With Gotham turning out to be a disappointment and season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. only mildly improved over the near-disastrous first season (but getting better with each week, to be fair), we had dwindling hopes regarding the CW’s The Flash. Spinning off from the big TV superhero success story of the past few years, Arrow, should have been enough to keep us optimistic, but in our opinion that show took well over a season to find its footing and we were concerned this show was going to start off just as weak. We just couldn’t take another mediocre superhero story this season. Our inner nerds were crying out.
But all the positive buzz on this show was, for the most part, spot on and all our fears were allayed. Or most of them, at least. The Flash is the first show in a long time to put the fun back into a superhero story. Grant Gustin, while still a bit tentative in the role, has a fresh-faced quality that helps take the show somewhere different. The fact that he looks like he’s 14 is not only commented upon frequently, but works in service to the overall feel of the show. Had he been a Stephen Amell-like ripped god of muscle we doubt things would have come off so charming.
And that’s the word here: “charming,” which is something most TV shows fail to manage and virtually all superhero TV shows don’t even bother attempting. It seems to us that the creators here made the wise observation that if the climax of your premiere episode has your lead in head-to-toe red leather trying to counteract a tornado by running counterclockwise to it, there’s just not a lot of room for angst to take hold. You have to go with that sense of fun in order for the basic conceits to work. Oh sure, there’s plenty of the usual helping of superhero melodrama, and to be honest, they were the weakest parts of the story, just for being such cliches. For one, there’s the dead parent tragedy – not to mention the clear implication that Barry’s superspeed has something to do with his mother’s death. Fans of the DC comic will know exactly what’s being implied, but we won’t spoil it. What makes this a twist on the normal “dead parent” origin story is that, one, Barry seems to have gotten on with his life instead of letting his mother’s death cripple him emotionally, which is probably because, two, his father is in prison serving time for murdering his mother. Yes, that all sounds really angsty and kind of eyeroll-inducing, but against all odds and reason, it was still a light hour of adventure. Even the cliched jailhouse reunion scene kind of worked. But that may be because of our longstanding John Wesley Shipp crush.
The mama drama doesn’t bother us so much because while it is a cliche of the genre, it’s almost like complaining about the horses in a western or the singing in a musical. It’s not just a cliche of the genre, it’s in large part, a convention of the genre. You don’t have to have a dead parent to be a superhero, but it helps. At the very least, the identity of the yellow speedster is tantalizing, no? Yes, yes, DC fans. We know that you know who it is. Shh.
No, the one cliche that really bothered us is the whole “The thing that gave me my incredible abilities also gave all my soon-to-be enemies their incredible abilities!” bit. Straight outta Smallville, that one. We hope it’s a conceit the show drops as soon as it can. Fine, use it to give him a rogues gallery, but if the mythology of the show revolves entirely around that particle accelerator explosion, they’re limiting themselves tremendously. Essentially every villain confrontation revolves around the same damn trope: That could have been me/We’re more alike than I want to admit. Bleh. We hope we’re wrong on that one. Maybe they’ve got a twist up their sleeve, although that’s pretty much how the whole confrontation with the Weather Wizard – who is never actually called the Weather Wizard and doesn’t wear jaunty striped tights – shook out.
Like its parent show Arrow, The Flash is pretty close to drowning in mythology. There is a LOT to unpack in this first episode, not least of which are all the relationships Barry has with the people around him, from the clueless Iris to the possibly sinister Harrison Wells. In fact, if the episode suffered from anything it was probably the need to introduce so many side characters so early on, each of which seems to have some sort of important connection to Barry. You really couldn’t get a handle on any of them and they almost all came off like cardboard cutouts. Maybe that was necessary in order to (warning: pun ahead) hit the ground running, but we hope the show learns to take a moment to breathe and let things unfold at a more natural pace.
Oh, what are we saying? It’s The Flash. Of course it’s going to be breakneck speed all the time. We suppose we should just hang on and get used to it. If they can make all the episodes as fun and fast-moving as this one, we won’t have any complaints.
[Photo Credit: Jack Rowland/The CW]