If you enjoy reading this review, consider clicking the Buy Me A Coffee button to the right to show your support or sign up for my Patreon. Members get early access to posts like this one, as well as exclusives only available through Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee.
I initially didn’t want to watch the DC Universe show Titans after seeing the initial trailer that dropped at New York Comic Con in 2018. I’m an unabashed comic book fan but the trailer left a sour taste in my mouth, particularly since it appeared that the new series was going to go the “grim and gritty” route with the Teen Titans property. Having watched the first season finally on HBO Max, I’ve realized my distaste from the initial trailer was well-found. A tonal misstep from start to finish, the first season of Titans is a rough slog that is not nearly enjoyable enough to warrant sifting through to reach the good parts.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched the first season.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way at the beginning. The two characters that I actually enjoyed watching were Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth (aka Raven) and Ryan Potter as Gar Logan (aka Beast Boy). In an overwhelmingly grimdark series, these two were by far the most sympathetic characters and the ones I was easily able to root for. Teagan brought a desperate vulnerability to Rachel that has always lurked under the surface of the character in the comics. Potter provides much of the emotional heart to the story, lending his ear and surprisingly heartfelt advice to Rachel throughout the first season once they connect around the third episode. Given the age difference between the actors, some of the potential romantic undertones are a bit too squicky for my taste but the show manages to keep their friendship on a strictly platonic level. I also enjoyed the brief amount of time we got to spend with Conor Leslie as Donna Troy (aka Wonder Girl) but she was only involved in the series for the last handful of episodes, so we don’t get to spend enough time with her.
We do, however, get to spend an inordinate amount of time with Brenton Thwaites as Dick Grayson (aka the original Robin). This isn’t a criticism of Brenton or his performance but the writers really did make it difficult to care much about this moody, depressed, and morose version of Dick Grayson. I’m not above writing foul language for my characters but the writers seemed to think that since this show was aimed at adults and was on a streaming service, they could just throw in a great deal of unnecessary vulgarity to make the series look “edgy”. For me, at least, this version of Dick Grayson is not the Robin I’ve grown to love and enjoy reading in the comics. Coupled with the fact that the version of Jason Todd introduced halfway through the season (portrayed by Curran Walters) is just as hyperviolent (if not more so than Dick), it really didn’t spark any empathy from me for either of the characters.
Anna Diop as Kory Anders (aka Starfire) was fun to watch at times but the amnesia plotline was dragged out for far too long. And while Starfire and Dick Grayson are officially a couple in the comics, not enough time was spent really connecting these two characters together before they start sleeping with each other. Being catty and sniping at each other constantly for an episode should not end with the two of them getting hot and heavy, which is not a jab at the actors but at the writers for being exceptionally lazy. Laziness also fits as an apt descriptor for how the writers chose to handle Hank Hall and Dawn Granger (aka Hawk and Dove), portrayed by Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly. The two heroes are shown to be in a deeply toxic relationship and neither of them can really be considered “heroes” despite being shown trying to break up a ring of gun smugglers.
The first season’s main plot arc is mishandled largely because the writers decided to break up the story in odd ways, due in no small part to trying to introduce the different Titans over the course of the season. I get wanting to not throw a ton of exposition at the audience within the first few episodes but by interrupting plot points to have episodes that focus on one or more of the heroes for the entirety of an episode, the pacing is all over the place. This is most egregiously shown when it’s revealed the Kory is an alien sent to Earth to kill Rachel, preventing her from bringing her demonic father Trigon into this reality. The episode ends with Kory strangling Rachel only for the next episode to jump back to Hank and Dawn to explain the backstory of Hawk and Dove (which is deeply tragic and shows how unresolved trauma can have a seriously negative effect on how relationships develop).
Tonally, the series tries too hard to be grimdark without any levity. Even shows like Game of Thrones, which went to some truly dark and disturbing places managed to include moments of light and levity to balance them out. Titans does none of that (with the exception of the episode featuring a version of The Doom Patrol), insisting on piling trauma, condescension, and poor character choices on top of each other in the name of “drama”. The decision to shoot 12 episodes but only release 11 meant that the season ended on the darkest possible note, with Dick Grayson being corrupted by Trigon and subjugated to the demon’s will. This wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing if the first episode of the second season didn’t wrap up the story line in a single episode with Rachel pulling a power out of thin air that the writers had failed to demonstrate she could even pull off up to that point in the story.
And that is really where my biggest complaint lies with the first season of Titans: the slapdash storytelling employed by the writers of the show. Rather than giving us characters we can relate to and empathize with as they struggle to overcome their flaws, we’re just given flawed characters without enough redeeming qualities to make them remotely likeable. Instead of delivering a satisfying conclusion to a season-long story arc, we get an “ass pull” moment where the villain is defeated without any real struggle using an ability the character had previously never been shown to possess. On top of that, the show mishandles the character of Beast Boy, who in the comics can shapeshift into a wide variety of animals. Here, Gar Logan can only shift into a tiger (and later a snake in the first episode of Season Two), and even then, the CGI for the tiger is often badly rendered. This should be taken as a note for any potential showrunners who want to adapt a comic book property: If you have a shape-shifting character in the cast, either spend the money to fully realize the character’s abilities or don’t bother including them in the cast.
From what I understand, the series does get better by the time the third season rolls around but for many people, getting through the first season may turn them off from reaching that point. I plan on finishing season two and then getting to season three to see if that is the case. But given how little I enjoyed the first season of the show, I can’t say my hopes are high the following seasons.