His name is Oliver Queen, and we’ve heard everything about him by now, both in the present and in the ever-expanding story of his five years on an island. But while I love Arrow, one of my favourite TV and most definitely one of the best comic adaptations on TV, I have started to see patterns emerging, flaws in the writing and storytelling that I just don’t like.
The Flash is a new superhero TV series. It’s an adaptation of the DC Comics comic by the same name and a spinoff of Arrow, having the same producers. It follows Barry Allen, The Flash and the fastest man alive.
During Arrow’s last season, we were first introduced to Barry Allen, a nerdy crime lab technician visiting Starling City under false pretenses. It turned out that he’d come to find the Arrow and that he did, leaving at the end of a small story arc but not without giving Oliver Queen a valuable piece of advice: wear a mask. Because we all knew the green eyeliner was kinda dumb, and someone had to say it. The last thing we see of him in Arrow is being struck by lightning in his office.
The Flash’s pilot shows us the complete picture, the events leading to that fateful lightning strike and beyond. Star Labs’ Particle Accelerator goes live while Barry is at the Police Station but malfunctions catastrophically, sending wild energies across Central City, turning the terrible weather into the weirdest storm the city had ever seen. Allen is struck by one such strange lightning and ends up in a coma for nine months. When he finally wakes up, he quickly realizes he can run at incredible speeds, though before he dons the now iconic red suit, he has a few mishaps, such as crashing into a laundry van.
I like the Flash. To be honest, before Arrow, I didn’t even like Green Arrow that much, but I always liked the Flash, especially the short and tragic run with Bart Allen. I still have those issues saved up because of how extraordinary they are. I love it all, from the miniaturized suit in a ring to the Speed Force to the time traveling treadmill.
As I said, I liked this character, and as such, my expectations for this series were at an all-time low. I expected something terrible. You might think that’s odd, that my expectations were low instead of high, but there’s an important reason: I didn’t want to hate it. I have fond memories of the 90s TV show and still think it’s badass. So, I really didn’t want to see this Flash and think, “This is bad!”
But that didn’t happen and not only was I pleasantly surprised, but I was actually impressed. The Flash, unlike Arrow, deals almost exclusively with Meta-humans, people with superpowers, and that means special effects, the wobbly part of most TV shows if we’re being fairly honest here. But the flash manages to do it right. They handle the super-speed effect marvellously, and the different villain superpowers (Weather, Cloning and Poison Gas in the three episodes leading to this review) actually look good, which is what impressed me them most.
As for characters and performances, The Flash does something right: every character in the show is very well defined and grounded. You can instantly relate to all of them, be it because they’re adorkable or because they’ve lost someone and that resonates with your own life’s experiences. Performances are generally very strong, though Rick Cosnett lacks a bit of punch as Eddie Thawne. He’s unconvincing as both a Detective and as Iris’ boyfriend. Her actress, Candice Patton is one of my favourite on the show. Grant Gustin is outstanding as Barry, hitting all the high and low notes perfectly. When there’s an emotionally intense scene, he’ll be pulling on your heartstring without question. Tom Cavanagh handles the duality of his character wonderfully. When Wells is being nice, you can feel the concern he has for Barry’s safety, and when he’s being evil, you can tell this is a guy you don’t want to mess with. It’s really difficult to play a convincing recurring villain, even more so one hiding in plain sight, and how well Cavanagh pulls it off with his performance amazes me to be perfectly frank. My biggest surprise for this show, however, and a pleasant and nostalgia-filled one at that, was seeing John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father. Why was it pleasant? J.W. Shipp played The Flash in the 90s TV series.
The writing is currently the shows greatest weakness, and it’s not on the stories, those are pretty good. They’re fun superhero adventures with enough emotional and dark moments sprinkled on top to make them very interesting. No, the problem is with the dialogue. For its first few episodes, the Flash is and will continue to try to establish the character as a superhero, and for that the dialogues will often have inspirational conversations where the character will learn some valuable lesson that will shape the hero he’ll become. It’s expected but tricky to get right without being too cheesy. And so far, The Flash’s dialogue has had some very cheesy moments, the worst being the Oliver Queen – Barry conversation in the pilot episode. That one wasn’t only cheesy but also quite painful to watch. I could have complained about casting, about character choices, but I don’t and I won’t. First, any adaptation deserves the chance to make its own mark, to change things up a bit. And second, this show is from the people behind Arrow and if that show has proven something it’s that the changes it makes to “established lore” work really well!
One thing I do give props to the writers for is acknowledging the realities of Barry’s condition. The second episode takes its time to explore and handle his metabolism, with him constantly fainting for low glucose, because his body burns through it like there’s no tomorrow. Also, they at least try to come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for how the different powers work, which I appreciate. Superhero TV shows get more leeway than other series in terms of unrealistic things, but The Flash’s writers take the time and put in the effort to keep the show as grounded as possible. Another thing I like is that Barry’s not an instant badass the moment he gets his powers. He’s still clumsy and he doesn’t know how to fight, which is why he still gets his ass kicked the moment he stops running. It makes the evolution from guy-with-powers to Superhero feel much more natural.
In the end, The Flash proves once more that the people behind Arrow know what they’re doing and they are the best at brining superheroes to TV. It’s an extremely fun show to watch. I give it enormous praise just for not having anyone say the word “Mirakuru” and for giving us decent DC Comics supervillain portrayals (and powers).
When I first saw the promos for Arrow, a show based on Green Arrow, I was skeptic. Sure, Smallville proved you could make a successful comic book adaptation series, but even that show had its very definite lows, the series ending being one for me, even if with Darkseid they had everything going for them to end it spectacularly.