REVIEW: "The Flash" Season 4 / "Riverdale" Season 2

THE FLASH Season 4

 This year's big wedding crossover extravaganza was the best one yet

This year's big wedding crossover extravaganza was the best one yet

This season of The Flash was a mixed bag overall, but there were still some good episodes, a better villain than last season, and I would call it an improvement on Season 3 at least. The thing with this show is that it coasts mainly on the appeal of its ensemble- as of now it’s still the only Arrowverse show to have arrived full formed and undergone no significant changes to its core cast (sometimes they’ll bring people in for a season who then leave or become recurring, but the core group has remained intact all these years). So if you like the characters, it’s pretty easy to enjoy the show, even through its weak spots. This season the bad guy was Clifford DeVoe, aka The Thinker (played by Neil Sandilands, the strongest actor for the seasonal villain since Tom Cavanagh in Season 1), who was assisted in his evil deeds by his wife Marlize (Kim Engelbrecht, also a very strong addition- she could have been the main antagonist on her own). But the weakest part of these shows lately, in my opinion, is the adherence to having a season long villain every year in the first place. You get stuck in a formula that must repeat itself over and over again- inevitably the team must try and fail to stop the villain through multiple repeating episodes, until the season finale, when they have to defeat him, because….well, it’s the season finale. This makes a lot of plot twists very predictable, because you can see the seeds of it having been done each season at a particular point in time like clockwork. I find the better episodes are the occasional standalones each year, like “Enter Flashtime” this season, an episode where Barry had to slow down time to stop a nuclear bomb going off in seconds, or the annual Arrowverse crossover, which was set at Barry and Iris’s wedding that was crashed by Nazis from an alternate earth, and incorporated all four shows into a standalone two hour two night event that was SO much fun. Would there be anything wrong with going back to the old fashioned baddie of the week adventure show formula, with ongoing character and relationship arcs to serialize it? I think it would be far easier to maintain the quality week to week, to be honest. 

 Hartley Sawyer joined the cast this season as the Elongated Man

Hartley Sawyer joined the cast this season as the Elongated Man

There were other little pleasures this season, like the adorable new character of Citizen Cold, aka Leo Snart (still played by Wentworth Miller with enormous energy), Danny Trejo guest starring as Cisco’s girlfriend Gypsy’s (Jessica Camacho) father, and finally the full development of the female regulars (not so much Caitlin, whose Killer Frost story remains confusing and muddled, but definitely Iris, who, as wife of the Flash, also takes her rightful place as leader of Team Flash). But then there are things that were annoying, like the string of episodes where Barry’s in prison for no reason (did Grant Gustin need some time off?), the endless repetition of the same “becoming a hero” episode for Ralph (Hartley Sawyer, who was actually very good) as the Elongated Man, and finally, way too many scenes of the gang standing around in Star Labs spouting exposition (can’t they spring for a new set at some point? I hate looking at this ugly grey lab- what happened to CCPD and Barry’s CSI job? Film outside once in a while!) Sometimes I think that the cast is too big, which results in everyone kind of getting shortshrifted (feels like Joe was offscreen a lot this season, for example, while other relationships went totally ignored, like Cisco and Caitlin’s, and even Barry and Iris need to get more intimate scenes together as a married couple if they’re meant to be the heart of the show…despite heartfelt declarations of love, it feels suspiciously like they go out of their way not to let them be too romantic/physical with each other, which makes me question intent behind the scenes- seriously, what’s that about?) Despite how easy it is to nitpick and criticize (this applies to any superhero property of course), I still enjoy the show, I’m still invested in all the characters (well, all except Caitlin) and the setup for next season, which promises a sort of Back to the Future-esque story involving Flash descendants, has me excited, so I’ll be there again with bells on, ready to critique, complain, analyze, but always still watch (which I couldn’t say the same about for Arrow after its third season, so that’s something).

Grade: B

RIVERDALE Season 2

 Why has Reggie been excluded from this group? It was a core five in the comics, not a core four

Why has Reggie been excluded from this group? It was a core five in the comics, not a core four

So, if was anyone was looking for a guilty pleasure to sort of take the place of Gossip Girl, which in itself replaced any number of teen shows before it, going all the way back to the original 90210, boy did you get what you were looking for in Riverdale, aka “Dark Archie.” This is an absolutely bonkers show which actually has more in common with a daytime soap than a nighttime one. It does have a subversive kind of appeal, especially for those who were fans of the Archie comics and get a kick out of seeing those supposedly clean cut 1950’s teens turn dark- and I mean very dark. This show can barely go a week without someone killing someone else, but the hilarious part is that nobody really cares that much or is surprised by any of it. The twists and turns are basically for plot purposes only, and characters are only skin deep, but the core four, Archie, Veronica, Jughead and Betty, are all reliable (there’s no weak acting link here like there was on Gossip Girl) and every parent is an un-apologetically awful sinner of some sort- killer, mobster, gang member, adulterer, psychopath, you name it. I think what makes it more consistently watchable than some series is that the size of the cast is big enough that you can have revolving plots and bounce around from character to character (the Archies give you plenty of extraneous teens to choose from, like Chuck, Reggie, Josie, Moose, Ethel, etc) so that no one story takes up too much time overall. But there are exceptions, like the endless Black Hood storyline, and Jughead’s joining the Serpent gang, which made him more insufferable than not this season. On the other hand, they had a full on musical episode based on Carrie and Cheryl was imprisoned by evil torturous nuns for two weeks. The sheer absurdity of it all prevents you from taking any of it seriously, and at times I don’t know why I can’t stop watching it. Maybe because I laugh out loud at least once in each episode, which is a more reliable hit ratio than most of my comedies. I can't say this is a good show. In fact, it's complete trash, and yet it’s enjoyably bad. Mostly.

Grade: D+