With the rise of superheroes in the world of film, a new medium was selected as a way to express the genre: television. While there had been success in the television department with the 1960s Adam West BATMAN show, as well as the Superman origin series SMALLVILLE,  2012’s ARROW was the TV equivalent of what X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN did for superheroes in film. However, it wasn’t until last year, during the 2014-2015 TV schedule, that the genre exploded into the mainstream, bringing once-obscure characters and titles to life and creating shared universes that strive to match up to those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Animated Universe.

Now, with year two of the comic book TV phenomenon coming to an end, it’s time to look at all those shows and see which of them improved, which of them struggled, and where all the newcomers fit in amongst the veteran shows. Please note that this article is dealing with the superhero portion of comic book TV shows, so shows like THE WALKING DEAD and iZOMBIE will not be on the list.

Gotham

9. GOTHAM (FOX)

This show is last on the list, but my overall attitude towards it has changed greatly. Where the first season had been a complete mess, taking an interesting idea and bogging it down with poor character development and story lines that went nowhere, Season 2 managed to trim off a lot of the unnecessary fat.

To put it simply: GOTHAM just sort of went nuts, and got so much better as a result. Embracing its colorful and insane world, the police detective aspect of Season 1 took a backseat to insane villain schemes and stronger character development, especially towards those who were lacking in that department. Even characters that felt unnecessary or lacked purpose, like Riddler and Barbara, became more entertaining to watch and showed more depth than they did last season.

So, why does it still stand at the back of the line? While GOTHAM sets up its stories better, it struggles at delivering them all the way through. A lot of it seems to stem from the requirement of a season-long schedule, forcing the show to trudge through aspects of filler before getting to the story. The latter half is entertaining in respects but doesn’t seem to go anywhere, moving towards what should feel like a finale but instead just sort of ends without any real sense of closure or finality. Overall, I’d still recommend GOTHAM Season 2; you just need to accept that none of this is canon and grudgingly sit through Season 1 to understand what’s happening.

 

Legends of Tomorrow

8. LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (CW)

If GOTHAM’s problem was that it struggled to develop the endgame of its storyline, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (LoT) has the opposite problem in that it constantly reminds the audience of how the story will end, then drags on events leading up to that finale.

Undoubtedly the CW’s most ambitious project to date, LoT has time traveler Rip Hunter (DOCTOR WHO’s Arthur Darvill) gather a team of characters across the Arrowverse to aid in his mission/personal vendetta: to kill the immortal Vandal Savage. That is the basic goal, with our team zipping in and out of time periods in order to kill Savage before he succeeds in conquering the earth, all while causing some form of havoc along the way.

Like GOTHAM, this show could definitely benefit from a shorter season, using 10 to 12 episodes to focus more on a general plot and less on unnecessary (though fun) filler. That being said, there is still a lot to enjoy about this show, with an ensemble cast of DC characters interacting with one another and learning to become an awesome, if somewhat reluctant team. (My personal favorites are Captain Cold and the Atom, perhaps with White Canary up there too.) While it is bogged down by a romance subplot tied into the fate of Hawkgirl, and the main villain doesn’t quite live up to his hype, Season 1 still provides a lot of entertainment and potential for future story lines—as long as they don’t make the audience even more confused by the concept of time travel.

 

Arrow

7. ARROW (CW)

Unlike probably 99% of the Internet, when I say I want ARROW’s fifth season to be its final one, I mean that in terms of solid closure rather than angry Internet rage. The one that started off this whole renaissance of shows, ARROW has had something of a decline in the past few years, peaking in Season 2 and never matching that level of storytelling. While Season 4 was a bit better than the decent-to-lackluster third one, it’s still disappointing compared to the first two seasons.

While I have not come to hate the Olicity romance (something fan shippers begged for back in S2)  as much as, well, everyone else, I agree that it took up more than its fair share of screentime, and was plagued by messy writing and hypocritical moments. Most notably, the breakup scene was laughably dumb. The reason it gets a higher spot on this list is that, despite a finale that just ends without much bravado or build-up for Season 5 and unnecessary flashback segments, the story still felt more consistent in its endgame compared to S3. A lot of that is due to the brilliant casting of Neil McDonough as Damien Dahrk, who just owns the scene every time he’s in front of the camera. Hell, I’d argue he managed to top Slade Wilson as my favorite ARROW villain: the guy’s plain evil and he loves his job, no moping whatsoever.

