An Ode To the One Season Wonders, Cut Down Too Soon

Sometimes, we have shows with a planned arc, headed by showrunners that know when to quit, that don’t get cancelled, allowing for a good conclusion, à la Orphan Black. Sometimes, we have shows that overstay their welcome by a bit, but not a horrible amount, in the style of Scrubs. Sometimes, we have shows that drag on way past the point where they should have ended, like Supernatural. And unfortunately, we also have the shows that got cancelled before they could really live.

1. Selfie

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Also known as that brief, glorious time when Karen Gillan got to be funny, and #StarringJohnCho was real.

John Cho is great at being the straight man to a more obviously absurd costar – we saw it in the Harold and Kumar movies with Kal Penn, and we see it here, with Karen Gillan. It only made it to six episodes airing before cancellation, but luckily, we got to see the other seven. It involved gently mocking all types of people and relying on characters for humour, rather than jokes – in fact, it reminds me a fair amount of The Good Place, with a leaning more towards the romantic end of the comedy spectrum. After all, a selfish saleswoman learning to be a better, more considerate person from a nerdy man that she occasionally irritates and falls for? Which one are we talking about?

2. Powerless

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I was, admittedly, disappointed when I watched the first episode and learned they’d veered away from the idea of being about an insurance company in the world of DC to being a tech company instead. If I recall correctly, the reason given was that it would be beyond skeevy for Bruce Wayne to own and profit from an insurance company. As true as that is, it could have easily been solved by having Bruce not own the company. Nothing else would have even needed to change!

That being said, a show set in the fictional equivalent of Cleveland, where people get annoyed at superheroes and supervillains delaying their morning commute and where dating a henchman is like dating a bass player? Comedy gold.

3. Bunheads

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Okay, I know what this looks like, but I swear that I’m not just saying that because it has Emma Dumont in it. Partially, sure. But not entirely.

I could never get into Gilmore Girls. But this, by the same showrunner, is funny, sweet, enjoyable – and actually, probably even better for having one season than it would have been with more. It’s a little specific, revolving around a dance studio, and for me, at least, it’s a bit heavy on things that happen just for the sake of plot convenience, but it’s good enough that I’m willing to forgive it for the stretch of disbelief.

Plus, you know, Emma Dumont.

4. Birds of Prey

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Ah, 2002. The days before Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and Iron Man. Hell, this was even before X2 came out. Unlike today, when superhero movies and shows seem to be coming out every few months, in 2002, Smallville was it. Everyone’s superhero needs could only be satisfied with that or good, old fashioned comic books. Which was why I find the fact that this show got cancelled a travesty.

Barbara Gordon as Oracle! Helena Wayne existing at all! Harley Quinn as Helena’s therapist! Birds of Prey did “a Batman show without Batman” over a decade before Gotham did, and while it may have been several steps in the direction of cheesy, it was charmingly so.

This was, unless I’m very much mistaken, the first female led superhero series since Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. More than that – it wasn’t just the lead character that was a woman, it was other costars and the villain as well, not to mention many of the characters showing up in just a couple of the episodes. Alas, 2002 might have been too soon. The world wasn’t ready for that level of glory.


These four are only a handful of the excellent shows that got one season before cancellation. Goodbye to them, and all the others, including the ones yet to be cancelled. We’ll miss you!

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The United States and Mass Shootings

For years now, The Onion has published the same article every single time there’s a mass shooting. The only change they make is the place and time where it happened. Because it’s always the same story. People die, Republican politicians say there’s nothing to do prevent it, we hear that it’s too soon to politicize it! And then the cycle starts again.

Somewhere along the line, we decided that we don’t care. Not about people going to church, not about people that just wanted to enjoy a night out at a club, not about elementary school children. For some people, the ones that aren’t in public office, it’s out of desensitization. That’s understandable. It’s exhausting. After all, how many times can someone scream and yell at a Congress that won’t do anything to act before all the shootings start to blur together? Before the countless deaths turn from tragedies to statistics? But for the politicians that have accepted blood money from the NRA, it’s not because they’re desensitized to anything. It’s because they honestly don’t care about the people they’re supposed to be representing. They’re actually willing to trade the live of children for campaign contributions.

