CW / DC Universe Review – Stargirl: Luke Wilson in a Giant Robot

No, seriously, Luke Wilson in a GIANT ROBOT.

SUMMARY 

LUKE WILSON IN A GIANT ROBOT!!!
Okay, wait, give me a second. …Alright, I’m calm. 

Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) is a sophomore in high school who has just moved with her family to the seemingly innocent small town of Blue Valley. Naturally, she quickly becomes a social outcast for standing up to bully Henry King, Jr. (Jake Austin Walker), resulting in her sitting at the “losers” table with delinquent Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman), nerd Beth Chapel (Anjelika Washington), and former popular girl Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal). However, she finds a strange glowing staff in a box in her basement which gives her superpowers. It turns out that her stepfather, Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson inagiantrobot), was the former sidekick to superhero Starman (Joel McHale) and the only surviving member of the Justice Society of America. It turns out that Blue Valley is under the control of the Injustice Society of America, run by Icicle (Neil Jackson), Brainwave (Christopher James Baker), Sportsmaster (Neil Hopkins), Gambler (Eric Goins), Dragon King (Nelson Lee), Wizard (Joe Knezevich), and Solomon Grundy. Courtney decides to take up the fight as Stargirl and Pat guards her by fighting in a giant robot. 

If you hate her outfit, you hate America.

END SUMMARY

I have no idea why I love the idea of a giant robot speaking like Luke Wilson, but I’m gonna say that it amused me to an obviously unhealthy degree. Beyond that, this show just surprised me with how much I enjoyed it in general. Yes, it’s filled with basically every superhero trope and every high school show trope at the same time, but somehow it manages to play them together in a distinct and interesting way. Since the show airs on the CW the day after it premieres on DC Universe, it was never going to be able to try and be the “edgy, adult” show that Titans wants to be (or that Swamp Thing actually was). However, since it’s airing on DC Universe, it didn’t have to focus on getting an audience quickly in order to stay on television. These factors seemed to combine in a way where the show spent a lot of its first two episodes trying to set up a large number of threads for the future, something I previously praised The Flash pilot for doing. In this case, the show opens 10 years in the past, showing what happened to the previous Justice Society of America, as well as showing how interconnected the high school and superhero plotlines are going to be, since several of the supervillains have kids around Courtney’s age. Actually, now that I type that out, that means that almost all of the supervillains had kids between the ages of 4 and 8 when they took over the city of Blue Valley. I would love for the show to go deeper into how the hell parenting worked as a wanted supervillain, which they might, since we’re only on episode 4.

Yes, it has Rocket Fists.

A big part of the show’s success is definitely Wilson and Bassinger. Despite the fact that we’ve seen two different versions of the character on Smallville and Legends of Tomorrow, Bassinger’s take on a new and inexperienced Stargirl is distinct. Her performance captures the combination of fear and excitement that someone would feel if they suddenly found themselves in possession of superpowers. There are some corny comic moments, but a lot of it comes off as sincere, including her fear when actually dealing with a supervillain. Wilson, meanwhile, is a combination of awkward sidekick (he’s always been older than the superhero he aids) and awkward stepdad (yes, they do the “you’re not my real dad” thing). It’s important that they maintain strong presences given the extremely large supporting cast that the show has introduced. I can only assume that we’re going to start getting more episodes focused on other characters soon, which will make some consistent, strong characters even more important. 

The marketing might be spoiling stuff a bit.

