Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Endings and Beginnings

I've only been writing about television shows on this blog for about three or four years. Before then I wouldn't have much to write about. I didn't really start watching TV again until maybe five years ago. I didn't have the time, not with all those games I had to play. 

I'm still playing but the sessions are shorter and there are fewer of them. Sessions, that is. It's possible I'm playing more games, numerically, especially if demos and betas count. 

What I most definitely am doing more of is watching TV; a lot less than in the 70s, 80s and 90s but way more than through the 'oughts and tens. There's a bunch of reasons for that but one is that there's just so. much. more. stuff that I like now.

Or I think there's going to be. Sometimes stuff I think I'll like ends up being stuff that looked like stuff I'd like until I actually watched it. As Tyler F. M. Edwards points out, just because you like something in theory doesn't always mean you like it in practice.

I kinda-sorta had that experience with one of the first shows I ever wrote about on the blog, Titans, although re-reading that post now I find, although I was dumbfounded by the extremity of the violence and lack of moral authority in the show, I was also much more positive about it than I remembered, summing my feelings up with the equivocal

"If all of this sounds like I hate the show then... I don't. I might even love it. I'm not sure. Like every single character in the goddam show, I'm conflicted."

At that time of writing I was just coming to the end of the second season and I was less than certain how many more there were likely be. Season Three had been commissioned but put on hold by the pandemic. I wouldn't have bet then on it ever coming out, much less on there being any Season Four.

The pandemic passed. Season Three got made. I reviewed it here. Once again, I was in conflict with myself over whether or how much I liked it:

"It shouldn't work and it doesn't but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy myself...At least I got to the end of it and didn't wish I hadn't bothered so I guess it worked."

And now we come to Season Four which, as it transpires, is the last. For once, news of the cancellation came in good time for the writers to craft an ending, so there's that, at least.

I would have happily watched more but as I said in the first post, as I passed from my examination of the extreme violence to address the less-disturbing but arguably more pressing question of who might possibly want to watch such a self-referential exhumation of obscure and long-forgotten characters, there was only one possible answer:

"Lifelong DC fans. It surely can't be meant to interest anyone else."

The fourth and final Season does absolutely nothing to counter that assertion. The main villain turns out to be Brother Blood, the name of any number of iterations of a long-time nemesis, surely known only to those deeply enmeshed not just in the DC Universe as a whole but quite specifically in that small portion that contains The Teen Titans in their various incarnations.

As if challenging themselves to "beat that", another significant character eventually reveals himself to be... Freedom Beast, the black African inheritor of the power originally allocated to the now somewhat uncomfortably-named sixties creation, B'wana Beast. Not content with bringing Freedom Beast on for a cameo, the Titans storyline drags most of the backstory across from Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man, stitching it not only into Titans continuity but also that of another recently-cancelled DC show, Doom Patrol. As the old catchline used to go "Confused? You will be!"

Except I wasn't, not really. I correctly figured out who Brother Blood was long before anyone mentioned his name and I recognized Freedom Beast's distinctive helmet almost as soon as I saw him put it on, although I did think he was B'wana Beast for a while, having forgotten all about the Grant Morrison re-write. 

(Fun Fact: Grant Morrison himself appears in a brief, non-speaking cameo in one episode. I thought for one bizarre moment it was Professor Xavier from Marvel's X-Men in some unlikely cross-company promotion. I haven't seen Morrison since I walked out of a cult-leaderish performance he gave at a London Comicon back in the nineties. I'd forgotten he had a completely shaved head.)

There is a lot of this stuff in Titans. There's a lot of it in every DC TV show. The reason beyond any other why I always enjoy watching them, even when they're bad and make no sense, is that above and beyond anything, these are true superhero comic-book shows. 

It's not just the endless trips to the well of forgotten continuity, it's the instant solutions to insoluble problems, the science that's absolutely indistinguishable from magic (Of which there's also plenty in Titans, not least from the effervescent Jinx, who absolutely is not dead, you can take that to the bank....) and the utter disregard for coherent, rational human behavior. The combination of this level of unreality with decently convincing television acting creates a glorious, druglike haze from which I emerge both stupified and satisfied. 

I would watch stuff like this all the time if I could get it but far from being surprised these shows keep being cancelled I'm much more astonished they keep getting made. There clearly aren't enough of the specific fans required to keep them going indefinitely but equally there must be a lot more than I ever thought there were for the shows to exist at all.

Sadly, Clint Mansell seems to have moved on from music duties on the show. This time the soundtrack went mostly unnoticed by me except for Donovan's superb but overused Season of the Witch and the gloriously ironic use of seventies soft-rock classics, playing endlessly through speakers in the streets and homes of the Stepfordesque town of Caul's Folly, where they're used to pacify and mesmerise the inabitants, much as they would have done in real life.

The plot, it won't surprise anyone to hear, I'm sure, makes very little sense. There's also surprisngly little real action. I got the distinct feeling the budget for explosions wasn't what it once might have been, although with a team of superheroes whose main powers consist of being exceptionally physically fit and very good at hitting people with sticks, I suppose you don't really need all that much in the way of special effects.

I did wonder where the show sits in wider DC continuity. There's a big changing of the guard going on at Warners right now, what with James Gunn coming in and all, but (Big Spoiler Incoming...) killing Lex Luthor in Episode One seemed like something that might have wider repercussions. 

Then again, the Joker is also dead in Titans continuity. Batman killed him in Season Three. So I don't know...

Factor in some excellent cameos by Stargirl and most of Doom Patrol, along with a few visual nods to the likes of Shazam and the Flash and it's anyone's guess where any of this stands. Also, anyone's guess who even cares. I mean, you don't, do you?

I guess that's the problem. Once you start making true comic book television only true comic book fans are going to want to stick with it. I think one of the reasons the MCU has managed to make itself so widely accepted is that it's really more of an offshoot of the buddy movie sub-genre than anything to do with the actual comic books.

Titans isn't that. It's a superhero show for people who take comic-book superheroes at face value. It doesn't deconstruct the form or question it. It revels in it. Which is fine by me but also why Season Four ends with most of the characters walking away from the team, telling us what they're going to do next, in the fashion of a coming-of-age movie's post-credit sequence.

Curiously, although there are no cliffhangers, no dangling plotlines and no brooding, ominous hints of troubles to come, the whole thing still manages to feel somehow like a set-up, either for possible new storylines or spin-off series featuring members of the team. It's probably wishful thinking on my part  but Rachel going to college, Gar into The Red, Tim back to Gotham and Dick and Kory walking into the sunset together, taking the Titans name with them, all seems like a new beginning as much as it does an ending.

After the abrupt, unsatisfying finishes of so many other shows I've had to suffer of late, this feels like a win. It may be sad to see them all go their separate ways but at least they - and we - got to say goodbye. 

Only, of course, like death, goodbye is never the end in comic books. They'll be back. They'll all be back. It's just a question of when.

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