Monday, February 15, 2016

Legends of Tomorrow? More like "Ends of Meh"

I have largely moved away from commenting about popular culture or current events on this site because as time passes, such things become less relevant. Perhaps I am committing folly by assuming that things like my Traveller posts will stand the test of time, but let's be honest for a moment: once an election or a television season is over, no one really cares what was said about it, but my "I am the very model of a modern Marvel mastermind" filk is still funny years after it was topical.

But today I am going to break that rule -- I do it every so often -- and talk about something in pop culture that is driving me bugnuts crazy. Specifically, the CW's new show Legends of Tomorrow.

I'm sorry, but this show is terrible.

I want to like it, because I am a big fan of Arrow and Flash. I enjoyed Ray Palmer's "too smart for his own good" run on Arrow (even if The Atom is more Iron Man than Ant-Man), and I enjoyed seeing Professor Martin Stein be a mentor to Barry on Flash.

Sadly, none of that is present in this show. Instead, we get stupid plots that break the rules of time travel that were set up in Flash, and the leader of the group is a character we don't know and who has all the charisma of a bureaucrat. Arthur Darvill's Rip Hunter doesn't act like a leader -- he doesn't act very well at all, in fact -- and he's so overshadowed by the personalities who CAN act that you're left wondering "Why do these awesome people continue to listen to this jackass who has not only lied to them but also can't even grasp the basics of causality?"

Allow me to explain.

Rip Hunter wants to go back in time to stop Vandal Savage from conquering the world and killing his family. We're going to set aside the whole paradoxical argument of "You went back in time to stop something from happening, and so it didn't happen, and because it didn't happen you didn't go back in time to stop it, so it did happen, so you go back in time..." because 1) that way lies madness and 2) that doesn't make an entertaining show. So we have to assume that time travelers can fix things without erasing their reason for the fix. I'm fine with this, as it's the central conceit of the show and I know it going in, so I accept it as I watch it for the same reason I choose to accept "the dead animate to feast upon the living" so I can watch The Walking Dead. However, accepting this premise leads to some questions

Question #1: Why doesn't Rip go back in time to the day BEFORE Savage kills his family, pile them onto the Waverider, and take them to a safe place in history?

Question #2: Rip hesitates and doesn't kill Savage in ancient Egypt. Why not go back again and finish the job? Hell, why not go back MULTIPLE TIMES and have multiple Rips there to kill Savage?

The answer to both of these questions seems to be a variation on the observer effect: if a time traveller is there for an event, they cannot change it, because it is part of their personal timestream. In other words, Rip can't gang up on Savage because he didn't see multiple versions of himself there. He can't save his family because he's already seen them dead.

Problem #1: This directly contradicts how time travel works in the Flash, where Barry has not only changed events he is part of (Weather Wizard's tidal wave in season 1, and Vandal Savage going boom in season 2), but has actually met and interacted with himself (the fight with Zoom in the past). Since Flash came out before Legends, and because the entire season 1 metaplot was built around time travel, I consider its rules on how time travel works to have precedent unless there's a good explanation why things ought to be different. So far, there hasn't been one. Despite Rip Hunter talking a good game about how he's a Time Master and he knows how to make subtle alterations to the time stream so that the changes stick, there's been no explanation as to how he knows or what the rules for making proper changes are.

Problem #2: Again, according to Flash, when you alter the past to change the present, the past "fights back" and tries to reassert itself in the new causality. In other words, if you mess around with time travel, you pay for it, which makes good sense from a narrative standpoint because otherwise every villain can be beaten with "The Flash goes back in time 24 hours and defeats the villain." Now compare this with how it works in Legends, where the team screws up a 1970s arms deal and suddenly Central City of 2016 is in flames. So the past is easy to change, I guess? And it doesn't fight to reassert itself... except when it does, like when Leonard Snart tries to keep his father out of prison by stealing the emerald his father would get caught stealing, and instead his father is put in jail for fencing the stolen gem. There's no consistency here.

