When last year’s TV season began, The Flash was one of the most highly anticipated shows amongst the geek crowd. When we looked at it here during the beginning of the season it was certainly living up to that buzz, but did it maintain that level?
Well yes, actually it did; no need to beat around the bush on that. But let’s look at how it managed that.
The one thing the Flash had going for it, from the start, was that it embraced its comic roots without shame. It also went against the grain for just about every other DC live action property by not going the grime and gritty route, instead choosing to have an optimistic hero who acted as a symbol of hope.
CW already had the required grim hero in the Arrow. One observation of the two shows is that in the CW DC universe, Superman’s role is covered by the Flash and Batman’s by the Arrow. One episode highlights is when Barry tries to emulate the Arrow’s grimmer way of handling things, only to have it blow up in his face.
One of the factors that influenced the story more than any other was the time travel aspect. Time travel was always a part of the Flash in the comics and the show did not shy away from this in the least. Like any show involving time travel there were questions about what the consequences of changing the past would be, and the creation of a plot hole or two. However, the overall execution was well handled.
So how did the characters evolve over the course of the first season?
Of course, as the main character Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) had the most growth. Starting out as enthusiastic but unsure of himself, Barry grew into a responsible hero who (when it came down to it) would make the choice of serving the greater good. Gustin nailed the character from the start.
If the show rested on Gustin’s shoulders, then his best support came from Tom Cavanagh. As Harrison Wells, Cavanagh portrayed a wonderfully complex character. As Wells, he was Barry’s mentor and a surrogate father figure, but in his true identity of Eobard Thawne (aka The Reverse Flash) he was Barry’s worst enemy who wanted nothing more than to destroy him. Cavanagh was able to portray Wells as both affectionate to Barry and the rest of the S.T.A.R. Labs crew, while at the same time being a threat to them.
While Wells’ goal was to push Barry’s powers to greater heights, Barry’s foster father Joe West (Jessie L Martin) guided him on the path of the kind of hero he wanted to be. The father/son bond between Joe and Barry was easily the series emotional core. Joe cared so much for Barry that he was willing to have their relationship erased from history, if it meant that Barry could get his mother back.
Of Barry’s colleges It was interesting to watch Cisco Ramon’s (Carlos Valdes) arc over the season. Cisco had fanboy glee over Barry’s powers and being part of a team fighting supervillains. It was also interesting watching his bonds with Barry’s father figures. He worshipped Wells and took his betrayal hard. Conversely. over the season. Cisco had a growing working relationship with Joe, being his secret partner in investigating the truth behind the death of Barry’s mother. The revelation that he can subconsciously remember timelines that time travel erased directly opened a door to his (eventually taken on) identity of Vibe from the comics.
On the flip side you have Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) whom, thanks to a glimpse of the future, we got to see as her villainous alter ego of Killer Frost. While she continued her role as caregiver to Barry when injured, the show steered away from having her fall for him, instead bring in her supposedly dead fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell), who was still alive, as his comic book alter ego Firestorm. She was also the most resistant of the S.T.A.R. Labs team to the idea that Wells was really the Reverse Flash.
Iris West (Candice Patton) suffered most of the season from being more of a plot motivation, for Barry, than an actual character. For the first two thirds of the season, she was defined by her relationships with Barry, her father Joe, and her boyfriend Eddie. It was only towards the end of the season, when she learned that Barry is the Flash, that she started coming out of that and showing signs of being an actual character. Hopefully in the next season they can build on that and give her some more defining characteristics.
Speaking of Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), for starting out as a bit of a cliché (romantic rival for Barry) he turned out to have an interesting arc. Half way through the season Barry and Joe let him in on Barry’s secret so that he could help with the investigation of Wells. Eddie was not happy that they insisted on keeping it from Iris. But he turned out to be a stanch ally and a tragic hero when he learned that he was the Reverse Flash’s ancestor, and that his romance with Iris was doomed to fail. His arc ended in a heroic manner and I, for one, am disappointed we will not be seeing more of him in season 2.
There were some notable guest and reoccurring characters that warrant mentioning.
