The Arrowverse is seemingly never ending. Arrow itself might have come to a conclusion recently (the final season has only just resumed in the UK), but with Batwoman having premiered this past year, Green Arrow and the Canaries as well as new Superman television series in the works, and The Flash and Supergirl still going strong, it’s sometimes easy to overlook Legends of Tomorrow.
That first season was not the greatest, let’s be honest. Here was a series that arrived under much hype and expectation, putting together a large ensemble made up of some of the most popular supporting characters from DC’s expansive television universe, and the results were okay.
It wasn’t the worst thing ever made, but there was a feeling that a show with this cast playing these characters should have been more imaginative than what we ended up with. The time travel component did lead to one or two interesting ideas and episodes (‘Progeny’ with it’s ‘would you killer Hitler as a child’ style analogy was pretty damn good), but there were teething problems for sure, with the cast seemingly never gelling the way it felt like they should have done, and the whole production never feeling as charming or as lovable it should have been.
This mightn’t have been a problem if the show still managed to work as a darker, serious show, but even then, it still felt like the writers couldn’t figure out the tone it needed to have.
Here was a series made up of Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Victor Garber, Franz Drameh, Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell and Arthur Darvill playing a Doctor Who-style character, while also have Hawkgirl and Hawkman amongst the cast and the show was at best okay.
Come season two and a change of attitude was put into effect; the humour was upped considerably, the stories were better and by having a trifecta group of villains against our heroes made of various Flash and Arrow characters, the show started to have fun simply by being part of this particular universe, while the introduction of Nate, played by Nick Zano, brought with it a bromance between himself and Ray (Routh), while the absence of Rip Hunter (Darvill) meant that Caity Lotz’s Sara was put in charge as captain.
The Hawks’ were gently pushed aside, while the introduction of both Nate and a new version of Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellars) brought with it a new dynamic to the team and a welcome inclusion of characters with charm.
In fact, charm was something that was severely lacking that first year and which was brought to the fore and then some in season two, with stories and interaction amongst the characters more natural, funnier and engaging, with stakes that felt legitimate, even if the time travel component really ought to have messed up the continuity in the other shows, although it all so much fun it was really hard to care about that; the show simply asked you to get on board with it which wasn’t hard to do simply because it was so damn entertaining.
Then came the third season and everything clicked into place. The introduction of the Time Bureau brought with it several new avenues for story, as well as Ava Lance (Jes McCallan), who started off as an antagonistic figure before becoming a worthy on-going love interest for Sara, while Damien Dhark, Arrow’s fourth season villain and not one of its best, gained a daughter and with it an upbeat brand of humour and portrayal from Neal McDonaugh, while the series brought in John Constantine, played by Matt Ryan from the actual NBC show, and with it a more accurate depiction of the character, including a full committal to him being bisexual, as well as television’s first Muslim superhero in Zari, played by Tala Ashe.
Where most Arrowverse shows begin strong, have two great opening seasons and then flounder, Legends has been the one show that has gone from strength to strength, getting better with each passing season, becoming more ambitious in tone and structure.
The seasons themselves are considerably shorter than the other shows, usually running to sixteen episodes and while its ratings are never as strong as its companions, it does tend to gain considerably better reviews and has an adoring fanbase.
Going into its fifth season, Legends has the confidence of a hit show, but it’s really more of a cult one at this stage that just happens to be part of a larger, commercially successful multi-series franchise. It may have sat the Elseworlds crossover out, and this being Legends they couldn’t help but make mention of that fact by joking about it, but various running gags on the show has shown up on the other shows, such as Beebo, the Furby-like teddy bear that has become one of the best running jokes on television.
The series is basically the superhero version of Parks and Recreation; a messy first season that didn’t know what it wanted to be, got better in the second and has flown high ever since the third, and it’s backed by one of the best ensemble casts currently on television, not to mention some of the most imaginatively funny storytelling.
Like the best network genre television, the writing here can play with long form storytelling, but isn’t above dabbling in some hilariously well put together stand-alone stories, with episodes throwing in puppets, musical numbers and jokes that threaten to break the fourth wall. One of the very best episodes even used the trope of a Groundhog Day-style time loop, with the third season’s ‘Here I Go Again’, which proved a great vehicle for Tala Ashe’s character Zari and was filled to the brim with Groundhog Day references and a wonderful performance from Ashe.
References are made at various points to Superman that play on Routh having been the character in a previous movie, not to mention references to prison breaks in the presence of Dominic Purcell, and Victor Garber complaining about food on the Titanic.
Then there’s Sara Lance.
The Arrowverse has championed diversity, it was the very thing that marked it out right away, and something that many bigger screen equivalents (both DC and Marvel) have taken a long time to catch up to, and while Supergirl and Batwoman have put female characters front and centre, it’s arguable that Legends has the best female superhero character on television.
A trained assassin, we’ve watched as she’s went from someone struggling to deal with being back from the dead, to being a charmingly fun action heroine unapologetic about her sexuality and flirtatious character, to someone who is now in a committed relationship with Ava, the character’s journey being perfectly brought to fruition by Lotz’s performance and writing that never throws her under the bus (*cough* Supergirl and Mon-El *cough*). We’ve watched as Sara has never lost sight of being who she is while also becoming the leader of the show and with it Lotz has become the heart and soul of the series, being tough, funny and dramatic in equal measure. She is without a doubt the best lead of any of this branch of shows.
It’s one of many elements that has made Legends the most underrated series currently airing on television. The superhero element might put a lot of people off who are suffering from superhero fatigue, but what the series has ended up doing perfectly is becoming not a superhero series, but the type of witty, fun action packed genre series that used to be a dime a dozen in the 90s and early 2000s, something that can simultaneously put humour, action and genuine dramatic heft front and centre in a way that works wonders and which makes it a joy to return to every week.
Not bad for a series that started the way this one did.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is available to stream on The CW Seed and Netflix in the US, and NOW TV and Sky Box Sets in the UK.