This is a country that banned Kinder Surprises because they have small parts and someone might choke on the small parts. After 9/11, the reaction was to ban liquids and scissors, stop letting people without tickets through to the gate, and check people’s baggage. But shootings? Nah, gun rights are more important than lives. The families can have thoughts and prayers, of course, but concrete action? Anything to stop something like this from happening again? Of course not. The victims aren’t worth that much.

Every time, it gets blamed on mental health, because it’s easy. Because it’s convenient. As if they’ve ever cared about mental health and the lack of access to health care for the mentally ill at any time other than immediately after a shooting. As if the mentally ill aren’t more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators. This country has a gun problem that we refuse to face. This is exhausting. How many more people have to die before Congress decides that enough is enough? How many more tragedies do we have to face? Human life has got to be worth more than money from gun lobbyists.

It brings to mind the old joke about a drowning man that refused all help because he’d prayed to God to save him. Upon drowning, he demanded to know why God hadn’t helped him. God responded by saying that he’d sent him two boats, but he hadn’t gotten in. Actions have power. This country doesn’t need anyone’s thoughts and prayers to solve its gun problem. It needs Congress to actually do something about it.

 

Deathstroke as a Nightwing Villain

Arrow is often ridiculed – and rightly so – for trying to co-opt the Batman mythos and trying to make it fit with Green Arrow. This includes using characters and concepts primarily associated with Batman, like Helena Bertinelli and the al Ghuls; giving the lead character Bruce’s dark, brooding, obsessive personality that lightens up around his family; and so on.

It doesn’t work. That’s because every comics fan knows that these concepts are tied to Batman and that the show twisted Green Arrow’s characterization beyond recognition because they weren’t actually interested in making a Green Arrow show. But what happens when a villain that debuts as one for the marginally less well known heroes becomes hugely popular?

Deathstroke started off as a Teen Titans villain. More specifically, there was a period of time when he was regarded as the first Robin’s nemesis. I find this fascinating, because of just how great a character he is. Usually, the characters known for being sidekicks don’t get the best villains. They basically get a subset of their mentor’s or, when they eventually strike out on their own, less iconic ones. Dick Grayson is an exception to that.

Dick was the first sidekick, and a trailblazer in terms of the sidekicks getting to graduate and move on to being their own characters. He’s just as central a character to the Batman mythos as Batman himself. He’s led the Justice League. He’s been Batman. He has his own city that he protects. He has his own Rogues Gallery. Despite all of that, though, he’s still perceived as a Batman sidekick, rather than his own character.

Despite the fact that he hasn’t been Robin in the comics since the 80s, both the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons depicted him as such, even if season two of Young Justice had him as Nightwing. The upcoming Titans live-action TV show is going to do that as well. He hasn’t been a sidekick in decades to comics fans, but as popular as he is as Nightwing, as much as he can be considered one of the A-List, adaptations keep reverting him to his younger self, the hero primarily known as Batman’s sidekick.

The DC Extended Universe is going to be making a Nightwing movie, which is huge. This is a movie that’s been anticipated by an enormous number of people for years. But it does raise the question of how Deathstroke – a character that’s already been cast and already appeared – will be used.

We don’t know much about the future interpretation of Slade Wilson yet. What we do know is that he’s in contact with Lex Luthor and has been invited to join the Injustice League; he was cast for the Batman solo, a movie for which we know nothing about, back when Ben Affleck was still signed onto directing it and before the Nightwing movie was announced; and he’s played by Joe Manganiello.

All of it suggests to me that the plans are to adapt Deathstroke as a Batman villain, probably without Nightwing costarring, even if he does appear. To an extent, I understand why: Batman has been adapted a lot. He and Superman have had the most adaptations of any comic book characters, and just about all of his best villains have been seen already. Deathstroke hasn’t been. It would be a fresh change. But Arrow used Batman villains because they couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort to building up the Green Arrow mythos and making villains iconic that creators have already done for Batman. They wanted to skip to the end. There’s no need to do that with Batman, because his villains are already iconic. A fresh take on one that’s already been used would be better than taking the lazy route and using someone else’s.

