TV Review: Titans, Season 1

Grade: A

Whenever I compare two different entities, I always feel a bit like those people who used to compare the female judges on X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. Every single year there was some sort of news report about Tulisa and Kelly Rowland, or Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon, having some sort of backstage cat fight and that one of them was a bitch etc. etc. etc. Ah gender equality. That to one side, I am going to make the comparison between DC and Marvel now. DC is to TV what Marvel is to film. That is to say (and with increasing credence considering the myriad cancellations of Marvel TV shows of late) that the DC TV programmes are actually decent, while Marvel’s Inhumans, Iron Fist and Luke Cage were pretty much DOA. Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones fared moderately better (Daredevil’s second season was particularly strong, though Jessica Jones’ second outing, in my opinion, was less captivating than her debut. Still, as the only of the Defenders still standing…), though shining light Agent Carter was unceremoniously cancelled. Agents of SHIELD is of course the exception, but I digress. Having listed them all currently, I realise why my TV viewing habits are dramatically catching up with me.

The point I am making, in a very roundabout way, is that DC invests a lot in its TV content, while Marvel is more focused upon its cinematic universe. Having said that, I come into Titans relatively uninitiated. When it comes to comicbook knowledge, I know much more Marvel than I do DC. I know the basics of DC, what I picked up from the Batman film series and a few animated bits and pieces thereabouts. My main knowledge of the Titans’ characters comes from the original animated Teen Titans that ran 2003 – 2006. This is a lighthearted cartoon, in which sidekick Robin leads the team of Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg. Cyborg, no doubt due to his appearance in Justice League has been ruled out of the series, leaving just the other four. Titans could not be further from this vaguely amusing childish fare. However, it is part of the Greg Berlanti factory, so you know it is in very experienced hands.

I found Titans much easier viewing as a bingewatch as opposed to stretching between weeks, though each installment was rivetting enough in its own right. We are slowly introduced to the different members of the team. There is no rush to push the characters into each other’s path right away, though the series does take a little bit longer than expected to bring all of the team together. In contrast to the comicbook origins, all of the characters are given human-like qualities. Crucially, they are referred to by their name at all times. There is no mention of the Raven, Beast Boy or Starfire monikers for the duration of the series, and Dick is mostly referred to as Dick, while Robin is a past mantle of his.

Throughout the series, all of the characters are given meaningful story arcs. Kory (Anna Diop) awakes at the beginning of the series with amnesia, unable to remember what her purpose is on the planet, though she soon discovers that she has fiery superpowers and is searching for Rachel (Teagan Croft). Rachel herself is an unsure and timid teen girl who is struggling to contain her own dangerous powers and she is apparently being hunted. This leads her into the path of Detroit detective Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), who is moonlighting as the vigilante Robin after breaking free from his subservience to Batman. Oh, and somewhere in the mix through a slightly tenuous chain of events involving kidnapping and escape from nuns, we are introduced to Gar (Ryan Potter), who has the ability to turn into a green tiger. I’d mention more about him, but he’s probably the least important member of the team narratively. Or at least, I may have just been checking my phone during his bits.

Each of the characters are well developed throughout the series. Kory’s amnesia storyline continues for a well-paced amount of time, and her recovery from this amnesia makes great narrative sense. It comes right in the nick of time to provide the most amount of tension and the revelations that her memory restoration bring with it is worth the potentially frustrating build up. Meanwhile, we see Dick Grayson develop from a man who is adamant that they are striking out on their own and does not want attachment and is entirely uninterested in caring for Rachel to someone who is leading a tight unit of friends. The main character development is reserved for these two characters: Rachel has some homelife revelations, but she still spends most of her time crying, while Gar gets slightly traumatised by attacking someone in tiger form but is otherwise pretty much the same.

Now, superhero programmes are often a little bit camp. It’s pretty much inevitable. Superheroes have to parade around in tight fitting lycra or wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes and dramatically face off against the bad guy. Titans successfully subverts this trope. It is dark, probably even more so than the earlier seasons of Arrow – and can probably get away with a lot more since it is available upon streaming platforms as opposed to on cable television. A lot of money has been thrown into it, so the effects look great, as do the camera work. The graphic effects for Kory, Rachel and Gar’s powers are stunning, and I also like how fierce they make Kory’s fire appear. In the previous cartoons, Starfire has thrown off little plasma bolts that have barely hurt enemies (well, it is for children after all), but Starfire literally incinerates multiple people. It’s harrowing.

I found that the writing and story arc was aided by fewer episodes to work with. There are no filler episodes to be found here, and it shows that with some genres (especially when you’re trying to cram in vaguely entertaining narrative through-lines) less is more.

Another way that Titans works its way around the “you will not hurt the people of this city” idea is that the villians within the story are not recklessly sacking a village or civilians, but rather their goal is incredibly singular: they want Rachel. The mystery behind their motivations for searching for Rachel drives most of the plot, and there is a satisfying pay off by the end, but this allows the heroes to have high emotional stakes without it becoming too melodramatic or overblown. The threat here is upon Rachel’s safety and upon the unseen and fabled repurcussions for the world should the villainous plot be enacted; we don’t have a dramatic “why are you destroying the world????” confrontation that everybody groans at – secretly wondering why they’re bothering explaining their evil plan in the first place. A process of deduction and explanation from Kory is much more appreciated and dramatic, without being clichéd.

Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly): standouts.

My standout for this season, however, were the characters of Hawk and Dove. Two episodes of the 11-episode series focus largely upon these two characters and their backstories. It’s a long time to be spending away from the main action at a particularly tense and crucial part of the story, and it could have fallen flat on its face if it weren’t for the beautifully written backstory of this couple, which is convincingly portrayed by Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly. Other notable guest stars are the characters of Jason Todd (Curran Walters) and Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), who again lend personality behind the superhero mask. If there’s one takeaway from the story telling of Titans, is that these are people whose identities are not their superhero personas. Their identities are forged from their personality, and they are driven to be super. This is why I think it’s a great shout to barely refer to them by their superhero mantles. It shows that their personalities drive them to do these acts, not their costumes or their superhero titles. I’d be really eager for some of these characters to join the main cast moving forwards, as they really enhance the main action.

To summarise, Titans brings a level of realism to superhero stories that I haven’t really seen before. There is more focus upon the human aspects as opposed to the superhero, and the plot is character driven, as well as being well paced and structured. The ending is a particularly tense moment, and I’m looking forward to Season 2.

Stray observation:

Take me.
  • Is it possible to be sexually re-awakened? Chris O’Donnell as Robin in Batman & Robin was my first sexual awakening in 1997 (I definitely did not first see this in 1997, mind you), and now I feel sexually reinvigorated by Brenton Thwaites in this.

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