Cast: Victor Garber, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, Caity Lotz, Franz Drameh, Ciara Renée, Falk Hentschel, Amy Pemberton, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Phil Klemmer, Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Chris Fedak, Sarah Nicole Jones, Beth Schwartz, Grainne Godfree, Ray Utarnachitt, Anderson MacKenzie, Cortney Norris, Matthew Malaa
Directors: Glen Winter, Dermott Downs, Antonio Negret, Steve Shill, Gregory Smith, Joe Dante, John F. Showalter, David Geddes, Thor Freudenthal, Rachel Talalay, Alice Troughton, Olatunde Osunsanmi
First there was Arrow. Then there was The Flash. Then there was Vixen. Now it seems The CW has gotten very ballsy with its DC Comics-related programming by creating a time-travel anthology show with all the B and C-list characters they could gather from Wikipedia. Some could interpret this as the network biting off a bit more than it can chew. Others could see it as a more positive alternative to the dark and depressing tone of the DC movie universe portrayed in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. In the end, what we end up with is a show fighting against itself.
The basic concept is that Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), a time traveller from the future, gathers a team of heroes and villains from 2016 to stop immortal dictator Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) from taking over the world and killing his family. While this seems like enough to be getting on with, the plot gets far more complicated than it ever needs to, with an assortment of groups and mercenaries with dismal character development determined to get in their way. Add the constant unmotivated double-crossing and the weird love square that the show seems to think viewers will care about, and you’ll forget all about the time travel elements of the show that actually make no sense.
There are, of course, an abundance of positive elements in the show. While Crump is inconsistent as the villain, the rest of the cast are incredible. You’d honestly think this was a Martin Scorsese film with the amount of effort they’re putting in. Caity Lotz and Wentworth Miller are particular highlights, both separately, just as they did when they appeared on Arrow and The Flash respectively, and together, with terrific chemistry between them. Another highlight is Franz Drameh, a relative newcomer in comparison to the rest of the cast, who has gone from strength to strength as the season went on, an advantage of having him paired up with Victor Garber on a regular basis. It’s worth pointing out also that the show isn’t even trying to hide the irony of casting Arthur Darvill as a time-traveller, albeit a more confident one.
Unfortunately, the acting has to do the heavy lifting on this show quite a lot. The realities of network television mean that it’s impossible to make 16 hour-long episodes of pure spectacle. In fact, before the show was renewed for another season, there were rumours it would be cancelled simply because it cost too much. You can see why people would think this, as the show regularly decides to have bottle episodes peppered amongst the bigger event episodes, and spends far more time in the past than the future where CGI would play a bigger role. Budget issues even affect the characters themselves. In several episodes, Firestorm doesn’t burn, the Atom doesn’t shrink, Hawkgirl doesn’t fly, and the show doesn’t even try to offer a reason why. You’re just meant to accept it. This becomes a little bit difficult when their abilities could be so useful in so many scenarios.
Of course, you’d figure one of the most important elements in a time-travel show would be the time-travel itself. By the end of the season, you’d really wish it wasn’t. The rules explained by Rip only become more and more convoluted as it goes on. The show will start saying time is set, then it isn’t, then it is again. The team have to keep going further back into the past, then decide to screw the rules and go forward again, then go back, and forward again. And, this needs to be pointed out, because the show really doesn’t seem to get it, reincarnating characters don’t die, especially in a time-travel show. It could be argued that you shouldn’t pay attention to it and just enjoy the show, but it dedicates so much time to explaining itself through technobabble that you basically have to.
A good note to make about this show is its investment in its own universe. The entire cast is pulled from Arrow and The Flash, save for Darvill, so it would have been difficult not to reference the shows they came from. However, the events of this season are shown to have great consequences for the characters of the other two shows, to the point of a dystopian future being created simply because they decided to go time-travelling, not by any direct action. Characters from both shows pop up all over the series, and it feels like they serve a purpose, rather than showing up for the sake of a cheap cameo. The best episode of Arrow in two years is in this show. Just think about that.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about this show. The cast is brilliant, and seeing the different time periods of a universe we’d seen for three years by the time this show started is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, it also has so many problems that really need to be ironed out by the time the next season rolls around. But for now, it gets a pass. Why? Because it’s just so fun, and these days it’s refreshing to have a TV show that’s fun.
Rating: 3/5 reincarnated Carters