It's time to stop bashing the DC TV shows on the CW Network. Seriously.
Four years ago The CW catapulted DC Comics right back into the live action television game with Arrow, a gritty Christopher Nolan-like take on Oliver Queen and his quest to clean up Star City. It earned immense praise and was quickly considered one of the best shows on television.
Fast forward to now and it's not just Arrow, but rather "The Arrow-verse" on CW, with The Flash spinning off from it in 2014 and Legends of Tomorrow spinning off from both shows last year. Now with the addition of Supergirl freshly traded from CBS, the DCCW Universe is four shows and eight full seasons deep, with each show playing out its current season this year.
But that immense praise that Arrow enjoyed for its first two seasons is gone now, replaced with at best, an argument about the DC shows on The CW Network. After Seasons 3 and 4 of Arrow featured a number of creative decisions that seemingly split the fanbase in two, we find ourselves in a position where there are many of us who still thoroughly enjoy the CW shows and those of us who thoroughly don't for a variety of reasons. Now that's par for the course with just about anything, especially when it comes to TV and film, but right after Thanksgiving the DCCW had its first week-long mega crossover saga between all four of its shows, followed by a week of incredibly loaded mid-season finales that led to a mid-Winter break which saw all four shows renewed for new seasons next fall.
Which all begs the question: Isn't it time to give this DC universe on The CW more credit for what it does?
Judging by social media alone, The CW Network as a whole is one that is almost too easily panned. Cheesy, sappy, boring, lazy and cheap are just a few of the words detractors use to describe the network and the shows it carries, including the DC adaptations. If you dig deeper into these complaints though, you find that a lot of people don't like the DCCW for a few basic reasons:
1 - It doesn't follow the comics.
2 - The visual effects are not as good as the movies.
3 - It's too safe.
Let's get the first reason out of the way. TV shows are TV shows for a reason. They are a live action visual medium with moving pictures of real actors, sets and effects. They are not comic books. Those are illustrated drawings that while visual, are read usually in individual issues that come out on a bi-weekly to monthly basis mostly. The only thing that a TV show would have in common with a comic book is the characters, and in both mediums those characters have been modified and adapted to suit either medium and the story more effectively.
In other words, TV shows shouldn't blindly follow the comics. Ever. In Everdom. If you want a completely accurate portrayal of Flashpoint written by Geoff Johns then you should read the book itself. The Flash on The CW is not obligated to do that exact same story for you on television, nor are any of the DCCW shows obligated to rigidly stick to the origins and storylines of any of the DC characters. Just as Tom King and Scott Snyder write Batman comics very differently than Frank Miller or Alan Moore did, the writers and producers of the DCCW shows are telling very different stories than the comics are. To hold them to that strict of a standard to stay as close to the comics as possible is impractical and illogical. The same goes for movies too, but that's a different blog post.
I don't say this lightly as someone who doesn't read the comics either. Right now DC Rebirth has a hold of my soul and I have thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic of Oliver Queen and Dinah Laurel Lance in the current Green Arrow series, and yes it is something that I would love to see on TV since Laurel is one of my favorite characters on Arrow. None of that means that I am outraged over how different the relationship is on the show. Did I agree with killing her Earth 1 character? No. Do I want Black Siren to join Team Arrow? Yes I do, obviously. Am I freaking out and cursing the show's name because Felicity knocked her out? Not one bit. That's called being rational about TV adaptations.
Now about the visual effects. That's just a matter of budget and time constraints and it's never going to be like the movies are. A comic book movie with a $150 to $200 million or more budget has months of pre-production, principle photography and post-production to build a two to three hour feature film that will show multiple times in theaters for at least a month or two. A comic book TV show is doing anywhere from 13 to 22 episodes that are each an hour in length every year with a much lesser budget and and less time to produce a finished product. Not to mention, the story arcs are more complex and the principle cast is a larger ensemble.
So when you're putting together one episode of a show and it's a third of the length of a feature film, and then after doing one you're going to do anywhere from 12 to 21 more in the next year, the visual effects aren't going to look as Oscar-worthy as they do in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That's just part of television and how the organization of it works. The visual effects work that IS done on TV is pretty solid so cut it some slack as far as what it can do. Animating spaceship, time travel, weapons and speed force lightning is anything but cheap, even on TV.
The complaint that the DCCW is too safe really stems from the sharp contrast it has with the Marvel Netflix shows, which all push the envelope in terms of subject matter, language and violence in general. The DCCW shows don't have that much freedom because The CW is over the air, not on cable and not on the Internet like Netflix is, so they are beholden to FCC rules and standards.
That being said, Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow despite being on network TV have still managed to hit home on a lot of relevant social subject matter and are not tame when it comes to violence and blood on camera. Are they as risque as the Marvel Netflix shows? No, but they don't need to be. Gratuitous violence and adult language should never just be there for the sake of being there, they should always support the story being told and there's a lot of strong stories being told in the DCCW across these shows. Not only that, but socially relevant issues and historical context as well. This season alone, DCCW fans have seen episodes of their shows dealing with everything from human trafficking and slavery to homosexual relations without batting an eye or pulling a punch. Just because Luke Cage and Daredevil have more language and violence doesn't make Legends of Tomorrow or Supergirl weak sauce on those subjects.
There are other reasons that people don't like the DCCW of course. The dreaded "Olicity" situation, James Olsen, Barry's Flash costume and tonal shifts in Legends of Tomorrow are just a few of the bigger ones. Ultimately though, just as critics of the DC Extended Universe are apt to do, the DCCW is being judged on the expectations of fans that don't like when you do something that isn't what they want, and instead of simply ignoring it and sticking with what you like in the comics, movies or animated work, you must make known to the world your abject hatred of everything in the DCCW universe since you can't enjoy it yourself. Just the same as with DCEU critics, your opinion is noted and understood but spare us your illogical hatred. Plenty of us like what DC is doing on The CW and clearly the network knows that since they're renewing all of the shows.
As with anything, no one is saying that you HAVE to like the DCCW and maybe it really just grinds your gears enough to send Marc Guggenheim a litany of foul tweets for the fact that he hasn't written Emily Bett Rickards and her "faux Oracle" character off of the show yet, but that's just as closed-minded as the people who buy into the clickbait about the DCEU being a disaster and a discombobulated mess. It's all overly-negative crap that slaps us happy fans in the face for enjoying what we enjoy on the small screen, which is right now THE gold standard for a shared comic book television universe. It's not perfect and some episodes and seasons are better than others, but the DCCW is undeniably the largest, most comprehensive live action comic book property we have ever seen and it deserves at least a lot of respect for that fact.
For those of you that are fans of the DCCW as I am, I co-host a podcast every week with Brent Clark (@brentacPrime) about the DCCW called DCTV Squadcast (@DCTVSquadcast) as part of the Suicide Squadcast (@SuicideSquadcst) network. Give it a listen here for our weekly thoughts on the latest episodes of the DCCW. We've been on hiatus for the mid-winter break but we'll back at it very soon with the seasons starting up again and we will have a lot to talk about regarding all four shows, including Arrow's somewhat controversial mid-season return.