The Nine Best Superhero Shows on Television
From Heroes Reborn to Daredevil, these are the superhero series worth your time.
By Jacoby Bancroft, University of Nevada at Reno
I’ve stumbled upon a new theory about myself.
I’m starting to think I can absorb all the nutritional value I need through watching television.
Sure, I’ll throw an occasional Twinkie in here and there, but overall I think the wide variety of different genres represented in this “Peak TV” era is enough to sustain me.
I mean they say laughter is the best medicine, so a few of the high-quality HBO comedies out there represent a healthy dose of Vitamin C. The pulpy, trashy dramas that Shonda Rhimes churns out seemingly every other week is like the fatty, sugary junk food that keeps me energetic. But it’s the superhero genre that’s my real source of energy. It’s the protein that helps me become big and strong.
Over the last few years the television landscape has become absolutely bombarded with different superhero shows and I’m proud to say I watch almost all of them.
The superhero genre is so packed with potential and is capable of bringing to life countless stories set in extraordinary worlds. They’re currently TV’s biggest trend.
With a brand new one, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, premiering to big ratings and a suitable amount of buzz, I thought I would provide a definite, unquestionable ranking system for every superhero show on the air right now. You’re welcome.
#9 Heroes Reborn
Oh, Heroes, where did you go wrong? Sure, the finale of this miniseries aired last week so it’s technically not on the air anymore, but talking about the tainted legacy of television’s first great superhero show should act as a cautionary tale for every other show on this list.
To recap, the original Heroes premiered back in 2006 to critical and commercial success. I am not afraid to say that the first season of Heroes is one of the single greatest seasons of television ever. It’s everything else that came after that damaged the series.
Following a few disastrous, low-rated seasons, Heroes was thankfully cancelled in 2010. Though the recent craze in superhero programming caused NBC to try to bring the show back, having seen it all I can wholeheartedly say it should have stayed cancelled.
It had all the potential. A shorter episode order meant that there wouldn’t be time for pointless padding and the five year absence should have given creator Tim Kring time to evaluate what exactly went wrong and how to fix it. That didn’t happen. Heroes Reborn was just as, if not more, convoluted as the final few seasons of the original show. Uninteresting characters, pointless side plots and horrible dialog turned Heroes Reborn into a joke. Seriously, just go find season one of Heroes somewhere.
Supergirl is CBS’s attempt to attract audiences that aren’t old people who enjoy NCIS. For years, the network has touted itself as the “Most-Watched Network” and that’s certainly true.
Unfortunately, the people watching CBS aren’t in the all-important 18-49 demographic that rakes in advertising dollars, which is all that really matters in show business.
Green lighting Supergirl was a big step for the network, but the show itself is pretty middle-of-the-road. Besides some pretty cool reveals (Martian Manhunter!!) and a great lead actress in Melissa Benoist, the show has trouble telling stories that are appealing to all ages.
It’s not sure if it wants to be a family-friendly kid’s show or a more serious superhero drama. Though I will say that in recent episodes the show appears to have hit its stride, which bodes well for its future. I respect it for its willingness to highlight female empowerment, but it could use some fine tuning in how it delivers that message.
Gotham, what the heck am I to do with you? Most days you would sit at the bottom of this list because of your uneven tone and general disregard for coherent storytelling.
But just when I’m about to write you off as an irredeemable mess, you go ahead and do something utterly brilliant.
It’s usually when the show decides to not give a rat’s ass and go full bonkers, but those moments are too scattered and random to turn the show into must-watch television.
I mean this is the show that decided to turn a main character crazy just because the writers had no idea what to do with her. That takes guts.
Gotham itself is anchored by strong performances from most of the cast, especially Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin, but the material never rises to the occasion to give the actors depth or coloring. Also, give baby Bruce Wayne less to do. By the looks of it, he’ll already be donning the cape and cowl by the time he’s fifteen.
#6 Agent Carter
Cool, sleek and stylish. That’s Agent Carter in a nutshell. If you want a show that really highlights female empowerment in a meaningful way, this is the show for you.
Set in the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, Agent Carter puts the Peggy Carter character from Captain America front and center with dazzling results. The show is funny when it wants to be, heartfelt when it needs to be and appropriately kick-ass throughout it all. The only reason it’s not higher on this list is because it’s still young in its run and seasons are short.
The first season was only eight episodes and the second season has only just begun. Though if the second season maintains the level of quality present in the first few episodes, the show has potential to move up on my list.
