John Ostrander: So How Was It For You?

Agents-of-SHIELD

by John Ostrander

We’re now well into the new TV season and there were a number on new shows to which I was looking forward as well as some returning ones. I’ve now seen at least one of each and have formed some opinions. Since that’s what this column is all about, off we go.

On the returning shows, let’s start with The Blacklist. I was wondering if it could maintain momentum but so far it has, anchored by James Spader’s mesmerizing performance as Raymond “Red” Reddington. Terrifically charming, utterly lethal, ready with a quip, a story, or a bullet, Spader gives a wonderful performance.

I also wondered about Castle and the “cliffhanger” with which they left last season. They aren’t explaining things right away, making what happened part of the overall mystery for this season. It’s working. It feels as if there’s new steam in the engine and I’m enjoying the ride.

Arrow remains a little sudsy for me. I mainly tune in to see if Amanda Waller shows up; no sightings so far but she’s mentioned a fair amount. They’ve made Green Arrow (here just called “Arrow”) very dark and grim ‘n’ gritty. It’s like it wants to be Batman, without having Batman.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a show I came to enjoy last season and it’s better this year. It’s throwing in some supervillains and characters known from the Marvel Universe and I look forward to it each week. There are some characters I would drop (buh-bye Sky) but it’s a good series.

On to the new shows. Let’s start with Gotham, the other non-Batman Batman show. I’ve long felt that the city is as important a character in the Batman mythos as any of the other characters but I don’t know if it works as the central character. It’s not helped by Ben McKenzie’s performance as Detective James Gordon. He plays everything stone faced and one note; he’s the only one who is like that in the show. Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot {the Penguin) is far more animated, almost over the top, and more fun to watch. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll be sticking with this show.

I was really looking forward to Constantine and, by and large, I’m pleased. It looks right, it sounds right, it keeps largely to the mythos in the comic book. My main caveat so far is that Matt Ryan’s John Constantine is a little too guilt ridden and tortured. He could use more snark and be a bit more of a bastard. It’s as if the show runners want to make sure that we like Constantine and find him sympathetic. They should take a look at Peter Capaldi’s Doctor on Doctor Who or, again, James Spader on The Blacklist. You don’t have to love them but it’s hard not to watch them.

And then there’s The Flash, my fave among the new shows. DC seems to be about gloom, doom, and grim in order to show howserious they are. The Flash is light, bright, has fun, and makes good use of the comic’s backstory and the Rogues Gallery while adding their own characters and adding new slants on so much. It makes everything feel fresh.

I like Grant Gustin as Barry Allen/The Flash. His Barry is younger than in the comics but I think that works to the series’ advantage. The character is learning how to use his new found ability – its limitations and applications. And he enjoys being The Fastest Man Alive and he wants to be a hero. That is also refreshing in this day and age of tortured, self-doubting characters.

He also has a good supporting cast and some are stand-outs. It’s a pleasure to see John Wesley Shipp (who played The Flash in the earlier TV version) cast as Barry’s Dad who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit: the murder of Barry’s mother. It’s a nice tip of the hat by the producers; they didn’t have to do it but they did and that’s classy, in my book. And Shipp does a good job.

The other stand-out in the supporting cast is Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West, father of Iris West, Barry’s great love and wife in the comics and here just a friend… so far. Martin has always been a good actor; I remember him especially on Law & Order where he was a favorite of mine among the cops, right behind Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth. Here he’s a mentor and father figure to young Barry. I hope they keep him around.

So – that’s my scorecard so far this season. I don’t know how they’re doing in the ratings but I hope most of them stick around. There will be more comics related shows a-coming on both the big screen and the little one until it exhausts the genre and maybe goes the way of the Western.

Or the vampire.


John Ostrander started his professional writing career as a playwright. He has written some of the most influential comic books of the past 25 years, including Batman, The Spectre, Suicide Squad, The Punisher, Star Wars, and GrimJack.