During my grad school interviews, making fun of the CW was a go-to icebreaker for strangers as they got to know each other:
“LOL ARROW SO BAD. FLASH SO BAD. ACTORS AND ACTRESSES SO PRETTY. ADULTS PLAY TEENAGERS. THE 100 SO CHEESY. TERRIBLE WRITING. SO MANY LOOPHOLE.”
Meanwhile, people were using Marco Polo and House of Cards as a benchmark for good serials, which I think are actually quite unbearable.
Some smoke fanned up by Smallville and One Tree Hill snowballs into an easy joke. What CW shows are accused of, other channel lineups are guilty of as well though. People forget that The OC was a Fox show.
As of the last couple seasons though, I have to say that the quality of CW’s lineup matches up well with those of any other “prestige” outlet such as HBO or Netflix. For sure, I think it has a few better shows than Amazon’s Prime line (I vehemently disliked Transparent). The three CW shows I’m watching right now, Arrow, The Flash, and The 100 undeniably lack for production values. But for running more than 13 episode seasons which is incredibly tough on the writers, crew, and actors, those shows are doing a bangup job of staying consistent. Arrow‘s plotting has come down significantly from its season 2 highs from operatic comic-book fun to methodical mediocrity, but is still quite entertaining. I would describe it as a TV version of Nolan’s Batman. It shares the same showrunners as The Flash, so it looks like the creative team has just been spending more of their energy on that show instead. The Flash sits farther to the left on the goofy<->angsty spectrum and packs enough fun and pep to get you shadowboxing. It does an economic and sufficient job showing the absurd powers of its Metahumans on an apparently humble budget. Both The Arrow and The Flash have soaring, catchy soundtracks courtesy of Blake Neely, by the way.
The crown jewel of The CW for me is The 100. (Some argue that it is instead Jane The Virgin, but I have not seen that show.) Adapts a YA novel into Lord of the Attractive Mad Max Song of Ice and Fire Flies. I am still in disbelief that execs let a show this dark and gory get on The CW, but I am not complaining. Wooden first few episodes, but this show has had one of the most drastic improve curves I have seen. The three best parts of this show I find to be:
a) Its pacing. Nothing is allowed to drag on for too long. Things you think will last for a whole season instead get resolved in a couple of episodes. Confusions between characters typically get talked out and clarified very quickly, which is refreshing in a world where characters in fiction are frequently kept in the dark to keep up dramatic irony.
b) Speaking of the show’s characters, they are typically introduced off the bat as being morally ambiguous. This is sometimes obscured by overpowering musical cues, but even the people who are ostensibly dicks are immediately provided with rational reasons of acting the way they do to viewers. Characters are bothered by what happened to them in their pasts, but there is very little “faux-ambiguation” of otherwise one-note characters by the sudden introduction of childhood trauma. Complexity is not forced upon viewers but are instead added to characters as they make decisions between terrible options, react to ensuing consequences, and adapt (or die).
c) And then, this leads me to the plotting, which I personally separate from pacing. There is very little plot armor this show. There is plenty in the way of miraculous rescue and salvation, but the show kills recurring to main cast often enough that you do not take lives for granted. There is a jaw-dropping death during the second season that floored me in disbelief and relief that the writers had the balls to allow the characters to occasionally not find solutions. I also applaud the writers for not rewarding absolute pacifism as a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to diplomatic kerfuffles in their scripting.
It does appear that some of the unexpected deaths and disappearances were driven by actors’ scheduling conflicts and budgetary and negotiation issues. In the hands of a capable writer’s room, it does seem that professional inconveniences and disagreements can be utilitarian opportunities for shaking plots out of comfort zones. (Given that the characters have already been established. Kelly Hu’s disappearance after the pilot was disjointed.)