As mentioned in the introduction to our Smallville retrospective series, superheroes have grown into a dominant force on television in the past few years. From the dark depths of Netflix’s Marvel line-up to the DC expansive presence across every network not owned by Disney, it’s a great time to be a fan of superhero media on the small screen. Even better, the majority of this material is hugely enjoyable, to the point that it can be hard determining which show is the best.
But, hey, what’s the point of an entertainment website if not to do exactly that? So, below we’ve got the Joy of Geek’s ranking of the 2015-2016 season’s superhero shows. Is Arrow or Daredevil the better street-level vigilante? Which of Marvel’s superspy shows is best? And in the end, who takes top honors: the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Arrowverse? Read on to find out!
9. Gotham: Season 2
Oh, Gotham. What a beautiful mess of a show you are. In all honesty, I was tempted to rank this show higher, if only for how hard it is to stop watching this train wreck. But a train wreck it is, one that somehow became even more unfocused and chaotic in its second season. On the plus side, the show abandoned its avoidance of major Batman villains and introduced wilder threats for Gordon and the GCPD. On the other, well, none of those threats ever evolved into major players.
The show just squanders every opportunity, introducing villains before quickly killing them off or removing them from the plot entirely. Even the Penguin, a highlight of the first season, was left floundering with several meandering arcs throughout the season. From countless “falls from grace” for Gordon to a ridiculous reimagining of Azrael, this show remains a disaster narratively and tonally, and as an adaptation of the Caped Crusader. And yet, I remain fascinated by whatever madness comes next.
8. Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1
A team-up show of this magnitude, bringing in numerous recurring characters from Arrow and The Flash, should’ve been a slam dunk, especially with all of time and space as the team’s playground. However, things never quite came together in a satisfying way for Legends of Tomorrow in its freshman season, due to an underwhelming villain, a few weak teammates, and loose, poorly conceived rules for time travel.
Still, while the seasonal arc fell flat, the team dynamics kept the show entertaining. And though the Hawks were fairly flat characters, the rest of the team fared well, with White Canary, Captain Cold, and the two halves of Firestorm constantly stealing scenes. Plus, when the show went all-out with its time travelling, it provided great episodes like “The Magnificent Eight” and “Night of the Hawk.” With some major casting and plot changes coming next season, here’s hoping the show can place higher on next year’s list.
7. Daredevil: Season 2
As much as there was to like in the second season of Daredevil, it was those same elements that paradoxically made this a lesser outing for the show than the first. Jon Bernthal’s Punisher and Elodie Yung’s Elektra were both stellar additions, each actor managing to fully embody the classic comic characters. However, the focus shifted a bit too much to these new characters, with Matt Murdock getting a bit lost in the shuffle along the way.
Beyond that, the show fell victim to Iron Man 2 syndrome; it spent so much time setting up future projects – there’s a reason this season is also known as The Punisher: Season Zero – that there wasn’t a truly satisfying conclusion to this season’s arcs. The season started strong, but lost too much steam towards the end to land any higher on the list.
6. Arrow: Season 4
Some may disagree with Arrow beating Daredevil, but it’s important to look at expectations. Daredevil came off of a masterful first season to deliver a disappointing sophomore effort; Arrow, meanwhile, took a major step up after a particularly dour third season. So while season four wasn’t the show’s best material, it provided an overall more positive experience.
In particular, Damien Darhk proved to be one of the best Big Bads in the history of superhero television, with Neal McDonough bringing a delightful energy to the usually dark show. Heck, he was so good, he managed to steal whole other shows with his brief appearances on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Beyond that, though, the show did plenty right by its characters, with strong arcs for Ollie, Diggle, Thea, and Felicity, as well as introducing Echo Kellum’s terrific Curtis Holt. More than enough positives to make up for a weak finale and too much Malcolm Merlyn.
