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Is The CW the Superhero and Graphic Novel Network?
October 6, 2019  | By Mike Hughes
 


If consistency is a virtue, then, well, the CW is our most virtuous TV network.

But if variety is the spice of life? This spice rack is almost empty.

The mini-network is in its premiere week now, two weeks after the big guys started. It has two new shows – the impressive Batwoman (Sundays at 8 p.m. ET) and the not-bad Nancy Drew (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET) – and lots of same-old.

Many of those shows have followed Arrow, which is starting its final, 10-episode season (returning October 15, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET), "Who would have thought it would spawn six shows, a whole universe?" Mark Pedowitz, president of the CW network, asked the Television Critics Association (TCA) in August.

Those shows – dubbed the "Arrowverse" – are impressive if quite similar. Recently departed are the CW's most distinctive (and award-winning) shows.

In consecutive years, the Golden Globe for best comedy actress went to CW's Jane the Virgin (Gina Rodriguez) and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Rachel Bloom). The TCA nominated both for best new show and named Bloom as best comedy person overall.

Now both are gone, as is iZombie, another show with sharp humor. The shows that remain are slickly filmed, smartly conceived – and kind of similar. Of the twelve currently on the air, six have comic book roots, eight have supernatural elements, and seven are produced by Greg Berlanti who has two more shows (Katy Keene, top, and Legends of Tomorrow) waiting for mid-season.

To be fair, Berlanti produces lots of shows everywhere, including the big networks (God Friended Me, Prodigal Son, Red Line) and streaming services. In two inconsistent fields – youth shows and the supernatural – he's brought intelligent scripts, rich filming, and great casting.

But he's also brought that sameness, with a dark color palette and a darker mood. Under Berlanti, Archie Andrews – maybe the sunniest guy in comic-book history – ended up in prison, doing cage fights; his pal Jughead became a gang leader.

That dark cloud seems to descend over many CW shows, including Nancy Drew (which isn't a Berlanti production). We miss the brightness of the departed shows.

But the quality is there, starting with the ability to find young actors who perfectly fit each role. Kennedy McMann was fresh from college (Carnegie Mellon), living a double life in New York as a nanny and an aspiring actress. "I would be auditioning every morning," she told the TCA, "and then running to go catch a train and change into my nanny outfit." She landed one-shot roles on two series and then, suddenly, the lead in Nancy Drew.

Ruby Rose grew up in Australia, struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, and – after coming out as a lesbian at 12 – bullying. "I do think that we are coming a long way in acceptance," she told the TCA. "People are becoming more progressive, and we are getting much more representation on television."

Now that representation hits a new level – a hard-nosed, kick-butt hero (Batwoman) who happens to be a lesbian, on a show that – like its predecessor, Gotham – is richly crafted.

Like most CW shows, Batwoman is heavily serialized, giving viewers less to savor at the end of each hour. Still, it avoids common flaws of the others: Many of the fantasy shows make the villains and heroes so powerful that the confrontations aren't interesting. And two of the non-fantasies have cardboard villains – the police chief on Nancy Drew and almost everyone on Riverdale.

But what about shows that are traditional dramas with few murders and no superpowers? This fall, CW has only two – All American (Mondays at 8 p.m. ET) is quite good; Dynasty (Fridays at 9 p.m. ET) is not.

Coming later, however, are Katy Keene and In the Dark. The latter – a deeply layered portrait of a cynical young blind woman – started well, drifted a bit, then ended its season powerfully.

In different ways, the CW manages to recapture our interest.

 
 
 
 
 
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