The CW’s Arrowverse is suffering something akin to a midlife crisis. While the shows are all relatively healthy ratings wise, most of them suffered setbacks in their most recent seasons.
The Flash, once the most exciting, optimistic superhero show on television, has descended into boring angst. Supergirl endured something of a sophomore slump as it lost sight of what attracted people to the show in the first place. Arrow, five years in, is simply showing its age. Legends of Tomorrow took a quantum leap forward in its great second season, but it’s not without its own issues.
There’s no sign of the Arrowverse slowing down. Indeed, it’s growing again this season, with the upcoming Black Lightning joining the CW’s stable of DC superheroes. It’s not difficult to imagine this corner of the DC Universe thriving indefinitely with a new addition ever year or so. If that’s going to happen, though, the underlying issues with the current shows should be addressed and fixed.
Nothing here is beyond saving. The showrunners just need to take a long hard look at where things have gone wrong and remember why people loved these characters and their world in the first place.
These are the 15 Reasons The Arrowverse Is In Trouble (And How To Fix It).
15. The Flash: Make Barry Allen Likable Again
There are a lot of ways in which The Flash has gotten off track in recent years, but the one that has been most detrimental to the show has been Barry’s descent into misery and self-obsession.
When The Flash debuted, Barry was presented as a very clear contrast to the brooding Oliver Queen, an example to the world that heroes could endure tragedy and hardship and still face the world with the earnest intent to do the right thing.
Somewhere along the line, Barry lost sight of that moral compass, indulging in personal vendettas and timeline altering shenanigans he knew would likely have dire consequences. It did genuine damage to the likability of DC TV’s flagship superhero. The show has to find a way to make Barry more like that charming young hero from its sterling first season.
14. Arrow: Let Oliver Evolve Into the Liberal Hero of the Comics
As the oldest current DC show on television, Arrow is understandably facing narrative problems the other shows simply haven’t had to deal with yet. It feels like the stories of many of its key characters are nearing completion – the producers likely know this, since they brought in a new batch of heroes in the surprisingly strong fifth season.
Relative narrative stagnation can probably be endured by most of the show’s longest-serving characters, but not Oliver Queen himself. The show has to allow Oliver to overcome his endless cycle of bold heroism followed by crippling self-doubt.
The most obvious way to refresh the Emerald Archer is to embrace the character’s most celebrated iteration from the comics: the sharp-witted liberal crusader. Stephen Amell’s sense of humor is well-documented in countless convention appearances, and Greg Berlanti has never shied away from progressive politics in his shows.
13. Legends of Tomorrow: Less Forced Romance
Of all the CW DC shows, Legends of Tomorrow is currently in the strongest position. In its second season, the show gleefully embraced its bonkers premise, throwing any sense of realism to the wind in favor of cartoonish time-traveling mayhem, to fantastically silly results. The show also has the advantage of shorter seasons than the other CW DC shows, resulting in decidedly less filler and more tightly paced season long arcs.
The show is far from perfect, though, and one of its biggest issues is its insistence on pushing romantic pairings seemingly out of some CW mandated obligation. The first season’s Atom/Hawkgirl/Hawkman love triangle was the show’s most groan-worthy aspect, marred by the poor acting of both of the Hawks (who unceremoniously departed the show at the end of that inaugural season).
Season two was not immune, pairing off newcomers Citizen Steel and Vixen in a romance that never felt nearly as important as the show wanted us to believe. There’s more than enough romance in the Arrowverse – let’s just have the Waverider crew spend their time riding dinosaurs in the future.
12. The Flash: Make Iris West A More Crucial Character
Even in its disappointing third season, The Flash was able to lean on its ensemble cast, which is simply one of the best on television… with one exception.
At this point it’s genuinely difficult to figure out whether Candice Patton is perhaps not up to the task of portraying the love of Barry Allen’s life with any sort of conviction, or if the writers simply can’t figure out what to do with the character, who was an early victim of the show’s “characters don’t trust each other for contrived reasons” nonsense.
In the wake of the third season’s explosive finale, Iris figures to be an increasingly important presence on the show, as she becomes more fully integrated into the workings of Team Flash. That’s a promising development, as she spent the majority of the third season as a timey-wimey damsel in distress plot point, and the character deserves so much better than that.
