Television Tuesday :: some superhero et al television positivity

10 Feb

So.  I’m not… in the greatest mood as far as superhero et al media tonight.  Other people are being much more coherently pissed off than me, so I won’t bother doing that thing.  Instead, I am inviting my drift partner to write about important and positive superhero television.  Which… basically amounts to important points about both the imperfect but also important Marvel shows and a list about Flash, which I personally do not watch yet but am hypothetically enchanted by.

First, a word about Agent Carter, specifically its women. There have been articles upon articles written about Peggy (Hayley Atwell) herself, and of course she’s a great character who really does deserve her own series. She’s clever and brave and strong in many ways, but she’s also sort of rash sometimes and she’s stubborn and she shuts people out when she should be opening up to them. She’s a complex character and I’m very glad of her existence. But people aren’t really talking too much about Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), so I’m going to. Angie is a character that’s important because she is there to be sort of a contrast to Peggy – she’s almost too open with her emotions and in how she reacts to Peggy pushing her away (for her own good, of course, but Angie doesn’t know that), and while Peggy’s sort of adrift at the beginning of the series, Angie knows exactly what she wants to do. While Peggy’s sort of brusque and defaults to violence to get results, Angie, as we saw in tonight’s episode, has figured out how to make herself likeable and vulnerable in order to get results. Compared to Peggy, she doesn’t have much in the way of physical skills, but she knows how to take care of herself, mostly. And the relationship between her and Peggy is refreshing, because even though Angie doesn’t always understand why Peggy is secretive around her, she still tries to engage with her and protects her when she can (as we saw tonight).

Also, Dottie (Bridget Regan). Dottie is shaping up to be an incredible antagonist and I’m sorry we only get a few more episodes of her, because I want to see so much more. I saw this post earlier that sums up what a great parallel she is to Peggy, and I don’t really know what else to say except Bridget Regan should probably always play terrifying evil assassins. (Her role in Legend of the Seeker was, as I understand, not dissimilar, although not explicitly evil.)

Now I want to talk about Skye (Chloe Bennet) a bit. Personally, I loved her loudly and aggressively from day one, but I know that for a long time the majority of reviewers and a good chunk of the fandom found her obnoxious and grating. Which is why it’s been so gratifying to me to watch her develop from the new kid on the team who was, admittedly, perhaps a little superfluous, into one of the central characters and the first superpowered woman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And along with that, watching Chloe Bennet give what I think is one of the best performances on the show, managing to portray Skye’s wariness and sarcasm along with her kindness and courage and fear of disappointing the people she’s come to think of as family. Did I mention she’s canonically mixed-race? She is. Now, being half-Chinese myself, I had a bit of a personal stake in this, but ever since I found out Chloe Bennet is half-Chinese I was desperately hoping that the show would write that into Skye’s backstory too. Skye (and Chloe) can pass for white, but the show deliberately cast an Asian woman as her mother and had her father say “Your mother was Chinese,” just in case viewers needed that anvil. The Marvel Universe has never been especially good at racial diversity and even less good at female characters of color, but Skye exists, and that’s a big deal.

Now, shifting gears a bit to a different universe, DC also has shows on television! Arrow is…a show…that exists. Quite frankly, after the season 3 opener where a character was unnecessarily killed for shock value, I have no desire to watch any further, but I hear that Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) is kicking all kinds of ass as Black Canary 2.0, so if that’s something you’re into, be my guest. On to more positive things, The Flash is a weird anomaly of a show that I was totally surprised and delighted by. I’m not at all a fan of any particular Flash incarnation, though I did like the Justice League take on Wally. I expected it to be something that, like Arrow, I would tune into out of obligation and just faze out of my life eventually. But it ended up being one of the shows I most look forward to every week. If you’re not watching it, and you like TV shows that are fun and kinda dorky, you’re missing out.

Here are five reasons you should be watching The Flash!

1.  Team Flash is really, honestly fun to watch bounce off of each other. There’s Barry Allen himself (Grant Gustin), who I’ll talk more about in a minute because I love him more than I ever expected to, and his apparently wise and good-hearted mentor, Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), who is almost definitely more sinister than he seems, but plays the role of benevolent lab director well. There’s Cisco (Carlos Valdes), human puppy, who gives all of the superhumans silly nicknames like “Captain Cold,” and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), resident bio-engineer and den mother. Basically watching Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin together is like watching adorable puppies frolic in a ballpit. Team Flash does their best to keep Barry safe, even when he does dumb things or they’re fighting, and they congeal really well as a group (better, IMO, than Team Arrow, which mostly consists of people who sort of tolerate Oliver Queen because they’re paid to and/or are boning him). But more than that, the camaraderie between them feels genuine. I believe that all of these people (well, not Wells, but the other three) are really interested in doing what’s best and keeping people safe, and also are actually friends with each other. (Also, this isn’t really relevant, but I need Cisco and Caitlin to kiss like yesterday.)

