DC's TV Universe Must Try to Stay More Stable Than DCEU

Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Television
October 5th, 2016

The DC extended TV universe begins its new season this week, with the returns of Arrow and The Flash before Supergirl and the Legends of Tomorrow fly again. By most appearances, it seems the expanded universe of DC heroes on the CW is much more accomplished than that of the DC movie universe, especially after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.

But while it looks like DC has far more stability on the CW than it does on the big screen in fall 2016, it doesn't mean it will stay the same way in fall 2017. In fact, this is a very crucial season for the DC CW universe, as it has a fair share of potholes to avoid from now until May.

The anchor of DC TV is the show that started it all, as Arrow starts its fifth season. Technically, this really should be its last season, given that the end of the flashbacks to Oliver Queen's "five years in Hell" is this year. Yet while the flashbacks will mercifully end this season, there's every indication that the show itself will have at least one more year after this one.

Quite honestly, unless Season 5 does things rather differently than Season 3 and 4 did, the promise of a sixth season will be more frightening than anything else.

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For two straight seasons, the show has squandered its early promise, to the point where the end of each season brought less excitement and more sighs of relief that it was finally over. While Season 3 drowned itself in misery after the first 30 minutes and didn't stop until the final 10, Season 4 waited eight episodes before jumping the shark, and perhaps jumping the show over the shark for good.

Although Oliver and Felicity have been the scapegoat in many circles for the last two season, the cowardly decisions of their writers need to take the blame 100 times over. With their misguided beliefs on what really qualifies as gripping storytelling, and their inability to recognize that maybe audiences would still keep watching if the show's biggest couple was in a healthy and thriving relationship, it has exposed a poisonous philosophy that should be outdated in this era of much more daring television.

Olicity's engagement and relationship was shattered in the most brainless fashion, for the sole purpose of making sure they didn't get married so quickly. But all they really would have had to do to accomplish that is to not have Oliver ready to propose in the Season 4 premiere. Maybe then it would have been harder to do other pointless things like all the secret son lying, paralyzing Felicity, taking away Palmer Tech from her for the sole purpose of a heist sequence, and have her kill millions to save billions for no good reason at all.

Yet avoiding that would have required putting real thought into plotlines that might have actually mattered, and might have actually resolved real long standing issues for both of them. But because they are dragging out the show into six seasons and quite possibly more, it is seemingly far too much to ask to resolve these matters this early, and much easier to repeat them over and over again just to fill out another season or two.

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Unfortunately, since Arrow is now the anchor of an entire universe of television, the CW and DC likely need to drag it out as long as possible, if only for the sake of the other shows. But judging solely by the last two seasons, the poor decisions of the writers, and their constant need to take the easy way out just to make writing a few future seasons easier on themselves, there's a better case to be made that the show should have only one more season instead of two, three or four.

But since people in charge of networks and shows don't usually think like that, we are now at this crossroads.

Arrow Season 5 will apparently try to fix all this with new team members, although many long-time fans would probably prefer it if OIiver, Diggle and Felicity were the only regulars left instead. It also seems to believe that fixing the Olicity mess will be accomplished by putting it on the back burner, giving both of them new love interests as a way to kill time, and figuring that less Olicity will make more people say Arrow is back on top. And if such procrastination makes it easier to green light a Season 6, 7 or beyond until they finally get around to a real fix, then apparently so much the better.

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In an era with such innovation in watching, creating and breaking the old rules of TV, this kind of outdated and thoroughly uncreative strategy should have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But clinging to the old ways of doing things and overindulging on the newer darker ways of storytelling is costing Arrow more and more. In a way, it is reminiscent of how clinging to certain philosophies that really don't work anymore doomed the new DC movie era under Zack Snyder's gloom and doom, and under the studio interference that helped kill the Suicide Squad.

Choosing Snyder as the anchor for the DC movie world was the wrong call, as his poor decisions in Batman v Superman trickled down into the overcorrections of Suicide Squad that just made things worse. Now with new creative heads in charge, the DCEU will try to prove that it isn't too late to change direction and salvage something worthwhile.

However, it isn't so easy to make such a switch in a TV universe. But even if Arrow keeps crumbling at the top of the DC TV edifice, there’s a case to be made that the TV universe has many healthier options than in movies. In fact, it seemingly has three in The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

Still, these shows also face serious crossroads this season, which could really shatter the DC TV world if they take the wrong route.

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For The Flash, it is generating excitement by adapting the Flashpoint comic-book arc, which is also going to change other aspects of the extended universe in a time line where Barry never became the Flash. Yet The Flash technically already did the whole alternate universe storyline in its Earth-2 plotline last year, which didn’t turn out extremely well in the long run. As such, Flashpoint may only be a quick fix in the show’s struggle to recapture its Season 1 power, if it is even a fix at all.

For Supergirl, it is starting a new era on a new network, with its own flashy temporary gimmick to start the season in Superman. Yet while this has the added benefit of having Supergirl eventually bond with Barry again and meeting the other CW heroes, it is still unclear whether the core of the show will stay the same under new network management. All it would take is a few questionable and less than feminist creative decisions that they might not have had to do on CBS to make the small but passionate fan base become fearful, which wouldn’t be good for a still fledging show like this one.

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As for the Legends of Tomorrow, they have a second season with the Justice Society of America, the Legion of Doom, and thankfully no more Vandal Savage. Yet after the first season failed to live up to the old high Arrow and Flash standards, it’s still hard to say that this fourth DC show has a vital reason to exist, other than to set up bigger crossovers and to keep Brandon Routh and Sara Lance around.

By early December, it should be clearer if these four shows are all going in the right direction, before the biggest CW hero crossover yet. Such a massive event could pave the way towards a better tomorrow, just as the DCEU hopes Justice League will do for it when all its big screen heroes meet next November.

Then again, the big Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow crossover was really the death knell for Arrow Season 4 after its impressive start. But since the first Arrow/Flash two-night crossover worked like gangbusters the year before, maybe the good crossovers happen on even numbered years.

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Out of the two current DC universes, one still clearly looks more stable than the other, and already has more creative accomplishments than the other. But both are on fragile ground as they have to decide what their long term legacy will be, and whether they really know how to recognize and correct their recent mistakes.

When Justice League comes out next November, and when Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow start their next seasons, maybe the DCEU will have righted the ship faster than the CW universe. Ideally, both will have by then, but it has usually been one or the other when it comes to DC worlds so far.

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