TITLE: The Flash, Season 1
STARRING: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh
CREATORS: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
NETWORK: The CW
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: October 7, 2014
By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X
I was never drawn to Arrow. It was mostly the ho-hum reviews that I read online, but also because I’m not a huge Green Arrrow fan. Any character done right is worth attention (see Marvel’s Daredevil), but I remained highly skeptical of Arrow, and still do. I watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, and decided it wasn’t worth my time to endure the agony of a crappy first season until it got “really, really good.”
That said, I actually adore The Flash. I looked forward to watching it each week, and I came away from the season finale wanting more. How is it that two shows, both on the CW, both created by similar creative teams, and even occupying a shared universe, managed to make me look at them in wildly different ways?
The Flash stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a nerdy young CSI for the Central City Police Department. He’s obsessed with proving the innocence of his jailed father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen in the 1990s The Flash TV series). Henry was convicted years ago of murdering Barry’s mother in a strangely fantastical incident that Barry witnessed as a child. There was a big, yellow streak involved. Then one day, at the activation of the new S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator, things go horribly wrong. There’s an explosion in conjunction with a lightning storm. Barry is struck by lightning while working in his strangely grungy-looking CSI lab.
Barry wakes up from a coma nine months later, being tended by S.T.A.R. Labs personnel Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), and Dr. Caitlyn Snow (Danielle Panabaker), to find that he has super speed, a healing factor, and a need to eat lots and lots of food. His surrogate father, police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) warns him not to tell his daughter, and Barry’s longtime crush, Iris West (Candice Patton), about what’s going on. Barry soon dons a scarlet costume and works with the S.T.A.R. Labs team to take down delinquent “meta-humans” who also gained powers through the particle accelerator explosion. Meanwhile, Dr. Wells is hiding a deep, dark secret…
Also, Joe’s partner, Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), shows up and begins dating Iris.
From what I saw of Arrow, the two shows do have a few things in common: They’re both drenched in bathos and melodrama and almost none of the characters look above 30. But aside from that, they couldn’t be any more different. Where Arrow is dominated by soulless and crushing despair, The Flash is the most upbeat TV drama I’ve seen since White Collar. It’s not just the abundance of humor. It’s stories are made to be as fun as possible, with no pretentions of being realistic or serious. After all, how serious can a show about a guy who runs really fast punching criminals be?
Early episodes of the show went with a straightforward police-procedural feel. But as the show got more confident, it eventually transformed into full-blown comic-booky science fiction craziness.
Arguably the two best things about this show are the Joe West and Harrison Wells characters. Joe is just a fun character to watch. He’s so blithely incredulous about the craziness going on around him that it’s impossible not to find him endearing. I love that he’s really the only one who has a problem with Barry and his friends locking up all the meta-humans they capture in a completely illegal private prison. There’s also an actual Tumblr devoted to his unique facial expressions. Joe West reminds me of a more laidback version of Crispus Allen from Gotham Central.
Then there’s Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Cavanagh spends most of the season in a wheelchair, but it’s incredible how subtly he gets his character across. I enjoyed how they played up Wells’ similarities to Joe, in that they’re both father figures to Barry. It all leads up to a great payoff in the end that gives us an excellent performance by Cavanagh as a maniacally evil mad scientist. He’s interesting to watch at all times.
As for other villains, The Flash suffers from a tired “freak of the week” format, but it’s redeemed by a particularly fun group of recurring villains. There are the Rogues, led by Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who deserves special mention. He sounds like he’s channeling Clint Eastwood half the time, but he’s obviously having a lot of fun in the role. Some of the best and craziest episodes of the series involve both he and his fellow Rogues, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Golden Glider (Peyton List). Purcell is probably the hammiest actor on the show next to Mark Hamill’s much-ballyhooed guest star as the Trickster. And who can forget the Reverse Flash the Man in the Yellow Suit?
Granted, The Flash won’t win any writing awards. For instance, the love triangle between Barry, Iris, and Eddie seems contrived at best and creepy at worst. On one hand, there’s no real conflict between Eddie and Barry because they’re both really nice guys. Barry doesn’t want to hurt Iris or Eddie, and those two are completely oblivious to Barry’s feelings. On the other hand, Iris herself said in the first episode that she and Barry were like “brother and sister.” Ick. It didn’t help much when they decided to pair Iris with Eddie. It was a pathetically obvious effort to inject some cheap drama into the plot. Incidentally, Eddie and Iris actually make a pretty good couple.
Eddie’s mere presence here is a possible sign that this show was only half-baked when it first went on the air. First we have the Totally-Not-Evil Dr. Wells doing his thing. Then we have some guy whose name is Eddie Thawne, which fans of the comics will know sounds a lot like Eobard Thawne, the alter ego of the Reverse Flash. You’d think that the writers would use this as a gold mine for an intriguing subplot, especially since in the promotional materials Eddie was touted as having a “dark secret.”
But that intrigue of peters out, and Eddie fades into the background as the series goes on, particularly when Team Flash begins dealing with Firestorm. But the finale actually addresses this problem, after much else has been revealed. Believe it or not, it actually works! When the series ends, Eddie is seen in an entirely different light.
For all its faults, The Flash won me over because of one simple truth: It’s fun. The crazy plots, the spectacular, super-powered battles, the silly melodrama, the obligatory DCU references, the self-aware humor. Even the mediocre CGI and other special effects were endearing. Bottom line, if you like superheroes with no pretentions of seriousness (think Thor, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a bit of Batman ’66 thrown in), then you’ll absolutely love The Flash.
Something tells me that DC is beginning to understand that their heroes can afford to smile now and then.
Image 1 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 2 from theinsightfulpanda.wordpress.com. Image 3 from theflash.wikia.com. Image 4 from etonline.com.
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