Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: TV OT is a weekly look at what CNN’s entertainment team is watching since too much television has us all working overtime.
If you need any further proof that things have changed for comic-book fans from the bad old days – when Hollywood tended to vamp up and camp up those titles, if they deigned to produce them at all – look no further than this week, which saw the streaming arrival of Marvel’s “What If…?” and DC’s “Titans” via Disney+ and HBO Max, respectively.
While the animated “What If…?” extends the Marvel brand into what feels like super-service for die-hard fans, “Titans” might be the more interesting test, since the live-action series has received a significant platform upgrade with its move from what was DC Universe to HBO Max, a much broader showcase. (DC and HBO are units of WarnerMedia, as is CNN.)
The Collector and T’Challa/Star-Lord in Marvel Studios’ ‘What If…?’
“Titans,” notably, kicked off in 2018 with Robin (Brenton Thwaites) providing a rather colorful four-letter response when someone mentioned Batman, serving notice that this R-rated-ish series didn’t intend to be confused with the “Biff! Wham! Pow!” TV “Batman” of the 1960s.
Still, just pushing boundaries in terms of content standards – as DC has done with movies like “Joker” and more recently “The Suicide Squad,” and Marvel tried with its gritty street-level dramas for Netflix, a la “Daredevil” and “The Punisher” – isn’t really the point; rather, it’s about adapting comics in a way that accurately captures what people liked about them in the first place, and nobody who really enjoyed the Punisher wants to see him shoot rubber bullets.
That hasn’t always been the case, but Marvel’s success, especially, has paved the way for such distinctive efforts. The realm of streaming, moreover, has been an invitation to produce more particular fare that will appeal to subscribers by tapping into the passion of fans, which has at least as much to do with the business model as any mass numbers game.
Having watched the first half-dozen episodes of “Titans’” third season, the show seems plenty watchable – and occasionally jarring in its surprises – without feeling like a top-tier series. Part of that has to do with a storyline involving the villain Red Hood that inches along in advancing the plot, a byproduct of both operating on a TV-ish budget and needing to fill out a season-long order.
The soapy qualities, frankly, are also pretty familiar to anyone consuming the softer-edged version of DC fare on the CW. And while it’s nice to see some of these characters get their moment, there are only so many people really longing to see Beast Boy, Starfire or Hawk and Dove translated into a live-action setting.
Ultimately, the conversation isn’t so much about the latitude to present the equivalent of R-rated series – which streaming more readily allows – but simply telling stories the way that serves them best. As Nerdist’s Eric Diaz wrote, with a show like “Titans” that creates the room to “produce something that reminds people of the source material.”
Whether “Titans” and other DC Universe titles get additional wind beneath their wings in shifting to HBO Max remains to be seen, but for anyone who remembers gently bagging old comics in a plastic sleeve, the mere fact these shows exist is a beacon (or bat-signal) of just how far the medium has come.
Phil Keoghan (center) hosting an episode of CBS’ ‘The Amazing Race’ in 2012.
CNN’s Sandra Gonzalez takes a dip into the way-back machine:
“In December, my husband and I embarked on a journey around the world by starting the first season of ‘Amazing Race.’ I’d seen seasons here and there throughout the years, but we thought going back to the start would be fun. It has been.
NINETEEN seasons later, we just completed what I think was one of the best seasons so far (up there with the all-star installment that brought back a ton of favorites who had “unfinished business”). We skipped Season 8 because we could not get into the season that featured families and did not want to lose momentum on our binge with a lousy season that would be a slog to get through.
So here we are, done with Season 20, and no signs of stopping ahead.
Though we have slowed at times, we pretty reliably watched five episodes a week.
Watching the show during Covid has been a surreal experience. We started at a time when a lot of people couldn’t even comprehend traveling overseas (and some still can’t). So seeing the beauty of the world in what seemed like (and still does seem like) much simpler times can at times be a little heartbreaking, but it’s hopeful.
Obviously, the show would be impossible – not to mention irresponsible – to produce right now. (Imagine the insurance policy!) But I do hope it returns one day. And I hope we return to that sense of normalcy again.”
Shane Brown/FX on Hulu
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (center), Devery Jacobs, Lane Fact and Paulina Alexis in ‘Reservation Dogs’
Also, I’d echo Gonzalez’s endorsement of “Reservation Dogs,” with the disclaimer noted below (and perhaps a quibble about the title being a little too cute). She writes:
“Shout-out to my favorite show of the moment: ‘Reservation Dogs.’
The FX series, which debuted this week, centers on a group of mischievous (and somewhat criminally inclined) Indigenous teens who live on a reservation in Oklahoma.
The cast is phenomenal – down to the scene-stealing Mose (Lil Mike) and Mekko (Funny Bone) – and the writing is exceptionally funny.
I refuse to let this show join the ranks of ‘Lone Star’ or ‘Terriers’ – shows that have ‘more good reviews than viewers,’ as Lowry put it when we talked about the series.
I implore you to check it out. You’ll thank me.”
A few of this week’s premieres that didn’t earn full reviews, but might be interesting to somebody:
A battle royale from the new Starz wrestling drama ‘Heels.’
“Heels.” As if we needed more wrestling on TV, “Heels” builds a Starz drama around small-town pro wrestling, deriving its title from those who play the bad guys (known as “heels”) against the good guys (“faces”) in the ring. The main draw is likely Stephen Amell – after his lengthy run on “Arrow” – as one of a pair of brothers who masterminds the struggling business, a married family man whose personal life contrasts with that of his free-wheeling brother (“Vikings’” Alexander Ludwig), which only contributes to the strained family dynamics.
The previewed episodes aren’t badly done, but there’s not much here to keep any part of you pinned to the couch. The show premieres Aug. 15.
John David Washington in the Netflix movie ‘Beckett.’
“Beckett.” Last seen on Netflix in “Malcolm & Marie,” John David Washington plays the unluckiest tourist who ever lived, seemingly, in this Netflix movie, which has a Hitchcockian quality and some good supporting players, but just strains credibility at too many turns. That begins with Washington’s title character getting into a terrible car accident in Greece, not only losing his girlfriend, but in the process stumbling upon a nefarious plot that has armed people chasing him.
Can he trust anyone? Will he make it to the American embassy? Will he find help if he gets there? Will people watch all 110 minutes to find out?
‘The White Lotus’ will return for a second season in a new locale.
HBO announced this week that its buzzy limited series “The White Lotus,” which concludes Sunday, has been renewed for a second season.
The next installment will leave Hawaii as the show “follows a different group of vacationers as they jet to another White Lotus property and settle in temporarily amongst its inhabitants,” according to HBO. We’re counting on another cast of entitled, troubled characters from series creator Mike White.
CNN’s Scottie Andrew looks at why we can’t seem to get enough of watching rich and terrible people on TV, writing, “We detest the Roy family in ‘Succession,’ and yet we watch, rewatch and pick apart the series after each episode. We uncomfortably laugh at Jennifer Coolidge’s deluded socialite has-been in ‘The White Lotus,’ fawn over the fashion worn by the bratty, uber-rich kids in ‘Gossip Girl’ and fear the wrath of girlboss Laura Dern in ‘Big Little Lies.’ Yet we still keep watching, often cringing our way through. Such series confirm our worst suspicions about the wealthiest among us – but the characters’ fictional riches and all the accompanying baggage makes for riveting television.”