Seeing as how ARROW’s flashbacks represent the amount of time Oliver Queen was away from home, I’m hoping that the writers will make Season 5 the end, closing the book on his story and bringing everything around full circle to his decision to become the Arrow. After that, just have the cast make appearances on other shows so we can keep their roles in this world active.

P.S. Points for the CONSTANTINE crossover episode, giving Matt Ryan one more chance to play John Constantine to perfection. Here’s hoping he can make some future appearances in the other shows.

Supergirl

6. SUPERGIRL (CBS/CW)

I think this entry and ARROW on the list could be flipped around, so this is personal preference. Out of all the new shows that came out last year, SUPERGIRL surprised me the most because I wasn’t sure how to react to its story setup. The first few episodes do feel like the show is still finding its footing, and the original trailer gave a CBS/THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA aspect to it. In the end, however, this was a fun season.

Melissa Benoist is a very likable protagonist and embodies the optimism and good that her character represents—something of a contrast to Henry Cavill in MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (both of which I actually liked)—and her supporting cast is pretty decent too. I was actually surprised by how much I liked characters like Cat Grant and Maxwell Lord, who I originally thought would be fairly one-note at best. The reveal of Hank Henshaw as (spoilers) the Martian Manhunter was a definite highlight and looked visually impressive on the CBS effects budget.

Still, the plot dragged a bit at times and it wasn’t always even, with the villain’s master plan being defeated in a pretty cliché manner (even if the other final battle was pretty awesome). Like LoT, the season was bumpy in a lot of places but still enjoyable, with “Falling” and “World’s Finest” (a.k.a. adorkable FLASH crossover) remaining my favorite episodes. Here’s hoping the move to the CW will allow for more team-ups and a strong sophomore season.

 

Agent Carter

5. AGENT CARTER (ABC)

Okay, first I said I don’t hate ARROW as much as everyone else and then I don’t put AGENT CARTER in the top three. You must want to kill me now, right? Well, don’t worry, because I love AGENT CARTER and am pretty damn upset by the show’s cancellation, preventing us from having any more adventures with the lovely Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

With a tight, if somewhat forgettable, story and strong character development, Season 2 really does feel like an improvement over the first season. Most notable is the way Peggy is treated by her colleagues, addressing the sexist tone of the 1950s in a way that makes side characters like Thompson and Sousa feel more natural and layered than just cardboard cutouts. The bond between Peggy and Edwin Jarvis is probably some of the best chemistry I’ve seen in the medium, expanding upon their relationship as well as diving into the flaws and minds of both characters. They really do compliment each other throughout everything, no matter how harsh, and we really see how much they care for one another.

It’s a shame ABC decided to cancel this show so early. Unless they shoehorn a Captain America dream sequence into the next Avengers movie, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Peggy anytime soon. Still love her hat though.

 

Agents of SHIELD

4. AGENTS OF SHIELD (ABC)

It’s pretty weird to look back at the 2013 TV lineup and see ARROW and this newborn show as the only superhero shows that existed back then. Ask anyone who stuck by the lackluster first half of Season 1 and you’ll get the same answer: it got better after the Winter Soldier crossover episode. Now, having finished Season 3, I can say that for all its flaws, the third season of SHIELD remains a strong one.

Having introduced the concept of Inhumans as something of a stand-in for the X-Men franchise in S2, this deals with the fall-out of their reveal to the world, leading to a battle between SHIELD and HYDRA over these people with special abilities. This all culminates in the midseason finale, where we are introduced to Hive, the first Inhuman, and his plan to help the world… by remaking it in his image.

Looking over Season 3, you would never have guessed that it was the same show as S1, with a variety of well-established characters, an engaging storyline with real consequences, and a ton of kick-ass action—not to mention the shipping of couples that doesn’t affect the overall quality of the show. (#Fitzsimmons for life.) This is really a testament to how far AoS has come on its own, no longer needing to rely on the big names of the MCU and perfectly capable of forging its own path, both as a standalone show and as part of a universe. It does seem a bit weird that, out of all the shows, this show managed to have the strongest finale, so I guess that’s another point for Marvel. Overall, I can’t wait for Season 4 and I hope that one day Marvel manages to tie in its TV heroes with the film universe for an insane crossover.

