we got nuggets of the Flash’s bigger rivalry against Reverse-Flash last season. Season two is a little better paced, with more episodes having a slightly bigger focus on Zoom, and fewer episodes with cannon fodder villains of the week. It sucks when they do rear their ugly head from time-to-time, but it is at a far less frequent rate.

Like last season, there are quite a few powerful feel good and equally heartbreaking moments throughout the season. A lot of them involve Barry’s adopted dad, Joe West (Jesse Martin) because the man is a master at wearing one of the most emotional faces in all of TV as the West family has some major moments that occur this season. The Flash gets my nod as top CW show of the three this last year. I will rank it just a notch or two under the stellar first season because things get a little off the rails with too many Earth-2 doppelgangers running amok for a few episodes, but by and large this was still a very enjoyable season of television.
Season Two Grade: B+

Arrow - Last year I raved about how much I loved The Flash. Naturally CW showcased some corporate synergy by having the Arrow cast crossover on a few Flash episodes last season and vice versa. I liked the Arrow crossovers so much I fell right into CW’s trap and wound up binge watching all past three seasons of Arrow in time for the start of season four. There is a silly revelation in the series’ premiere where Arrow (Stephen Amell) officially changes his name to his proper name in the comics, The Green Arrow, and I loved how the rest of the cast constantly poke fun sporadically throughout the season.

Season four has some highs and lows, but I still liked it for the most part. On the low end of things, the main plot is Arrow, AKA Oliver Queen decides to run for mayor. Knowing the series past for mayor and everyone who throws their hit in the ring for it, that is where you do not want to be, and I kept hoping each episode would conclude this mayor arc, but it is there for most of this season. Each season usually has a good set of flashbacks filling in the gap when Oliver left town for a few years and returned as the Green Arrow, but this season’s set of flashbacks were super weak as it features Oliver returning to the island he escaped from and infiltrating the ranks of a mercs operation. It sounds good on paper, but plays out incredibly weak, to the point where I got the feeling the producers treated it as an afterthought and only devoted what seemed like less to a minute to each flashback scene, and even skipped a few episodes of flashbacks that center around a supernatural artifact that looks like an oversized kids toy.

The artifact falls in the hands of this season’s antagonist, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), who is the head of his own the mind-controlled goons called HIVE. After witnessing The Legend of Chun-Li, I can appreciate McDonough excelling at the art of camp, and he somehow manages to make the campy villain work wonderful in the otherwise darker Arrow series. He has a few intense encounters with Team Arrow throughout the season. Halfway through the season, Arrow teases a big death among the cast, and sure enough they deliver with yet another major cast member biting the bullet. Of its four seasons, Arrow has killed/wrote off four major characters, but somehow manages to accomplish that hard storytelling feat of it being a meaningful death and that the character did not pass without great sacrifice. It reminds me a lot of the impact of Charlie’s death in Lost, and for Arrow to somehow manage to accomplish this feat in each season is saying something on why this show has staying power. This season is not as good as the first two seasons of Arrow, and while the flashbacks are definitely a struggle to get through, they are very brief and there are enough other positives going for season four to help redeem this season’s shortcomings.
Season Four Grade: B

Legends of Tomorrow - CW expanded their DC Universe shows with a third series debuting after the midseason break with Legends of Tomorrow. It features eight past supporting heroes and villains from Flash and Arrow like Atom (Brandon Routh), Leonard Snark (Wentworth Miller) and Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz) coming together as a team to travel through time to restore past timelines with their leader, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill). I thought this season was going to be a quick eight or ten episodes, but Legends of Tomorrow only took one or two weeks off and managed to pump out nearly a full season of 19 episodes.

Even being an hour long show with trying to squeeze in nine total cast members in each episode, it proves to be too much. CW kind of remedies this by focusing on groups of heroes each getting their own arc in an episode so it turns into arcs for three or four groups of characters instead of nine individual arcs. Even then, it is easy for at least a couple characters to get lost in the shuffle. It does not help that one of the major story arcs that involves a love triangle between Atom, Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) and Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée) is a total wash and painfully drags on for nearly the entire season. Those gripes aside, the episodes were kind of hit and miss for me, with each episode having a theme of embracing the decade they time traveled too. Most of the early episodes did not cut it for me, minus a couple that featured some really good all out superhero clashes, but I do recall the series picking up for an impactful final few episodes that helped saved the season for me and ensured that I will give it another shot next season.
Grade: C

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 8
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 7
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle

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