While I certainly think that using Deathstroke could be done well, I’ll be very much disappointed if it occurs without Nightwing. If Slade is the primary villain of the Batsolo, it’ll be insulting to the character’s long history for Nightwing to not be included. For all that Dick is a hugely popular character, he’s not a Batman level cultural icon. Robin is, but not Dick himself. Not to the general public. The DCEU could put him on that level, but that won’t happen unless he actually gets to face off against great villains. A good writer can certainly make a villain like Blockbuster or Tarantula memorable and awesome. But taking Slade off the table for the Nightwing movie while using him for a different movie will be tying one hand behind the writer’s back and making it clear that they’re not the priority – that Batman media will always take precedence over Nightwing, even if it means co-opting his best villains.  If that happens, the people behind the DC movies will be saying clearly that to them, Nightwing is just a second stringer and always will be, and to me, the message behind that will be that they don’t actually care about developing new and interesting films. They’ll be content to make and remake the same Batman stories for an eternity.

The Jubilee Problem in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

It’s been a year and a half, and I’m kind of still bitter of the way Apocalypse handled  Jubilee. Not even because she was basically a glorified extra, but because of the sheer exploitativeness of it all. No one would have had any objections to Jubilee not being in Apocalypse. She was in the original trilogy, however briefly. She’s always been a part of the younger generation. She should be a contemporary of Kitty, not of Scott. She’s one of the older X-Men’s students and future teammate, not their peer. There is plenty of canonical basis for her not being around yet. No one would have expected her or been upset that she wasn’t included. But she was.

She was brought into Apocalypse, which also could have been fine if handled properly. But it wasn’t. They brought in Lana Condor, who was very excited about the role, and advertised the hell out of her to get other people excited, too. To an extent, that’s how the film industry works. But it also felt tasteless to exploit a group’s thirst for representation so blatantly. She didn’t have a big role. She was in the movie for a few minutes before being left behind, without even using her powers once. That didn’t stop the studio from promoting her as if  she were a main character.

There’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to the concept of advertising a character that doesn’t end up appearing much. Most of the time, though, that happens because said character is played by a popular actor, or, in the case of comics/their adaptations, are themselves a popular character. In Apocalypse, it wasn’t either of those. Jubilee was Lana Condor’s first role, and while she’s a well known and reasonably well liked character, she’s not really one of the A-List. In fact, opinions of her tend to be highly polarized. She was essentially the attempt at creating a Kitty Pryde of the 90s, and Kitty Pryde is one of the most popular X-Men. So the advertising in the film? That was pretty clearly an attempt at capitalizing on the lack of and desire for Asian representation.

I personally can’t say I really care about Jubilee one way or the other. For a variety of reasons, she’s never really resonated with me. But she’s an Asian female character in a film universe dominated by white people. She’s a character a lot of people have grown up with. She’s a character that a lot of people were excited to see. The X-Men film franchise has a diversity problem despite being about diversity. The Gifted has handled said issue much more competently, and the contrast is painfully clear. Diversity is more than just black and white. We can’t keep having X-Men movies with an all white cast except for one token black character. It’s time to move past that and actually embrace the spirit of what the X-Men have represented for decades: diversity and civil rights.

Villainy in ‘Batman v Superman’

No other superhero movie can hold a candle to Batman v Superman for me, and a major part of that is because of how great a villain this interpretation of Lex Luthor is.

Lex is a very well developed villain. He’s spectacularly intelligent, enough to manipulate both Clark and Bruce into doing exactly what he wanted them to do. Lois is a brilliant journalist, and she had both the intelligence and the connections she needed to fit the pieces together, but she only had the pieces she needed out of pure luck – a bullet lodged in her notebook giving her something to go after. Lex’s plans were effective enough that even after Lois figured it out and intervened in the fight, after Clark and Bruce joined forces, after Bruce rescued Martha, he still got what he wanted in that Doomsday killed Superman.

What’s even better about this interpretation of the character? Lex drives the plot. He’s undeniably the villain. But what tips him over the edge into being a great villain rather than just a good one is that throughout the movie, he forces the characters to develop through the way he influences the others that exist in the universe. He pushes others to become villains.

Lex represents all of humanity’s worst instincts. He brought out the worst in Bruce, in random citizens – the xenophobia, the hatred, the cruelty. He manipulated Wally and used his anger at Superman to push him into going to the Senate hearing. His own hatred of Clark doesn’t stem from fear of the unknown at all. It isn’t due to ignorance or stupidity, it’s about him wanting to demonstrate power and inspire fear. It’s about him hating not being the most powerful person in the room.

