As The CW launches its epic 4-night crossover event, featuring the likes of Arrow, The Flash, the Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl teaming up against nefarious alien evildoers, there seems no better a time than to evaluate the format of TV crossovers.
On paper, there’s nothing not to like. The prospect of seeing your favourite characters from two or more different shows converging on one screen for an hour or so is an ecstatic one, especially when placed in the context of a comic book universe, where you have the opportunity to see multiple heroes – each with their own unique and exciting powers – collide. Often, the results of such a collision can be absorbing, fascinating and hilarious. Who could forget the joy of seeing polar opposites the Flintstones and Jetsons butting heads back in 1987, or, more recently, the animated alliance of the Simpsons and the Griffins in the hilarious Simpson Guy crossover? If one accepts that crossovers are intended for the purpose of fun, as well as hit ratings, then there’s no real problems to be had with the concept.
However, when a crossover serves not only as an hour of guilt-free entertainment but as an introduction or continuation of a story, that’s where the format runs into several issues. Take last year’s ‘Legends of Today/Yesterday’ crossover from The Flash and Arrow for example. The two-part story, which was undeniably fun in a camp, inconsequential way, was also a launch pad for the new show Legends of Tomorrow, an ensemble piece featuring various characters already introduced in sister shows. The Big Bad of the series, Vandal Savage, received most of his backstory in the crossover, as well as some vaguely-outlined motivations. The trouble with this is that anyone wanting to hop onto this new show (or, God forbid, get their introduction to the CW’s superhero-verse) with Legends of Tomorrow‘s premiere next January will be left in the dark about certain aspects of the story and characters if they hadn’t already tuned into the crossover event.
Now, to an extent, this is forgivable. The producers of Legends of Tomorrow are closely-tied with the makers of both Arrow and The Flash (with much overlap too), and on the basis of shared ratings between the two shows, it was pretty safe to assume that many of their loyal viewers would return for more super-heroic helpings. However, purely from a story angle, the decision to make such vital plot information exclusive to a gimmicky crossover event is not-so-easily forgiven.
The cynic in me can’t help but see the marketing potential that big-budget crossovers can have. Lets face it, if AMC could conceivably overlap the stories of Breaking Bad with those of The Walking Dead, they would have done so by now (not to imply that this crossover wouldn’t be awesome in every way). Seeing how much dosh blockbuster movie crossovers regularly bring in (Avengers Assemble brought in $1,518,812,988 worldwide, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of all time), the progression onto the televisual format is a perfectly natural evolution, but one that is entirely rooted in greed.
At the end of the day though, one has to remember just how much joyous fun they can be. A crossover is like graffiti on the side of the road. Its eye-catching, but attention-seeking, and at times, even bothersome.
But sometimes, it can be quite beautiful.