Overall, I really think this show has a lot of potential. Give it a try on the CW. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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DC Universe Review – Harley Quinn Season 2: No Man’s Land is a Woman’s Paradise

The adult animation returns for more violence, more strong female friendships, and more of a giant shark with a cuddly heart.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

After the Joker (Alan Tudyk) took over the city, got rid of the Justice League, and captured Batman (Diedrich Bader), Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) finally managed to take down the clown. Unfortunately, his last act was to activate a device that created an 8.2 earthquake (~30 Megatons of TNT or slightly more powerful than the biggest US nuclear device) in the middle of Gotham City. With everything destroyed, Batman gone, Joker presumed dead, and the Justice League trapped in another dimension, Harley finally has the city at her feet. The US Government has declared Gotham no longer part of the US, so no one is planning to come in and stop her. Unfortunately, the Riddler (Jim Rash), Two-Face (Andy Daly), Penguin (Wayne Knight), Mr. Freeze (Alfred Molina), and Bane (James Adomian) have banded together to put the new “No Man’s Land” under their rule. Harley has to deal with the new “Injustice Gang” with the help of her crew: Clayface (Tudyk), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), King Shark (Ron Funches), and Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander). 

HarleyQuinn2 - 1Cast
Yes, that’s King Shark and Dr. Psycho as Luchadores.

END SUMMARY

This show originally didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped. It seemed a little too violent and a little too crass to be what I was looking for. However, when I rewatched it, I found myself really enjoying the show’s fairly unique style of humor, often involving the mundane conversations of the characters that stand in contrast to the fact that they’re involved in superhuman events. For example, when trapped on a magical cloud populated by the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk, Poison Ivy and Harley both are interested in seeing how well-endowed the giant is. It’s a strange diversion, but it works well because it’s just so absurd for the situation.

HarleyQuinn - 2Giant
Or Giant Ivy making a joke about eating Harley after an emotional moment.

While the first season focused on Harley’s development in getting past her relationship with the Joker by trying to get into the Legion of Doom, this season starts with her in a new place both emotionally and in terms of power. While she has previously been mocked by most people for her dependence on the Joker and just generally being a female supervillain (Gotham is sexist, unlike the real wor… oh, right), Harley has shown that she is much more intelligent and capable than almost anyone else in the show. However, due to her preference for anarchy, she ends up allowing the other villains to cement power rather than just taking over the city herself, something that gives her yet another personal flaw to overcome for the season.

HarleyQuinn2 - 3Ivy
It helps when your best friend has a top-tier superpower.

I will also give the show credit that it starts averting one of the general rules for comic book shows pretty early on in this season. I won’t spoil it, but it took me by surprise (or would have, if the damn ads for the show didn’t ruin it for me). 

HarleyQuinn2 - 4Pigtails
The surprise was not “Ivy can rock the Pippy Longstocking look.”

Honestly, I recommend this show. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to watch it, since there aren’t a ton of people with DC Universe subscriptions and they won’t put the season on Amazon streaming until after the entire season is over. Still, if you can find someone with the account, you should ask to watch this show. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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DCUniverse Mini-Review: Harley Quinn – So Close To Nailing It

Harley Quinn gets her own television show and it had all the parts to be amazing without quite getting them together… yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is the Joker’s (Alan “Curse this sudden but inevitable” Tudyk) girlfriend. After he uses her to escape from Batman (Diedrich “The Brave and the” Bader), she is locked in prison with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The pair break out and Harley realizes that the Joker doesn’t really love her, so she sets out on her own and get her own crew. She picks the baddest of the people who couldn’t do better than her: King Shark (Ron Funches), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan “Were I unwed I would take you in a manly” Tudyk), and Sy Borgman (Jason “I was also Duckman” Alexander). Together, they help Harley get into the Legion of Doom in order to show the Joker that she’s the real villain.

Image result for harley quinn tv show
Nope, no HammerTime jokes.

END SUMMARY

Dear readers, I wanted to love this show. I wanted to scream of its success from the rooftops. I wanted to be able to say, “there is a property in which Harley Quinn is the badass that we all deserve her to be since Paul Dini had that stroke of genius.” Unfortunately, Birds of Prey ended up doing that better than this show, but this show has the potential to do so much more.

Image result for harley quinn tv show
There’s a lot of viscera in both.