He brought out the bad within us, and gave Clark a chance to demonstrate the best – Clark still saved Lex’s life even after Lex kidnapped his mother, shoved his girlfriend off a roof, and tried to make him a murderer. Clark tried to negotiate with Bruce rather than fight, despite the fact that he thought Bruce was a killer and had no reason to believe in his goodness. So much of the movie was devoted to breaking Clark down: the angry mobs telling him to go home, news reports accusing him of being a murderer, the Senate holding a hearing about him, Batman physically beating up. But even after all that, he still had enough faith in people to think that reason might work, that Bruce would help him save his mother. Clark is the single most heroic character in the movie.

Lex failed in large part by underestimating the women. He knew that Martha and Lois were important to Clark, but he couldn’t grasp just what that meant. He was so caught up in his refusal to see Clark as human, he never thought that Lois could love him enough to put herself between him and the maniac with a spear that was trying to kill him. He never considered Bruce loved his mother so much, was so traumatized by her death, that her name would help him forge a connection with the alien he hadn’t seen as a person. He never thought that Bruce and Clark would both have enough decency to stop fighting and work together. Lex understood human hate and human fear. He didn’t understand human love or compassion or mercy. The concept of heroism is one that he couldn’t grasp.

Lex is a scary villain because his plans didn’t fall apart due to holding the idiot ball, or because he wasted time to gloat or explain every aspect of his plan. He’s terrifyingly reminiscent of people we see in the real world, of leaders of hate groups. His plans failed – loosely, as I said before, his actions still resulted in the death of Superman – in arguably the most optimistic way possible. He was ultimately wrong about human nature. After an entire movie of bringing out the worst in people, those people proved him wrong when they decided to be better. He manages to be a terrifying villain and win while at the same time, helping demonstrate a hopeful message about good triumphing over evil. Now that is quality writing.

The Masterful Use Of Black Comedy In ‘Gotham’

Gotham has had a lot of high points and low points. I remember being hugely excited by the trailer and announcement. It was a great trailer – the story of how Gotham became Gotham, how it came to be a place that needs the Batman. I was watching it again the other day, and even now, three years later, knowing what the show became, I still love it.

They sold Gotham as a crime drama. It was dark, it was intense, it was exciting. David Mazouz looked, even then, as the perfect casting for a young Bruce. What they sold us isn’t what we got at all.

adore young Bruce and Selina. I think they’re some of the best parts of the show, and that they were fantastic casting choices. But as much as I love them, as much as I’ve always enjoyed their scenes, I have to also acknowledge that they kind of took over the show from the very beginning. The entire premise of the show was Gotham before Batman. And I was here for that in principle, but the point they picked as the start of darkness was the murder of the Waynes. By doing that, they had to involve Bruce, and whoever cast him did such a good job, it would have been an enormous waste to not use him in other plots.

The best way to actually do the Gotham before Batman and the villains would have probably been to focus on the crime families and how they created a world where masked vigilantes and themed supervillains roam the night, or maybe even Bruce’s parents. Maroni’s death way back in season one challenged that notion because he wasn’t supposed to die. He’s a staple of the Batman mythos, and he’s one of the few characters that has actually remained dead. (I think, it’s getting hard to keep track.) That death was the beginning of Gotham finding its footing as its own show, of the writers deciding that they didn’t care about the generally accepted canon.

Gotham took a while to figure out what it wanted to be. I remember loving the pilot, but being a bit let down by the next couple of episodes, because those were the days when it was a cop show, the days when it was trying to be the gritty drama the audience signed on to watch. Now? The show has almost moved past that initial question of what kind of city needs Batman, but I think it  handled the concept very well, just in probably a very different way than the audience initially expected – they crafted a world so absurdly dark that someone dressing up as a bat to go fight crime dooesn’t sound weird at all. In fact, it’s probably the least weird thing that’s happened. It’s glorious.

