The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow is trying something that is rarely done in our current climate of superhero TV shows: focusing on a group of adventurers instead of a single heroic lead. The show combines heroes and a couple of bad guys from the Flarrowverse (that’s The Flash and Arrow combined) to make up a team trying to take down immortal baddie Vandal Savage by traveling through time. That team is comprised eight people: Rip Hunter (a former Time Master who basically serves at leader), Sara Lance (White Canary), Ray Palmer (Atom), Professor Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson who, as a duo, make up Firestorm, Kendra Saunders (Hawkgirl and the ancient priestess Chay-Ara) and the bad guy team of Leonart Snart (Captain Cold) and Mick Rory (Heat Wave).
I know what you’re thinking, Man, when you lay it all out like that, that’s a lot of people. It sure is. And the show frequently does a less than great job of handling it all. So, lets take a look at why Legends of Tomorrow is way worse than the shows that birthed it.
We know you’re traveling through time, stop telling usThe Legends of Tomorrow team is, in case you weren’t aware, traversing time on their adventures to stop an ancient evil-doer from taking over the earth and destroying man kind. In general, there’s no problem with this. Characters on The Flash have realized that Barry can run so fast that he can time travel, and Arrow has engaged in a sort of time travel via Oliver’s flashbacks to the time before he came back to Star City. The big difference with Legends is that the team’s primary duty is to travel in time, and they never let us forget it (as if we could). Rip Hunter and his motley crew are pursued by a Time Bounty Hunter (Chronos, seen in the photo above) who works for Hunter’s former bosses, the Time Masters. Those guys really want their Time Ship back, and that would have been even more difficult if the Time Pirates had gotten away with it when they tried to take over the ship. Have you gotten the point yet? These guys travel through time.
The characters ignore their own good senseOne of the things that’s difficult to do with a show like this has to be keeping the adventure up while the characters stay somewhat grounded in reality. But the show has had some glaring errors in that area. First off? Why did anyone trust Mick enough to let him on board the time ship in the first place? He’s always just been the thieving muscle to Leonard’s intelligent leader with at least a bit of a code of ethics. Sure, the two are a package, but without knowing from the beginning that Leonard could really control Mick’s activities, having the guy around just wasn’t a solid plan. And, you know, that should have been a bigger deal from the start.
What seems to be a basic time travel staple is not having people meet themselves in the past. And yet, what did the team do? Put Professor Stein in a situation where he met himself as a college student. Bad idea, people. I like to think of the Flarrowverse as a smart world. Hasn’t anyone on the team ever seen a time travel movie? Professor Stein (you know, a super smart science guy) wasn’t totally cool with the idea but went along with it anyway. You know what happened? The young Stein ended up not going to a certain party so he could meet the woman who would become his wife. Rip had to go back and fix it, so when they finally land back in 2016, Stein is going to have to remember their new meet-cute story. Just…silly.
Here’s the biggest offense, a far as I’m concerned. In last week’s episode “Night of the Hawk,” the team heads to a small Oregon town circa 1958 to track down Savage. Now, with two black members of the team, this was obviously going to be a difficult proposition, and while the show did deal with it, there was simply no logic to how it was handled. There’s a scene where Jefferson, Professor Stein and Sara sit at a diner and discuss the fact that the people of a small town, especially, in that time wouldn’t exactly be kind to Jefferson. After a long conversation on the subject, what happens? Stein instructs Jefferson to go talk to a white girl they need to get some info out of. And then he does it. And then he shares food with the white teenager (!) and eventually goes on a date with her…WHAT? IS? HAPPENING? After all they discussed at the diner, why would this have even been allowed to take place? Oh, right, the writers needed a way to get the team into a certain type of trouble, so they just had them ignore all common sense. Really, just…annoying.
