You know what I always want to know as soon as I read someone’s review of anything: Did you like it? So, let me just start there: I loved The Flash’s first episode, which premiered last night. Of course, I was pre-disposed to feel that way. It’s a spin-off of Arrow, a show I love, and it centers around a comic book character I know fairly well, although more from animation than actual comics. I am the fanboy who was going to watch and at least kind of like The Flash no matter what. What amazes me, though, is that even if I had never seen a single episode of Arrow or knew nothing about The Flash beforehand I think I still would have really liked Flash’s series premiere. It was just so charming. It did just score the best debut for any CW show since Vampire Diaries. That couldn’t have all come from fanboys like me, right?
The Flash’s charm offensive clearly begins with Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. During his two-episode premiere last year on Arrow, he always kind of felt like a character from a different show, right down to the whimsical, pretty, but very un-Arrow musical score which heralded his arrival. Re-introduced here as the anchor of his own show, he is an instantly lovable loser, constantly late to work, unlucky in love. Every part of him drips with a sincerity that’s somehow not too saccharine and a nerdiness that’s not too pronounced. He’s not incompetent, as is made clear by the way he gets his Sherlock on as a forensics analyst for Central City Police Department in his first scene. He’s also not without a heroic side, trying but failing to recover his best friend Iris West’s (Candice Patton) laptop after it is swiped while they’re attention a presentation by Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) at S.T.A.R. Labs. He is a nice guy in need of a jolt to his life.
And then he’s struck by lightning, spends months in a coma, and wakes up with the ability to run (and heal) super, super fast, assisted by a crew of disgraced lab technicians (Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker) and his apparent new mentor, Dr. Wells. But before that happens if this is the first time you’re seeing Barry Allen he comes off as someone you’d like to see win, a superhero in waiting who’s not as bland as Superman nor as brooding as Batman nor as quippy as the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man.
Actually, I saw a lot of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man in this pilot. Think about it. They’ve made Barry Allen an endearing nerd who clearly has no luck with women, the object of his affection (Iris West) being so oblivious to his feelings she observes that he clearly needs a girlfriend. Once an accident grants him super powers it also gives him enhanced abdominal muscles (if only attaining such abs was that easy), and he suffers through early encounters of wondering what’s happening to him after his super speed causes things to appear to go in slow motion around him, presented visually much as Sam Raimi presented Peter Parker’s spidey-sense. Also like Raimi’s Parker, Barry ends up in some kind of alley-way to test out his powers, letting out an overjoyed, “Waahoo!!!!” in response to what he can do. Plus, on top of everything else if you circle back to the beginning of the pilot they’re running with Geoff Johns’ relatively new Flash origin story from the comics, which combined Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne to result in an orphaned Barry Allen. In the show, this kind of makes Jesse L. Martin’s surrogate father character his Aunt May.
Okay. That last bit is probably stretching the Spider-Man comparison too far, but this bit of cinematic mimicry is enough to make The Flash feels as fun and vibrant as the Sam Raimi Spider-Man did nearly 15 years ago. Of course, much as Arrow was never an outright Batman Begins clone there is more to The Flash than simply taking some cues from Sam Raimi. Spider-Man’s push into superhero territory came after he had personally failed to save his uncle, learning the hard way about what exactly comes along with great power. For The Flash’s Barry Allen, the big death in his life came when he was only 11-years-old, watching as his mother died while being surrounded by some weird force of lightning. When his father (John Wesley Shipp) was wrongfully accused of her murder, Barry was immediately ushered into a lifelong compulsion to help the helpless and prove his father’s innocence. So, it’s only natural that not too horribly long after gaining his powers is thoughts turn toward using them to help, at least once he realizes he’s not the only super powered individual in Central City.
It all adds up to an old-fashioned super hero origin story stuffed into a 40+ minute pilot. Like the first film in a new comic book franchise, it even has a super-powered villain daunting enough to be formidable but sure to be passed in future installments by deeper, more realized villains. Like, maybe, Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells, who appears to be a tough mentor but ends the episode with a huge, mysterious reveal we’ll be debating about for weeks (Is he from the future? If so, who is he? A future version of Barry, Booster Gold, etc.?”).
The pilot’s charms don’t completely hide its faults, which, honestly, are mostly standard pilot pitfalls, such as expository dialogue and under-developed secondary characters. None of the performances outside of Grant Gustin’s stand out but none of them are regrettable either, mostly following Gustin’s reliable lead and benefiting from the gravitas brought by more seasoned performers like Cavanagh and Martin. Sure, they may have thrown a bit too much in, particularly everything about Iris’ relationship with her father’s partner. However, I’ve seen Arrow – I’m used to these guys over-doing it a little. Speaking of which, the cameo from Arrow‘s Stephen Amell is probably a bit of a head-scratcher for anyone who’s never seen Arrow before, but for those of us that have it is a welcome delight, a reminder of how much (literally) darker things are in Arrow than they’re going to be in The Flash.
Ultimately, you want a pilot to communicate a confident tone, introduce interesting characters, provide a roadmap for where the show will be heading, and leave you absolutely needing to see what happens next. By those measures, The Flash clearly seems to know exactly what it wants it to be, has already set-up multiple interesting character dynamics (I’m particularly interested to see more of Danielle Panabaker’s non-smiling Caitlin Snow), and is clearly building toward big reveals about who really killed Barry’s mom and who the heck Dr. Wells really is. Now, I absolutely have to see what happens next. That’s a passing grade from me. I’m with Barry – I think this whole Flash thing is going to catch on.
This Season on The Flash:
Check out Maureen Ryan’s interview with The Flash’s executive producers for some discussion about The Flash and Arrow and how they have approached building the world of Barry Allen and expanding the saga of Oliver Queen.
What did you think? Were you similarly charmed by The Flash? Or did you find it a bit of a muddled mess, albeit a likable mess? Let me know in the comments.