'The Flash' Review: CW's 'Arrow' Spinoff Slightly Off-Target, But Aims True

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The CW

Of the three or four I’ve actively participated in, pilot season continues to surprise me, particularly when it comes to the ongoing onslaught of TV superheroism. Last year, Marvel withheld ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ from the other ABC pilots, instead debuting at Comic-Con with a screening or two thereafter. FOX’s ‘Gotham’ was similarly withheld from initial mailings, but later previewed with a number of press screenings, even before San Diego. Perhaps oddest of all, was that ‘The Flash’ simply arrived with The CW’s other fall offerings in May. Here’s your DVD, no muss, no fuss.

My first May viewing of ‘The Flash’ took place on a whim, accompanied by a houseguest whose opinions often differed from mine, though I deeply valued her ability to see any and all positives in film and TV, where my own viewpoint can often edge on cynicism’s cliff. I don’t provide you with this context to monopolize the narrative with personal anecdotes, but rather share a source of confidence for my feeling that ‘The Flash’ seems much less sure-footed than I’d come to expect from the creative minds behind ‘Arrow.’

All pilots should be considered rough, even those with preexisting universe and characters built in.

Said friend and I went into our pilot viewing with open minds, but couldn’t escape howling laughter and confusion at some of the more questionable dialogue and logic leaps permeating the cast of characters in Central City. Even in my recent rewatch, I couldn’t expel the voice of CinemaSins from my mind, nitpicking the exceptionally silly nature of certain A to B scenes like a bank robber fleeing his barn hideaway (?) toward a small airplane idling nearby (inexplicably already started by an unseen brother), or Barry’s disbelief at a radial fracture healing in three hours, despite having run upwards of 700 mph to obtain said injury.

It isn’t my intent to judge ‘The Flash’ solely by said nitpicks and head-scratchers (of which there are a great many, I assure you), but rather to get a few potshots out of the way and focus on the things that matter, in order to give you a sense of what genuinely works about the series.

So with all of that said, what can we talk about without wading too deep into spoiler territory? Well, I will say that ‘The Flash’ definitely finds a sort of groove by the end of its hour, particularly as Barry begins to take agency among his S.T.A.R. labs team and embrace the responsibility of his great power. And if you’re wondering if that sounds familiar, I’m absolutely nodding to the formula that suggests where ‘Arrow’ took its cue from ‘Batman Begins,’ ‘The Flash’ seems 100% to have derived its own from the Sam RaimiSpider-Man’ films. That’s’s not a dig mind you, the voice-over, plucky science-geek with a tragic childhood and eyes for the girl next door absolutely work for ‘The Flash’ from a tonal standpoint, but might prove a little jarring against its brooding big brother.

The initial origins weave ‘The Flash’’s story through time a bit, dipping back into Barry’s tragic upbringing as necessary and adding a bit more context to Barry’s fateful encounter with a bolt of lightning, which puts him out of commission until the fall premiere for a solid 9 months. The story languishes a bit early on, especially around the tin-eared dialogue designed to establish Barry’s supporting cast, though things pick up quite a bit with Barry’s discovery of his abilities, and a resulting climax that leaves its story and character dynamics with a much sharper focus. Still notably underdeveloped however, is that of Candice Batten’s Iris West* and her dynamic with Barry, as well as the hour’s menacing, if entirely baffling villain, DC’s Weather Wizard.

*Honestly, the entire pilot maintains a very bizarre gender bias. Of the three women present in significant roles, Barry’s mother is almost immediately fridged, dissertation-writing Iris worries about a solitary French fry as “stress-eating," allthewhile perplexingly oblivious to Barry’s Tenenbaum-esque interest in her, and the sole development afforded to Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin Snow is that she finally musters a smile, after losing her fiancée to the particle accelerator explosion.

Best of all however, and the scene my companion and I rewatched several times for hilarity was Detective West angrily silencing his daughter to yell at Barry for “having her out here,” in reference to a since-passed crime scene. The ambient neighborhood appears in no way dangerous, while the crime in question happened to drive by Barry and Iris, after which Barry chased it well away from Iris. What in the world was West talking about?

Throw all the side-eye you want, guys. It's weird.

On the surface at least, ‘The Flash’ manages to differentiate itself from ‘Arrow’ in some key ways that could prove instrumental to its success in finding an original identity among the rapidly-expanding pantheon of superhero TV. Seemingly ripped off from ‘Sherlock,’ the pilot sees Barry flaunting his pre-speedster powers as a forensics expert, helpfully articulating Barry’s astute crime-scene observations with text and diagrams visualized on the screen. Along the same lines, where ‘Arrow’ built its core team over the course of the initial run, ‘The Flash’ comes somewhat pre-loaded with Barry’s own science squad, a hopeful indication that the nuts and bolts of crimefighting will become a strong focus for the series, even reaching beyond to super-science. The inaugural hour primarily glosses over characterizations for Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow and Harrison Wells, though enough pieces are there for the moment to offer a fleeting taste of the show’s uniquely science-fiction flavor.

So, what’s the bottom line, then? It’s alright. All pilots should be considered rough, even those with preexisting universe and characters built in, though the story, tone and character beats of ‘The Flash’ prove sound and familiar enough to warrant further exploration over the course of a first season, eventually hitting a proper stride. I’m still not entirely sold on Gustin as our leading man (if you’re anything like me, you’re more used to the idea of The Flash with a confidently quicker wit), nor have I let go of the feeling that ‘Arrow’ was strong-armed into setting up superpowered spinoffs, though ‘The Flash’ hardly lacks for redeeming qualities. The effects prove noticeably strong, however fewer and farther between the CG-heavy cityscape shots might become in subsequent episodes, while for now, ‘The Flash’ remains a promising, if occasionally silly pilot with plenty of heart to counteract its questionable plotting.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Like with FOX’s ‘Gotham,’ we’ll keep this largely spoiler-free for now, and update with a few more specific points (if not an entire diatribe on some of the more nonsensical aspects) once the pilot actually airs on October 7.
  • We hope you like narration, ‘cause that’s what you’re getting! Where ‘Arrow’ dropped the concept early on, we’re given to understand ‘The Flash’ will make more use of the device with Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen, which seems largely in tune with its Raimi ‘Spider-Man’ pastiche.
  • “Does that include twerking?” I offer no context for this line, only abject horror.
  • I neglected to mention Rick Cosnett’s Eddie Thawne, whose appearances within the pilot prove relatively brief, though we’ll have more discuss once the pilot’s aired, especially with the other DC Easter eggs, and one very surprising twist.
  • I myself won't have regular reviews of ongoing 'Flash' episodes, given the crowded Tuesday landscape and my Wednesday 'Arrow' duties, though we'll see if 'The Flash' breaks out enough to warrant more weekly coverage.

Well, what do you think? Does The CW’s ‘The Flash’ sound like 'Arrow''s latest bullseye, or a slow stumble for superhero TV? What would you want to see from the first season? Tell us your thoughts on ‘The Flash’ in the comments, and stay tuned for the October 7 premiere!

 

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