Besides Ronnie, you had Professor Stein (Victor Garber) the other half of Firestorm. Garber is a great actor and brought both fun and gravitas to Stein. I look forward to seeing more of him both on the Flash, and in the mid-season spin off Legends of Tomorrow.
John Wesley Shipp, as Barry’s father Henry, was also a great part of the show. Although initially just a bit of stunt casting (Shipp played Barry in the 90’s Flash series), he did an excellent portrayal of a man accepting the bad hand he was dealt and just being happy his son was doing well. He made the pride Henry felt upon realizing that Barry was the Flash radiate.
And of course there was the other great nod to the old series of having Mark Hamill as the Trickster (the character he played on the 90s series, as well as doing the voice on the Justice League cartoon). Hamill is a fantastic actor and I hope we get more of him in the future.
In the end, I give the first season of the Flash an A+. It is the best comic book series ever and we can only hope that others learn from its example.
Back at the beginning of the season I did a review of Arrow, the CW’s take on DC Comics character Green Arrow. At the time of that review, the series had only aired five episodes. At the end of the review I promised to revisit the series at the end of the season. Well, the season has ended, so here we go. Go here to see what I said of if you haven’t already, as I am going to write this review with the assumption that you have read the previous one. I will not be avoiding spoilers either, so be warned.
First, let’s see if any of my opinions changed between then and now.
Back then I complained that Oliver Queen’s mother Moira, sister Thea, and best friend Tommy all suffered from underdevelopment compared to the rest of the characters. To varying degrees, all of them got better development as the season wore on.
Thea got the least. She is still Oliver’s troubled little sister, seeming to follow the pattern he set in his life pre-island of party girl excess. But after a drug bust and near imprisonment she had to do community service at the Laurel’s law office. This led her to meet a street tough named Roy Harper and start a relationship. It got her out of self-obsessed territory and made her more than just window dressing.
Moira got even more interesting. Her involvement with the villain of the story drove a lot of development, especially when it became clear that she was in over her head and just doing whatever she could to protect her family. This culminated in an attempt at redemption that was well played and should prove fodder for great drama next season.
Tommy ended up getting the best development in the series other than Oliver. While sharing the name of Oliver’s arch-enemy from the comics, it turned out that the Dark Archer was actually his father. This led to plenty of speculation as to which side Tommy would eventually end up on. His arc was well played. Once his father cut him off from the family money, Tommy honestly grew as a character. He found a job working for Oliver at his night club, and started an honest relationship with Laurel. One of the interesting points of that relationship is that every time Tommy was presented with a challenge that might have lead him back to his insincere party boy ways, he instead made the right choice. It created great tension in that he was good for Laurel, thus adding complications to Oliver’s relationship with both. This got even more intense when Tommy learned that Oliver was the Hood, leading him to abandon both Oliver and Laurel. This led to the biggest twist in the finale when Tommy risked, and lost, his life to save Laurel, and reconciled with Oliver as he died.
Since the last review there were five major characters introduced.
Roy Harper, played by Colton Haynes, I have mentioned before, as he is Thea’s boyfriend. He is significant to comic fans, as in the books Roy is the first Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick who ended up as the hero Arsenal. Roy’s arc is that the Hood saved him and now Roy wants to find him and learn from him. Basically Roy feels called to do better with his life, and feels working with the Hood is the way. It was not a big arc, but a good set-up for one next season, especially with his actions in the finale. Roy is going to be promoted to series regular next season.
Another character getting promoted to regular next season is Felicity Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards. Felicity is an odd addition, because in the comics she is a supporting character in Firestorm, not Green Arrow, but that is just a fanboy nitpick. At first I was annoyed by the fact that they had this obviously very attractive actress playing like she was an ugly duckling nerd. I had no problem with her being a nerd, but the way she acted was not matching how they had her look. Fortunately as the season progressed, she became more of a socially awkward and insecure character. She knew how she looked, but it was treated as another hindrance to what she loved to do. At first she was just someone that Oliver would come to when he needed some information that required computer skills. When he had to turn to her for help while wounded, she was not surprised, as she had deduced most of what was going on already. This makes her another example of not making smart characters act dumb for the sake of plot convenience.