11. Arrow: Bring Back Thea Queen As Speedy
Team Arrow underwent a massive overhaul in the show’s fifth season, with the seemingly additions of Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, and Dinah Drake’s new Black Canary. Those have all been effective additions, but the team has felt slightly incomplete without Thea Queen suiting up as Speedy. A significant arc over the show’s four seasons was Thea’s journey from troubled teenager, to responsible adult, to undead ninja, to vigilante hero.
The fifth season’s sidelining of not only Speedy, but largely of Thea altogether, felt like something that was likely not story-driven, but an unfortunate real life consequence of an aging, increasingly expensive television production. Hopefully the producers have worked out those issues for season six: Green Arrow needs Speedy by his side, and Oliver Queen needs Thea by his.
10. Supergirl: Get Rid of Jimmy Olsen’s Guardian
Supergirl was in a tough spot as it entered its second season. After jumping from CBS to the CW, the show’s focus slightly shifted, becoming a little more focused on the heroics of its lead character and her supporting cast, dwelling a bit less on the everyday foibles of Kara Danvers. This resulted in a largely improved show (with one massive exception, which we’ll get to later), but it left Jimmy Olsen in a narrative sort of no man’s land.
The show’s attempt to bring Jimmy more into the world of Supergirl was to make him the vigilante hero Guardian. Not only did this seem decidedly at odds with the character’s established personality, it felt like a watered down version of Arrow grafted onto a show with a much more compelling hero.
9. The Flash: No More Speedster Big Bads
The law of diminishing returns has set in with The Flash’s season-long villains. The debut season’s Reverse Flash was among the best, most flawlessly executed TV villains in a long time. The sophomore season’s Zoom was less effective, but was both visually terrifying and had a decent enough twist. Season three’s Savitar was essentially a dud – his story was overly complicated and the payoff was underwhelming. Also, he looked like a Power Rangers villain on steroids.
The show has to move away from these mystery-fueled speedster adversaries. The well has simply run dry, and The Flash’s world is so much richer than other guys who can run fast. It seems as if this might a lesson the show’s producers have already taken to heart, as it’s been announced The Thinker will be season four’s primary villain.
8. Bring Superman Into The Four Show Crossovers
Last season’s “Invasion!” four show crossover was the one moment where it felt like the full potential of the Arrowverse was on display. It felt like a summer blockbuster, but with characters we’ve spent so much more time with, making their interactions and trials all the more thrilling. They’re going to have a tough time topping “Invasion!” this year, but there’s an easy way to escalate the excitement: bring in Superman.
Hailed by many as a more traditional, earnest iteration of the Man of Steel than Henry Cavill’s current cinematic version, the CW seemingly has no plans to give Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman his own series, but are open to bringing him in for occasional visits on Supergirl.
Bringing Supes into the annual crossover seems like an effective way to keep him a part of the Arroweverse without overshadowing his cousin, and would give the television version of the Justice League a nice bit of star power.
7. Arrow: Abandon The Flashbacks
Arrow’s flashbacks were not always so interminable. Clearly influenced by Lost, they provided the audience with important insight into Oliver’s hellish existence on Lian Yu in the inaugural season, and were crucial to understanding Slade and his motivations in the series-best second season. But by the later seasons, they seemed like artifacts from a different show, stitched in out of obligation more than any real narrative purpose.
Season four’s infamous magical flashbacks are among the show’s most embarrassing misfires (another Lost parallel: both shows bottomed out while explaining their main character’s tattoos via flashback).
Season five’s flashbacks ended where the series began, with Oliver being rescued from Lian Yu. The producers have been somewhat cagey about what form the flashbacks will take in future seasons, but seem intent on keeping them in some capacity.
They would be wise to remove them as a constant presence at this point, utilizing them only when they have a good reason to. Arrow is compelling enough in the present day that it doesn’t have to use the flashbacks as a crutch anymore.
6. Supergirl: Introduce Stronger Villains
Supergirl has never exactly had a deep rogues gallery. Indeed, the show initially invented villains for Kara or simply borrowed Z-list adversaries from her more famous cousin. The second season brought in a slightly better class of Superman villains, with Cadmus and Cyborg Superman menacing National City. But even then, the show felt like it lacked a real heavy hitter.
Series producers recently announced that Lex Luthor and General Zod will not factor into the show’s plans, further limiting the possibilities for respectable foes. The Arrowverse has a history of turning essentially anonymous characters like Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Dahrk into compelling bad guys. Hopefully they can pull off a similar trick with Odette Anable’s recently announced Reign, as Supergirl deserves a villain worthy of her.
