After one of the most curious sets of trailer for a television show ever released, Titans debuted its first episode today and the result is … well, it’s oddly appropriate considering the subject matter. Make no mistake, its use of graphic violence and profanity is a prime example of a show trying too hard. But considering the mood of Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) in the debut episode, trying to hard seems right for show with a rebellious streak.
Set one year after Dick walked away from the crimefighting life and from Bruce, he’s settled in Detroit and tries to serve the side of justice as a cop. But life as Robin is hard to shake off and he finds himself making waves as an angry and brutal version of the Boy Wonder. His fellows in the police department are quite unhappy about a costume coming to town. And for a moment, it seems as though the show will play with that tension before switching to something potentially more interesting: the introduction of powers into what seems like an otherwise grounded DC Comics Earth. Dick soon meets a teen runaway named Rachel (Teagan Croft), who recognizes Dick from a dream she had about the death of his parents. Intrigued, he takes on her case and witnesses her demonic powers kill a would-be kidnapper. While the show skews more toward the emotional impact of the moment, it also indicates superpowers are a new thing here.
And, as it happens, both readings of the scene could indicate interesting angles for the series as it evolves and matures. On the one hand, the new emotional tie between Dick and Rachel is interesting. Where the two have been equals in comics and cartoons, aging Raven down to a teen means Dick has to be the grown-up and attempt to guide her. It may not be a position he necessarily wants, but it is something he is uniquely suited to accomplish. In Thwaites, Dick is a closed off and angry sort here — a huge departure from most versions of Dick Grayson — but some of the Boy Wonder’s gift for quips appears here and there. And though the show itself tries to keep things grim and serious, it occasionally remembers Dick has a sense of humor. But for the moment, though, it is hidden under his current case and his baggage.
Croft, meanwhile, may not be playing any sort of Raven fans may be use to, but she’s doing a good job as a troubled teen runaway. Her performance would not be out of place on a Law & Order or on Supernatural. And as the entire season will be an extended story with elements of both shows smashed together, one imagines she may eventually get to a more recognizable Raven. The same can be said of Anna Diop’s Kory, who resembles Starfire’s more familiar personality in slight moments — like when she flirts with a hotel concierge — even as the performance comes off as one of the show’s greater departures from Teen Titans canon. But she, like so many of the other choices made with Titans, feels like a conscious attempt to rebel from what fans know about the characters. It’s both bold and foolhardy all at once.
As is the move away from the successful episodic format executive producer Greg Berlanti employed on The CW hero shows. It seems like the intent is to be much more like Daredevil than Arrow, which could ultimately work once the group of Titans are actually together. Ryan Potter’s Beast Boy is virtually absent from the pilot episode; making it impossible to guess how different he will be from the character people love in comics and animation. And that may be the most unsettling aspect of the first episode for fans: the Titans are not in it as such. Instead, there are these wounded people who resemble beloved characters, but have not yet taken their familiar forms.
Which means that while Titans’ first episode may not be an auspicious start to the series for some viewers, it may yet prove a worthy addition to DC Entertainment’s TV multiverse.
Titans streams Fridays on DC Universe.