In the olden days — like, say, a year or two ago — TV critics held a slight edge on the folks who made year-end movies and music best-of lists. New albums keep dropping well into December, and Hollywood holds back some of its biggest pictures for the holiday break, but television? Shows debut in the fall, wrapped up in the spring and took the summer off. That’s the way it was, for decades. Then the streaming services arrived, and started uploading entire new seasons just about anytime — including this past weekend, when Amazon delivered 10 new episodes of its award-winning dramedy Transparent. Even with advance screeners and the like, critics have been scrambling to binge.
But hey, with a show this excellent, who’s going to complain about a little last-minute, deadline-busting “work?” For anyone who loves artful, innovative television, the return of the Pfefferman clan was the no-doubt big event of the week, even when the airwaves were thick with finales: some for the midseason, some for the season, and some forever. This week’s Top 5 TV will hit all those high points … though not before pausing briefly to geek out over the surprise introduction of one of superherodom’s greatest characters and praise the return of a familiar decider-in-chief.
5. Supergirl meets an unexpected new/old hero (CBS)
The Tiffany Network’s entry into the superhero sweepstakes has been more “promising” than “can’t miss” thus far, with a breezy tone and a winning Melissa Benoit lead performance compensating for a mythology that still seems paltry. (Don’t get us started on last week’s epsiode, which botched the debut of old-school DC Comics favorite Red Tornado. A red-skinned android who can make cyclones with his arms — that should’ve been so much cooler.) But this week’s installment, titled “Human for a Day,” made up for past stumbles, as it followed the heroine courageously standing up to criminals even though she’d been drained of her powers.
And then came the long-awaited unmasking of the seemingly sinister government agent Hank Henshaw. The producers threw a curveball at longtime comic readers; for weeks, we’d expected the Fed to be exposed as the comic book villain known as Cyborg Superman. Instead, he confessed to being a telepathic alien shape-shifter — specifically, J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. “The Martian Manhunter.” Suddenly, Supergirl‘s producers have added one of DC’s oldest and most noble heroes to the mix, as well as proving that they can spring a good playing-the-long-game surprise. The rest of this first season suddenly looks a lot stronger.