Since then she has been part of Oliver’s team. However, she brings a problem I like to call the “Chloe syndrome,” named for the character Chloe Sullivan from Smallville. This is where the lead character has more on-screen chemistry with a secondary character than the official love interest. In this case, Felicity has a lot more on-screen chemistry with Oliver than Laurel does.
The third late addition is Tommy’s father Malcolm Merlyn, played by Torchwood star John Barrowman. As stated earlier he took over the role of the Green Arrow’s arch-enemy, the Dark Archer. It was good to see Barrowman break type and play a villain, especially one with some sympathetic aspects. Malcolm was a well-intentioned extremist. Sadly he will not be back next season.
The final newcomer is Slade Wilson, played by Manu Bennett. His character was teased from the first episode, as Slade in the comics is the villain Deathstroke, and we saw the Deathstroke mask in the first episode. His role is currently limited to flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island. It was a good idea to bring on a new regular as part of the flashbacks if they are going to stay in use. It is also interesting to watch as Oliver and Slade are allies right now, but in the comic they are enemies.
Of the remaining cast, Paul Blackthorn is about the same as he was early in the season as Detective Lance. His arc was a minor one, with him eventually coming to realize that the Hood was needed to save the city, and that maybe they could be allies. It was a slow build that took all season, and for the most part it works.
The biggest disappointment is Katie Cassidy’s character Laurel, and in a lot of ways it isn’t her fault. While she did drive a certain amount of the plot, the writers put her in a bad spot. As a love interest for Tommy she worked great, showing his growth and making his final fate really hit home. As a love interest for Oliver she did not work as well. The two do have chemistry, but again it seems pale compared to the Oliver and Felicity. Add to that the fact that the writers have put just too many obstacles between them. But the worst part is that she just seems to be there as a motivation for Oliver, which is sad when you compare her to her comic book counterpart.
David Ramsey as John Diggle, Oliver’s partner in crime fighting, got a good arc in the latter part of the season, the discovery that reoccurring villain Deadshot killed his brother, and Diggle’s thirst for revenge, which created tension in the Diggle/Queen partnership. This plot thread has not been resolved, so there is more to mine from it. Outside of that they maintained the intelligence and skill that was shown early in the season and portrayed that Diggle is not just a sidekick.
And of course you have Stephen Amell as Oliver. Over the season, it is clear that he was a good find and perfect for the role of superhero. His athleticism has made his portrayal of Oliver all the more realistic. He also had two versions of the character at different times in his life, which has gone smoothly. The season finale showed him wounded and yet determined.
CW, being a subsidiary of Warner Bros. has a long track record of bringing DC comics’ properties to the TV, or at least trying to. Obviously they had the 10 year run of Smallville and the 13 episode long Birds of Prey series. They produced a pilot for an Aquaman series. There were proposals for a show about teen titian member Raven and about the Grayson family before Dick became Robin that never got past the proposal stage. And of course you have the current series Arrow.
I’ll be honest, I am really apprehensive about the announced Wonder Woman pilot. It shares several traits from the other shows and pitches mentioned above that I think are not workable. On the other hand I had doubts about Arrow too and I have ended up liking that series.
Basically CW has some habits when it comes to DC shows that I am convinced are just there to annoy long time comic fans.
The first is that they seem to think that the best way to go is with a series that functions as a prequel to the comics, with Arrow and Birds of Prey being the exceptions. This started with the original pitch they made over a decade ago, a series that was going to be titled Bruce Wayne, detailing Bruce’s life between his return to Gotham City at 18 and becoming Batman. The reason the series did not get past script stage was that the WB movie division also wanted to explore Bruce’s development into Batman, which ultimately resulted in Batman Begins. On that point let’s go ahead and say that this turned out for the best.
So when Bruce Wayne was shut down they turned around and created Smallville. And as I have said before, at first this was not bad, but it went on too long and stretched the premise beyond the breaking point.