 

Daredevil

3. DAREDEVIL (NETFLIX)

The success of this Netflix series surprised everyone, and I mean everyone. In addition to pretty much making us forget about the disappointing 2003 film adaptation, DAREDEVIL amazed critics and viewers with its dark setting reminiscent of the Frank Miller era, outstanding action sequences, and some very well-developed characters. DAREDEVIL also benefits from its structure as a Netflix series, with a stronger production value that allowed it to truly separate itself from every other superhero show to date, with the Nolan BATMAN films being the best comparisons.

A great amount of praise has to be given to the show’s treatment of villains, with Vincent D’Onofrio giving a stellar performance as Wilson Fisk in Season 1, and Jon Bernthal and Élodie Yung as the Punisher and Elektra, respectively, in Season 2. In other words, DAREDEVIL has done better in the villains department than the MCU did in its entire run-through.

What’s more impressive about this show are the hidden layers of themes and symbols, showing the inner turmoil of Matt Murdock as a man who wants to make his city a better place, both within and outside the system. I could probably go on about those single-take fight scenes, as well, but I think everything has already been said about them. Granted, the second season had its share of drags in the plot—noticing a pattern here?—and it felt more like it was building up future seasons rather telling its own, but that doesn’t change the fact that it remains a solid show in its own right.

 

Jessica Jones

2. JESSICA JONES (NETFLIX)

Where DAREDEVIL Season 1 was an amazing first season, it was still a prototype for the Marvel/Netflix formula and thus had its share of issues. JESSICA JONES, though, managed to tidy up those flaws and give us one of Marvel’s strongest entries to date. Based off of the ALIAS comic series, one of Marvel’s boldest and darkest titles to date, this show follows the life of a private investigator and former heroine who pretty much had the worst first day on the job ever.

What’s undoubtedly the best aspect here is the strong writing, making this not just a great superhero-based show but a great show in general. In fact, at times, it feels less like a superhero show and more like a neo-noir crime thriller, one that deals with very dark topics such as abuse and PTSD and features characters that neither wear costumes nor do many things heroic. Backing this up is an amazing performance from Kristen Ritter as the titular character, a snarky and reclusive alcoholic who possesses flaws and reasons behind such behavior. Opposite her is David Tennant’s Zebediah Killgrave, undoubtedly Marvel’s best and scariest antagonist in their film and TV universes combined. His character is both intensely scary (as the mind-controlling obsessive/abusive ex) yet uniquely complex (being a sadistic bastard of a villain who can’t really see that he is one). In comparison to the other shows, JESSICA JONES may not appeal to everyone with its strong subject matter, but it is, in my opinion, Marvel’s best small-screen work to date.

 

The Flash

1. THE FLASH (CW)

For me, there couldn’t have been another choice. Yes, there are some shows that did better in other departments—writing especially—and I am definitely aware there is a large group of fans who see DAREDEVIL or JESSICA JONES as the better show. To me, though, this show has always been number one because it manages to find the right balance between light and darkness that DC films are still striving to achieve. THE FLASH just embraces its rather silly and comic booky setup, giving us an entire roster of heroes and villains brought to life, from Captain Cold to the Trickster to freaking Gorilla Grodd and King Shark. Yet at the same time, it is not afraid to go dark, giving us heartfelt drama and consequences that have a major impact on our group of characters. It’s all helmed by a cast of actors who, out of every show on this list, feel the closest to an actual family, making us care for them as more than just side characters.

I could probably praise Grant Gustin all day for his portrayal of Barry Allen, but anyone who’s seen the show knows that he’s just perfect. Yes, the second season of THE FLASH was not as amazing as Season 1, and the final moments of its finale will definitely draw arguments from the fans, but it still remained a solid season in its own right. Hell, if anything, my biggest criticism is that they haven’t used the multiverse plot device to connect the TV and movie universes into one enormous crossover event. ARROW may have started this wave of superhero television, but THE FLASH surpassed it and remains, in my opinion, the best superhero television show currently on the air. Maybe even best of all time, just to raise a few arguments.

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