Synopsis – A team of young superheroes led by Nightwing (formerly Batman’s first Robin) form to combat evil and other perils.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E11
My Take – As a DC Comics fan every little tidbit or announcement from Warner Bros. about their next live action adaption is a genuine treat for me. However as much as I love seeing the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman tearing it up on the big screen, it’s just saddening to see how WB executives refuse to use the plethora of characters at their disposal to dominate the genre, an opportunity they keep losing with every passing year.
However on the TV side, mainly thanks to Greg Berlanti and The CW, some unlikely heroes/heroines are finally getting their well-deserved due. But even the Arrowverse has limitations, especially in terms of the amount of grittiness they can bring to a channel which mainly serves the YA audience. Enter DC Universe, a new streaming service devoted entirely to producing content relevant to its brand. And first on their agenda? Bringing a live action series on the Teen Titans.
While the Teen Titans worked tremendously as an animated product, competing not only with their parental Superman and Batman animated TV shows, but also the Justice League show itself, the concept of a live action incarnation sounded warning bells, like did we really need another teen offering? And then they dropped the ‘Teen’ to go adult for this surprisingly brutal new DC TV show, which unites Dick Grayson aka the 1st Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven, and tears through their lives grounding the vigilante underworld in blood and grime, bruises and scars in an unexpectedly mature set of adventures.
While initially fans expressed their displeasure over casting, costumes, special effects, and much more, however, it turns out the series isn’t even close to the bad people expected it to be. . In fact, the show itself is elevated by just how strong the cast is even when the material does feel a little weak. To be clear, it’s indicative of the content to an extent, but I wholeheartedly assure you that most negative expectations of yours should be checked at the door because what I’ve had the chance to take in made for some damn good television.
Make no mistake, the series is decidedly dark from the opening seconds, and is a far cry from Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! (For that, I’m rather thankful), and is weaved around an engrossing story line. Yes, this is one of DC’s best live-action shows and arguably one of the best superhero flicks to be released in quite some time. While the show is not without its problems, some filler and a changed direction at the midway point notwithstanding, there’s enough here to really get behind it.
The story follows Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), who has now moved to Detroit and joined the police force as a detective. Haunted by his actions as his alter ego Robin, the sidekick to Gotham’s vigilante Batman, Dick wishes to start a new life away from his mentor as he wasn’t too happy with what he was changing into. However things go for a toss when he comes across Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft) aka Raven, a teenage runaway, who seems to be harnessing some mysterious and frightening powers. Rachel is convinced she has something dark inside and she is desperate for help, and claims that her visions led her to Dick.
On realizing that she is a part of a sinister conspiracy and is being chased by a family of deadly assassins, Dick decides to take Rachel along to find safe refuge for the young girl. Meanwhile, Kory Anders (Anna Diop) aka Starfire, a mysterious woman, wakes up from a car accident with no memory and gun-toting gangsters behind her, realizing that she too has great powers that she was previously unaware of. Her pursuit leads her to find out about Rachel, who apparently holds the key to what Starfire desires.
On the run together from assassins who are apparently working for Rachel’s mysterious father, they catch up with Garfield “Gar” Logan (Ryan Potter), a lovable young lad with a thing for Rachel, who also has the ability to change into a green tiger at will. Together they become a surrogate family and team of heroes, who must stand up for each other.
Yes, the series takes an incredibly dark look at the heroes. If you hate Teen Titans Go! for how comical it made the characters, you’ll probably like this show. Its introduction of Robin alone showcases some brutal punishment by the dark hero previously brought to life with much more colorful interpretations. Here he scrapes heads across brickwork and glass, almost beating his assailants to death. The series has a borderline horror tone, as it digs into the most frightening applications of the heroes’ powers. It’s unlike any of the current DC offerings, in either film or television.
This fresh new take on the characters helps to keep up the intrigue and excitement of the show. While the show is about the group, this season really belongs to Raven and Robin. The former is just coming into her own at 14-years-old and it would be a stretch to even call what she has powers. It’s just darkness lashing out from her. Dick Grayson, meanwhile, has expert combat training, mental conditioning, and even the tolerance to resist drugging. And yet, he’s not that far off from Raven.
When the mask goes on, he can barely control his rage, and anyone he perceives as a criminal is simply a target for him to unleash his violence on. This is actually an interesting way to start the show out. It gives Dick room to grow into a leader and his own flavor of hero and to act as a big brother to Rachel as she develops into Raven.
What the series does really well is handle Dick’s backstory in Gotham. Bruce Wayne is like a shadow looming over the series, we literally see his shadow or silhouette but never him. It’s a smart way to keep the focus on Dick while also showing us exactly how much Bruce affected his upbringing. We also see Dick meet Jason Todd (Curran Walters), the new Robin. Dick knows he’s screwed up, but is too screwed up to get help with it, having taken Bruce’s me-vs-the-world mentality and internalized it. He sees Jason sporting souped up armor and gleefully kicking ass and warns him over and over how it’ll go.