The Aquaman pilot used the exact same idea, only with Arthur Curry. I remember liking it when I first saw it, but in retrospect I think it would have ended up a weak premise for the same reasons that Smallville did not work long term.
The Graysons was just baffling as a pitch. Following Robin’s family and their adventures prior to their murder and Dick’s being taken in by Bruce. This would basically be a series where we know that it will end with the murder of the main characters. Also if we go with the general idea that Dick becomes Robin around 13 than the age you have him at the beginning of the series would set the lifespan of the show. All this of course assumes you intend to remain faithful to the comics, which Smallville showed was not necessarily going to happen.
We now add Wonder Woman to that list, as the pitch is literally the same as Smallville, but with Diana coming to America and I guess learning what it means to be a hero.
Another issue with DC shows on the CW is the names. I think the only show that got to keep its title from the comic was Birds of Prey. Besides Smallville and Bruce Wayne, You had the Aquaman show being called Mercy Reef, Green Arrow became Arrow, and now Wonder Woman’s show will be called Amazon. I assume this is a marketing issue with the film division in case they want to develop a movie using the characters, but it does seem like they are running from the franchises they want to develop.
So here is my main issue with the new stab at a Wonder Woman series. They are using a format that fans are going to be apprehensive about. The whole “Diana before she was Wonder Woman” is at best only sustainable short term. If they are going that route I hope they do not take the “no flight, no tights” mandate that ultimately hamstrung Smallville.
I think if they are going to do this they make it the arc for the first season, with the finale having her become Wonder Woman. From second season on have it be like Arrow, the beginnings of her career.
Do I see that happening? No I do not. I’m afraid they will get locked down into the prequel mode like Smallville and the problems that it brings.
On the other hand if they manage to stay true to the characters roots and persona maybe it will be worthwhile, or at least wipe out the bad taste left by the last Wonder Woman Pilot.
Two things I want to address real quick before I wrap up.
First, the whole Iris thing, where a casting sheet was released stating that the character’s name is Iris along with other back story alterations. This is a not uncommon practice when casting for a very well-known character. It is done in hopes of getting an audition that is not just an attempt to fill the preconceived notions about the character. Rest assured her name will be Diana in the series as has been confirmed by Geoff Johns.
The other is the Justice League movie. Obviously it is being developed and there is a general assumption that Wonder Woman will be in it. How will that work? Good question, and there are a lot of ways to do it. One is they just assume that audiences can deal with two different version of the character at once like when Superman Returns came out during Smallville’s run. Another is that they do not include Wonder Woman in the Justice League movie. This all of course assumes that Amazon makes it past pilot stage.
So there we have it. Let’s hope that DC can give their most iconic female character the adaptation she deserves.
When I first heard that the CW was going to do a Green Arrow series, I was worried that it would be another “before they were a hero” concept like Smallville, as that seems to be their pitch for every DC comics based show.
Fortunately that is not the direction they went. However they still had to do something to drive me nuts. In this case it was calling the show Arrow, not Green Arrow, just Arrow.
Green Arrow is a character from the early forties. The general public may not be that familiar with him, but for the comic book fans he is a solid second tier character. Why mess with the iconic name.
And I have not been able to find an answer to this question anywhere. I would think they would offer some answer for the change, but no, nothing. The speculation is that due to the failure of the Green Lantern movie, the producers dropped the word green from the series title to avoid association. Also Greg Berlanti, one of the series co-creators, was a writer and producer on Green Lantern and I think that added to the need for distance.
So aside from the loss of the green how do I feel about the series?
Let’s take a look.
The premise of the series takes the basics of the comic book origin and uses it as a jumping off point. Oliver Queen, a rich socialite, is shipwrecked on an island for five years where he develops archery skills to survive. After being rescued from the island Queen comes home and becomes a Robin Hood themed crimefighter.
One of the series strengths is that it takes this basic story and filters it through the same sensibilities that fueled Nolen’s Batman trilogy.
