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Itís practically a meme among Lo T viewers that Season 1 was a rough start. It had a promising premise, a solid cast, and a team of experienced genre writers, but it ultimately failed to stand out from the rest of the CW shows. Itís no secret that the 2015-2016 season was a hard one for the Arrowverse, with the launch of two new shows and the firing of a major executive all happening as Arrowís much maligned Season 4 and Flashís underwhelming Season 2 were entering their second half. Amidst all that chaos, Legends went quietly ignored for the most part, and when people did remember it, they rarely had anything good to say about it. So what happened? How did a show that seemed so promising turn out so underwhelming? And why did it manage to survive in spite of it?
While I canít speak for other viewers, if theyíre like me thereís two reasons; firstly, the expectations set by the teaser trailer, and secondly, the way the seasonís main plot played out. Letís tackle them in order.
The original trailer for the series was made as a proof of concept, a way to convince network executives that the show being pitched would work and to get audiences excited. It certainly worked for me. A show about time traveling superheroes facing one of the DC Universeís greatest villains? And the cast included Sara Lance, Captain Cold, and Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter? I was absolutely on board for this, and seeing Flash, Green Arrow, and part of a giant robot only further got me excited.
Unfortunately, the trailer contained almost no footage that actually was used in the show. In fact, the pilotís sets and effects were much cheaper than what we had previously seen, and the other headliner heroes were almost nowhere to be seen. Now, the obvious reasons for this are budget and scheduling constraints, but it doesnít change that the show set us up for disappointment. Of course, that could be forgiven if the show had a solid plot and character arcs to make up for the lack of ĎWow!í factor. Sadly thatís not what happened, which leads me to the second point.
One thing thatís very clear is that the writers wanted Legends to feel epic. A mission to stop an immortal demigod throughout history is certainly a premise that sounds epic. But the reality is that most episodes of the show wound up becoming fairly routine. Go to a new time period, try to stop Vandal Savage, mess up and make the future worse, then set history back to its original course. Rinse and repeat until season finale. It definitely didnít help that certain character arcs, particularly Ray and Kendraís, wound up making the same mistake.
The reason for this is obvious: beating the main villain and resolving major character arcs are events that are typically reserved for a season finale. If the Legends were to stop Savage before then, there wouldnít be a show. But this creates two problems: it makes the show feel inconsequential, and makes the heroes look like chumps. Thereís an attempted explanation that the heroes were sabotaged by outside forces in the penultimate episode, but itís too little, too late. The episodes still donít matter, and the heroes donít have much of a chance to salvage their reputation. The fact that the characters most tied into this arc, Savage and Kendra, have weak performances and writing only exacerbates the issue. In particular, Kendraís waffling back and forth about whether to defy fate and be with Ray or to accept her destiny grows tedious. It feels like the show is just desperate to pad out the episode count and run times.
So the end result is a season with lofty ambitions, but little means of reaching them. What could have been the crowning achievement of the Arrowverse was instead an underwhelming piece of fluff. So how did the show survive?
Well, leaving aside the fact that the CW doesnít cancel shows often, there were some parts that worked. Wentworth Miller steals the season, with his charisma and cool hamminess becoming one of the most fun parts of the show. The gradual arc his character undergoes through the season only adds to the appeal. In a way, Leonard Snart becomes the soul of Legends of Tomorrow, although thatís a topic of discussion better suited for Season 2. Most of the cast does well with what theyíre given, even if for some itís not much. Arthur Darvill and Caity Lotz wind up being a good mentor-student duo, and Franz Drameh and Victor Garber have wonderful chemistry together. And to round it out, thereís the simple fact that the premise of the show is still one thatís filled with potential. Thereís so much that can be done with time-traveling superheroes that to simply abandon it would be a massive waste.
In the end, Season 1 made a lot of mistakes. But the show survived, and the writers learned from it. The next season would see the show use those lessons to turn their mistakes into successes, rebranding the show into what we know it as today. But thatís a topic for another time...
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