Remember when Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. felt like revolutionary primetime entries just for being new Marvel and DC TV shows? Such quaint times are long behind us, and costumed vigilantes are populating television in growing numbers. With all the choices out there, take note that DC Universe's Titans should absolutely be on every fan's radar, and a part of everyone's weekly viewing habits.
Here, we're going to take a mostly spoiler-free look at all the awesomeness that Titans has delivered so far in its freshman season, and maybe everyone will be convinced to make DC Universe's flagship drama appointment viewing. Since Season 2 was already ordered, there are no fears to be had about Titans getting cancelled soon, so get to watching! (After reading this, of course.)
Every superhero squad on TV is similar in some way, admittedly. For instance, The CW's Team Arrow, Team Flash and Legends are all distinct, but have shared members between them, and are comparable in quite a few ways. Because Titans' first season is something of an origin story, however, the endeavors to differentiate the central foursome are plentiful and successful.
The former protégé of a Bruce Wayne gone overboard, Brenton Thwaites' Dick Grayson is forever teetering between "decent cop" and "near-murderous vigilante" on the see-saw of morality. Teagan Croft's Rachel Roth, whose parental situation is complexly corrupt at best, is a teen whose post-pubescent impulses are literally fueled by demons. Lacking memories about her identity and past, Anna Diop's Kory Anders is a strikingly clad enigma capable of causing mass infernos at will.
Then there's Ryan Potter's parentally disenfranchised Gar Logan, whose Beast Boy is capable of transforming into other lifeforms, though Titans has mostly limited him to just tiger mode in Season 1. Having a green-tinged shapeshifter will make any group stand out, but it's obviously a lot more than just Beast Boy that makes the Titans so distinct on the small screen.
No one watches superhero shows solely for the conversations, so it's almost always imperative for these kinds of series to show off just how badass their stunt and effects teams are. With Titans, it's abundantly clear how heavily Warner Bros TV understood that conceit, and that the studio wasn't hesitant to put its money to work.
With Dick Grayson's "to be or not to be Robin" dilemma, Titans plays up a hefty amount of fisticuffs through physical brawls. (Recurring characters Hawk and Dove are the show's other big power-driven heroes.) In these fights, the fast-paced choreography is put on the pedestal, with short bursts of bloody CGI included to showcase how brutal and unsympathetic Dick is. The action itself hits a nice middle ground while not-quite-avoiding Zack Snyder's slo-mo or the Bourne franchise's hyper-kinetics.
The other three heroes' powers put Titans' CGI budget to task, and viewers are all the better for it. When Raven's evil comes alive via digital devilry, it's as menacing as anything in a James Wan horror. When Starfire decides to engulf the world in balls flame, the heat is palpable. And while Beast Boy's cross-species transformations aren't on par with Rick Baker's work in An American Werewolf in London, it's still obvious how much dedicated time and effort went into each sequence.
Considering how reserved some superhero projects have to be when it comes to paying homage to their roots through references and easter eggs, fans may be surprised by how often Titans draws from DC's pop history. The drama definitely doesn't shy away from Dick Grayson's past, both with the Flying Graysons and with Bruce Wayne, even if neither Bruce nor Batman appear to be making any full appearances.
The sporadic use of Hawk and Dove, as well as the evil Nuclear Family, should encourage viewers' confidence in the creative team's willingness to embrace whatever heroes and villains make sense in the story. The most recent episode introduced Donna "Wonder Girl" Troy as a delightful non-romantic friend for Dick. Her arrival included references to a certain Amazon heroine and Clown Prince of Crime. Seemingly few limits are at play for where Titans can go, and it's not all about winking nods and namedrops.
Titans often just flat-out feels like a comic book. Not just with bright costumes and heavy brawls, but also with the largely broad humor and playfulness on display. The show's dark turns give way to more levity as the season progresses, and even Dick's perma-brooding gets made fun of. Gar's optimistic goofiness, in particular, is one of Titans' strong suits, though he only join the fun later. Such is its signature style that many awesome scenes (and conversations) wouldn't work at all anywhere else on TV.
The reasons listed above are more over-arching, but one super-specific reason why Titans fucking rules is because it introduced The Doom Patrol to live-action. The group got its own Season 1 episode for the most part, which helped to bring Beast Boy into the limelight a little more. So let's commend them for that, as well as for being such a delightfully odd ensemble of characters, such as Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-girl.
There's no reason to go into spoilers here, so suffice to say the quirky episode should instantly make DC Universe's upcoming standalone Doom Patrol series on the top tier of anticipated TV in 2019. Titans didn't even get to utilize the later-cast Brendan Fraser or Alan Tudyk, and the upcoming series will also introduce Crazy Jane, Cyborg and Timothy Dalton's updated Niles "The Chief" Caulder.
So often when it comes to DC's live-action projects, Robin gets the short end of the vigilante sidekick stick. Titans remedies that, though, by giving fans two different takes on the classic character. In the middle of the season, Dick Grayson meets his Boy Wonder follow-up, Jason Todd, which wouldn't be all that awkward for the two men if Dick wasn't still pulling out his Robin costume when he needs to beat the shit out of people.
So yes, there's something of a character crisis when Curran Walters' young and supremely brash Jason Todd shows up, partially in awe of meeting his predecessor. That awe is short-lived, though, and it becomes clear that this planet is not big enough for two different Robins. It's almost not even big enough just for Jason Todd's head.
Though The Walking Dead remains a hugely popular TV show, it hasn't exactly spawned a mass cry for more horror comics to get adapted. Examples exist, to be sure, but pale in comparison to superhero adaptations overall. Titans may not be entirely invested in creeping its viewers out, but it does not half-ass anything when it comes to Raven's demonic powers.
Unlike the "possession horror" sub-genre, in which the plots revolve around trying to exorcise an unwelcome evil, Titans doesn't bother itself with taking Raven's frightful side away. Instead, fans can be sure that for every 5-10 minutes that Rachel is on the screen, her Raven persona is going to rear its black-eyed head at least once. Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of how reflections are used to mark the character's dark side, but Titans deserves credit for largely avoiding cheap jump scares in those moments.