Superhero shows are everywhere and with these shows racking up praise and filling up top 30 spots like spring hens in a McDonald’s processing factory, everyone and their brother is jumping on the bandwagon with varying success. Now, on one hand the mass of superhero shows has brought us such quality shows like Gotham and Daredevil, but it has also brought about tosh like The Flash and the 2012 remake of The Tomorrow People.
And now yet another superhero show arrives Monday on CBS, by the name of Supergirl, and based on the previews I’m worried about its reliance on familiar tropes. How will it avoid some of the longstanding pitfalls of the genre? I’d like to present a simple analysis of how to do just that.
First, let’s address some of the genre’s common mistakes.
One of the worst pitfalls that so many shows fall into is the Overly Edgy Angsty Angst. We’ve all heard The Dark Knight jokes about Batman’s deep, broody voice and how his parents are dead, but while the movies did a reasonable job of balancing the angst, many TV shows just slather their scene with angst.
Look at that B-list actor. He’s living in the sewer, has superpowers that no one understands and is socially awkward and outcast because of this! His friends are only his friends on an episode-by-episode basis. His entire existence is in constant danger because the evil corporation is hunting him and his friends to exploit their powers for evil—but he also works for them! What a twist!
Ow… I just sliced my finger open on that guy’s edge.
Bloody fingers aside, Overly Edgy Angsty Angst is a terribly annoying trope among superhero media and having it in your show might as well be a death sentence. Not to say the angst or edginess is bad, it’s only when you slather your characters in angst and edge that it becomes pathetic.
Speaking of pathetic, have you ever noticed how some shows throw something related to pop culture into a scene, regardless of the tone or mood of the series, just to get some cred from them Kidz? The polar opposite of Overly Edgy Angsty Angst is shoehorning Kidz Cred into stuff, and it’s notorious in superhero stuff (probably because most of the comics that superheroes originated from started in print in pre-WWII times, or the writers could just be lazy). Look at ouz! We is hip like them Kidz. We’z grammerz wrong and We’z have all them 2008 muzic sensationz! We’z main character is misunderstood but is special because he/she’z diffrent and misunderstood. Diffrent iz good!!! Please watch our stuff.
The worst part is that Kidz Cred doesn’t even work in most cases, mostly because it is painful, tedious, mood-breaking and aggravating to even the crowd that gets the reference. Worse, often the Kidz Cred is often several years old and not caught up with current pop culture. (It’s Lady Gaga, why do writers keep thinking that’s relevant! How many years has it been since she’s released an album—a pop album, not the lounge album with Tony Bennett, which doesn’t count.) Kidz Cred and Overly Edgy Angsty Angst are quite possibly the easiest ways to sink your superhero show during its pilot episode.
Now, this article could just morph into a rant about all the terrible tropes used in superhero shows (because there are a lot), but in the spirit of trying to foster better grounds for better shows, here’s a baseline for what makes a good superhero show.
A large CG budget always helps. Dreadful CGI is a dime a dozen and just waters down a show’s integrity as a whole. You could have the best story in the world, but not even that will save you from the legions of critics that will point out how plastic-y and fake your terrible CG looks.
Actors that can act. Actors are probably the most important thing to have in a show and having solid actors for your superhero show is critical. Actors that can pull off wearing spandex and can insult other people wearing spandex all while keeping a straight face are preferable, to say the least.
Creative, weird writers. Superheroes are weird (no way of getting around it), so it only makes sense to bring on equally weird writers for the series. Superhero shows also happen to have incredible flexibility in their useable themes and mood. They can be dark and depressing or light-hearted and hammy or a mishmash of both! You just have to make sure that you don’t fall into the OEAA territory or mistake light-heartedness and some well done ham for misguided Them Kidz pandering.
Simply put, making a superhero show requires a lot of work, love and cash, but when done right it can produce something truly wonderful. Let’s hope Supergirl is able to pull it off.
(Images are official publicity material from CBS, Fox, and the CW.)
TV Talk is a regular television column written by Robert Pulford, Current Staff.
One response to “So Many Superhero Shows, So Many Cliches”
Nice work, Robert. I hope you’re doing well at the HS.