I watched “Smallville” for about five years, and I saw all 10 seasons and owned all the DVDs. Sure it had its creative struggles, and the CGI effects still took a while to catch up, but above all, it was a different time.
There were far fewer superhero films at the initial premiere of this series in the Fall 2001 TV season. Superman hadn’t been seen on the big screen since “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace,” and hadn’t been seen in a live action television project since “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
It could hold its own. The only other DC television project attempted was the 2002 flop “Birds of Prey,” also held back by its modest television budget. “Smallville” worked, and the WB (but mostly the CW) milked it the best it could. And who can forget the failed “Aquaman” (2006) and “Wonder Woman” (2011) pilots?
Fast forward to today—“Smallville” ended on a semi-satisfactory note. “Arrow” was the first successful spin-off series (most people don’t consider “Human Target,” a highly underrated 2 season DC show, a genuine comic book series). “Arrow” has now managed 3 seasons.
Marvel had mild success with 2001-2004’s “Mutant X” and Spike’s “Blade: The Series” (also highly underrated and sadly cut short) in 2006, but they had huge success with their films slate.
But everything changed when, in 2013, Marvel Studios tied their Marvel Cinematic Universe (read: “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”) to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” When that happened, television was now held to the same cinematic standards as its MCU’s predecessors. The events that occurred in the films had an impact on the storylines of the television series. Characters in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” could/would later be seen in the MCU, maybe even played by the same characters (Agent Coulson is the most obvious example). Nothing is considered expendable, and Marvel has proven themselves in meeting the challenge of such an undertaking.
Joining this ambitious storytelling slate on the small screen is “Agent Carter,” “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” and “The Defenders,” all playing by the same rules. The part that is most exciting for fans is that nothing that occurs in these series is expendable. We won’t watch the new “Daredevil” series and think “yeah that’s great, but I wish I could get a movie! I don’t care to watch this small screen actor. I doubt it’ll look any good on a small budget.” They picked big screen actors for the parts, so they can hold their own in the hypothetical future when Daredevil may stumble across Iron Man or (gods be praised) Black Widow on the big screen. In fact, it allows you to grow a genuine attachment to each series for those reasons alone. The potential, whether it’s marketing, storytelling, or fanboy geeking, is limitless.
Now let’s return to DC Comics. Right now, before any new shows air in the Fall 2014 season, they just have “Arrow.” Since Green Arrow only took a supporting role in “Smallville,” it didn’t take much to move above and beyond that to deliver on the character’s name.
However, DC Comics saw what Marvel is doing, and think they can imitate. And, as always, it’s a very hollow imitation.
“Gotham” is the big one people can genuinely look forward to. As it is a prequel, people are not concerned about continuity, but rather are intrigued by the possibilities of this loose interpretation. Everyone knows Gotham City. Everyone knows Commissioner Gordon, Batman, Catwoman, the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy. They don’t take this quite so seriously as to “where is it going to go?” They know where it will go. That’s why just tagging along for the ride is all that’s required of it.
However, on the other hand, we also have “The Flash,” “Constantine,” “iZombie,” “Supergirl,” “Teen Titans,” “Preacher,” “Lucifer” and others either ready to premiere this season or in very active, headline grabbing development (my, how aggressive).
But the world needs re-introduced to all of these. And if their success leads to feature films, they’re not held to using the same actors or even characters to try and wedge it into their “barely there” DCMU (DC Movie Universe…yeah, they call theirs a Universe too, when it’s just “Man of Steel” that qualifies for that label currently, until 2016).
This “Flash” series looks hammed up and B-level (special effects wise, how can they top “X-Men: Days of Future Past’s” 48fps Quicksilver?). “Constantine” looks cool, but unless Guillermo Del Toro commits to using the lead actor Matt Ryan in his “Justice League Dark” film, it will be second tier nonetheless (especially if they go R-Rated for film). “Supergirl” and “Teen Titans” have the same problems—they’re expendable if the characters’ futures are on the big screen…which is basically what the DCMU is trying to do by exponentially expanding their movie slate recently through to 2020. The DCMU will go on and ignore most things in their television projects (the showrunners like to call this “creative freedom”).
So why then should we bother to get attached to anything going on in these series when a better actor will take on the role on the big screen in just a couple years? (Seriously, how long do you think it will take Warner Bros. to pump a “Flash” film out of their corporate machine? 2017? 2018?) Or watch the exact same origin, villain, and romance storylines rehashed even better in a few years? Or even for some of the format’s problems to get fixed (think Constantine’s smoking, or the Flash’s limited small screen effects)? They make themselves almost instantaneously irrelevant and are causing themselves convolution from the get-go (executive: “okay, so this series ties into the DCMU, but this one doesn’t? You’re starting to confuse even me.”). And let’s not forget that as Marvel announces Charlie Cox, Adrian Pasdar, Kyle MacLachlan, Adrianne Palicki, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Scott Glenn for their small screen slate, DC has been announcing…*flies buzzing, crickets chirping* and yet they still announce them as some one-episode guest one-shot supervillain cameo nonetheless, as if it were news that these characters would appear in a small capacity in a forgettable role in an expendable television show. Trust me, I see one or two of these announcements from DC on Twitter per week. I roll my eyes. One such announcement: “Amanda Pays will reprise her “Flash” role as Dr. Tina McGee from the 1990s “Flash” television series!” I’m like “okay, so does that mean they just like her for the role, or are they trying to imply multi-generational superheroes like Nite Owl and Nite Owl II, or Silk Spectre and Silk Spectre II (nothing that smart, I’m sure)?” I feel nothing, I care very little. In the larger scheme of things, even the idea/premise isn’t very entertaining. It doesn’t grab itself as a marketing opportunity, or seem like there’s a larger scheme at work.
Yet when James D’Arcy was recently announced to be playing Edwin Jarvis in “Agent Carter,” my eyes lit up with wonder at the potential and possibilities: “Jarvis! The basis of Tony Stark’s digital butler! In the post-WWII MCU! How will D’Arcy portray that? What does he do to prove himself worthy as the basis of Tony’s (and presumably Howard Stark’s) robotic Jarvis? What does he contribute to the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D.? And how will this tie into “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” in May?”
Marvel Studios solved all of this with their first official series a year ago. DC Comics, you’re just now starting to bury yourself under yesterday’s creative troubles. And it’s already too late to fix it.