My opinions below are solely based on full seasons, thus excluding the current ongoing television season (except Jessica Jones, which was released in its entirety on Netflix)
There’s virtually no way of escaping the comic book movie adaptation craze, that’s been going nearly a decade and a half strong. There have been great movies (Avengers, The Dark Knight), and there have been duds (Green Lantern). This superhero trend has trickled down to television in recent years, and the same rule applies to the small screen. Here’s a ranking of the best and worst shows, in my most humble of opinions.
1) Marvel’s Daredevil
Daredevil is indisputably the best one we’ve seen thus far. It’s what Arrow should have been, but with all the fat cut out. It’s gritty, dark, violent, and people can’t get enough. The cast is brilliant, and the pacing and writing is spot on. Charlie Cox is very convincing as the “Man with no Fear,” which is especially refreshing given the last time we saw a live-action Daredevil (looking at you, Affleck). Vincent D’onofrio steals the show as Wilson Fisk, and isn’t just a two-dimensional thug, but rather, a tortured, conflicted man who spends the majority of the season truly believing that he’s doing the right thing. If you’re not hooked on the show by the end of that fight sequence in episode two, then there’s no cure for what you have. This is the perfect Daredevil story, told in 13 rock-solid hours.
2) Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Just months after Marvel and Netflix hit the ball out of the park with Daredevil, the comic empire has released its newest show: Jessica Jones. Right from the start, the tonal and thematic differences between the two shows are visible. Daredevil fulfilled its promise of a crime drama, whereas Jessica Jones is going the route of neo-noir, detective series-thriller. More importantly, this is a strong show with a female lead. Often in the comic book-superhero genre, having a female hero just means putting a woman in the place of a male hero and having her beat the crap out of people just as her male counterparts would. Maybe she’ll throw in a few quips about “girl power” during the fight. These shows and films demonstrate that women can be strong too, but only in the most literal sense. CBS’s new show, Supergirl, seemed to have fallen into a similar trap during its first episode. The audience doesn’t need on-the-nose explanations about female empowerment, delivered in the form of exposition and forced dialogue. Jessica Jones still focuses on our heroine as a human, who, despite her superpowers, is damaged, bruised, and has a terrible past. She’s more developed and believable. This is the female hero we’ve been waiting for.
3) The Flash
The thing I appreciate most about The Flash is that it knows exactly what show it is, and doesn’t try to change that. While its roots are based in Arrow, it doesn’t attempt to emulate the darker tone. The show constantly reminds us of this, both through the campy villains Barry faces each week, and through comic onscreen dialogue. Yes, it can get cheesy, and yes it can get silly, but damnit if it isn’t an exciting hour of television. Even in the most serious of episodes, there is a lightheartedness to the story, and just enough comic relief to take the edge off without sacrificing the weight of the moment.
4) Agent Carter
Recently renewed for a second season, Agent Carter Season 1 was a very fun, self-contained mini-series with a whole lot of potential. While Peggy isn’t a superhero, she is a spin-off character from the Captain America film franchise. Admittedly, I started the show with low expectations, as I didn’t think there was any story to tell about Peggy Carter. I’m glad that I was wrong. Besides the fact that this takes place in the expanded, Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is also a period piece set right after World War II, and it felt very real. We see life after WWII, and our female lead, who fought bravely in the war, coming back home to struggle with the normative gender roles and expectations of the time. It’s great being able to see her save the day, despite everything about her society working against her. Also, how cool was it to have Jarvis, (the actual butler and not AI) star in the show with her?
A year ago, this show would have been on the top of this list, easily. Season 2 of Arrow was just so spectacularly done, that the underwhelming and outlandish third season seemed that much worse. As much as I like Arrow, this show peaked in Season 2. Granted, it could get better next season, but so far, the third season has been subpar. Way too much, soap-opera-level drama between the characters. Worse is the over-saturation of people in costumes, and how easy it apparently is to become a vigilante. For instance, how does Laurel’s months of boxing lessons let her go toe-to-toe with multiple League assassins? Also, Felicity was the most likable character on the show in previous seasons. Strong, empathetic, and witty all at once. But then she spends a whole season trying to decide between Oliver and Ray, and crying about it. Also, why would Oliver let Malcolm become Ra’s…ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Were you really that desperate to have another villain to fight in the next season? Become Ra’s and disband the fucking League. Do what Angel did with Wolfram and Hart. Another thing that bothers me is that the show relies way too heavily on the flashbacks. Flashbacks made sense in the previous seasons, when fans wanted to learn about Oliver’s time on the island, how he survived, and how he became the warrior that he is today. But now the flashbacks are getting gimmicky, and feel more like a retcon-drama-adding tool, rather than revelatory devices. I seriously hope the show gets better.
6) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While I think this is the weakest of the comic book hero shows, I will say that Agents improved significantly last season. The season finale was probably one of the strongest episodes of the season, kicking off right where we left off in the prior episode. I will say that because it’s connected directly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and doesn’t have the flexibility given to Agent Carter (since that show takes place half a century ago), it’s hands are often tied, having to react to events in the film universe all the time.