2.  Iris West (Candice Patton) is, quite frankly, a gift to television. Iris is Barry’s Designated Love Interest, but she is so much more than that. First of all, Iris is black – she has been racebent specifically for this show. The sad truth of the matter is that black women are rarely cast as love interests for white men, even more rarely for white superheroes, so Iris’ casting is important on that front. But also, Iris acts as the Lois Lane to Barry’s Superman, becoming fixated on the strange happenings around Central City and deciding, as an aspiring journalist, to get to the bottom of it. Iris West is no fool – she’s not going to let being laughed off by her bosses stop her. She’s met the Flash and talked to him, she knows he’s real! The writing has not always served Iris well, but when it does, she shines. Her budding relationship with with Barry is sweet, built on a lifetime of friendship, shared trauma, and mutual admiration – though fraught with misunderstandings, bad timing, and CW-style drama as per superhero comics. We the audience know they will be together, eventually, but Iris West is so much more than a superhero’s girlfriend.

3.  Speaking of the Wests, the relationship between Barry and Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), both Iris’ father and Barry’s surrogate father, is one of the most touching aspects of the show. When Barry was a child, his mother was murdered and his father suspected and convicted of the crime, so Barry went to live with the Wests and Joe raised him alongside Iris. Joe West is a detective with the Central City Police, and Barry’s boss (Barry works as a forensic assistant), so he figures out pretty quick that Barry is keeping something from him. After he finds out that Barry is the Flash, Joe does his best to help Barry cover up his identity as much as possible, to the point that he has deliberately done his job poorly to give Barry some cover. He and Barry often have adorable father-son talks as well, and in one episode, Barry tells him that even though he misses his biological father and wishes he was out of jail, he thinks of Joe as his dad because Joe is the one who has been there for him for the past fifteen or so years. At the moment, Barry’s moved back in with Joe, and they’ve got a charming bro-ish rapport. Even when Joe is frustrated with Barry, or Barry lashes out at Joe, it’s obvious that they’re family and that they love each other.

4.  Now I want to talk about Barry himself. Parts of Barry Allen’s personality have sort of been lifted from Wally West, another Flash (who we may or may not see at some point on the show, since he’s Iris’ nephew), because honestly comics Barry is less interesting. On the show, Barry Allen is a cocky, but sweet and good-hearted guy. He wants very badly to do what’s right, and bring bad people to justice, and keep as many people safe as he can. He sometimes makes rash decisions and doesn’t listen to advice that he should have taken, but he is always trying to do the right thing. He is also a ridiculous romantic and has been head-over-heels in love with Iris West since they were kids, but he has never at any point been resentful of her for not loving him back, or for getting a boyfriend while he spent nine months in a coma. There is no sniff of Nice Guy about Barry Allen, and it’s a relief. He isn’t especially tortured or mopey, like his fellow hero Oliver Queen, but he’s serious when it calls for it and he does have legitimate emotional pain stemming from the tragedy of his mother’s death. Barry Allen is that rare male character that I genuinely enjoy as a person, root for, and feel protective of. He sometimes fucks up, but he fucks up in a way that I can relate to, and he owns his mistakes. That’s refreshing.

5.  This is just a really, really fun show. DC has this problem where they seem to think that going darker and edgier is a legitimate approach to every superhero in their catalogue, and…no, no it’s not. It works with Batman, sometimes, but it doesn’t work with Superman and it just makes Green Arrow into a bleak, joyless character. And yet, somehow, someone said “let’s make the Flash TV show doofy and fun!” And it works so well. This show completely owns the silliness of its concept, right down to Cisco’s insistence on codenames for every superhuman they encounter, and the overly hammy performance of pretty much every villain character (Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold is my personal favorite). Just last week there was a scene where Barry and Caitlin go to a bar to swap lovelife woes and end up singing karaoke! Why? Because it’s fun. Because this show knows how to be just as entertaining as it is poignant. It’s hit a really good balance between the silly and the serious, I think, because the emotional beats (usually) feel genuine but I’m always smiling by the end of the episode. And there’s always a corny voiceover bookending the episode, to leave the viewer with Barry’s (or sometimes Iris’) final thoughts. It’s a charming, fun-loving show that’s somehow managed to escape the dark shadow currently cast over the DC Universe, and I’m so very glad of it.



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