Problem #3: If the Observer Effect is how changes to the time stream work in Legends, then this is all a fool's errand, because Rip has already observed that Vandal Savage conquers the world 2166. Tough noogies, Rip, you can't change the future because you've just observed it. So either you don't know how altering the time stream works, or you're delusional with grief... or the writers obviously have no clue and they're making you look like an idiot.

Conclusion: There is literally NO POINT to this show. Either Rip Hunter wins, immediately, because he's a time traveller, or he's already lost and cannot change that because observing the events has fixed them in the time stream. Saying there's some kind of middle ground, especially without any kind of explanation as to how or why the rules are different, is just masturbation. And that's what this show is: character-based fanwanking. Which would be fine if the characters were handled intelligently and sympathetically... but they aren't.

Hey Arrow fans, you remember how smart and confident and competent Ray Palmer was? He was this awesome uber-geek who could leave Felicity Smoak in the dust, and he didn't have any of her crippling social anxieties. Really cool, right? Well, he isn't any of those things in this show. Instead, he's just a nerdy fanboy who gets handed the idiot ball so that smooth criminal Leonard Snart can show him up. Instead of being the smartest man in the room, he's been reduced to "shrinking guy."

Hey Flash fans, you remember how Professor Stein was wise and mature and a fatherly mentor figure? He talked about time travel and alternate realities and was generally warm and kind and filled the role of leader when Reverse-Flash abandoned his Wells disguise. Guess what? He isn't any of those things in this show, either! Instead he's an angry, controlling, almost bullying old man who will do or say anything to get his way, including roofie-ing and kidnapping Jax so that Old Man Stein can have his Big Egotistical Adventure.

The only bright spot in this dismal affair is the triple "bromance" that Canary has with Heatwave and Captain Cold. If the show was just those three travelling through time and getting into trouble, I would enjoy the hell out of it. Sadly, it isn't, and Wentworth Miller's schmoozy charisma and Caity Lotz's psycho intensity only highlight how much I don't care about Rip Hunter and Hawkgirl.

In other words, it's  not just fanwankery, it's BAD fanwankery that doesn't deliver. I was SO excited for this show, because the premise was amazing -- "Your favorite side characters, in their own show!" -- and it's just terrible in execution.

However, because I feel bad for savaging Legends, I'm going to give Greg Berlanti (in the exceedingly slim chance that he reads this) an idea for his next show.
  • Put John Constantine and Zatanna in a series called The Books of Magic and have them fight magic-based villains. (Alternate titles: Trenchcoat Brigade; Shadowpact)
  • Set it in England (but film it in Vancouver, to have maximum crossover potential with Flash and Arrow).
  • Tim Hunter can be their teenage sidekick. This allows that funky quasi-family dynamic that CW loves, and also gives Constantine the chance to take the piss out of Harry Potter. Win-win!
  • At some point, add the Huntress to the team. She can be the third leg to the love triangle that I know you'll set up with John and Zats. (Feel free to rip off the Question/Huntress dynamic from Justice League Unlimited.)
  • Have over-arching metaplots linking to DC's cosmic entities: Lords of Order and Chaos; the Endless from Gaiman's Sandman series; and of course the Spectre. As the stories progress, the team can receive missions from the Phantom Stranger and/or Doctor Fate. 
  • Etrigan the Demon can be the first season nemesis, but can redeem and eventually join the team as a good guy. 
  • Also good adds or guest stars: Swamp Thing and Hawkgirl (who would be a MUCH better fit here than on Legends). 

Yes, people will say it's a ripoff  of Supernatural (and maybe it is), but it's a DC-themed ripoff. Think of the crossover potential between shows, and the rich mystical history of the DC universe. We have a natural show (Arrow) a science show (Flash), and an alien show (Supergirl); we need a magic show, and the character of John Constantine is popular (and the actor is available).

Boom, there's your new series. I give it to Greg Berlanti for free. Just add my name somewhere in the credits and we're good.

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