Candice Patton and Grant Gustin in The CW’s “The Flash.”
It’s not a bad idea to rest a lot of The Flash on Grant Gustin’s slim shoulders. He has an innate charm and instant likeability that suits this relatively non-angsty (in comparison to his many overwrought superhero brethren) hero very well. In order to make most superheroes interesting or relatable (since it’s hard to relate to good looking, highly intelligent people with lots of friends, no health or financial issues and, oh yeah, superpowers to boot) they’re usually layered with a thick coating of soap-opera-level personal problems the likes of which would crumble the average person. That’s not what the creators of this show did.
Oh sure, Barry’s mom is dead and his father’s in jail. That certainly sucks. And we’re treated to at least one po-faced reminder of that burden every week. But for the most part, The Flash formula is this: a really likeable, cute and smart guy is surrounded by people who simply adore him and everything he does. This made for a charming introduction and a nice counterpoint to all of the dark and brooding superheroes we tend to get treated to (especially from the DC Comics side of the aisle). But as the show continues, we’re finding the relative lack of conflict in Barry’s life to be both unrealistic and more than a little boring. This episode, Barry goes to a karaoke bar and – surprise! – EVERYONE LOVES HIM. Hot girls just walk right up to him and hand him their phone numbers, like he was in a boy band or something.
And look, you can go ahead and call us cold-hearted and cynical (you’d be far from the first), but shoving yet ANOTHER “Barry’s father figure tearfully tells him how much he loves him” scene into this episode had us all but groaning and faux-vomiting. Enough, guys. It’s sappy and silly (in the sense that people don’t tend to go around giving speeches like that at the drop of a hat). Worse, it’s happened so frequently in this show that it’s become a cliche, and we suspect, something of a crutch for the writers. It’s like they worked as hard as they could to make this show the flip side of Arrow. So instead of everyone whispering darkly about their problems and keeping all kinds of outrageously complicated secrets from each other (pretty much the Arrow house style), we get the exact opposite; brightly lit scenes where everyone talks about how much they love each other. We’re here to say that they’ve probably taken this bit a little too far too soon. It’s time to inject some real conflict into this story – and we don’t mean the latest supervillain. We would never want to see a show this fun go “dark,” but adding a little bit of believable friction in this character’s personal life sure would be appreciated. Yeah, he doesn’t get to have Iris, but who believes that’s going to remain the case? In the mean time, here’s another gorgeous girl to salve his wounds while he waits for Iris to wake the hell up.
And it’s not just Barry that suffers from this sort of children’s-show everyone-gets-along mentality. What really set this whole line of thinking off for us was the way everyone just shrugged at (and then hugged) Cisco for allowing a dangerous supervillain to escape. It was such an unrealistic reaction to his behavior that it took us right out of the story. It’s like the writers are so in love with all these characters that they can’t bear to see any of them get really angry with each other, no matter what they do.
As for the case of the week, it felt pretty limp. Peek-a-Boo isn’t a bad character concept and set of powers for Barry to fight, but we never really got to know her and she felt very much like a tool to move the story along. A lot of the villains shown so far have deep motivations spurring them on, but she’s just some girl who dates the wrong men.
But, lest you think we have nothing but complaints, we really did enjoy this episode, despite some cracks showing in the show’s foundation. One of the things it’s doing very well right now is laying a whole bunch of subplot tracks down and, for the most part, staying on top of them so they don’t get out of hand. From Firestorm to the Reverse Flash to whatever the hell Pied Piper’s long game is, there’s clearly a narrative plan at work here and we have every reason to trust that the writers know what they’re doing. We just need to start seeing some believable adult reactions out of the cast in order to cement these characters as real people.
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