It has happened. Somehow, against all odds, The C-freaking-W has become my favorite network. I'm in my mid-30s. I'm an adult! The CW is supposed to be targeting teenagers with crap that makes them feel good and teaches life lessons, or is filled with beautiful people too young for their jobs. And yet, here I am, full-fledged Adult, looking forward all day to the shows on The CW that I will watch that evening, while thinking all day about the shows on The CW that I'd watched the night before. How did this come to pass??!?
The CW has consistently, if quietly, taken chances with genre projects (genre meaning stories with sci-fi/fantasy elements). Some of them miss (Star-Crossed), but most of them have hit (Supernatural, Arrow, The Flash). The bigger networks have attempted genre projects, but seem to give up on them quickly, or stick with them longer than they should. The CW has a history with teen sci-fi/fantasy fare (Smallville), as well as teen soaps. The network seems to have gotten away from teen melodramas in favor of shows perhaps directed at teens, but that also have bigger things to say.
The Vampire Diaries was greenlit in the midst of Twilight-mania, but quickly became something different. It wasn't about a boy stalking a girl; it was about a boy haunted by a girl's face, struggling with his bad-boy brother who would surely ruin everything. It was about loving family, no matter what they'd done. This was a vampire story whose blood-core wasn't about lust, but of family. It quickly had a lot to say about fate vs. choice, and that has consistently been the theme of the show. Sometimes it gets distracted by other things, but in the end, that's what it's about. It's about friendship and growth and change and dealing with what comes at you, and forgiveness and steadfastness. Basically, there's a lot going on beneath the surface of the vampire show about pretty people. This is why it has the first successful spinoff on the CW network, in The Originals. The core there is about family—the one you're born into as well as the one you choose—and how you stand by them and fight with them and want to kill them and would kill for them, and all of the conflict and passion that come with it. It just also happens to have magic and vampires and werewolves in it.
The 100 is another in this category. It reminds me often of Battlestar Galactica, in mood, or tone, or character development. It takes massive chances in its storytelling. It will set things up to go one way, and then kill it dead, forcing the story in another direction. Sometimes it's disappointing, but only for a moment, because they're already headed someplace great that you hadn't even foreseen. It takes the kind of chances I've come to expect from a CW show.
I would even say that the brilliant Jane the Virgin is in this fantasy category, too. It's very much a fairy tale, in this melodramatic telenovela world, that is also very grounded by characters with genuine reactions to insane situations. The peasant girl is humble and wise. Prince Charming is flawed. The evil princess...is pretty evil. I'm sure she'll be sympathetic one day, but so far, she's awful. And the clown! He's brilliantly, sweetly, narcissistic in lavender, a color which makes it impossible to ever take him seriously. There are subtitles! A character only speaks Spanish, and I sincerely hope she only ever speaks Spanish. I think its very important that she never speak English. It absolutely deserves the Golden Globe nominations it received today, and you all should be watching it. I don't know how it puts the pieces to this crazy puzzle together in such a way that is perhaps more real than most dramas on television. And it's a great comedy. It really is magic in a bottle, and everyone needs to watch it, despite the horrid title. (Really, being a virgin is not the most interesting thing about her, and I hate that the title stresses it like it is.) And Gina Rodriguez sounds like she'd fit in around these parts.
How did all of this come to pass? The president of the CW network is a guy who used to run ABC. He greenlit Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Ugly Betty. He knows what he's doing, and he's doing a great job. There has been a tonal shift in what defines "a CW show." Mostly, I've found, it's about the women.
Veronica Mars only lasted one season on the CW, but I like to call this her legacy. Her influence is definitely running through the network today. The shows on the CW are filled with fantastic female characters. Kristen Bell has described Veronica as "confident and vulnerable," and there are plenty of confident and vulnerable women to be found on the shows of The CW. Arrow started out in the Batman Begins dark-and-broody mold, but soon found stronger footing with its women. Felicity has grown immensely from her introduction, but has kept that same vulnerability, even as she grows more confident in herself and what she wants, and what she gets. Sara, Laurel, The Huntress, Nyssa Al-Ghul, Thea, Oliver's Mom—they all have their own confident vulnerability, and strongly impact Oliver throughout the series.
The ladies on The 100 call the shots and lead the rescues of their distressing dudes (how very BSG-like!). They understand the gravity of their choices, and the weight of their decisions, and take care of business. It might be a nuclear winter, but I sort of want to live there.
The titular Jane the Virgin is a fantastic human being. I wish she were real. She can be an amazing role model for young people. In the latest episode she catches her boyfriend in bed one morning with another woman in his bed. When the woman—an escort paid by a 3rd party—approaches heartbroken Jane later to explain things (she didn't sleep with him) and request a miraculous hug, to give the escort hope of seeing her son, Jane insists she can't grant miracles, and hugs her anyway. Amazing.
And the women of Julie Plec's vampiric world(s) have been astounding for years. Caroline Forbes has been entirely unexpected, based on who she was in the pilot, and grown in fantastic ways. She's gone from crying, "why don't boys like me" to "I'd rather hate you than have you not love me back; now get out of my way," and it's been a fun journey to watch. Katherine Pierce was a ballsy broad from the start. Elena has grown, if unevenly, but as a pawn of fate, that's to be expected. Bonnie has been the outsider, the independent thinker, the one who sees the world differently than her friends, and stood her ground when the others disagreed. The guest women have been just as clearly defined and realistically alive. The plots have done their best to treat everyone equally.
Basically, I now love The CW because feminism. And I'm okay with that.