And as one show ends, so another begins.
More importantly, this marks phase two of the aforementioned doubling down by DC to try and secure the television market. This is still a pretty undecided frontier, and I’ll be keeping an eye on both sides as this unfolds (in the case of Marvel, moreso their later shows; been behind on Agents of SHIELD).
Before I go further, I should issue a disclaimer: The Flash is a DC property I mainly know through connections with other characters in the collective canon. As such, while I’m familiar with parts of the story, I’m essentially going in blind. If I miss anything of particular note, feel free to let me know-always up for some more learning here.
There’s a part of me that still has a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that The CW- Home to Gossip Girl, Supernatural, and Vampire Diaries– is making comic adaptations, and that they’ve been good. When I first heard about Arrow, I was on board for just about everything except their backing it, and I will admit that I misjudged.
With The Flash, I was kind of surprised they tapped this as a follow-up series. Arrow is relatively doable on a televised budget, but I wasn’t sure how they’d handle someone with powers like Flash or his various antagonists. But if this week is any indication, it’s off to a good start.
It helps that they’re starting things off simple: this week’s getting the origin story done and out of the way. I know there’s a lot of backlash to doing origin stories in filmed adaptations now, and I can agree if it’s a pretty well known case like Batman or Spider-Man. However, a case like this is one where I can see the reason. Not a lot of people outside the comics community know a whole lot about the Flash beyond ‘He goes pretty damn fast’ so an origin story is something of necessity in this case.
Besides that, the show at least does a good job in presenting said origin story. This is an attempt to make this work from the get-go, rather than just rushing through the prelude to dive head-on into the superhero stuff. It’s still pretty cliched, but it’s done with enough heart you can let that slide.
That can also be said of the casting. In terms of first impressions, Grant Gustin’s off to a pretty good start with his take on Barry Allen. Again, my knowledge here isn’t as good to say how he fares from an adaptation standpoint, but taken as is, he’s a likable lead for the most part.
Like any starting story, his character’s still being shown with a fair amount of ‘new hero’ archetypes here, but there’s an effort to at least make them enjoyable rather than microwaved leftovers. The supporting casts pulls their weight fairly well. As Iris West, Candice Patton is showing some good chemistry with Gustin that makes up for the fact her role right now is a pretty well worn ‘just friends or are they?’ gimmick.
Veteran actor Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West takes some familiar material and makes it memorable by virtue of his performance. The other standout here being Tom Cavanaugh as S.T.A.R. Labs bigwig Harrison Wells – the first of a few crossover ties this pilot is establishing between The Flash and Arrow.
In terms of character he’s probably the one that gets the best chance to flex archetype here, eschewing the often familiar “genius who believes in something more noble” in favor of a man who spends much of this episode skeptical before finally conceding ‘maybe the world does need this after all’ and encouraging Barry to go for it. The episode definitely suggests they have plans for him in the future and it will be interesting to see how Cavanaugh handles those when they come.
As for the story, this episode’s mostly about setting up the long game. Yes, a lot of cast are introduced and we do get Barry into the red suit and running, but he doesn’t take the persona until the last quarter of the episode. Much of the rest is concerned with establishing how the incident that’s given him his powers has upset the balance, care of introducing some of the more dangerous metahumans that are now running loose.
This also gives them a great opportunity to start dropping hints about upcoming antagonists: besides the fact this week offered us a grounded take on the Weather Wizard, there’s a scene in S.T.A.R Labs where they pass a wrecked cage with the sign ‘Grodd’ hanging off of it. I did NOT expect them to set him up that early, but I’m excited.
There’s a fair amount of world-building going on here as well. Besides hints of villains, we have the seeds of an ongoing story about Barry’s father (fun fact: He’s played by John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry in the 1990s Flash series) having been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Since his powers provide a clue as to what actually happened that night, it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more investigations in episodes to come.
On top of all this, they directly tie into Arrow, in a method I wasn’t expecting, but I have to admit I liked. Starting the episode with a Spider-Manesque opening narration, we’re given the initial first impression that Barry narrating audience- until we get to about the three-quarters mark and find he’s been telling his whole story to Oliver Queen (Stephen Arnell) in hopes of getting some guidance. It’s a nice bit of misdirection on an old origin story chestnut and offers some interesting potential for where this could head in the future.
There are a few bits and pieces of this pilot that are odd, though that may be because there’s only one episode on-hand. The visual cues that come up when Barry’s doing investigation on crime scenes are an interesting touch, but one that never really turns up anywhere else in the series. So we have this one scene of the technique that just feels very out of place. This could become more of a regularity in later episodes, but as it is now, it’s just an odd bit of style added in.
Likewise, as this week’s antagonist, there’s not a whole lot to Clyde Mardon/Weather Wizard (Chad Rook). This may change in the future, but this week, he mostly just runs from the police, gets powers, then develops an immediate god complex so Barry has a threat to deal with amid his coming into his identity. Still, it’s the first episode, and there’s always some things that need tightening on the first outing. It’s the nature of the pilot, really.
All in all, this was a pleasant surprise. While the pilot doesn’t feel quite as ambitious as Gotham, it’s better put together by comparison. It’s traveling a lot of well worn paths, but it’s enjoyable and enthusiastic, so I don’t really mind it. With this as their follow-up, DC is definitely not as much of a pushover on television as they have unfortunately made themselves in film. Especially since this has sold me not only on this series, but it’s got me game to give Arrow more time.
Well played, DC. Well played.
You’re off to a good start so far, just keep at it.
Speaking of keeping at it, I’ll be back this time next week to see how the show goes from here with Fastest Man Alive.
-Very good special effects for a television budget
-A lot of interesting story set up paired with a likable cast
-First episode’s pretty bog standard origin story
-To that end, antagonist is really a non-character for the most part