How a scathing review made The AV Club a part of Legends Of Tomorrow

Caity Lotz and Jes Macallan in Legends Of Tomorrow (Photos: The CW)

Caity Lotz and Jes Macallan present Legends of Tomorrow (Photos: The CW)
graphic: Libby McGuire

No CW show ever seemed like it was meant to be the biggest thing in the world. As popular as Riverdale or supernatural were at the peak of their powers, they were still CW shows, the kind you don’t watch live but get excited about a weekend on Netflix. They didn’t try to address everyone; They tried to reach out to people who I have itthe people who, for whatever reason, already tended to fall head over heels in love with what this show was doing.

And that was never truer than for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. A spin-off of a spin-off of Batman begins-inspired Arrowthe show seemed to require so much homework that it never got a chance to be the next Riverdale or supernatural. But it still managed to garner a headlong fanbase that carried it through seven seasons of stories about a found family of time-travelling superheroes who took it upon themselves to save history from aliens and immortal warlords, demons and fantastical creatures.

One of the things that made Legends of Tomorrow But what made it special was that it had worked hard to earn the love of its fans. The show’s first season, most explicitly set up by the events of Arrow and The LightningHe was, to put it mildly, mean. It was the kind of (mostly) serious superhero action with soapy CW drama that his ancestors had thrived on. But with a whole team of heroes to worry about, there wasn’t enough time or budget to get the attention it needed. With all rights Legends of Tomorrow could have or should have ended there, but in seasons two and three it veered into a different kind of show, one that used superhero action and soapy drama as more of a spice than the whole dish, embracing its underdog status and growing in the process a phenomenal high-concept comedy series.

Of course, Legends of Tomorrow isn’t the only thing that eschews the boring road to mainstream success to embrace underdog status in order to better serve a more loyal and engaged fanbase. Beginning as a back cover of a satirical newspaper and later as a home base in Chicago — a city that prides itself on rejecting the mainstream appeal of the coast —The AV Club built its reputation on being a site that preferred to be a little out of the way. Rather than exclusively targeting the Hollywood scene or hip New Yorkers, it was made for the common folk who wanted a fun book to read Onion Headline and then watch a thoughtful take on an obscure David Lynch project.

So that makes perfect sense Legends of Tomorrow and The AV Club would share a common affinity for one another. We are who we want to be and we like who and what we like, and we want to create spaces for people who feel the same way. We covered legends throughout his seven seasons running here at The AV Clubwith reviews of each episode and occasional essays on absurd moments that went viral (yes, there’s a where Classic comic book villain Gorilla Grodd attacks a young Barack Obama) so that you would hardly find a more thorough chronicle legends‘ Transformation of – as we once put it –“Bad superhero show to the best superhero show.” As with everyone else in his head-over-heels fan base, it has worked its way into our hearts to become something worth loving.

But the funny thing is that legends felt the same The AV Club. In the fourth season episode “Wet Hot American Crap” Caity Lotz’s time-traveling spaceship captain Sara Lance is in bed with her friend Ava (Jes Macallan) and enjoying some downtime by watching a terrifying horror movie called The Swamp Thaaaang. (You can watch this opening scene on Netflix– Season 4 Episode 4 at around 1:20.) Sara is wondering where this movie she has never heard of is from as she is a horror fan so Ava decides to find out what’s going on by she looks up a review Swamp Thaaaang out The AV Club:

Ava: “OK, Swamp Thaaaang. Apparently there are four a’s in the name because it’s the fourth film in the franchise. The AV Club gave it a D+ and said, ‘The production design is as lazy as the action staging.’”

Sara: “Harsh.”

It’s a funny meta nod to The AV Club and our reputation as harsh critics (a reputation that The simpsons also once paid homage), but it goes even deeper: the line Ava is reading is actually an almost direct quote from a real D+ AV club Review written by longtime contributor Oliver Sava from the first season of Legends of Tomorrow:

“This big action sequence takes place in one of the Time Masters outposts in the time stream, which is just a large airplane hangar with a couple of glowing cylinders set up to give it a vaguely sci-fi look. The design is as lazy as the action stagingwhich hardly ever exist because the pilgrim can manipulate time in her immediate surroundings.”

Here, at The AV Club, we always took that nod as a friendly nudge in the ribs, like the show was saying, “We have fun together, don’t we?” both for us and for any fans obsessive enough to understand the reference. But how did it happen?

DC's Legends of Tomorrow

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
photo: The CW

To answer that question, we reached out to David Geddes, the episode’s director (and in-universe as the director of Swamp Thaaaang) and Ray Utarnachitt, one of the credited authors, to ask: Does this mean canonically The AV Club, and all of its authors and readers, exist as part of the Arrowverse? We’re out there somewhere getting sucked into the Crisis on Infinite Earths? Do you see a red blur from the flash on CC Jitters? Getting attacked by roving Deathstroke gangs in Star City?

Ray Utarnachitt: I can only assume that IF The AV Club exists in the Arrowverse, then you and everyone else The AV ClubPast and present must also exist there.

Approved! Type of. we will take it So how did it even happen?

David Geddes: It was part of the original script. [Sara’s] “harsh” was used ad libbed. The scripted response should be Sara saying “ouch”.

Utarnachitt: My best guess is that it was a room space! This means that it is virtually impossible to cite where the idea came from and most likely came from a series of ideas building on and coming together. Just like many ideas that come from the writers’ room, it was a confluence of things that led us to the idea.

First, writer Matthew Maala always remembered it The AV Club‘s scathing criticism for his very first TV episode he ever wrote [the first-season Legends episode “Last Refuge”]. In fact, he often quoted a particular line from the review: “The design is as lazy as the action staging.” It was a badge of honor of sorts, especially because we think it is AV club‘s lowest rated episode of legends! [Editor’s note: It is.]

So when we came up with the beat, Ava looks up a synopsis of it Swamp Thaaaangwe immediately thought how funny it would be if they read one AV club review of the film. And of course, why not make an inside joke out of it Legends of Tomorrow and The AV Club?

Utarnachitt also confirmed through colleague Tyron B. Carter (who was on set the day the scene was filmed) that Lotz and Macallan were informed that the quote was taken from an actual review of the show’s first season and that “they all laughed. That probably explains why Lotz ad-librated “harsch” instead of “ouch,” which reads as a more playful response if you know what the quotation marks refer to.

Legends of Tomorrow is since canceled without further ado as part of a cost-cutting campaign at The CW ahead of a possible sale, depriving the show of a proper finale and allowing fans to see more from a superhero series that had enough faith in its characters and storytelling to devote a scene to watching two of its Leads read a movie review.

The AV Club is still there, of course, but it has changed in a similar way and is no longer just the back of The onion. New things will always pop up to avoid generic mainstream popularity in favor of cultivating a headlong fandom, but for at least one quiet moment, Legends of Tomorrow was part of us and we were part of them.

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