Fun With Pop Culture, Mixed Beans

2019 Network Snap Judgments – The CW

And here we are, with the new fall season about to hit, and I’m covering the new shows on the last of the five networks. It’s time to hit The CW which has only three new shows. Two are spinoffs and all three are licensed properties. Business as usual over on that network that doesn’t have a nickname!

BatwomanLet me be clear here, since there is already a backlash. I in no way object to the trailer’s explicitly feminist messaging, even if it’s a little hamfisted. I also am not one of those people who is mad that the actress playing Batman, who is both Jewish and a lesbian in the comics, is not Jewish nor “lesbian enough”. Because the latter is nobody’s business and a bad thing to say and the former is…. well, Judaism isn’t especially prominent in any Batwoman story I’ve ever read. By which I mean it is almost never referenced. Also, that’s not a criticism that’s ever been brought up against, say, Joe Dinicol or Michael Chiklis. (I could probably come up with more examples, but I don’t want to start Googling the ethnicity of famous people.) So I think that’s maybe a disingenuous aspect of the complaints. I am not that guy who wants Brie Larson to smile more, so please don’t read my disinterest as anything political.

This is, as you might guess, based on the Batman spinoff character of Kate Kane, Batwoman. This particular iteration of the character was co-created by Greg Rucka (who also co-created Stumptown, so he’s having a year) back in 2006. She’s Bruce Wayne’s maternal cousin, and the stories when she took over as the lead in Detective Comics were really good, but I lost interest in her series after the new 52 relaunch, so I’m not an expert on what’s been happening with the character lately.

The trailer for the TV show matches up with the comic in some respects (kicked out of West Point for her sexuality, dad who was a military guy), but also ties her into Batman a lot more directly, to the extent that she’s wearing one of his old suits. (In the comics, her father works with her and designed her outfit and weapons. The trailer presents him as a little more antagonistic.) And it all seems fine and the villain for the season is Alice, who I like. And it’s Batman-related, but I don’t care.

As a stand-alone, I’d probably be interested in this. But the CW has been doing these shows for years and I’ve made my peace with not liking them. I don’t like their aesthetics or their approach or the way they occupy this weird middle ground between superheroes and teen soap opera. I feel like the CW approach to DC characters is to base them on a character I like and then take away the things I like about them. I’ve tried them all, and while Black Lightning is sometimes good, I just don’t enjoy Greg Berlanti’s approach to superhero shows. Let’s put aside that I don’t like how the premise of the series is that Batman has abandoned Gotham and they can never say otherwise because the CW doesn’t have the license for live-action Batman. It’s just that this is my sixth chance with something that I know is not for me so it’s only going to aggravate me to try it again.

Katy KeeneThis is a spinoff of Riverdale, in that it shares the Josie character and it’s set five years later. And like the parent series, it’s based on a comic book from the Archie Comics family. Unlike it, it’s based on a series that was never particularly successful and would occasionally go dormant for decades at a time. Also, comic Katy is a model/actress/singer, and here Lucy Hale plays an aspiring fashion designer. So the connection to a not particularly valuable IP is tenuous at best. But the CW is allergic to new concepts and wants only licenses and spinoffs.

Beyond the tie-in to a teen murder soap opera, this looks like the most standard “making our dreams come true in the big city” trailer I’ve ever scene. I’m already irritated that these struggling artists have a massive apartment that can easily just accommodate another roommate without any fuss, which is a trope I thought disappeared years ago. And let’s be honest, it’s going to take a lot to get people to buy into character names like “Katy Keene” or a boxer named “K.O. Kelly”. Basically, the one thing they took from the existing concept is the 1940s-ass names.

This is clearly not aimed at me, but I can’t tell who it’s aimed at. Riverdale fans aren’t necessarily going to follow a supporting character to an aspirational musical drama. People my age don’t want to watch young people with fabulous lives talk about how much they’re struggling. And the whole thing just feels like the “Hey, fellow teens” bit from 30 Rock. But the CW doesn’t cancel shows, especially based on licenses properties, so it’ll probably run until these young people are desperate artists in their forties.

Nancy DrewCan you believe it, the CW doing a dark reimagining of a property aimed at children? Somebody fetch the monocle that popped out of my eye just now! I’ll admit, I’m a little salty that the Sarah Shahi adult Nancy Drew series didn’t go in favor of the “still teens but with blood and sex” version, but that’s not the only problem here.

This is a real question – do kids still read Nancy Drew? This is another case where I don’t think the license is at all relevant to the target audience. I miss the days when you’d create Veronica Mars instead of rebooting Nancy Drew. And if the product isn’t faithful to the original, why bother to license it? This bothers me about a lot of reboots. The recent-ish Lone Ranger movie wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t really the Lone Ranger – other than the suggestion of the outfit (and he almost never wore the mask in the movie), it didn’t have any real relation to what people like about the character. And also, everybody who has strong feelings about the Lone Ranger has been dead for twenty years. It’s not a valuable name in terms of box office and it’s not such a faithful take that it has to be the Lone Ranger. It could just be “Mediocre Western with a Surprisingly Racist Supporting Performance”. Which is not a great name, I’ll admit.

Anyway, this looks to be a season long mystery with Nancy and her friends who all seem to work at the same diner, solving a murder and maybe dealing with a rich man and a ghost. It doesn’t look crazy enough to have that Riverdale vibe and there’s very little that’s memorable about the trailer beyond the name “Nancy Drew”. Most of what I said about Katy Keene also applies here, I guess. I hate to be so dismissive, but this is so clearly not for me that I can’t even have strong opinions.

What I’m Watching – Not a thing. In a different world, Batwoman would have warranted at least a look but I already know I don’t like the Berlanti/CW approach to DC superheroes and it would be crazy for me to think that maybe this time it’s going to stick. I know what I don’t like and we can all just live with that.

2018 Follow Up – All five new fall series were renewed (All-American, Charmed, In the Dark, Legacies, and Roswell, New Mexico). They did launch a show just last month with the unbearable name I Ship It that was cancelled after two episodes, but by and large, the CW doesn’t cancel things. The Dynasty reboot hovers near ratings that are statistically unmeasurable and it’s still going.

I talked about it last year and it’s only become more prevalent – the CW is existing almost entirely on licensed shows and reboots. They don’t create original ideas and that seems to be a dangerous position. 5-6 hours of their ten hour programming week are devoted to DC Comics shows, and as we just saw with Sony and Marvel, those rights can get taken away at any time. Warner Bros. is launching a streaming service in the near future and the DC Universe already has one of its own. At some point, they’re going to want to bring their characters under one umbrella. And even if that doesn’t happen, the ratings on the DC shows are dropping across the board with each season. Adding another show when their viewer retention is terrible seems like a weird move.

As it is right now, over the course of a whole year of programming, the CW has three shows that are original creations and one that’s actually produced by the CBC and aired here by the CW. After that it’s all reboots and licenses and spinoffs and eventually they’re going to run out of properties to cannibalize.

And that’s it for the fall season! Overall across all five networks, it’s not the strongest lineup I’ve seen, but it’s better than last year certainly. And I think there are a fair number of potential hits that aren’t really my speed. I’ll see you back here in a year to see how everybody did. I mean, I’ll be back before then, but I’ll be talking about, like, Big Brother and Watchmen.

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