DC's Legends of Tomorrow: An Eulogy for The Best Arrowverse Show
Barack Obama and J.R.R. would meet Gorilla Grodd on what other TV show? Tolkein to save the world of Damien Darhk
Fridays should be a time to relax and unwind from the stresses of the week. Just before April 29th, the CW announced that DC's Legends of Tomorrow would be cancelled after seven seasons. This is a terrible cancellation that has left us with a horrible cliffhanger. It may have been caused by an imminent network sale. We feel like our good friend is gone.
It was either the third or fourth Arrowverse show, depending on how you view Supergirl's CBS series. Legends of Tomorrow should not have been successful. The idea for Legends of Tomorrow was terrible.
That was true for at least the first season. It took the show some time to get its feet under control, just like other shows that have devoted fans (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Parks and Recreation). Overly dramatic in the first season, it focused on some of the most disliked characters, including Vandal Savage, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. It also highlighted characters' poor decisions and unneeded secrets.
Legends' second season was only a few episodes in, but the adults left and didn't return to the children for the six remaining seasons.
Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne escaped from The Flash along with Matt Letscher, his second face (instead of Tom Cavanagh) to antagonize The Legends. Later, he was joined by Arrow villains Damien Darhk and Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), to create the Legion of Doom. The Legends met Jonah Hex and took part in the Arrowverse's first ever full-size crossover. They also got to meet historical figures such as Al Capone, George Washington, and Jonah Hex. Ray and Thawne go to the moon together, forcing them all to cooperate to return home. They win, and temporarily rewrite history. This is the beginning of many other timelines that the series would explore.
The second season was much more enjoyable than the first. For one, it made extensive use of villains from the past. Both Marvel and DC show struggle with this. For a while, villains are a Big Bad. They're usually killed and gone. These villains are rarely allowed to return in the same way as the heroes of the comic books. Damien Darhk was an example of a poorly-written Arrow villain. He brought up stakes far too high to justify the series about a man with colorful pointsy sticks and whose girlfriend hacks everything using her iPad. He's much more compatible with a time travel team that includes an atomic man and an atom-sized person. They also have someone who can summon any animal they wish. Darhk would recur on the show as both a villain and as an anti-hero. However, his daughter and the Legends' unwavering optimism saved him. His character developed and became a more sympathetic one, which was the ideal definition of a villain recurring throughout. He was allowed to grow and change as he went along. Legends are the reason he's still one of my favorite characters from Arrowverse, despite some rough patches.
The show also became absolutely unafraid to be silly and in active conversation with its fanbase. When a stuffed animal named Beebo inadvertently became an oracle to a band of vikings, the fandom latched onto him, making him a hilarious recurring character. The Season 3 finale had the Legends transforming Voltron-style into a giant Beebo, and then showing its Shaolin style to a time demon.
Metatextual also became a part of Legends, making fun of TV and itself--in a manner that recalls something like NBC's Community. John Noble, a character actor, voices Mallus the time demon. They kidnapped John Noble, who was playing Denethor on the Lord of the Rings sets, so they could make him play Mallus and manipulate Mallus into being less evil. They had the antagonist's actor play the role of the villain.
The show later would have great parodies, and make hilarious mockery of other TV tropes. Sara Lance told one character that MacGuffins were not allowed on the crew's coffee before Sara had finished her cup. MacGuffin, a term that is used in storytelling criticism to refer to the desired item (the Holy Grail or the Allspark), but which is not the main point of the story. Star Trek, Friends and many other characters are mocked. It was, however, done with the intent of explaining something about the characters.
These characters were not static, and even throwaway jokes became central to the characters. Zari, during a time-loop episode, learned that hardened thief Mick Rory had a secret knack for writing romance novels, and that would later become an important part of his character rather than a silly joke that made fun of someone having feelings and expressing them. Throughout his six seasons with the show, Rory evolved from a hardened criminal to a loving (if very surly) father and someone proud to be part of the Legends team.
This is a difficult piece of writing, one that wittyly pokes fun at the audience, but not at the expense or the character. Legends manages to balance this perfectly throughout the run.
Legends has a large, rotating cast which was something that could be problematic for many other shows. Three of the Waveriders' characters were forced to leave the series' first season. This began a long-lasting tradition. Every season saw some characters depart and new ones join. This meant that Season 1's core cast was reduced to Sara Lance, however it brought John Constantine and other great characters aboard the timeship.
Maisie Richardson Sellers, an actress, joined the show in Amaya Jiwe's role. She later moved to Charlie as a shape-changer, who becomes stuck in Jiwe until she finally found her way to love it. Matt Ryan was initially cast as John Constantine. However, Gwyn Davies would be played later by Ryan. Tala Ashe played Zari in two very different roles. One was a hacker who loves donuts and the other came from an alternate timeline, where she was a Kardashian-like media mogul. It was a show that cared about its actors. This gave them both the opportunity to remain on the show and also allowed them to show their acting skills by taking on different roles and wearing different outfits.
Even characters that felt so random and weird at first became beloved members of the group, such as when a change to the timeline replaced Zari with her brother, the lovable stoner Behrad. The missteps here were few and far between, with even initially obnoxious characters like Gary Greene finding a way to fit into the show and grow into a full person.
The Legends had to contend with time anomalies, mythological creatures and resurrected souls of hell, as well as historical times. This made it feel like the villain-of–the-week. The show had a comparable budget to Arrowverse, but it was not as large. Legends would often find themselves in different locations or time periods. However, set designers and directors made sure that these were never cheap, no matter how much they were likely to be in real life. It was not overly concerned about realism. Instead, it understood how to strike a fine balance between the true essence and the exact details.
Legends was silly, true to its self throughout its entire run. It made other Arrowverse shows seem worse. The series was not afraid to change and took chances to allow its characters and cast the space they required to thrive. The series felt like it was playing a joke on all the networks and other shows. It's devastating that the series was cancelled, but it's difficult not to feel grateful for seven more seasons.
It would have been nice to be able to see Booster Gold more often than we did in the final half of Season 7. Donald Faison could have fit right in with the Legends crew. We'd have been able say good-bye to Sara Lance, the Waverider.
Legends of Tomorrow shouldn't have worked, but the writers and cast loved the show so much that they willed it to work. They molded and chiseled away at it until the worst parts fell away to reveal even more silliness and personality. There are still Arrowverse shows on the CW; the Flash will get a Season 9, Superman and Lois a Season 3. But as the CW prepares to sell itself off to the highest bidder, it looked to shave off shows that weren't quite so successful. Legends slid under the radar for so long, and it feels like someone finally checked the books and realized that, somehow, this show was still being filmed and aired by the network.
It's difficult not to view Legends of Tomorrow as the start of the Arrowvers' end. It doesn't take into account the fact that Legends of Tomorrow was cancelled the day before Batwoman. This effectively ended both network's LGBTQ-led superhero series simultaneously. Legends of Tomorrow and Arrowverse were both ambitious, weird experiments that worked out better than expected, even though they had their flaws. Legends of Tomorrow was a gift to all of us who saw it. It is a highlight of the CW's collection of superhero shows.
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