Superhero TV Shows: Let’s Rank ‘Em!

So two weeks ago, I dipped my toe in the waters of top ten lists by ranking the current crop of Marvel movies. I had a lot of fun thinking over the list and re-arranging the entries, so much so that I decided to do another top ten list. This time, though, I thought I would hit the many superhero TV shows currently populating the airwaves.

Let’s face it, it’s a golden age for geeks. Not only do we dominate the box office in terms of quantity, if not always in quality, but we’ve also got a number of viewing options on TV. I’m actually getting a little nervous about the coming TV season. My poor VCRs!

Yes, I still use VCRs. I’m old school. Deal with it.

Anyway, I decided to rank the TV shows I’m watching in an arbitrary manner based on my own personal opinions from watching shows that are available on basic broadcast networks and Netflix, because that’s all I have access to. Unlike last time, I’m going to go from best to not-so-best, along with four honorable mentions. So let’s get started with the best of the best:

1. The Flash

flash tv showI hate to admit this, but my original expectations for this show was kind of on the low side. Just a little. Yes, I was thoroughly enjoying Arrow and thought it was one of the best shows on the air, but what were the chances of lightning striking twice (if you’ll pardon the metaphor)? Turns out, my worries were unfounded. This show is simply awesome and, I think, at this point in the run, it’s the best.

Part of the reason why this show is so awesome is Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. He just exudes good-natured charm. You can tell he’s having a blast playing a superhero and that level of fun is infectious.

And I think what also helps is the fact that this show is bright and fun. It doesn’t try to change the nature of the characters. I mean, they included Grodd, for crying out loud, and they didn’t try to change the character from what he is: a telepathic hyper-intelligent gorilla. Could you imagine Christopher Nolan doing that? Me neither.

Another factor that helped this show thrive are the fun nods to the former Flash TV show. Casting John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s dad, bringing back Amanda Pays as Dr. McGee, and yes, especially resurrecting Mark Hamill’s Trickster character, all of that is awesome. But they’re also including nods to other DC properties. The fact that they teased Jay Garrick’s eventual arrival in the season finale is sweet, and the fact that they referenced a certain missing test pilot makes me champ at the bit a little.

Not everything is perfect in this show, however. I’m not entirely sold on the Iris/Barry romance. And there were a few times when I wanted to yell at Barry to keep his secret identity secret, for crying out loud. But in spite of those minor flaws, I am ready to see what season two has in store for us.

2. Daredevil

daredevilLet’s swing the needle to the entirely other end of the spectrum, shall we? I love The Flash because of its ability to be light and fun. I love Daredevil because it is in no way light, but it’s still a lot of fun.

I’ll be honest, this is one that I didn’t have high expectations for either. Maybe it’s lingering bad after taste from the last time Daredevil was made into a live action something-or-other. Or maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect from a show that you could only get on Netflix. Whatever the reason, I hesitated to watch it, even after I heard the initial positive buzz and even after so many of my friends were saying that it was so good. But eventually, I screwed up my courage and started watching.

And I was blown away. Simply and utterly blown away.

Now, let’s be clear. This show is not for everyone. Daredevil is a dark and violent show and, if you’re not ready for a lot of violence, you won’t enjoy this at all. But here’s what I found fascinating about this show: it was willing to show the very real results of vigilante justice. In a world where gods and titans do battle and come out with nary a scratch, Daredevil winds up cut and bruised from taking on simple cutpurses. As strange as it may sound, the fact that this show about a blind lawyer with heightened senses which he uses to fight crime is so grounded in reality makes it so awesome.

And Wilson Fisk. The Kingpin helps make this show what it is. The entire episode where we saw Fisk’s past and get a glimpse of why he is what he is? So wonderful.

And let’s not forget the fight scene in the hall in episode two.

It may seem strange that someone who keeps haranguing the DCCU for being too dark is so in love with such a dark and gritty show. But here’s the thing: it’s okay for certain characters to be dark and gritty. This works for Daredevil and the stories that Marvel is telling through this TV show. It doesn’t work for every character and forcing it on everything is the mistake I fear DC is making, that’s all.

But anyway, on with the list…

3. Arrow

arrow tv showQuite honestly, a year ago, this would have been at the top of the list, hands down. Part of the reason it’s fallen from grace is not this show’s fault. The top two are just that good. But not everything is clicking in a show that used to be my hands down favorite.

Let’s review, shall we? After the teensiest bit of a rocky start, Arrow really gelled by the middle of its first season by making Felicity Smoak a regular player, rounding out a sort of triumvirate with Oliver and Diggle. She injected a much needed missing something-or-other that just made this show start to sing. This became a must-watch for me, and it remained that all throughout the second season, especially with the return of Deathstroke.

But unfortunately, things have not been gelling quite as well in the third season. I think part of my frustration is the fact that the Arrow team basically lifted a villain and plot from Batman for the central conflict of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nyssa and I can’t wait to see what happens now that [[SPOILER REDACTED]] is in charge. But still, it didn’t feel like a good fit.

