Daily News Service's countdown of the best and worst televised superhero dramas reaches its unmissable climax...
Before embarking on the final stage of our righteous campaign to evaluate which of the televised comic-book adaptations of superhero fiction stood out as the most and least memorable between September 2015 and May 2016, let’s mirror the US TV approach of including a “Previously On…” segment at the beginning of each new episode. Below lies a quick round-up of those ambitious super-powered dramas that managed to rank somewhere between ninth and fifth place on our all-encompassing list last time around:
9. Supergirl Season One
8. Agent Carter Season Two
7. Legends of Tomorrow Season One
6. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three
5. Gotham Season Two
As those of our readers who kept both eagle eyes locked on the progress of US superhero TV in the last nine months or so will no doubt have noticed, this leaves us with four further shows’ latest runs still to assess: Arrow, Jessica Jones, The Flash and Daredevil. Without any further ado, then, join us as we strive to provide not only the verdict you deserve, but in addition the one which you need in order to decide which series to catch up on before virtually all nine series – barring Agent Carter, unfortunately – return this autumn…
4. Jessica Jones Season One
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this maudlin Netflix-based MCU saga’s freshman run was how close it came on regular occasions to achieving just as high a level of greatness as the three shows which rank above it on the list. There’s no denying that whenever David Tennant graced the screen as the brilliantly chilling – not to mention brilliantly-named, even if the credit for that must go to Jessica’s comic-book creator Brian Michael Bendis – Killgrave, offering up easily the MCU’s most compellingly multi-faceted antagonist since Wilson Fisk thanks to his tantalisingly brief moments of heroism as well as his haunting psychological back-story, the series more than demonstrated its full potential, keeping viewers on the edge of their seat as he came face-to-face with the woman whose entire life had been brought to a literal stand-still by his self-obsessed, utterly psychopathic machinations.
The trouble was, whenever Tennant left the screen in order to give us more time with Jessica’s supporting ensemble of wary allies, the overall quality of the series’ semi-serialized narratives took a noteworthy, instantaneous hit as an undeniably direct result. Indeed, the sheer amount of time dedicated to the character’s infuriating neighbours, the uninspired divorce sub-plot powering the arc of Carrie-Anne Moss’ frankly dull Jeri Hogarth and – as if we weren’t groaning enough already – Malcolm’s downright unrealistically obnoxious sister who barged in on Jessica’s support groups for no other reason than to slow the central storyline down for a few more episodes was unbelievable to say the least. Thankfully, such was the strength of the cinematic direction of the action-packed and emotional set-pieces alike, Krysten Ritter’s sour yet endearing take on the titular protagonist, Mike Colter’s potent cameos as Luke Cage ahead of his own Netflix series and above all Tennant’s aforementioned show-stealing turn that the thirteen episodes comprising Season One made for compelling viewing, but had a little more attention been paid to making the supporting cast a more beneficial presence in the grand scheme of things, this could have been an indisputable masterpiece that few other shows of the list would have likely reckoned with.
3. The Flash Season Two
Coming off the back of a phenomenal first season was never going to be a simple task for The Flash this year, but to its credit, the show at least put up a credible effort to try and match its previous work, even if the final product didn’t quite stun most fans to the same extent as its predecessor. The early episodes of Season Two admittedly showed few signs of letting us down, with the introduction of Jay Garrick handled in a way that stayed remarkably true to the “Flash of Two Worlds” comic-book storyline and the various teases of Zoom alluded to by the first Earth-2 villains who made their way into the Arrow-verse more than enough to keep fans’ appetites sated until the antagonist in question made his initial fully-fledged appearance in Episode 6, the rather aptly-titled “Enter Zoom”.