Raven is also an incredibly interesting character as she evolves from mysterious outcast to a scared, but violent hero. Her tortuous family situation is partly what drew her to Grayson and Kory and allowed her to effortlessly look to them as parental figures in lieu of the absence of her birth mother, Angela (Rachel Nichols) and the death of her adoptive mother, Melissa Roth (Sherilyn Fenn). It’s because of Rachel’s connections to her found family, we can assume that her father, Trigon (Seamus Dever), is using Dick’s compromised state as collateral for Rachel, either as a way to weaponize him against his daughter or to emotionally manipulate her into complying to with his planetary destruction.
Another mysterious character in the series is Kory. Now the show did get a lot of fans protesting when some of the early on set pictures of Anna Diop surfaced online and people didn’t like her look but I think it works really well in the show and I think those who didn’t like the onset pictures will change their mind once they watch the series. In the series she’s one of the most powerful members in the team but also one of the most vulnerable as she has memory loss and can’t remember who she is or what she was doing, she is drawn to Rachel due to some pictures she found which leads her to cross paths with Rachel and Robin later down the path.
Despite the rough start, the characters do come together rather organically, with even guest heroes like Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly) getting roped in. And though they bring a boatload of drama with them, they make for a welcome addition. I really love their bits in the show and would love to watch a series based just on their careers in vigilantism.
They don’t have any super powers and really help ground the show and make it a bit more palatable for an older audience as they rest of the cast come across as a lot younger. I know a spinoff starring the two is being kicked around, but I’d like to see them continue on in this series. Here, Hawk, Dove, and Dick’s superhero origin stories have all been tweaked so the three can be uneasy former friends. Yes, it’ll be a disappointing shift for some diehard comic book fans but makes sense story-telling wise.
Likewise, the introduction of Donna Troy (Conor Leslie) is a breath of fresh air, a statement I’ve never uttered about her comic book version, Wonder Girl, a sidekick to Wonder Woman. Donna is effervescent and charming, plus she provides the connective tissue to the world of Justice League. Dick Grayson is never more interesting than he is bouncing off Donna and her lifelong understanding of their former side kick lives.
The other thing I liked was that this series didn’t have to introduce characters from scratch. In this universe, there is already a Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Justice League. Unlike the DC movies where the universe has to be built, this series gives us a glimpse of a universe that already exists.
The series also has some of the best cinematography and fight choreography for a superhero series. The punches were hard-hitting, the battles against low-life criminals were fast paced and nicely edited and it was always good to see the heroes work in tandem to take down enemies in their way. One moment in particular, where Robin was fighting alongside Hawk and Dove was incredibly brutal, but also entertaining and exhilarating. On the other hand, the series’ visual effects were what you would expect for a superhero show.
The most fascinating episode was easily the finale, with Dick trapped in a “What-If Batman Finally Snapped” dream infused situation. Going full-on Punisher style brutal on his gallery of rogues like the Joker, Riddler, and Two Face among others, the ending of the season is just batty. The conclusion is so open-ended I had to look up to make sure this wasn’t a mid-season break. Apparently the show runners have confirmed there was an episode 12 originally planned as the finale (now moved as the opener to season 2).
Unfortunately, one character who bears the most brunt here is Beast Boy aka Garfield “Gar” Logan, who is mainly used for comedic relief. At this point we don’t know much about him, and why despite all the trouble the three arguably get themselves into, he still sticks around. His only purpose here initially seemed to be just to introduce the team of the upcoming Doom Patrol show.
An entire episode is spent introducing us to the Doom Patrol, who don’t show up again in the show at all after the fourth episode that introduces them and Beast Boy. It looks like a cool show, and I loved seeing Brendan Frasier as Robotman, but it feels like a mostly-wasted episode that did nothing for this one and very little for Doom Patrol itself or any of the individual characters, as most of the actors have been recast already.
Even though it was fun watching them, Hawk & Dove serve no purpose this season. Their involvement in the main story is over and done with by episode two. Yet for some reason, they get their own episode near the end of the season, but they still don’t enter the main story in the finale. These frequent breaks away end up dampening the overall effect of the season.
Performance wise, Brenton Thwaites makes for a suitably broody Dick Grayson, coming a long way from his roles in Maleficent, Oculus and The Giver, while Teagan Croft conveys her struggles beautifully. Ryan Potter looks like he’s having a lot of fun, and his initial introduction is easily one of the highlights from the season.
However, Anna Diop is the series’ breakout actress because she is terrific as Starfire. As the show’s resident fish-out-of-water, Diop channels a more mature Starfire, bringing tenacity and boldness to the role. She does not deserve all the hatred and anger social media has thrown at her.
In supporting roles, Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly are perfect as Hawk and Dove, as Curran Walters brings an awesome version of Jason Todd to the screen. And like I mentioned above, Conor Leslie looks gorgeous and is a delight to watch.
In supporting turns, Reed Birney, Rachel Nichols and Seamus Dever are also good. On the whole, ‘Titans’ is definitely unlike any other superhero TV show ever produced. I can’t wait for season 2 especially with the tease of Super boy and Krypto joining the series.
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – DC Universe