5. Legends of Tomorrow: Bring Back Captain Cold Permanently
Legends of Tomorrow’s first season was uneven, as the time travel show figured out how seriously it was going to take itself (the ultimate answer was “not very seriously”), and the dynamics of its cast. The one unassailable aspect of that season was Wentworth Miller’s wonderfully cheesy performance as Captain Cold himself, Leonard Snart. Miller chewed all available scenery as the hammy, sneakily charming Snart, and his death near the season’s end seemed like a loss the show would have trouble recovering from.
Surprisingly, season two found the show in fine form, honing its gonzo sensibilities into the most manic, joyful comic book show on television. And yet Snart’s absence was still felt, and it’s hard not to wonder if the show would have been even stronger with him around.
This is a time travel show that breaks its own rules constantly, so there’s no reason Snart couldn’t be brought back, assuming Miller’s schedule would allow it. Legends of Tomorrow is right on the cusp of greatness; Leonard Snart might be the last element needed to put it over the top.
4. The Flash: Make the Rogues A Bigger Presence
Part of the reason that the disappointing speedster big bads on The Flash have been so frustrating has to do with the fact that, aside from maybe Batman and Spider-Man, Barry Allen has the richest, deepest bench of villains in all of comics.
The Rogues are among the most striking creations of the Silver Age of comics, and were brilliantly reinvigorated by comics scribe (and current DC Films head honcho) Geoff Johns in the early ’00s.
The show has actually done an admirable job of adapting many of the Rogues, specifically Mark Hamill’s wonderfully crazy Trickster and Liam McIntyre’s steely Weather Wizard, but they’ve been largely relegated to minor roles in favor of the more powerful but less interesting speedster villains.
3. Arrow: Resolve the Oliver/Felicity Relationship
We are well past the expiration date on the “will they/won’t they” aspect of the Oliver/Felicity relationship. Season four was the show’s nadir, and among its many, many crimes was its bizarre dissolution of the relationship between the show’s central romantic pair.
Season five did admirable (if occasionally awkward) work to try and reconcile the pair’s continued crime fighting partnership while largely sidestepping the collapse of their romance until very late in the game.
Arrow seems determined to have it both ways with Oliver and Felicity. The chemistry between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards is still among the show’s most potent weapons, but they have spent far too long in a sort of relationship purgatory, still clearly pining for each other but unable to act on those feelings. You can get away with that in the early years of a show, but over a half decade in, it’s past time for Arrow to move on and resolve this relationship drama.
2. Supergirl: Reduce Mon-El’s Role
At the beginning of Supergirl’s second season, Mon-El seemed like a great addition to the show’s cast. An alien wholly unfamiliar with Earth, Kara’s tutelage of the Daxamite was charming and endearing, offering some solid “fish out of water” laughs, and Chris Wood played the character’s obliviousness with aplomb. But when the relationship between Kara and Mon-El took a romantic turn, the show’s focus shifted toward Mon-El and his Daxamite drama in a way that often felt like it undercut Kara.
There’s nothing wrong with Kara having a romantic interest, and she had decidedly more chemistry with Mon-El than she did with Jimmy Olsen during their aborted first season dalliance. The problem arises when Mon-El essentially becomes a co-lead, driving the plot more than Kara. Supergirl is more than strong enough as a character to dictate her own show’s stories.
1. The Flash: Return to Season One’s Hopeful Tone
It’s mildly stunning that the producers of The Flash have so thoroughly lost sight of what initially made the show a hit. Sure, there was darkness and tragedy in that first season, but it was always tempered by the fact that the show was populated with good hearted, earnest characters who trusted and cared about each other.
It was a contrast both to the winking snark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the dark, deconstructive cynicism of the DC Extended Universe. It was the purest distillation of classic comic books: morally uncomplicated, exciting adventure stories.
The show’s slide into angsty, unlikeable brooding has been depressing to watch, and hit its lowest point in a third season that saw Barry ruin his friend’s lives for selfish reasons during Flashpoint. The show has to figure out how to recapture that original hopeful spirit that made it so refreshing in a superhero landscape dominated by grimness and moral compromise.
At its best The Flash has always been a light in the darkness, and it has to figure out a way to get back to the light.
Do you have any other suggestions for how to fix the Arrowverse? Let us know in the comments!
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