The slate of DC properties that have made their small screen debuts has grown this season from the solitary Arrow to now include The Flash, Gotham and Constantine. DC has notoriously had problems with big screen adaptations, so how do their serialized adventures stack up?
Arrow is the wily veteran of the group as it enters its third season and the other shows to some degree, in particular The Flash, exist based on the success of Oliver Queen and company. When it started, Arrow very strongly resembled Batman Begins, but Oliver quickly racked up a HUGE body count and managed to find his stride and hit it well. While it does resemble Smallville at times, it also thrives on having a strong comic book feel and the inclusion of DC Universe favorites that fits well into the show. Characters like the Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Dark Archer, Black Canary, the Huntress and the promise of more to come is genuinely exciting. They’ve also managed to make the supernatural and superhero elements of the show seem plausible in the universe which is not an easy feat to accomplish. It also does a great job of using the dual timelines of the present and Queen’s past on the island to draw storylines out without making them feel stagnant. Sure, there are some aspects of the show I could do without, but overall, Arrow keeps me coming back and I’m always entertained with what they bring to the table.
I’m desperately trying to like Gotham. I mean, really trying. However, the show seems to be doing its best to make me dislike it. While Gordon, played aptly by Ben McKenzie, is likeable enough, everything else seems to be slapped together. Donal Logue is criminally under used as Bullock, a character who can’t seem to stick to a role and is constantly contradicting himself. Whether it’s his work ethic, his friendship with Gordon or even his overall mannerisms, he’s completely inconsistent. There’s Latin American actor David Zayas playing an Italian mob boss, a Scottish and extremely brusque Alfred, Barbra Gordon, Jim’s girlfriend who seems to be unable to find her pants and legendary Bat villains are pulled out far too often with very little to show for the effort. The shows ultimate downfall is Jada Pink-Smith’s character, Fish Mooney. Is that an accent she’s doing or is it just absurdly over the top acting? Why make her up if the plan was use nearly every established villain possible? Gotham seems to be doing okay in the ratings which is baffling but it does mean that it will at least finish the season out. Maybe they’ll use the time to iron out all the problems it has.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ seems to have been the model for bringing The Flash to share a universe with Arrow. With a pretty much copy and pasted episode and character model, Flash is unabashedly embracing the fact that it will have much of the same audience as Arrow and are giving that audience more of the same. The character dynamics and relationships are virtually identical and they also use the dual timeline to give back story to characters and give relevance to certain incidents in the present without trying to give you a ton of exposition. Unfortunately, without the ‘I was stranded for five years’ element, the need for flashbacks really is just visual chunks of exposition which sort of defeats the purpose. Since The Flash has struck far more of a CW vibe thus far, the best parts of the show have been the stinger scenes at the end of the episodes. It’s giving the show a much needed depth to a show that is still trying to find its footing the way big brother Arrow has.
Finally, Constantine was an incredibly interesting choice for NBC to adapt. Being about an exorcist master of the dark arts who fights demons every week, I was surprised the networks would go for the Vertigo property. That may well explain the bizarre double pilot that started the show off but I have really enjoyed it thus far. Constantine may follow the network TV formula a little too closely for my tastes but the show is buoyed by Matt Ryan’s stellar performance and his likeable sidekicks that have great back and forth with Ryan. While NBC seems to be staying on the safe side with this one, giving it only 13 episodes instead of the usual 22, it is a model that worked for other NBC hit Hannibal. Hopefully the network uses the success of Hannibal as a guideline for how to keep Constantine interesting and not on how to cancel it. I’m looking very forward to tuning in to this one in the future.
While Arrow has set itself apart as the better of the four shows, Constantine looks primed to challenge for that spot if NBC keep it on the air. Meanwhile, The Flash is still looking for something to set it apart and Gotham is floundering. I’m hoping that these successes and failures will help other networks see the potential and that will end up with more DC properties on the small screen.