Since the moment it was announced well over a year ago, the Batwoman television series has been subject to an unreasonable volume of online vitriol. Of course, even if the show had been truly abysmal, it still would not have justified the despicable personal abuse directed at star Ruby Rose. Yet the strange thing is that Batwoman is a product remarkably consistent with the rest of DC’s television output.
Imagine: A defiant hero spouts expository information in the format of a disembodied voiceover, as frantic violin strings play in the background. A generic metropolis is in the grip of some kind of crisis. An unlikely hero is troubled by past trauma which is revealed on screen via excruciating flashback sequences, complete with a “whoosh” sound effect and washed out saturation. With help from a quirky sidekick, this enigmatic figure is able to be the hero the city needs, defeating a formidable foe with whom they have a secret personal connection.
That description can be applied to virtually every single superhero show in the Arrowverse, Batwoman included. Inspired storytelling, it is not. But in fairness, this cookie cutter technique has proven to be a recipe for success over many years. Every DC Comics show produced by US broadcaster The CW boasts reasonable viewership and there have been memorable moments on each of them, from the glorious second season of Arrow to The Flash‘s tightly written Out of Time, and recent crossovers like Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It’s for this reason that arguments claiming Batwoman to be particularly poorly written or poorly acted ring false. These are factory line productions and the build quality on each is more or less the same.
After months spent travelling the world and learning survival skills, military school dropout Kate Kane returns to Gotham, where Batman has long vanished under mysterious circumstances. In his absence, her father founded a private security firm to keep the city’s criminal gangs in check, but shuts her out of his operations in a misguided attempt to keep her safe. Taking matters into her own hands, Kane soon discovers a certain secret belonging to her missing cousin: Bruce Wayne.
Admittedly, Ruby Rose gives an uneven performance as the title character. Having previously taken on smaller supporting gigs in the likes of Orange is the New Black, John Wick 2 and Resident Evil, it remains to be seen whether she has the acting chops to pull off a starring role. For one thing, she sounds genuinely disinterested during the aforementioned voiceover segments, although that’s probably fair enough given the flack she has had to put up with since joining the show.
Kate Kane discovers the Batcave in the first episode
Of course, it’s worth remembering that the Green Arrow himself Stephen Amell was similarly wobbly during his first season, so Rose deserves some time to fully get to grips with the role.
Batwoman’s comic book origin story already had a generous helping of family drama, but these elements have been turned up to eleven in service of The CW’s soapy house style. To be fair, it largely works. Hemlock Grove star Dougray Scott plays Kate’s father Jacob Kane, a role hampered with some of the script’s clumsier lines but he delivers them with conviction. Meanwhile, the addition of Nicole Kang and Elizabeth Anweis in original roles is a gamble that pays off, with Kang making a particularly strong impression in the pilot.
On the flip side, the manner in which Bruce Wayne’s shadow looms over this story doesn’t work at all. His name is shoehorned into almost every scene, which is bizarre given that he doesn’t appear in the show. This creative decision just smacks of a series that lacks confidence in its own main character, particularly as Batwoman generally works independently of Batman in the comics, even actively opposing him on some occasions.
The series recovers some ground with its Alice in Wonderland antagonist portrayed by Rachel Skarsten (Reign). She’s a pantomime villain in every respect but that’s exactly what the show needs, providing a burst of energy whenever things appear to be going slack.
Batwoman certainly has plenty of room for improvement, but the sheer amount of hate it has received is laughable. Awkward scripting, questionable performances and melodramatic storytelling have been recurrent problems in every corner of the Arrowverse, but none of its other shows have seen a backlash quite so violent. The elephant in the room is that, to some people, the idea of Batman being replaced by a lesbian woman is so unpalatable that it simply provokes spite as a knee-jerk reaction.
To those who don’t share such a blinkered view of the world, Batwoman will be just another superhero television show. Not particularly remarkable, but perfectly watchable light entertainment.
Batwoman airs on E4 at 9pm on Sunday 29th March