‘The Flash,’ ‘iZombie,’ ‘Jane the Virgin’: No Sophomore Slumps for The CW’s Great Genre Shows

Perhaps a harder task than creating a fully formed, confident first season of television is keeping up that momentum into the second. Exciting as it may be, most shows’ debut seasons are full of stumbling blocks; it’s rare that a series really nails it, as The CW did with The Flash, iZombie, and Jane the Virgin last year. What’s even more impressive is that all three remain so compelling in their Season 2 premieres.

Somehow, during the 2014-15 TV season, The CW became one of the most buzzed-about networks thanks to these new dramas. Each one has a lovely and magical (or at least exceptional) protagonist: a top-speed superhero, an endearing zombie, and a pregnant virgin. Each had the potential to be a total failure, but with strong writing — and performances — they all became standouts. It proved that The CW still had some steam left, that it was more than just a one-season-wonder punchline. It also, surprisingly, showed that The CW has a knack for genre television, be it superhero, zombie, or telenovela.

The Flash is a mere drop in the based-on-the-comic superhero sea, yet another narrative about a guy suddenly gaining the ability to battle evil villains. It was a spinoff of another comic adaptation, in fact: Arrow (which also got off to a strong start this season). And it would have been easy for The Flash to fade into the background, especially as rival networks premiered similar-sounding shows such as Constantine and Gotham. Instead, the CW’s underdog became the bright, shining, optimistic light of the three, standing out partly because of the sheer fun the series was having and partly because of skilled, tense writing that made every episode feel like a well-deserved season finale.

Candice Patton as Iris West, Grant Gustin as Barry Allen and Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon -- Photo: Cate Cameron/The CW -- © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Candice Patton as Iris West, Grant Gustin as Barry Allen and Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon — Photo: Cate Cameron/The CW — © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Flash‘s second season, which premieres tonight, keeps up the darkish fun by skipping ahead a few months and shaking up the status quo. The team — which is barely a team anymore — is dealing with the fallout of last season, which ended on a fascinating, stress-inducing cliffhanger, but the narrative skips forward six months, rather than depicting the immediate aftermath (though flashbacks are helpful in filling in the blanks). The biggest change is Barry (Grant Gustin), who falls victim to the lone-wolf plot that helps propel many superhero narratives: he doesn’t want to bring harm to his friends and family; he’d rather go about everything alone — but, of course, he’ll learn that he needs his team, his buddies, his safe space. Finding a way to get everyone back together, battling a new villain (Atom Smasher), and continuing to maintain a healthy balance of romantic, teen drama-like storylines and super-heroics are all challenges that The Flash faces in Season 2, and all challenges that — based on the premiere — it won’t have trouble meeting.

Robert Buckley as Major and Rahul Kohli as Ravi -- Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW --  2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Robert Buckley as Major and Rahul Kohli as Ravi — Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW —  2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Also premiering tonight is Season 2 of iZombie, another comic book adaptation, this one developed for the screen by Veronica Mars‘ Rob Thomas. In many ways, iZombie faced similar challenges to The Flash: finding a way to stand out in a pop culture landscape that is already up to its ears in zombie tales (this year, you can add Fear The Walking Dead to that group). It quickly found a way to do so, by emphasizing the fun procedural aspect while also putting a kick-ass woman at the center of the action: Liv Moore (Rose McIver) is simultaneously a fiery, intelligent medical examiner and a vulnerable, endearing, undead single girl fighting the loneliness caused by her, well, zombieness. Season 1 was brilliant and infectious; Season 2 starts off intriguing, fresh, and equal parts more adventurous and more emotionally complex than what came before.

Season 2 takes all the cliffhangers from the first season finale and builds spectacularly on them: the fate of Liv’s brother and her devastating decision to not help him, the side effects of the zombie cure she gave Major (as well as their strained relationship due to her actions), and Blaine’s new business endeavor and new life among the living. Some of the fallout is dealt with swiftly, to move on to the overarching plot, while some threads get teased out at greater length: we immediately learn about Evan, but we’re definitely going to have to wait for a reconciliation between Liv and Major, if that even ever happens. The Season 2 premiere skillfully builds on aspects of Season 1, while laying the foundation for what it aims to explore in upcoming episodes — all without missing a beat. The odd humor in Liv embodying dead people’s characteristics, the utterly charming and irresistible Ravi, and the endless shipping possibilities are all very much present in the premiere.

Gina Rodriguez as Jane -- Photo: Greg Gayne/The CW -- © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Gina Rodriguez as Jane — Photo: Greg Gayne/The CW — © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Rounding out the three shows is Jane the Virgin, premiering next Monday (October 12). Easily the biggest surprise from The CW last year — based on the strange premise alone — the first season remained fun, lovable, and addictive as it rode the up-and-down dramatic waves of telenovelas. The series nailed the feel of the genre, and Gina Rodriguez gave an unforgettable performance that remains fresh in Season 2. It’s tough to get into detail without giving much away — I mean, the cliffhanger involved a stolen baby! — but suffice it to say that Jane the Virgin hasn’t broken its stride. If anything, its narrative seems to be a bit stronger than it was before. (And yes, the voiceover remains perfect.)

Who would’ve guessed that The CW would not only have three of the most anticipated returning shows of the fall season, but also succeed in maintaining each series’ quality in their sophomore outings? It’s a great thing, and will push The CW’s programs to be viewed as fierce competitors, rather than getting stuck with that unfair, “It’s good for a CW show” qualifier.