And while I loved the Flash vs. Arrow crossover, I think that they kind of did too much of a good thing as the season progressed. What had been a can’t-miss-it special event became a “Oh, they’re back again? Okay, then.” And it really threw off some of the storylines. Felicity and Ray are happy when they visit Barry, but then the next night, when they’re home again, the tension between them is so palpable, you could spread it on toast.

We’ll have to see what the next season holds. I’m not about to stop watching, not anytime soon. I’m an Olicity shipper all the way, so I’m worried that even though they’re together now, things are going to blow up in their faces. It has to for the show to keep working.

4. Agent Carter

agent carterWith this one, I was more curious than anything going in. I hadn’t seen the Marvel One-Shot yet, so I was kind of going in blind.

It took a while for me to warm up to this one, but by the midpoint, I was hooked and solidly in Peggy’s corner. If you haven’t seen this one, you really need to. Again, Marvel hit the right tone with this show, trucking in a lot of cold war paranoia and lacing it through with a struggle for equality and dignity for the show’s titular character. Like I said when I wrote my movie top ten list, this show was good enough to nudge the first Captain America movie up in my estimation, and that’s solely based on Hayley Atwell’s incredible performance.

I can’t wait to see what season two has in store for us. And the Dubsmash war. Because the last one was awesome!

5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

agents ofshieldOkay, so this one was kind of hard to rank.

When the show first started, I was really excited. I mean, yes, I knew they wouldn’t bring in any of the big guns (but it would be so cool if they did, you guys!), but I was looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble Agent Coulson could get in. Plus there was the mystery of how Coulson could even be getting into trouble in the first place. This was going to be so cool!

But when the series actually aired, I started getting this sinking feeling. I mean, some of it was fun, but it was definitely not what I was hoping for. It kind of limped along, giving us some fun moments (like the episode where Lady Sif arrives to track down the Asgardian rage stick thingy), but those didn’t seem to be arriving often enough to make it worth my time. That whole business with the Clairvoyant and the nebulous conspiracy that was trying to do…something bad? Not buying it.

And then I went to see Winter Soldier. That made all the difference. When the movie ended, the first thought that popped into my head was, “Holy cow! If Cap took down S.H.I.E.L.D., what’s going to happen with Coulson and his team?”

I have to give props to Marvel for allowing that movie to completely rejigger this show. In my eyes, Winter Soldier saved this show. The team finally had a clear cut mission and a formidable opponent to fight, which is something that they needed from the beginning. And even with Hydra’s apparent collapse, I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re up to with the Inhumans.

6. Gotham

Gotham-TV-Show-Fox-LogoI am so torn about this one, you guys. I really want to like this show but they keep making it so hard for me!

Look, I love Batman, okay? He is, by far, my favorite superhero of all time. Normally I would be on board with just about anything that includes him in it. A show exploring what Gotham was like before Bruce donned the cape and cowl? Yes, please!

Except this isn’t the show we deserve. Nor is it one that we need either.

I’ve written about my angst over this show before. And I stand by what I said in that previous post. They need to stop front-loading all of Batman’s adversaries. I mean, for crying out loud, not all of Batman’s enemies are older than him! Statistically, some of them have to be younger, right? And they really do need to decide what kind of tone they’re trying to establish with this one. I think it could be good, but they really need to start thinking outside of the box. Come up with new villains for Jim Gordon to fight that he can also defeat while leaving the worse monsters still in play. Throw us a curve from time to time.

I mean, this is the honest truth: there are two shows that could easily be described as “Batman without the bat.” The weird thing is, the one that’s actually set in Bruce Wayne’s hometown isn’t the better one!

It’d be cool if they could get this show to the point where we see Bruce decide to become the Batman. But I’m not sure the show will make it. Even if it does, I may get off soon.

Now the astute reader will notice that there have only been six entries in this list. The next four are honorable mentions of a sort, the four shows that I’m looking forward to seeing when they finally premiere. And again, they’re in order from best to not-so-best:

7. Supergirl

supergirl tv showI’ve only seen the trailer, although I did try to track down the pilot when it leaked a while back. But I am excited for this new addition on CBS, even if it means my Monday nights are getting really crowded.

Again, from what little I’ve seen, I think the show runners have struck the right tone for the show. Yes, it’ll be a little more on the lighter side, but hey, that’s what I think will work for this character. And the fact that they’re at least acknowledging that Supes is running around in the DC Berlanti-verse is all kinds of awesome. And once again, the showrunners are doing right by the character by including past Kryptonians in the cast (sort of like what they did with The Flash).

Let me put it to you this way: after seeing the previews for this show, I became convinced that CBS and the CW have to figure out a way for all of the Berlanti-verse heroes to get together for a massive, multi-epsidoe crossover spectacular.