Telling stories with true meanings are difficult, but Agent Carter handles it all with impeccable grace. They know exactly what they want to say about a female’s role in the world and their message never waivers.
It helps that the beating heart of this show is the relationship between Peggy Carter and Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler. The two have, in record time, developed a rapport and rhythm that most pairings only dream of reaching. Their friendship alone is worth tuning in for, which isn’t something I can say about a lot of shows.
Arrow is the oldest superhero show on this list, and its success can be credited for ushering in this new era of superhero shows. Two years ago, Arrow would have topped this list. Last year, it would have wound up at the bottom. This year lands CW’s flagship superhero right around the middle.
Last year, the third season really hurt the show by pushing Oliver Queen into an extreme existential crisis that drove him to his darkest place yet. It didn’t come together as much as the writers probably envisioned, but it was necessary to build Oliver back up into the Green Arrow persona he’s destined to become.
When the show first premiered, many comic book fans took issue with the fact that Oliver Queen returned from being stranded on an island for five years as a tortured, emotionless vigilante who took no issue with killing people.
It was a far deviation from the quippy, socially-conscious Green Arrow of the comics. Though anyone who has stuck with the show for this long has realized that this is slow journey to Oliver becoming a better man, and shades of the comic book version of Green Arrow have finally started to show in this fourth season.
It’s not perfect by a long shot, but it should be given credit for establishing this TV universe of DC heroes and for bouncing back considerably after a lackluster season. Most shows can’t redeem themselves when they sink in quality, but Arrow has always been a show full of surprises. Though for real, can we stop with those lame flashbacks?
#4 Jessica Jones
Netflix’s second Marvel television series is completely different than any other superhero show on this list, which is what every new superhero show should strive for.
We’ve seen all the normal tropes of ordinary superhero stories played out a bunch of times in the rest of these shows, but Jessica Jones shines for its ability to present a fresh take on the idea of what it means to have powers in an ordinary world.
Sure it focuses on a super strong heroine and a mind controlling megalomaniac, but at its core is a damaged woman coping with an extreme past trauma. How do you move on from that? That’s the question the show never stops asking.
Before its release, it was touted as a noir throwback, a tone the show definitely succeeded in capturing. It knew what it was from start to finish, and although not perfect, it milked as much quality out of the source material that it possibly could. Some side characters could have been cut, but overall the antagonistic relationship between Jessica Jones and the villainous Kilgrave (played pitch perfectly by David Tennant) is worth checking out.
#3 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel’s first attempt at expanding their successful movie brand into the television realm had a rocky start. Lackluster standalone stories and a sense of aimless wandering hurt Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. immensely in its first season. The reason the show sits so high on this list now is a result of its amazing turnaround.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier changed everything in the MCU, but it affected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the most. A movie that completely destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. would understandably affect a show that focused on the agents in the field.
You would think it would sink the show, but what emerged was a show reinvigorated with purpose and spunk. The show hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since, slowly building up an impressive ensemble of likeable characters and doing a better job in connecting itself to the larger Marvel universe it exists in.
#2 The Flash
Unlike other shows on this list that cast a heavy burden on what it means to have superpowers, The Flash feels like the only superhero show out there that seems to have any fun.
Watching it feels like a throwback to the Saturday mornings you would spend as a kid watching cartoons with a bowl of sugary cereal in front of you.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously and its innate charm can’t help but shine through everything it does.
The cast seems to have a genuine blast bouncing off each other, and the goofiness of lead Grant Gustin is just infectious. It’s the second-best superhero show out there because of its willingness to steer into the more fantastical and outrageous comic book elements that other shows seem afraid to fully embrace.
The show at the top of this list is Marvel’s Daredevil, a show that proved Marvel’s ever-expanding evil empire can include more than just light-hearted adventure romps.
It took a step back from exploring the far corners of the world, and instead brought the idea of good vs. evil to a microscopic level by examining one man’s crusade in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
Daredevil defied expectations to bring a high quality, dark and gritty drama to Marvel’s slate of shows.
Before it premiered, many questioned the show’s existence. They had already tried to bring the Daredevil character into live-action with the notoriously bad Ben Affleck version, a movie that left a bad taste in almost everyone’s mouth, so why try again?
Well anyone who watched the Netflix show knows that it’s a stunning iteration of the character of the highest pedigree.
Season two is just around the corner and with the upcoming introduction of The Punisher, I’m positive it can maintain the high level of quality that made the first season so great.