I used to be confused at how any of the timeline made sense – almost all the villains were full grown adults at the beginning while Bruce was still a child. What, was he going to be fighting senior citizens when he became Batman? By the time Dick becomes Nightwing in this universe, the villains should all be in retirement homes! But once I let that go, and stopped trying to apply logic to it, it became amazing, because Gotham is at its best when it’s so absurdly dark it becomes hilarious. It became a thousand times better once it gave up on plot in favour of the absurd. Like the ridiculousness of Oswald and Ed’s relationship. Nothing is funnier to me than the newfound Penguin and Riddler animosity. Oswald killed Ed’s girlfriend. Ed shoots Oswald. Oswald retaliates by freezing him and making him the centrepiece in his nightclub. Ed sends random people to rap terrible riddles at Oswald. Somewhere in there, the two of them bickered while locked up in a cage together.

Gotham is one of those rare, beautiful works that I can just enjoy. It’s kinda dumb and over the top. There are story choices that I don’t necessarily enjoy. There are characters that I’m not fond of. But it’s silly and enjoyable, while at the same time having some devastatingly powerful scenes. It’s beautiful nonsense that can’t be viewed logically. At one pooint, a mobster kills the former mayor with a rocket launcher. As this post puts it:

After a rocky first season, Gotham has become more entertaining by its sheer audacity and silliness, as well as its refusal to give a damn about Bat-canon. the stories have seemed random, characters and plot are introduced and then abandoned at a dizzying rates, anything can happen and anything can un-happen.

I don’t think the show handles women well. Partially because of how many of them die, but more due to the employment of sexist tropes. Tabitha and Ivy are especially poorly handled. Tabitha barely got to do anything until Selina, who apparently needs mentors now, teamed up with her. They replaced the original Ivy actress so that they could sexualize her, except her mind was still clearly that of a little girl. What was the point? It was disgusting. If they really felt the need to employ her “seductive personality from the comics” so badly, why couldn’t they just introduce Ivy Pepper’s older cousin, Pamela Isley? That would solve two problems at once!

I love Gotham and its black comedy. I grin like an idiot whenever I watch a new episode. It is so close to being fantastic, it just needs to treat its female characters better. As it is, they’ve mastered dark, absurdist humour and crafted a beautifully unique and watchable show.

Let The Love Triangle Be Resolved Through Friendship

I don’t like love triangles, but if one exists, friendship will always be my favourite way of resolving it.

It happens frequently in comics/related media with my favourite hero: Nightwing, AKA Dick Grayson. He joked in the tie in comics for the Young Justice cartoon that his superpower is remaining friends with all his exes, and that’s something that has been consistently true throughout DC. He  remained friends with both Starfire and Batgirl after their relationships ended.

What’s unique about comics is that it is very rare for any character to only exist for one purpose. Comics are written by multiple people, so while there might be some characters that only appear in passing in one title, almost inevitably, they’ll be elaborated on by a different writer. There are very few characters without at least someone that likes them getting a chance to write something they’re in. That’s great for readers, because it means that even if a character is poorly written and has their entire personality/story arc revolving around a love interest 99 percent of the time, the remaining 1 percent of the time, they won’t be. That’s very much the case for Kory and Babs.

Koriand’r and Barbara have been Dick’s primary love interests for decades, but they don’t compete with each other for his affection. They’re fully fleshed out characters outside of their relationships with him. They’ve both had their own titles, however shortlived. They’ve had their own stories. I don’t know if they themselves are friends – I don’t think I’ve read anything featuring the both of them together – but they certainly aren’t rivals.

That Young Justice tie in comic I mentioned, Rocket and Zatanna were both interested in him, but they were absolutely friends with no jealousy over him. In the Doctor Who reboot, we had Rose and Martha both in love with the Doctor. When they met, though, after a slightly shaky start, they were friendly and complimentary to each other. This is a startlingly rare occurence. Oftentimes what happens is the odd one out gets a  different love interest, and the friendship occurs after. In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Annabeth and Rachel didn’t become friends – or even friendly – until Rachel agreed to become the Oracle, thus elimating the possibility of her dating anyone. In Scrubs, while the rivalry was mostly played for laughs, J.D. and Sean, as well as Elliot and Kim, didn’t become friends until Sean and Kim started dating in a classic case of Pair the Spares. The two competitors becoming friends before one or both of them is removed from the competition? Much rarer.

When it comes down to it, I don’t like love triangles, so my favourite method of resolution is bound to be the one where said triangle is unobtrusive, where it can be mistaken for consecutive rather than concurrent love interests, where you can argue that it’s not even a triangle so much as just a character having multiple love interests or multiple characters being interested in the same one.

Part One
Part Two