8. Legends of Tomorrow

legends of tomorrowOnce again, we have another addition to the Berlanti-verse, this one made up of characters from the other two established shows. This one, I think, could be a lot of fun too. I mean, I’m all for resurrecting Sarah Lance and rebranding her as the White Canary. And seeing Vandal Savage on the small screen could be a lot of fun too. And casting Rory Arthur Darvill as a “Time Master” just makes my geeky little heart explode.

And yet…

Okay, a thought occurred to me as I’ve been writing this lengthy post. I can’t help but wonder if some of the hiccups that developed on Arrow might have been the direct result of adding The Flash to the mix. Suddenly the energy in the Berlanti-verse is split between two shows. It’d be very understandable if the quality slipped somewhere along the line simply because there’s another plate spinning. And now, there are going to be four Berlanti-verse shows going at the same time.

One of the things that has had me worried for a while now is that pop culture is reaching its breaking point in terms of superhero saturation. Let’s face it, there are a lot of movies and TV shows that center around this concept. The bubble’s going to pop at some point. I’d hate for this show to be the pin.

9. AKA Jessica Jones

Jessica-Jones-images-header-Krysten-RitterAfter Daredevil turned out as good as it did, I can’t wait to see what Marvel will give us next on Netflix. If it’s even half as good, I’ll be satisfied. But I have to put this one here simply because I don’t know that much about Jessica Jones as a character. I’ve seen bits and pieces, but not enough for me to really get a grip on what might be going on.

I must admit, though, that I’ve got a little bit of a stumbling block built into this because of Krysten Ritter. Like I’ve said before, I’m a Gilmore Girls fan and, like most Gilmore Girls fans, I hate the seventh season of that show, the one that introduced Ritter as a new friend for Rory. Okay, I get it, it’s not Ritter’s fault. She was just doing her job. Even still. Make it up to me, Krysten.

But hey, David Tennant. So there’s that then.

10. Heroes Reborn

heroes rebornI used to love Heroes. The first season was just so wonderful. And even as the rest of the show tanked, there were some bright spots. Sylar, for instance. Such a memorable character. But after that first season, things slowly crumbled. Part of it was because of the writers’ strike that crippled the second season. Part of it was because the writers had to constantly nerf Peter and Hiro’s powers. But what had started as such a promising show turned into such a farce, I really wasn’t all that upset when they cancelled it.

In spite of my former enjoyment, I have to rank this mini-reboot where I did for one reason: when I was first putting together this list, I completely forgot about this show. As in completely. It wasn’t until I saw a tweet about a week later that I realized I had forgotten about it. I think that’s kind of understandable. While this does have Zachary Levi in the plus column, the fact that none of the really big names returned for this kind of dampens my enthusiasm. I’ll check it out, to be sure, but I’m not expecting much.

So there we have it, folks. My top ten list of current (and upcoming) superhero shows. What do you think? Did I get them in the right order? Is there a show I missed that I should check out? Let me know in the comments below.

Author @JohnWOtte is at it again, this time ranking the top ten superhero TV shows. Click To Tweet


  1. I can only talk about Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    When we call a show “dark and violent” as opposed to “light,” I think we evoke a set of assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. I watched Daredevil with my father who is an old comic fan, and he thought that it captured the feeling and energy of the comics pretty well.

    In Daredevil Matt may be a dark hero, but that partly involves showing his internal struggle against evil. That’s why the moderate amount of blood and physical violence is justified. The outward realism goes along with the inner realism. Matt is basically a guy struggling with his faith, trying to judge between righteousness and evil without also judging himself to be the righteous authority. He sees the evil in his neighborhood and struggles with the tension of seeing and acknowledging the evil while trying not to lose sight of the goodness of simple life as it should be. Maybe all this is a bit cliche, but in Daredevil it’s presented in an intensely personal way that makes it easy to see yourself in Matt.

    Good call on S.H.I.E.L.D. I think the writers/producers knew how bad the show ended up being in the first season, and deliberately took measures to correct it in a very self-aware way that allows for the possibility for the lousiness to have even been part of the whole master plan. (That would have been a pretty risky plan, though, if the show really was plotted that way.) But at any rate S.H.I.E.L.D. started getting good, and like you say the MCU integration with the movies is great. At its best, it carries a bit of the old X-Files conspiracy-scifi vibe in a 21st century environment.

    I would really like to see a DaredevilS.H.I.E.L.D. crossover. It would be awesome if Coulson and company could drop in on Matt Murdock for an episode of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    I might want to Arrow some day. Thanks for the reviews/recommendations.

  2. I’m always glad to see “The Flash” get some love, since I enjoyed it so much. But I’m a bit surprised you chose to rank TV shows that haven’t actually aired yet (especially since in the movie version you kept it to films actually released). I’m certainly interested in both “Supergirl” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” but it’s really impossible to know at this point how they’ll compare to what’s already out there.

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