With the success of the CW network’s Arrow, a show for which I have unabashedly declared my love, it was somewhat inevitable that networks would start mining deeper into the depths of DC’s roster. We’ve already talked about Gotham, the Batman-before-Batman show on FOX. Then there’s the upcoming Constantine, based on the terrific Hellblazer series, that’s coming soon from NBC. Last night, the network that brought us Arrow test drove its first spin off, The Flash, based on a character first introduced to us in their successful badass archer series.
It was thoroughly and completely OK. That’s damn faint praise, of course, but it lacks the visceral punch of Arrow, a show that hooked audiences from the get-go with its surprising darkness and violence. The Flash is definitely a more lighthearted approach, and to a certain extent, that’s a good thing. Its lead, Grant Gustin, plays Barry West as an affable, awkward nerd who is generally a very sweet, caring guy, and he’s got the right amount of everyman dorkiness to carry it most of the time. The backstory is that he’s a CSI tech who is also secretly trying to prove that his father is innocent of the murder of his mother years ago, a murder that happened with fairly bizarre, supernatural-like circumstances. Barry is hit by lightning in the midst of strange chemicals and the Flash is born. As far as origin stories go, it’s not particularly original. It’s borrowing heavily from a number of places, particularly the somewhat tired “avenging my parents death” trope that I could’ve done without. In fact, the show’s biggest problem is its reliance on some tried and tired television tropes, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The origin itself is pretty much canonical, even if the whole dead parents thing is invented for the show.
There are a number of well-done elements to The Flash, however. Gustin does a solid job portraying Allen the way any number of nerdy kids would have envisioned themselves reacting to the sudden acquisition of super powers. It’s a little rushed — he goes from normal to full-blown superhero in the course of 60 television minutes — but that’s necessary to get people engaged. A pep talk from Steven Amell’s Oliver Queen, which serves to inspire him, is a nice touch. There are essentially two father figures (aside from his actual father, who we only see for a minute at the end) who play pivotal roles — Tom Cavanagh as the scientist whose experiment caused it all to happen, and Jesse Martin as the detective who helped raise him. Both of them are very talented actors who do fine work as the forces that mold Allen’s persona over time.
What makes the show suffer is that it has several elements that are either tired, cliched, boring, or all of the above. Nobody believes in Barry at first, and then everyone believes in him. Cavanagh’s two assistants are basically just copies of Fitz and Simmons from Agents of SHIELD, right down to Danielle Panabaker being a dead ringer for an American version of Elizabeth Henstridge. The relentless overuse of the idea that he “wasn’t fast enough” (to save his mom, to catch a mugger, etc., etc.) at the beginning was so blatantly and stupidly “nudge nudge GET IT BECAUSE THE FLASH” that I almost blinded myself from rolling my eyes so hard. I can already tell that the particle accelerator explosion is going to be their version of Smallville’s meteor rocks, a MacGuffin that creates an all-too-convenient rogue’s gallery. The dialogue is a bit of a disaster, filled with rote lines and painful cliches, not to mention far too many lazy exposition dumps. Lastly, the relationship between Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) is just an exhausting mess of friend zone nonsense, as he pines for his best friend and watches her fall for other men. It’s boring, and I while I enjoy the possibility of the rare interracial romance, it’s just hideously clumsy.
The Flash is very CW, though. It’s clean and bright and sharp, with everyone dressed nattily and shining pearly white teeth. Its lead is sweet and charming, its supporting cast honest and forthright and kind (except for a perhaps sinister Tom Cavanagh). It’s actually everything that Arrow isn’t, and that may well be its problem. While I respect that it’s taking a more lighthearted, less dark approach, it might need a little dirt to smudge up all its prettiness. Its effects are decidedly a mixed bag, even for television. The red flash zooming through the city is nifty enough, but the close-ups of Barry as he’s running are laughable, and the tornado effects of the villain of the week felt like I was watching someone play Sega Genesis. It’s not a bad show, but based solely on the pilot, it’s unlikely to have the resonance of Arrow and it lacks the star power of a show like Agents of SHIELD. It needs to find its place, and right now it has more flaws than I think I would be able to handle in order for it to make its way into the more discerning viewer’s rotation.