5. Agents of SHIELD: Season 3
The higher we get on the list, the more relevant the likability of a show’s cast becomes. I’d say Daredevil, Arrow, and Agents of SHIELD all fall fairly close to each other in terms of quality, with similar highs and lows throughout. Ultimately, then, it comes down to which show has the characters you most want to spend time with on a weekly basis, and for me, Coulson and the gang have the advantage.
These characters have spent three years thriving in the space between the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the show has become quite adept at telling some of the best stories in the MCU. This season had several great storylines, with Grant Ward reaching his villainous apex and the complicated romance between Fitz and Simmons providing an emotional roller coaster ride. We also got a solid villain in the form of Hive, as well as some strong superhero action as Skye embraced her identity as Daisy Johnson and Quake. Even without the flash-forward tease that ended the season, I’d still be excited to return to the Zephyr One in the fall.
4. The Flash: Season 2
We’re now in the top tier of superhero shows for the season, the MVPs that show just how great this type of television can be. It’s a position The Flash has pretty much held since its premiere in 2014, and season two continued the fun with plenty of over-the-top action, strong character work, and tons of great humor and references to the wider DC universe.
In truth, this season probably wasn’t quite as strong as the first. The way the Zoom arc played out wasn’t that far removed from the conflict with Reverse-Flash, and the burden of setting up Legends of Tomorrow kept the show from building much momentum in the first half of the season. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to be bothered by that when the show manages to be so much fun on a week-to-week basis. From the arrival of Jay Garrick to the phenomenal two-part trip to Earth-2, The Flash delivered constant thrills this season, proving any fears of a sophomore slump unfounded.
3. Agent Carter: Season 2
The first season of Agent Carter ended with Peggy satisfied that she knew her own value, even if no one else did. It’s a great sentiment for the character, but man, it would’ve been nice for more viewers to realize just how good this show was. The second – and now, alas, final – season of Agent Carter was even better than the first, a confident period piece that gave Peggy Carter some of her best adventures and funniest moments even as the viewer count fell.
In a way, it’s hard to be too upset; what started as a brief Marvel One-Shot somehow turned into a limited series event that, in turn, somehow managed to score a renewal. That this absolutely dynamite season – featuring Whitney Frost, Zero Matter, and the Devil in Pink himself, Bernard – exists at all is a gift. Still, it’s hard to not to wish for more of this absolute dream of a show. If nothing else, a multimedia franchise as big as the MCU offers plenty of chances for us to see Peggy Carter and friends again.
2. Supergirl: Season 1
I’ll admit, there’s definitely an argument to be made that Supergirl is too high on this list. It certainly had its share of first season growing pains and some clunky storytelling along the way. That said, it was a remarkably solid show, one that provided a consistent level of quality all year long. Plus, there were more than a few great twists along the way, from the introduction of the Martian Manhunter to Cat Grant’s emergence as one of the best characters on TV.
At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to Melissa Benoist’s performance as Kara Danvers. The actress has a great grasp on both the civilian and superhero sides of the character, providing one of the most likable, relatable characters on television. However goofy and melodramatic this show can get, it remains a joy to watch, and its move to The CW means the chance for more interdimensional Arrowverse fun in the fall.
1. Jessica Jones: Season 1
Above, I mentioned that a strong central character can raise the overall quality of a weaker show. When the show around such a character is also of such a high quality? You get Jessica Jones, which is not only the best superhero show of the past season, but the best show the MCU has offered yet. Everything about Jessica Jones is fantastic, from the hero, to the villain, to the supporting cast. It’s a thirteen-episode masterpiece, one that delves into a variety of complex issues such as rape, victimization, and toxic masculinity.
As Jessica herself would tell you, she’s no superhero, she’s just a messed-up person that happens to have superpowers. Similarly, Jessica Jones is far from the standard sort of superhero show, but that’s exactly what makes it stand out in a crowded market. In many ways, it’s the superhero equivalent of Breaking Bad, the very best this genre – as much superhero can be called a genre, but that’s an argument for another day – can offer, and it’s without a doubt the best superhero show of the past twelve months.
What did you think of our list? Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I raving madman that has no idea what makes for quality entertainment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!