Recently, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow got some viral buzz when it baffled Twitter users with the concept of an evil gorilla trying to murder a young Barack Obama. It was the kind of bonkers setup and undeniable hook that would’ve felt perfectly at home on a Silver Age cover, and that’s exactly the kind of aesthetic that Legends Of Tomorrow has been pulling off for three seasons now. For the people who have kept up with what is easily the most consistently entertaining show in The CW’s superhero stable, the fight between the 44th president of the United States and Gorilla Grodd (who is not only evil and super-intelligent but also telepathic!) was just another Monday, and anyone who passes on the show because of cape fatigue or because of its lousy first season is missing out on some truly joyous comic-book action.
Legends Of Tomorrow is about time-traveling superheroes who all teamed up because a guy from the future explained that they were all irrelevant to history and therefore wouldn’t be missed—a nice way to lampshade the fact that all of the characters were B-level players on Arrow and The Flash—and because of that they’ve been able to cross paths with a lot of historical figures beyond Barack Obama. Back in season two, the team hijacked Apollo 13, stopped by World War I to see if a young J.R.R. Tolkien could help them find a vial of Christ’s blood, and convinced a 23-year-old George Lucas not to give up on his dream of making movies after a run-in with the Legion Of Doom.
In its current season, the Legends got stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop, fought alternate-universe Nazis, saved Elvis Presley from ghosts, and—in one of the best episodes of the whole series—had a run-in with Vikings that worshipped an adorable Tickle Me Elmo-style toy named Beebo. The Elvis episode also featured the death of the team’s pet rat, who had appeared in all of three episodes, and before the credits there was a little highlight reel of all his best moments that lasted about five seconds. It was a brilliant gag played totally straight, satirizing the sort of tearful cast send-off you’d see on a show that doesn’t have its tongue planted so firmly in its cheek. Speaking of great gags, the episode with Obama featured a cameo from actor John Noble as himself, because the Legends realized he sounds exactly like the big villain they’ve been fighting all year (whom Noble provides the voice for).
If that all sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. That’s what makes Legends so delightfully watchable, though. The show recognizes that it’s silly and it embraces that fact, giving the writing a confidence that you sometimes don’t see on Arrow or The Flash. It’s the kind of show where Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance, the undisputed MVP of Legends, will drop a fun quip at the start of every adventure (e.g., “We’re on Obamacare”), and the other characters will comment on whether or not the quip was suitably empowering. This sort of lightheartedness makes the stories feel more grounded and the characters feel more human, despite the fact that they’re all time-traveling superheroes who have been rejected by history.
It’s not always top-notch TV, and there are still hiccups here and there in the writing, acting, and special effects, but it’s a huge step up from where the show was in its first season. It was almost a serious time-travel drama back then, with big stakes and a number of characters who had a hard time accepting the fact that they were on a superhero show where weird things occasionally happened. It was totally devoid of the confidence that has made subsequent seasons so fun, and the show has been very smart to quickly jettison things that simply don’t work, like season one’s Hawk-people (played by Ciara Renée and Falk Hentschel) and the annoyingly tragic backstory of Arthur Darvill’s Rip Hunter. It’s a bit more like Doctor Who now, staying light as often as it can but not backing down when things get dark, and subscribing to the very Doctor-esque notion that these characters really have a blast saving the world every week.
The show was recently renewed for a fourth season (bringing beloved DC Comics antihero and NBC castaway John Constantine onboard full time), and its excellent third season is wrapping up and should be streaming on Netflix soon. Legends Of Tomorrow has made a habit of packing something as bananas as Grodd attacking a future president into almost every episode, and as funny as that stuff is without context on Twitter, it’s even better when you get the similarly ridiculous buildups and payoffs. For example, the Legends beat Grodd by shrinking him and putting him in a jar—after erasing Obama’s memory and telling him how much they miss him, of course.
It’s hard to say if Legends Of Tomorrow is the best comic-book show on TV, but it is the only one with Victor Garber singing “Day-O.” That’s got to count for something.