Warner Bros, the owners of DC Comics, decided to make a dark, gritty, and adult version of the popular Teen Titans property. They did two out of three.
Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), former Robin to Batman, is trying to start a new life as a detective in Detroit. He finds that it’s harder to give up being a superhero than he thought, although he finds himself becoming increasingly more violent in how he handles criminals. One day he encounters a young girl named Rachel (Teagan Croft), who is being pursued by a cult who has been worshipping Rachel’s father, a dark presence from another dimension. Rachel has superpowers, but can’t control them, and her emotions can trigger a violent dark side of her personality. Dick works to keep her safe and, along the way, is joined by Kory Anders (Anna Diop), a flame-based alien in disguise, and Gar Logan (Ryan Potter), who can turn into animals… though I think it’s only really a tiger at this point. Together, they work to thwart the cult that’s trying to abduct Rachel and also to keep her safe while uncovering her background.
Well, let’s go over the positives: Most of the ancillary characters in this show are awesome. Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly) are the focus of at least 2 episodes and their relationship both to each other and to superheroing is complicated and interesting. They basically are using fighting crime as a way to deal with all of their repressed rage issues. Then there’s Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), AKA Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman’s sidekick who has quit heroics to be an investigative journalist doing the jobs that are too dangerous for non-invulnerable people. Both of their plotlines are an interesting commentary about the psyche of the superhero and about the real nature of heroism. There’s Jason Todd (Curran Walters), the second Robin, who gets to see what being Robin has done to Dick, making his choice to be Robin much more informed than Dick’s. Then there’s the backdoor pilot group, the Doom Patrol, a group of heroes who all have powers that make them social outcasts led by a guy who was in a wheelchair (And yes, this predates the X-Men). They’re… not as interesting as the X-Men, but still good to watch.
The costume and set design is great, most of the special effects in the show are really good by television standards, and I did also really enjoy the action sequences, although they are excessively brutal at times. Which brings us to the big negative of the series…
Dark does not mean mature, guys. Adding more violence, sex, and swearing doesn’t actually mean your show is more adult, except in ratings. This was the thing that I most feared about the show from the somewhat infamous “Fuck Batman” trailer: That it was going to learn all the wrong lessons from DC’s attempts to be mature in the past. What made Batman: The Dark Knight Returns mature wasn’t just the swearing or the violence, it was that it took a deeper look into what the psyche of a person who would dress like a bat and beat the hell out of criminals would become when he got older and the world got more violent. This show tries that, but then clearly dumps a bunch of “adult content” into the show just to make it seem darker. Not every “F*ck” is earned automatically, people. You need a reason for the character to choose “f*ck,” if they aren’t the kind of person who just casually drops it, and the reason can’t just be “we haven’t said it in 10 minutes.”
The casting and characterization of the main characters is mixed. I liked that Anna Diop, a black woman, is Starfire, who is typically… orange, and she mostly just shows her alien side when using her powers. She plays a version of Starfire who doesn’t know who she is and is largely confused about where she came from, which is new for an adaptation. That said, she’s also painfully more down and depressing than most versions of Starfire, which… doesn’t really help with the dynamic of the show. Brenton Thwaites is fine as an adult Dick Grayson, but the writing isn’t doing him any favors. We get it, you’re angry and you’re violent and whatever. Stop saying it over and over. Teagan Croft is pretty great as Rachel/Raven, because she’s able to convey that she can’t trust anyone, including herself. She’s afraid of herself and what she’ll do to people just as much as she’s afraid of what they’ll do to her. It works out well. Ryan Potter isn’t the cartoon Beast Boy from the 2000s, but he is close to the main comic version, and I think he does a good job. He’s not all green, but that’d cost a fortune in makeup, so I accept the compromise. Like I said, there’s a mixed bag here.
Another negative thing is that the overall plot has a lot of filler and not all of it builds well towards the characters or the world. However, I did freaking love the “Nuclear Family” enemies, who are basically the 1950s if they had superstrength and were powered by evil.
And, last, although it’s a personal gripe, I’m pissed that they didn’t include traditional Titan Cyborg in this version. At first I thought it was because he’s in the DCEU movies, but no, apparently he’s just going to be in the Doom Patrol spin-off. Well, not the biggest deal, but still irks me.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy this enough for a DC show. It’s too arbitrarily dark without enough actual exploration of the darker themes. It’s like the angsty-teen of DC shows: It says it knows how to be an adult, but it’s really just going to wear black, listen to metal, and then yell “I’M SO F*CKING DEEP!!!!” That said, if they bring this attitude to the dark satire of Garth Ennis’ The Boys that’s supposed to be coming out, that’ll work.
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