DeFlip Side #168: TV’s New Silver Age

DeFlip Side #168: TV’s New Silver Age.mp3

Welcome everyone.

And my name is Christopher DeFilippis, happy to see all of these legends come to life on the small screen.

Television has entered a new Silver Age, with a TV show on almost every weeknight, featuring DC’s Silver Age heroes and villains in all their pulpy glory — with Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Timemaster Rip Hunter and his team of good guys and bad guys who comprise DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Even more geektastic, these shows embrace their comic book origins — and all the goofy baggage that comes with them — without apology or equivocation. It’s a refreshingly straightforward take, considering that it all started with Arrow.

Arrow was created in the era of Nolan’s Batman films, which mandated a grim and gritty aesthetic. On top of that, the show was airing on the CW, which already had a successful superhero formula.

Remember Smallville? The Superman show that ran for ten seasons without ever once uttering the name Superman? The creators of that show were so committed to their no-flights/no-tights premise that they called Clark “The Blur” rather than use his iconic handle.

This misguided mindset, along with the Nolan effect, cast a pall over Arrow from the beginning, which saw Ollie assume the alias The Hood. Never mind those green arrows he leaves everywhere.

Snark aside, this approach worked very well at first. The coolest thing about Arrow’s first season was that Ollie would just straight up murder people, the high body count reflecting that Oliver Queen had somehow transformed from a feckless billionaire playboy into a ruthless killing machine.

It was intriguing, and Stephen Amell was perfect in the role. He went from the slack-jawed vacancy of the old Ollie to the laser-focused intensity of The Hood in the blink of an eye. But the rise of the bright and bombastic Marvel Cinematic Universe shifted the paradigm of comic book adaptations, and Arrow might have gone on grimdarking itself into oblivion, had it not found its own bright spot, in the form of Barry Allen.

The introduction of Barry as The Flash swept viewers to the cheerful and colorful Central City, and finally allowed metahumans to enter the overly-grounded Arrowverse. Once you introduce dopey characters like Captain Cold and the Weather Wizard, and do it well, then every wonderfully kooky comic book contrivance is on the table, including time travel, alternate universes and talking gorillas. And unlike the tortured relationships that defined Arrow, The Flash built its foundation on positive connections between friends and family.

Props here have to Grant Gustin who plays Barry. His earnestness and charm are enough to carry even the weakest episodes.

In the wake of The Flash’s success, Arrow-bashing has become very popular. And the show mostly deserves it. You’ve never seen an hour of television crammed with such dour and tedious dramatics.

The show has been course correcting, struggling to escape its grimdark shackles. Ollie even goes by the name Green Arrow now. But every time Arrow introduces bright new characters, they wind up going to other shows.

After Barry, it was Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom, played by former Man of Steel Brandon Routh. Routh’s goofy, boyish grin stole every scene it was in. Then it was Sarah Lance, Arrow’s original Black Canary, played by Caity Lotz.

Both Routh and Lotz have joined the cast of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, part of a team of led by 22nd Century Timemaster Rip Hunter, which includes Hawkgirl, Flash villains Captain Cold and Heatwave, and one of my favorite DC heroes, Firestorm. It’s all time travel antics and spirited character banter, and once again Arrow is looking like a dark mess.

Rolling with that image, Arrow has introduced magic into the DC TV universe; so maybe it’ll eventually go all Justice League Dark. In the meantime, Arrow’s new bright spot is Echo Kellum, who plays Curtis Holt, a.k.a. Mr. Terrific. He’s terrific in the role, and if history holds true, he’ll get his own spinoff soon — which would be groundbreaking, as Holt is gay in this universe. It would be a first; a primetime superhero show led by a gay, black superhero. We can only hope.

And speaking of hope, let’s talk about Supergirl. Melissa Benoist shines in the role of the earnest Kara Zor-El. And in this age of niche programming, it’s ironic that Supergirl bypassed the youth-targeted CW to land on CBS, because Supergirl is the most juvenile of all the DC shows.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. But as fun as these shows can be, they’re all saddled with a ton of relationship melodrama. That may be because they were all created by Greg Berlanti, who got his start on the WB’s Dawson’s Creek.

In any event, Supergirl is one of the most melodramatic by far, fraught with middle school level relationship drama. The show is clearly written with tween girls in mind. But that’s okay. It’s awesome. Kara should be there to guide and empower young women, not cater to middle-aged fanboys like me. But that also makes Supergirl a little eye-rolling at times.

Calista Flockhart has the most thankless job on the show as Cat Grant, called upon to be Kara’s mentor/mother figure/heartless boss, as the plot demands. It’s amazing that she pulls it off and manages to make the character seem grounded. And the introduction of characters like Martian Manhunter, Bizarro, Maxwell Lord and even a shadowy Superman don’t hurt either. But in all honesty, I was about ready to punch out on Supergirl. Until the improbable happened.

“Smallville”/

Though all of these DC shows were crated by Berlanti, Supergirl happens outside of the CW’s DC universe. Those characters have never known a Kryptonian. But they soon will.

Just last week, news broke that The Flash will be hopping networks and dimensions and making his way to National City to meet Supergirl. In fact, they just teased the crossover in this week’s episode of The Flash, with an image of Kara appearing as Barry traveled through a wormhole to Earth 2. My fanboy heart leapt, and just like that, I’m back on board with Supergirl for the duration.

As I said, we’re in a new Silver Age of superhero television — one that promises to be an antidote DC’s gritty and dark movieverse, which is another rant in itself. Suffice it to say there’s a braver and bolder universe evolving on the small screen, and I don’t want to miss a thing.

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