The CW's loopiest heroes save history by destroying history. Or just the "destroying" part, maybe.

By Darren Franich
January 21, 2020 at 05:34 PM EST
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So Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan) and Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell) are drinking too much in 1947. The time-traveling let’s-call-them-heroes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow have jumped back to gangland Los Angeles for a very important mission. And that mission is…hmm, it’ll come to me. From what I remember, the problem involves LAPD corruption, literal Hell, fake accents, and Bell Biv DeVoe.

Whatever the team’s doing, it can’t be that important. They’re undercover in a Sunset Boulevard nightclub called the Blue Iguana. But Ava’s lit past oversharing, and Mick’s drunk enough for Tuesday morning. “I’m essentially homeless,” Ava moans. She used to run the Time Bureau, a massive government organization. Now she’s shacking up with her ex-assassin girlfriend Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) on the timeship Waverider, sharing a communal shower with various superpowered misfits. Roll call: Wind Boy, Mr. Shrinkwell, Guy With Gun That Fires Fire, Commodore Toughskin, and I forget, is martial arts a superpower?

“I’m a vagrant, a vagabond,” Ava says. “Everything I own is now stuffed inside a Time Bureau softball league duffel bag.”

Mick points to the loneliest man in the bar. “You see that clown sitting over there?” he says. “The one riddled with responsibilities? Look at him. He’s miserable. And he’s welcome to it.”

Too many superhero stories are miserable with responsibility. Let ’em have it! Legends of Tomorrow flies high as a kite, and the kite was hit by lightning, so now it’s an omnisexual talking kite firing electric rays at sexy history. Season 5 of The CW’s superteam romp kicks off Tuesday with a mockumentary episode about killing Rasputin. Next week, the gang’s in Old Hollywood cosplaying noir seduction. Then they go to Prom. Some actors play different people than they used to play. One baddie kills victims by partying super hard. Main characters die, but don’t stress! “Technically, you’ve died more than three times,” Ava tells Sara. Even her girlfriend’s lost count.

Colin Bentley/The CW

What is Legends of Tomorrow? Better question: What isn’t it? The third offshoot from producer Greg Berlanti’s Arrow began ten thousand years ago in 2016. Cast members cycled out, and the tone veered stranger. Not that any of the Berlanti comic book shows aim for, like, serious-face’d realism. If you held a flame-gun to my head while demanding a one-word description of his super-mega-franchise, I would blurt out: “Peppy!” But the other title heroes tend to be stalwart cuties working through tragic backstories with trusty work-friends. Legends is prankish and punkier, a hodge well podged. “I’m a serial killer’s fairy godmother!” is a typical subplot-launching line of dialogue.

It helps that Legends has self-realized into the franchise far-outlier. In the premiere, Nate Heywood (Nick Zano) notes that he “had to take a rain check” on the crossover event that united all the important people from his universe. (Please consult my omniscient colleague Chancellor Agard for coverage of all Infinite Earths.) But Nate’s not complaining. The Legends have become famous world-savers now, which nominally explains why they’re being followed by a documentary film crew.

Actually, the cameras are a PR desperation move. Ava wants the world to see how totally together this whole Legends of Tomorrow operation is. The space-time continuum immediately collapses; the worst people in history rise from the dead. “This may seem like a problem,” Ava flop-sweats, “but let’s turn it into a proble-tunity!” So they warp back to late Tsarist Russia, where mad monk Rasputin (Michael Eklund) punches out of his own coffin.

Everyone comes up with their own plan. Every plan steps on another plan’s foot. Nate gets mesmerized by Rasputin’s psychic act. Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) attaches a selfie camera to his Atom costume, and goes someplace squishy. The decadence of Imperial Russia is played, mostly, by one single large foyer in an alleged palace.

How does Rasputin speak English? Why are the special effects so questionable? The premiere’s playful conclusion skewers these questions. A little self-awareness goes a long way, but Legends has a charm that’s more old-fashioned than meta. Every adventure is a game of dress-up. The scenery’s not much — but what chewing! Lotz radiates Big Kirk Energy as the charismatically deadpan captain, and the Los Angeles episode lets her go full Rosalind Russell. John Constantine (Matt Ryan) tries an American accent, why not. And Tala Ashe’s Zari returns from a timeline reboot as a parody of a certain mega-celebrity.

Showrunners Phil Klemmer, Keto Shimizu, and Grainne Godfree always seem to be getting away with something. Season 5 averages one musical number every two episodes. An electric-chair execution cues up Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” on the soundtrack. The tone can be ecstatically gay. In a moment of celebration, Sara swoons Ava into a sailor-kissing-the-nurse kiss — and then gives the camera a thumbs up. Message to certain Disney franchises safe enough for totalitarian censors: Now that’s how you do an LGBTQ-friendly victory smooch!

Necessary deviation into sober critic-speak: Legends can be too slapdash. Even with all the pot-smoking and whiskey-swilling, the Waverider always feels like a bland hallway in search of an actual location. And I do wonder if the general portrayal of historical figures would benefit from [presses nerd glasses up geeknose] extra research. The show’s version of Bugsy Siegel (Jonathan Sadowski) could be any generic Gangster Meanie, albeit a Gangster Meanie who says things like “What’s the rumpus? Must be pretty heavy if you’re calling me on the blower!”

Two central cast members will depart this year, but Legends already earned a season 6 renewal. That’s a healthy run — and it could go ever on. Ryan’s Constantine headlined his own (shortlived, normal-er) procedural, before network-skipping to the CW as a gruffly romantic goof. Is that the long game, blending new characters from DC lore with rescued demi-icons of super-shows past? Good lord, will someone from Gotham command the Waverider by season 11? On Legends of Tomorrow, the proble-tunities are endless. B+

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