No commercial more instantly turned me off to the idea of watching a television series than the infamous “Fuck Batman” ad that gave us our first look at Titans on the DCUniverse streaming service. When that was my introduction to the series, it was easy enough to write it off as “not for me”, and we even bashed it on older episodes of our show. To be fair, it wasn’t anything inherent in the trailer itself, but more the fear that DC was still falling into the same trap from their then-recent history of Zack Snydering everything up and making it dark and gritty for dark-and-gritty’s sake. Not wanting anything else along the lines of Man of Steel or Batman Vs Superman, I figured I would never get around to watching this iteration of the Teen Titans.
But then I got bored all these months later and watched it anyway. Because I am a scornful hypocrite.
Titans season one clocks in at eleven episodes, and it spins the tale of Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), Raven (here called Rachael and played by Teagan Croft), Starfire (Anna Diop, and under the assumed name of Kori Anders) and Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) meeting and starting to come together. It is Rachael who proves to be the catalyst for each of them coming into the story; Dick is running away from his life as a Gotham vigilante when he gets tangled up with her in his new job as a detective in Detroit (where a vision guides here as she is fleeing the people who killed her mother). Along the way, an amnesiac Kori saves the young girl from an assailant. Later still, Rachael meets and befriends Gar Logan at an arcade. The four stay together to protect Rachael and her burgeoning enigmatic powers from an organization tied to her father who wants her for their own purposes. The main villains for much of the season are the Nuclear Family, who I am not quite familiar with from the comics, but they only last a few episodes. Mostly it is character-building and digging into everyone’s respective mysteries.
Other DC heroes bounce in-and-out of the story as it moves along, most notable among them being Doom Patrol (who received their own DCUniverse spin-off), Hawk & Dove, Jason Todd, and Donna Troy. Oddly, Doom Patrol feels the moist shoe-horned in and pointless here, but I assume DC already had that series in mind and just wanted to get the characters on the audience’s periphery. Which is fine, but while Hawk & Dove and Donna feel pertinent to the long-term story Titans is telling, the Doom Patrol episode just sticks out like a sore thumb in not progressing the arc at all.
INCREDIBLY MILD SPOILERS FOR FOLKS UNFAMILIAR WITH THE TEEN TITANS LIVE HERE: Visually, the show doesn’t seem to have a bigger budget than, say, the Marvel Netflix properties, so I was lured in by the comfort of all of those shows and the first several episodes here into thinking this show would be fairly low to the ground. Sure Kori and Rachael had some pretty large powersets, but Beast Boy was toned way down, and the Hawk and Dove were reduced to street level brawlers. With the Nuclear Family being just a little bit strong and the rest of the villains being thugs, I expected the plot was reworked to be a street level series. Well, the back half of the season blows that up with the reveal of Kori being an alien, Rachael being a prophecized galaxy-wide destroyer of worlds, and the introduction of a Trigon whose backstory and scope matches that of his comic iteration (though, for budgetary sakes, when he finally appears, he does so in the guise of just some dude).
The season ends with a huge cliffhanger I won’t reveal here, and the last episode even has a very MCU-esque end credits scene which hints at new characters to come.
I will say that, yes, the series is dark. It is exceedingly brutal at points, everyone is chock full of angst and dread, tons of folks die–many at the heroes’ hands–and while there is some sporadic humor or joy sprinkled across the eleven episodes, those moments get lost in the melancholy of it all.
That said, what Titans did that Snyder’s DCEU flicks did not is make me CARE about the characters. So things can be grim downers if the development makes sense. An amnesiac Starfire who cooks fools in self-defense while also having an adversarial and flirtatious relationship with Grayson is a hell of a lot easier to swallow than a Pa Kent who irrationally is all “Maybe just let a bus full of kids die” and has no other character to speak of. Teagan Croft as Rachael is mostly tasked with being afraid–either of those out to get her or of herself–but she has moments of childlike brightness that shine through and really help sell a reason for wanting her to overcome all of her obstacles. Thwaites’ Grayson does an excellent job wrestling with being the vicious weapon Batman created versus having the ability to help a child in need… just as Bruce once did for him. Sure it’s all so very heavy, but at least you care about it. Maybe that’s the benefit of having eleven hour long episodes instead of two three hour movies, but whatever it is, it works.
The show does occasionally lose focus, whether it’s the aforementioned Doom Patrol episode or Dick’s side quest with Jason Todd or the penultimate chapter, which just tells the origin of Hawk & Dove. Depending on how valuable Hank and Dawn remain in season two, that last one is likely the most forgivable (and that episode hints at a bigger future role for Jason Todd, too). If I had to watch this show weekly, those interludes would be a bigger deal, but binging them? They are just speedbumps.
All in all, it’s a pretty decent banger for the streaming service right out of the gate. Granted, DC has had a lot of practice with the Arrowverse shows so they weren’t exactly going in cold, but… it’s DC in the 2010’s doing live action. There’s always a glimmer of fear at what’s to come. But I enjoyed this. The characters were lively and fun, the story felt intense, and everything looked good for the universe it was establishing. I’ll definitely be all in for the second season.