Titans – Season One

Teen superpowers and a whole host of hey-it’s-that-characters!

What’s The Show? Titans – Season One

What’s It All About, JG? – Supporting Superhero Characters: The TV Show. Robin off of Batman, Wonder Girl off of Wonder Woman, a different Robin off of Batman and Gar off of Doom Patrol team up with Rachel Roth – the personification of emo makeup – and Kory Anders/Starfire – the personification of shiny disco outfits – for weirdly schizophrenic adventures in… stuff. Quite a lot of stuff, in fact, as the Netflix series rambles about ten episodes, dropping into random character arcs, plots, background and exposition with little rhyme or reason. Ostensibly we’re following Rachel’s story, as she tries to wrestle with some kind of inner darkness – inventively portrayed as some kind of outer darkness, usually via the medium of mascara – and tries to figure out who she is and where she comes from.

That’s also what’s going on with Kory/Starfire, who has no memory of her past but does have glowing powers that allow her to burn shit up. The Dick Grayson version of Robin, meanwhile, has resigned from being Robin but is conflicted about not being Robin any more so sometimes he’s still Robin, and then another Robin – Jason Todd flavour: younger, cuter and more psychotic – also turns up to do some part-time Robin-ing. Then there’s accidentally pulling daddy from another dimension to destroy the world, a mom rescue, a whole “Nuclear Family” sub-plot about a murderous Stepford-Wife-style family on the trail of our heroes, a spaceship hidden in an abandoned warehouse, a Hawk and Dove side-story/whole other series… there’s a hell of a lot going here.

Why Did You Give It A Go? The MCU is now a titan of cinema and apparently unkillable, but Marvel’s Netflix series’ have been hit and miss. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are broadly great, Daredevil wanders between the two extremes and Iron Fist was outright terrible. But there is, in all those shows, a real commitment to sticking to what might make a TV superhero show work – fealty to source material, stylish and slick direction, great casting, and enough of a budget to realise what they’re going for. By contrast to the MCU, DC’s “cinematic universe” is mostly trash – the marvellous Wonder Woman aside – so I thought it might be interesting to see if a TV show set in the DC Universe could be any better.

Is It Any Good? – Well, again excepting the Wonder Woman movie, it’s better than any of the DCU movies, but that’s hardly the highest of high bars to clear. In fact it’s a nearly completely incoherent mess. There’s way too many characters jostling for attention and the show simply can’t pick a tone and stick with it.  Half the show is a goofy, fun-times adventure with a bunch of appealing teenagers exploring the fact they’ve for super-powers. The other half is faux-“dark” grittiness, full of under-lit fight scenes, back alleys and gruesomely unpleasant corners of the world. When the show is focussed on the adventures of Tiger Boy, Emo Girl and Disco Outfit the whole thing comes alive and the cast are incredibly likable (Ryan Potter as Gar and Anna Diop as Starfire are especially great). When it tries to be “grown up” it’s an outright catastrophe. The fight sequences are uniformly terrible – every single punch visibly misses by about half a meter yet we still get gouts of unconvincing CGI blood, and the show clearly seems to be trying to capture the visceral thrill of Daredevil‘s fight sequences with no apparent understanding of why those actually worked.

And it badly misjudges some of it’s themes – a late-episode decision to wander into Adventures In Paedophilia is especially crass and clumsy and the show simply doesn’t have the chops to be able to deal with such a serious issue in a way that does it justice. And as for Robin? Well, Brenton Thwaites is pretty solid as Dick and brings across the conflict between his desire to stick with Bruce Wayne/Batman for the greater good and his own conviction that he’s done with it. And Curran Walters as the Jason Todd version of the character captures the glee and borderline-psychopathy of the comic-book Jason version very effectively. But the show doesn’t need two Robins – maybe if this were a thirteen-episode run there would be space for all these people but in ten episode? Not even close.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? – All of the first season. It’s a pretty easy show to blow through, when it’s not being a show that’s incredibly difficult to blow through. If you know what I mean.

Would You Recommend It? I guess? The charming bits are, well, charming, and I hope come Season Two (already announced) that it leans much more into the goofy side of things than the darkness, because the goofy parts really are fun. There’s enough emotional and thematic weight there to carry a season easily, and using Dick as the “grown up trying to help” just as Bruce Wayne fulfilled that role for him works well and suggests a degree of thought in terms of character work. But the show wants to have its cake and eat it – to embrace the darkness that made, say, the first season of Daredevil so compelling while at the same time be a bright, primary-coloured piece of fun (Gar in particular looks like an anime character made flesh). 

But it’s just not deft enough to be able to do that, and by failing to pick a side and stick with it, the whole thing becomes dangerously close to being an outright disaster. It’s not quite that, though the final episode works hard to convince us it might be, being as it is a completely incoherent piece of nothing – a dream sequence where we spend a punishing 57 minutes exploring Dick Grayson’s inner doubts (already dragged over in more than enough details over the course of the series) followed by about three minutes on the actual plot that might matter. It’s staggeringly misjudged (and almost completely side-lines the younger cast, to the episode’s detriment), as we waste acres of screen-time in a fantasy sequence about what might happen if Batman broke bad. Turns out he kills lots of people. Amazing!

Batman himself ought really to be a lurking presence hanging over the episode but he’s not really – we see him a few times in silhouette or very quickly falling out of frame lest we spend time on an interesting character – he’s just there to pad out the episode in case we get to the climax of meeting Rachels’ demon daddy too soon (did I mention her Dad’s a demon? He is. Why? *shrugs*). And yet… and yet… there’s a decent show lurking in here, like a green tiger-boy-thing in the undergrowth. I really want to see that show emerge, because it’s interesting and fun and not just hitting the same notes every other damned sour-faced superhero TV show seems to. If the show can get that going in the second season, I’ll be back. If we get more terrible fight scenes, stupid attempts at being “grown up” and “dark”, and misjudged plot threads, well, I won’t.

Scores On The Doors? 5/10 – even split between the fun parts and the dark parts. You can probably guess by now which side earned the points.

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