If you’ve given up on the Arrowverse or you never really gave it chance, you have missed out on its greatest gem: Legends of Tomorrow. What began as a bit of a shaky (but fun) hodgepodge of characters from elsewhere in the Arrowverse has turned into one of television’s greatest series. And no, I didn’t say one of TV’s greatest superhero series: I’m saying greatest series, full-stop. As Legends concluded the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover and starts its fifth season, it continues to surprise and delight in ways few shows can.
For those who are Legends-curious but have never taken the plunge, the basic premise is this: There is a time ship, the Waverider, which is designed to track anomalies in the timeline. These are usually caused by villains throughout the ages who are trying to change history or manipulate the future, and if the Legends of Tomorrow don’t step in to save the day (while also trying hard to blend in to not set off a butterfly effect of being seen), then the very fabric of space/time could be at risk, and often is.
This more or less plays out in a Case of the Week format, through which the show is able to have an enormous amount of fun while still keeping its characters emotionally grounded. The show’s sprawling cast was originally pulled from the Arrowverse (Ray Palmer, Sara Lance, Captain Cold and Heat Wave, Professor Stein, etc), but has grown to not only encompass a character from his own cancelled show on NBC (John Constantine), but a variety of new characters to keep things fresh (Zari Tomaz, Ava Sharpe, Nate Heywood, Nora Darhk). Some have innate superpowers, others have tech or totems that give them an edge, but all work together as a group and as sub-groups on the ship to give the show an incredible amount of depth and potential for storytelling.
Legends also benefits from having shorter season runs than most of its Arrowverse brethren: between 15-18 episodes each year. And even though “there are things that happen on this ship that would be hard for audiences to follow,” as Ava Sharpe acknowledges in the Season 5 premiere, here are three reasons (spoiler-free!) why you should absolutely give it a shot:
This is a big one, and a rare case for most series. In a Peak TV era where we’re inundated with new shows, it’s a tough thing to say “stick with it, it gets better.” But here’s the thing about Legends of Tomorrow: God bless it, but you can skip the first season, and maybe the second. The first season is messy, the show is still finding its tone, and it sets up a lot of rules regarding time travel that it immediately starts to double back on—but without the meta humor of later seasons acknowledging that they’re throwing the rules out of the window. The villain is laughably weak, and half of the heroes aren’t compelling. Still, there’s a spark there that caused viewers to stick with it through a much, much improved Season 2. There, a solid villain lineup (the Legion of Doom: Damian Darhk, Malcolm Merlin, and Eobard Thawne) were worthy adversaries for a somewhat reshuffled group of heroes. Still, there were some major changes that needed to take place to help break the show away from both its muddled roots and the Arrowverse from whence it came.
Those essential changes brought about a very, very strong Season 3, which is (if you’re pressed for time) where you can start. The almost anthology nature of the storytelling means that while there are references to the show’s past, you can jump in with the ever-evolving crew and their new adventures and not feel like you’ve missed much. The show has only continued to grow and deepen with its fourth and now fifth season (whose premiere starts off with an in-show documentary of the Legends themselves), getting as crazy and creative as anything that can be imagined. With time, space, and magic at your disposal, there are really no limits, and Legends constantly pushes narrative boundaries in smart, joyous ways.
There are two things that Legends of Tomorrow has learned that the rest of the Arrowverse struggles with. Firstly, if something isn’t working, Legends isn’t afraid to can it and move on to something else. Crucially, that also extends to its cast. There are a few core members who have been around since the beginning, but even then, their characters have undergone major (necessary) changes. On more than one occasion, we’ve also had actors leave and return as new characters. That’s the zany fun of Legends—the show plays to the strengths of its cast, and if something isn’t working, they just change it up. Sometimes that includes demon possession, becoming a puppet, or dying and returning as a totally different person. Occasionally, all three might be in play.
It’s fun, yes, but it also creates real stakes. It means that characters can actually die—forever—and that there are consequences to playing with the fabric of time. That’s another things Legends has excelled in: It didn’t just stick to the time travel in regards to superheroes and villains, it opened up the magical realm through the character of John Constantine, and has used both magic and monsters in ways that the other Arrowverse shows simply can’t (remember when Arrow tried to bring magic into its story? Disaster). Legends is just bonkers enough to have things like zombie unicorns and sentient nipples alongside hilarious takes on major figures from history and also integrate creatures from storybooks. It also understands the value of beloved characters like the Tickle-Me-Elmo-esque Beebo, who has reappeared through the show’s history as a Viking god, a destroyer of worlds, and as the love that can save us all.
All of this insanity works not just because it’s fun, but because it’s smart. The literary and historical references and jokes are one thing, but the show’s own brand of meta humor is always played in the right way so that it never just becomes a farce. Legends is actually surprisingly emotional because it allows plenty of time for the friendships and relationships among its characters to build, and it leans into joy more than any other superhero series on the air. While much of the Arrowverse gets mired in darkness because, perhaps rightfully, of world-affecting villainous events, Legends marches forth with bright optimism and a true belief that “we can fix this!” (It’s also worth noting that Legends has always included diverse characters of varying backgrounds, sexualities, and creeds in meaningful, never tokenistic ways that lean into empowerment without ever feeling preachy.)
More often than not, the show will put its Cases of the Week aside altogether to make space for its cast to interact, or use those weekly events specifically to reveal relationship dynamics. And that, again, is an important thing. We see the characters hanging out, being casual, and having a life beyond their missions—another rarity in the Arrowverse. There is a true sense of depth to what’s happening both on and off the Waverider that helps make Legends such a satisfying watch.
That chemistry is also what makes the show’s emotional beats land so well. Even when silly things are going on around them, characters have meaningful conversations and betray true heartbreak or happiness in ways that never feel trite or forced. Episodes aren’t built around those moments, usually, which is what makes their effectiveness as a gut-punch so raw. These encounters may have some degree of buildup, but often when the moment comes we aren’t expecting it. And that, among so much wild plotting and superhero slapstick, is what makes the show manage to always feel so grounded.
Though Legends might not look like the kind of show that anyone can watch—and truth be told, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—it is worth your attention. It remembers something that few other dramas do, especially superhero shows: that drama doesn’t just have to come from sadness, violence, and death. It can also come from joy, friendship, and triumph. The show is funny but never glib. For as crazy as it can be, it takes its characters and their inner lives very seriously. Legends isn’t just about saving the world over and over again, it’s about finding your family. And for those of us who love this show, the Legends are absolutely ours.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 5 is currently airing on The CW; Seasons 1-4 can be found streaming on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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