Vandal SavageIn general, when you’re dealing with a superhero show, it’s a good idea to have a nearly unstoppable villain. You want the team of do-gooders to have a decent struggle on their hands, especially when the Big Bad is supposed to be the antagonist for a whole season. Arrow and The Flash have done a good job with this; you can’t deny the struggle those heroes had (or are having) with Slade Wilson, Damien Darhk, Reverse Flash and Zoom. But, there are two problems that Legends of Tomorrow is having with their major villain, Vandal Savage.
First off, if you’re going to have an intriguing big bad, he or she either needs a cool backstory for why they want the world destroyed/taken over or they have to be sufficiently multi-layered as people. Unfortunately, Savage is neither. His immortality is powered by killing every incarnation of priestess Chay-Ara and Prince Khufu (also known as Hawkman) as they appear throughout the ages, but his first attempt at killing them was only fueled by jealously. Savage wanted Chay-Ara, she wanted Khufu, and murderous madness ensued. The only thing fueling him is his desire to stay alive so he can rule the planet. And, why does he want to rule the planet? Well, he’s ambitious, you guys. What ambitious person doesn’t want the entire world under their control?
Also? While the team has had a lot of trouble subduing Savage, there doesn’t seem to be any way they can actually win against him. The only one who can truly rid the world of him is Kendra, and, as it just so happens, she’s the weakest of all the characters. Now, this is mostly because she still doesn’t remember most of her original life as Chay-Ara, but it still takes a certain amount of provoking for her to fully take on her tough Hawkgirl persona. Plus, Kendra is neither the best trained or the smartest of the bunch. Hanging all their hopes on Kendra seems like a risky proposition.
Way too many charactersSee that picture up there? That’s not even all of the main characters on Legends of Tomorrow; Jefferson Jackson (half of Firestorm) is missing from this team photo. That means that there are eight characters we’re supposed to keep up with in every episode. Eight characters who need storylines and adventures. Eight characters who have to add to the action and overall plot in a way that proves they need to stick around. Granted, the series sidelined one character (who I didn’t even mention in the count) almost immediately (and permanently) into the show’s run, and another a couple of weeks ago, but, eight is just too many characters. Especially when you consider that almost all of these were B or C (at best) players on either Arrow or The Flash, depending on which show they originated on. Having a show full of personalities that need to shine in every episode is a tough juggling act, and one that Legends is failing to excel at.
No compelling leadSo, why is Legends of Tomorrow having trouble making it’s cast work together in the best possible way? Unlike Arrow and The Flash, there really is no lead. Let’s remember, these were mostly side characters on The Flash and Arrow who had pretty undeveloped or rushed back stories, and, while the show is fleshing the characters out a bit at a time, no one gets enough screen time for those efforts to really click.
The team’s ostensible leader, Rip Hunter (our only completely new character), knows about time travel, but isn’t enough of a tough, commanding presence to feel like the most important member of the show. Ray Palmer has the typical look of a superhero lead, but the character is a bit too nice and hasn’t been through enough in his life to give him any of the grit that would make a hero multi-dimensional. Professor Stein has the smarts to lead the team, but he is hardly an experienced adventurer at this point; and his super-powered partner, Jefferson Jackson is simply too young and inexperienced in general to step up to the plate in any real way. Kendra Saunders isn’t fully in control of her Hawkgirl powers and knowledge, so she’s out. And, Leonard Snart and Mick Rory are thieves and career criminals, so they were probably never going to be the main focus of the team anyway. That leaves Sara Lance. She’s the most trained fighter in the bunch and has already gotten a hell of a backstory on Arrow, but, again, we don’t get enough of her for her to feel like the head honcho here.
While Legends of Tomorrow does have some positive qualities (like the show’s admirable willingness to throw curve balls at the audience), it’s simply not strong enough to really compare with The Flash or Arrow. Each of those shows have teams built around solid leads; everyone else’s story basically emanates outward from that starting point, but Legends feels like it has no starting point. All in all, it’s often left to drift through time, trying its damndest to find a destination, but missing the mark much of the time.