Netflix UK TV review: Titans Season 1
Action and humour7.5
Violence and swearing5
Matthew Turner | On 27, Dec 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Following its release on the DC Universe streaming service in the US, Titans is available to stream on Netflix. Created by Akiva Goldsman, Geoff Johns and Arrowverse head honcho Greg Berlanti, the show is based on DC’s Teen Titans comics, much like the animated Teen Titans GO! series and movie. However, despite the fact that they feature four of the same superheroes, the shows are wildly different in tone, to the point where younger viewers keen to check out the live-action adventures of their favourite animated characters are in for quite the shock.
The show sets out its stall early, with Dick Grayson / Robin (Brenton Thwaites) administering a vicious beating to a handful of thugs. Right from the start, the violence is genuinely shocking and involves Robin either scraping villains’ faces along brick and glass or stomping on their necks – or both. In fairness, said violence is important to the plot (in that it’s related to Robin’s ongoing issues and the reason he no longer fights alongside Batman), but the show’s treatment of that issue makes very little sense – if Robin is so upset with Batman’s violence, why is he doing the same thing himself? And worse, apparently enjoying it?
Thankfully, that’s not the only plot element. The first season is largely about the Titans (the “Teen” has been dropped) coming together in the first place, united by a sinister threat to vulnerable, Goth-like Rachel Roth / Raven, played by Teagan Croft, who’s begun to manifest demon powers that she doesn’t fully understand. After Rachel asks Dick for help, the pair are soon joined by space princess Kory / Starfire (Anna Diop) and shape-shifter Gar / Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), with an intriguing mystery surrounding the connection between Raven and Starfire, who has amnesia.
The show takes its time in bringing the four main heroes together, but the pacing largely works, ensuring that we get to know each of the characters in turn before they start to operate as a team. Throughout the series, the show also introduces us to several other familiar DC characters, including Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), Donna Troy / Wonder Girl (Conor Leslie), Jason Todd / Robin (Curran Walters) and the members of Doom Patrol, in a great standalone episode that serves as a neat introduction to DC Universe’s spin-off Doom Patrol show.
The performances are very strong throughout. Thwaites is a good choice for Dick Grayson, exhibiting an instantly likeable persona that is slightly at odds with his violent tendencies. Similarly, Croft and Potter have a sweet chemistry together, while Diop pretty much steals every scene she’s in with a fun performance that’s full of surprises, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the character from the source material or the cartoons. (Of the guest stars, Conor Leslie makes a strong impression and generates intriguing sparks with Thwaites, so it’s good to know that she becomes a regular character in Season 2.)
The action sequences (when not being horrifically violent) are genuinely exciting, heightened by some impressive, fast-paced fight choreography and an impressive level of detail and invention when it comes to the costume design (e.g. Robin’s R insignia, which acts as a detachable throwing knife). However, the effects budget has clearly been used sparingly – the effects on Starfire’s powers are superb and have a fun comic-book feel, but (spoiler alert) poor old Gar goes an entire season and only ever changes into a green tiger.
The other thing the show has going for it is its dark sense of humour, which serves as an effective counterbalance as the plot heads to some disturbing places. It also does a good job of underlining the theme that’s common to many superhero team shows, that these people are outsiders who become family to each other, something that is reflected in the macabre mirror image of the supervillain team, The Nuclear Family.
Aside from the horrific, over-the-top violence (which the show at least addresses as an issue), Titans’ biggest problem is its excessive swearing. While it definitely makes a statement about DC Universe’s commitment to more adult content (as opposed to the more family-friendly Arrowverse shows on the CW network), it’s gratuitous and jarring and it quickly becomes tiresome, even if the much-publicised “F–k Batman!” moment does get a decent laugh. Here’s hoping they tone it down a bit for the second season.
Titans: Season 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.