Queen is now the son of a wealthy family. He is famous for being a rich party boy. While on a yacht trip with his father and his girlfriend’s sister, the yacht sinks and Oliver is the only survivor. Before dying his father confesses that he was corrupt and that he wants Oliver to survive, return home, and correct his mistakes by dealing with a list of other corrupt community leaders.
Using flashbacks the series fleshes out that Oliver was not alone on the island. It is clear that the skills he gained during the five years there were not self-taught.
Queen returns home, and lets people think he is returning to his party boy ways when really he is going after the people on his father’s list.
So how does the series work, both on it’s own and as an adaptation of Green Arrow.
As a series it works surprisingly well considering it is on the CW. The creators stated that they were using The Dark Knight trilogy as inspiration and it shows. The scripts are smart and there is at least a nod to practicality in how the heroics are presented.
One of the strengths is that the series does not make the mistake of having the characters act dumb in order to maintain their plot.
In the first three episodes Oliver has a body guard, John Diggle, thrust on him by his mother. In most other shows Diggle would have to be treated as a fool in order for Oliver to constantly ditch him and not have him figure out the truth. Here by the second episode Diggle knows something is up, and by the fourth Oliver has decided that he can trust Diggle and recruits him into the mission. This allows Diggle to be treated as a professional and for the show not to strain credibility with keeping Oliver’s secret. This is one of the mistakes that Smallville use to make and it is really good to see it avoided here.
Another good decision is to make sure that this is not a super powered world. Even the most extreme characters are just really well trained, but not superhuman.
The casting is also well done for the most part. This is a CW series so of course it is populated with a gaggle of pretty people, but it also has a better balance of non-model types. Also the type of people Oliver’s party boy lifestyle attracts makes this at least make sense.
Stephen Amell is well suited to play this version of Oliver Queen. He is athletic and in scenes where Oliver is doing parkour it appears that Amell is doing it himself. He also brings a good balance to scenes that flashback to old party boy Oliver vs. determined crimefighter Oliver. There is also a bit of fan service with him, as not an episode goes by that he does not appear shirtless at least once.
Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance does fairly well. She is certainly much improved over when she first showed up as a reoccurring character on Supernatural. She holds her own with Amell in their scenes together and there is certainly chemistry. The biggest issue with her character is that she is they want to portray her as able to handle herself in a fight, and she does not have the shape or presence to quite pull that off. As her character is based on the Black Canary this is going to be a sticking point for a lot of comic fans.
Paul Blackthorn as her father Detective Quentin Lance is probably the strongest actor of the cast, and his character provides some good tension. He is a good cop, but is angry at Oliver who he blames for his other daughter’s death. The only downside is that Blackthorn is playing Lance much the same as he played Harry Dresden on the Dresden Files and so it can be a little distracting if you watched that series.
David Ramsey as John Diggle is the only one on the main cast whose character does not have roots in the comics. Earlier I described his situation with both how well his character is written and played. His story arch is still developing, with him now being partner and voice of reason to Oliver. It is going to be interesting to see where they take him.
Susanna Thompson plays Oliver’s mother Moira. She is playing an odd balance of the loving mother to Oliver and yet she is clearly at least partially responsible for the yacht wreak that sets the series in motion. Right now it is unclear how deep she is in with the bad guys and her character suffers from needing more development
Colin Donnell and Willa Holland have it even worse in the development territory. Donnell plays Tommy Merlyn, Oliver’s best friend who expects that now he is back the good old days are back too. There are hints that he suspects more, but he does not get a lot of chance to show that. In the comics Merlyn is a rival archer and one of Green Arrows main enemies. Hopefully as the series progresses he will get more development.
Holland plays Oliver’s sister Thea. Her role on the series is that of a reminder to Oliver of his shallow past as she is turning out the same way. Her nick name is Speedy and it appears she was based in part on the second Speedy to be Green Arrows sidekick in the comics. She really has very little to do other than pout and get lectures from Oliver.
So what we have now that we are five episodes into the series is a good, if slightly flawed superhero series. I feel there is a lot of potential here and it seems that they are going in the right direction.
I give Arrow a B-, but I will take a look at it again at the end of the season and see where we are then.