This show fell into the same trap I felt like Titans fell into in its first season. You can practically hear the writers’ thought process: It’s rated-R, it’s a mature show, so naturally that means we have to justify it, right? Let’s put in a lot of f*cks and a ton of gratuitous violence and such. I mean, let’s have the Joker wear another guy’s face and rip it off like a mask, because that’s a thing we can’t show on any other cartoon? If we haven’t done it before, that makes it original and therefore good!

Image result for harley quinn tv show
Robin thinks this show is the height of comedy.

Well, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Putting a bunch of people saying “tits” on screen doesn’t make a show mature, it makes it what a 14-year-old boy thinks is mature. Now, I will say that the show definitely got better about this as the series went on, with the violence and the language feeling more organic, but the first few episodes felt really like they were straining to justify a red band trailer. I love some good old ultraviolence as much as the next droog, but make it count, people. Or make it funny. Your main character and her primary antagonist are both derivations of clowns, so I would hope you could make it a little more enjoyable to watch them go apesh*t.

Image result for harley quinn tv show
Admittedly, sometimes it’s hilarious.

It also doesn’t help that the emotional journey Harley is on throughout the season really seems like she’s just going around in circles a bit. I mean, she claims to be over the Joker, but then spends a season defining herself by trying to outshine him, which is NOT being over someone. Ultimately, I think she learns that lesson, but it feels like they stretched the arc by like half a season in order to make it land on the finale. 

Image result for harley quinn tv show
It lands pretty hard.

And, of course, as several people have brought up online, the show has some issues with how it handles certain topics. Mainly, there were accusations of being anti-Semitic, something that seemed to fly in the face of the fact that Harley Quinn is typically represented as Jewish (and is revealed to be in this series as well). In the second episode, which takes place at Penguin’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Penguin’s sister-in-law is represented in a manner which was accused of being stereotypical. The same is true of Sy Borgman, who even the creators referred to, jokingly, as “half-man, half-Jew.” Harley’s parents are also not particularly flattering. I think these jokes probably were intended to be part of the “edgy” vibe of the show, but the fact is that they not only will upset people, they just weren’t that funny to begin with. I believe comedy should challenge and, at times, offend, but part of the reason stereotypes have been dropped from comedy routines isn’t just that they’re often inaccurate and offensive, but that they were the basis for comedy for like 50 years and they’re not funny anymore. Just write a real joke, people.

Image result for harley quinn tv show sy borgman
That said, “Sy Borgman” being half-robot is… well, it’s up there with Victor Fries being cold.

However, aside from these issues, I thought this show did a great job. The animation style is fun. The supporting characters are amazing, mostly because they all have their own fun quirks. Poison Ivy develops an embarrassing crush on a fellow super villain, King Shark is a computer nerd despite being a giant mutant shark/human, Clayface (presumably the Basil Karlo version) is a terrible actor despite having the ability to become anyone, and Doctor Psycho is a misogynist who loses his previous supervillain status for calling Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) the “C-word” on live television. Some of the commentary in the show, particularly the discussions of female villain inequality, are on point. The Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) is freaking hilarious. This is one of my favorite versions of the Joker because he seems even more self-aggrandizing and random than usual, while simultaneously having more normal habits, such as loving Reese Witherspoon. Also, just having Alan Tudyk in something gives it an additional Star in my ratings. 

Image result for harley quinn tv show sy borgman
And they shamelessly mock other properties.

The thing is, this show has all the pieces to be great and, at times, is, it just needs to figure out better what’s actually good for a mature show and what’s just pretending to be mature.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

DC Streaming Review – Titans: Dark Doesn’t Mean Mature, Guys

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.

SUMMARY

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.

titans - 1cast
I don’t quite get a Batman and Robin vibe, so that’s good.

END SUMMARY

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.

Titans - 2HawkDove.png
He gets a helmet, she gets a concussion.

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.

Titans - 4Comics.jpg
Granted, we were never going to find humans that actually look like this.

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. 

Titans - 3Family.jpg
They’re so polite and lethal.

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.

Titans - 5Cartoon.jpg
This is the correct lineup and I will never hear anything against it.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.