It’s somewhat ironic, though, that in terms of the shortcomings the show could do with working on if it hopes to reclaim its spot on the superhero TV throne this autumn, its portrayal of its leading villain easily ranks as one of the most notable faults of Season Two. Whilst we saw plenty of Hunter Zolomon’s lightning-fast alter-ego over the course of the run, the writing team left the core reveal of his true identity and origins far too late on for it to feel like a satisfying moment for those fans who’d followed the run from Episode 1, not least as the explanation itself was just as contrived as the show’s reasoning for the paradox in Season One’s finale not causing even minor changes to Barry’s timeline. Throw in a few too many filler episodes – did we really need further encounters with Tar-Pit, Griffin Grey or Cisco’s irksome brother? – and a generally underwhelming plot arc that followed far too closely to that of Season One’s mentor-turned-adversary rug-pull for our liking, and it’s clear that like Jessica Jones, this once-almost flawless superhero drama now has a few kinks it’ll need to solve, although at the same time, by teasing the events of Flashpoint coming to pass on the small-screen along with the emergence of the ominous Black Flash, the breath-taking season finale – “The Race of His Life” – seemingly indicated that a complete return to form’s just around the corner!
2. Arrow Season Four
If you’d have told this writer last year that Arrow would almost entirely redeem its dire third season with a far more consistent fourth run which offered plenty of hope for the show’s future, then chances are this writer would have simply burst into an uncontrollable fits of laughter. That’s precisely what’s happened this time around, however; naturally, the show retained some of its flaws such as Marc Guggenheim’s over-excessive centralisation of the character of Felicity, not to mention the fantastical elements forced upon the series by its crossovers with The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow leading to some rather corny, far-fetched tales at times as well as its continually clichéd flashback sequences, but comparing Season Four to what came immediately before is, mercifully, like juxtaposing night and day.
Whereas Season Three’s villain, Ra’s al Ghul, left plenty to be desired, Season Four’s Damien Dahrk was portrayed with far more confidence and glorious malice by Neal McDonough – easily Stephen Amell’s finest foil since his Green Arrow fought Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson in Season Two’s past and present day segments alike – and whereas the former dragged out its League of Assassins storyline to tedious extents, the latter knew when to shift Olly’s attention to external forces aside from H.I.V.E. like the threats posed by the League and Vandal Savage so as to keep the show’s ongoing dynamic as fresh – and therefore as unpredictable – as possible throughout the run rather than letting stagnation set in as was the case last year. So long as Arrow can keep attempting to remedy those minor flaws mentioned above, then, there’s every chance that even 2016-17’s finest superhero TV contenders will struggle to match or indeed top its fifth season.
1. Daredevil Season Two
Yet whilst Arrow stands a chance of scaling the list to reach first place between September 2016 and next May, for now, that prestigious honour goes to the stellar sophomore season of Netflix and Marvel TV’s gritty, Hell’s Kitchen-set drama Daredevil. Featuring the debuts of iconic B-list heroes like the Punisher and Elektra, not to mention the unexpected returns of fan favourites like the Hand as well as the Kingpin of Crime himself, Wilson Fisk, Season Two rarely put a foot wrong over the course of its 13-episode run, even finding time to allow Matt, Karen, Foggy and Claire to head in different directions to Season One, directions which may well have a substantial impact on their arcs as characters heading into the crossover series The Defenders, Daredevil’s third series along with possibly Jessica Jones Season Two in the case of Mr. Nelson given that he’s signed up to work alongside none other than Jeri Hogarth’s legal firm going forward.
In an ideal world, perhaps the show’s scribes could have found ways to juggle their myriad plot arcs a little more efficiently, since – not unlike Zoom in The Flash – elements such as the Hand’s motives, the need for Elektra’s acceptance of her true destiny and eventual resurrection, Frank’s abrupt assumption of his Punisher mantle as well as his sudden decision to aid Matt in his final confrontation seemed somewhat pushed for time due to having to compete with other elements like the dissolution of Nelson and Murdock, the burgeoning romance between Page and Murdock and the like. Even so, though, the stunning performances offered by just about every player – especially Jon Bernthal, who essentially guaranteed Netflix’s commissioning of a Punisher spin-off from the moment he started giving his morally nuanced, powerfully subtle take on the character – as well as the stunning action – who could forget the one-shot staircase brawl, or Murdock’s explosive reunion with Fisk at the prison? – made for almost as gripping viewing as the masterful Season One, thereby ensuring that Daredevil still easily ranked as the year’s finest work of superhero TV.