Individually, Marvel television is phenomenal. Collectively, Marvel television underwhelms, and their arch-nemesis DC reigns supreme.
There was an excellence and elegance in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Netflix-exclusive offerings that expand the Marvel movie universe. But these shows exist on an island, part of a universe that prohibits interaction. Marvel TV has given up a crucial ingredient that, in a bitter twist, makes Marvel movies and DC TV all the more exciting: Character interactions.
Neither Arrow nor The Flash are within a breath’s distance of what can be called “prestige TV.” Which is fine, not all entertainment has to provoke. But there’s an excitement to seeing the annual two-part crossovers, one-offs like “Haunted” with John Constantine, or the introductions of new heroes like Atom or (eventually) Mr. Terrific. None of these are game-changing, they’re just juicy good times that leave the imagination a little wider.
And they’re good times because of the tiny, dynamic moments. Constantine flirting with Team Arrow’s women and Diggle’s shock at The Flash in last year’s crossover is still one of the damn funniest moments I still laugh about.
The recent “Heroes Join Forces” two-parter aired this week and presented tons of great character moments, both funny and serious. Felicity and Barry catching up as ex-lovers, Thea commenting on Cisco’s hair, and Oliver’s legitimate anger to Barry for dragging them into a danger they’re not equipped for painted this crossover between with a deep spectrum of fun and tension.
And we’re about to get way more fun and tension in Legends of Tomorrow.
People who don’t “get” superhero movies often fail to realize why fans care about these movies in the first place: Seeing characters they love interact. It isn’t action, which is actually the worst thing about superhero movies. Ask Jackie Chan. (“‘Cut!’ Cartoon, cartoon, cartoon…”) Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones are ruined, broken, and compelling individuals, and barring contractual agreements, Iron Man or Agent May appearing in their shows wouldn’t help in the slightest.
We’ve had heaping doses of the Marvel superheroes interact, any time they’re having fun have been some of the best scenes in any of the movies. The most buzzed-about scene at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con that previewed Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t the action and chaos. It was the party scene.
Characters interacting is what makes the Marvel movies great and their TV efforts, when seen as a whole, underwhelming, and even disconnected. Because of the divide, it’s difficult to fathom Jessica Jones happening in the same world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but Arrow and The Flash feel like one whole (and Supergirl, whenever that may be.). That wholeness matters, and it makes watching every little thing the more worthwhile.
Of course there will be Defenders, the crossover series that will bring them together with Luke Cage and Iron Fist (?) into one squad. But until that day, DC has fulfilled that appetite with their spectacular Arrowverse. Until we see Jessica Jones rolling her eyes at Murdock, or Foggy Nelson futilely stand against Luke Cage, DC is the true hero of superhero TV.
Perhaps above all, the numbers don’t lie: This week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tied with its season low in the ratings, while the Arrow and The Flash crossover concluded with record-high of the season, attracting almost 4 million viewers according to this morning’s press release.