I don’t look at my DVR anymore. The last time I did, I had piles of new episodes of DC Entertainment’s The Flash, Batwoman, and Supergirl on there—all of it from the most recent seasons. I feel like I should catch up because I’ve watched virtually every episode of all of them since the CW’s Arrowverse was created back in 2012. I’m not just intimidated by the sheer amount of TV I’d need to watch, but the idea of watching even a single episode of them makes me tired. So, so tired.
I do not want to spend another 20 hours watching Barry Allen be a crappy person who learns to be a less crappy person by the end of each episode. The first season of Batwoman was so bad I can’t bring myself to start season two, despite its new lead. There are four whole seasons of Black Lightning out there so it’s daunting to start, even though the series just ended. Even Supergirl, which has been my favorite (other than Legends of Tomorrow) and I’m mostly caught up with, doesn’t hold much appeal. I never even started Superman & Lois or the always-headed-to-the-CW Stargirl, despite the former sounding kind of unique.
Looking back, I can see this isn’t a new development. As I sat through each successive year of the ever-expanding roster of shows, watching them has felt increasingly like work. Admittedly, as an io9 writer and editor, keeping up on superhero entertainment has always been part of my job, but as time went on, my pleasure in watching them has decreased, leaving only my professional responsibility and my sense of obligation to keep up with all these stories and characters that I’d already invested so much time in. There are several reasons for this, I think, the first being that all the DCTV superhero shows feel largely the same; they’re all part of the same shared universe, of course, but more importantly, churned out by the same Greg Berlanti-run production factory, so it makes sense they look and feel similar in many ways. But having watched literally hundreds of episodes, none of the shows have the capacity to surprise me anymore other than Legends of Tomorrow (and even that feels like it’s lost a little luster in its recently returned sixth season). It’s much like the Marvel Studios factory, which also makes remarkably consistent products that have the same structure underneath, even if the outer shell is sold in different colors. But where I’ve been watching approximately 10 hours of Marvel movies each year, I’ve been consuming 100 episodes of DC/CW TV shows during the same period.
I think another large part of the problem is that the various series had been building up to Crisis on Infinite Earths for so long, that the mass, interconnected story they’ve been telling over the last decade felt like it had reached its natural conclusion by ending Oliver Queen’s journey, freeing Barry Allen from his fate, and pitting our heroes against the most powerful enemy in the entire multiverse. Everything since then has been an epilogue that keeps going on and on and on. It’s much harder to care about whatever evil nitwit Barry Allen is facing off against to save Iris after he helped save entire universes last year. Even Lex Luthor’s villainous schemes to rule Earth are harder to get excited by because the stakes are so small compared to what’s come before. Honestly, I’m having a sinking suspicion that I—and others—might feel the same about the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Avengers: Endgame was such a—well, an endgame for the movies’ overarching story, making it the perfect place to step away. And other than Thor: Love and Thunder (and that’s thanks to my fandom of Jane Fost-Thor), I’m not particularly excited about any of Marvel’s Phase 4 movies, either.
People don’t talk much about superhero fatigue anymore, presumably because excitement for the Marvel and DC Universe movies still feels sky-high after more than a decade. But I suspect this is because the movies are still relatively small doses of superhero entertainment. They only take two or four hours out of your month—and now that people have gotten what was likely a much-needed break from them over the pandemic, they’re salivating for more. But while it’s still possible to watch every superhero movie that comes out, it’s impossible to do the same on TV. I was so excited when this golden age of comic book entertainment began that I tried (and succeeded, for a long while), but superhero shows have increased exponentially over the years, coming to ABC, Freeform, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, etc., etc., ad infinitum. As the number of series increased, so has my exhaustion.
The other thing about these long-running DC CW shows is that they have the same problems as the long-running comics they’re based on—they never seem to end. When I was a fan of the Avengers as a kid, I bought every single issue of their comic, because I was collecting it—essentially as I have the Arrowverse shows. As the years went by, and I found myself buying streaks of bad storylines, I had to ask myself: Where does it stop? When does it end? When will I have finished collecting Avengers? The answer, as any comic fan knows, is never. Marvel has been publishing Avengers comics since 1963, and it will be publishing Avengers comics after I’m dead. And that’s how the Arrowverse feels now.
Sure, Arrow and Black Lightning are over and Supergirl is in its last season, but the CW has premiered a new DC TV series every single year since 2018… and another is already on the way in Naomi (Wonder Girl and Painkiller did not get picked up). As a gestalt, it feels like the Arrowverse will never be over, and that’s more discouraging to me now than exciting, especially when there’s much better superhero shows out there, like HBO Max’s Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn animated series, and countless DC shows eventually coming to HBO Max like Green Lantern, Gotham P.D., and Peacemaker. That’s to say nothing of the upcoming slate of DC superhero movies, or the Marvel series on Disney+, let alone the Marvel movies…
It’s too much—way too much—and right now, the Arrowverse is the biggest, least rewarding island in the sea of superhero entertainment. I need to make room. I need to raise my standards. I need to stop “collecting” these shows because it’s become a Sisyphean task. I need to admit the DC CW universe is no longer the vanguard of superhero TV, and I need to let it go, both from my DVR and my life, and enact some kind of quality control that allows me to enjoy some superhero shows again.
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