Flash – ah ahhhhhh, Saviour of the Universe… Oh wait, sorry, wrong Flash. The CW’s new superhero drama series ‘The Flash’ is of course based on the famous DC Comics character, and is positioned here as a spin-off to the network’s very popular ‘Arrow’. Can his super speed propel DC to another television victory?
Fans of the character will recognize that this is actually the second attempt to make a live-action TV series out of ‘The Flash’. Back in 1990, hoping to cash in on the success of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ movie, CBS ran a similarly-styled ‘Flash’ show for one season. It didn’t do well enough in the ratings to continue, but became a cult property over time – enough so that new producer Greg Berlanti (who also does ‘Arrow’) has cast original star John Wesley Shipp to play the character’s father in this version. In fact, I understand that Amanda Pays will even reprise her role as Dr. Tina McGee later in the season. I’m not sure how that will play out in terms of continuity (is the old show actually supposed to be canon?), but I appreciate the fan service.
This time around, Grant Gustin from ‘Glee’ plays Barry Allen, a good-looking twenty-something (this is the CW, after all) police CSI tech who gets struck by lightning immediately after an experimental high-tech particle accelerator in the fictional Central City suffers a catastrophic explosion and expels kajillions of dark matter science-y thingamajigs into the air. Barry wakes up from a nine-month coma both looking and feeling pretty good. “Lightning gave me abs?” he exclaims, and is quite excited about it.
Obviously, when you survive an experience like this, you’re gonna get super powers, because… well, duh… Barry soon discovers that he can move really fast. Like, really really fast, enough so that the whole world seems to shift into slow-motion around him. His body can also heal itself quickly from injuries. Naturally, his first instinct is to become a costumed vigilante crimefighter. As you do.
Unlike many superheroes, Barry’s secret identity isn’t terribly secret. Wheelchair-bound brainy scientist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), whose S.T.A.R. Labs was responsible for the explosion, knows all about it and becomes a mentor figure. His two goofball assistants attempt to measure the Flash’s speed and design him a snazzy red costume that’s heat and friction resistant, with built-in communications and sensor equipment. By the end of the pilot episode, police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin, who looks like he stepped directly off the ‘Law & Order’ set and even kept his wardrobe) will figure it out too.
Unfortunately, Barry isn’t the only person in Central City with super powers. When a bank robber named Clyde Mardon demonstrates that he can control the weather, Wells explains that the dark matter thingies rained down on the city and may have given wacky abilities to other people as well – possibly a lot of other people. He calls them “meta-humans.” Thus, we instantly have an excuse for where the Flash’s rogues gallery of villains will come from. Not explained is why Barry is the only affected person who wants to be a good guy and not a supervillain.
When Det. West tracks the bank robber down on the outskirts of town, Clyde thinks that he’s a god now and creates a powerful tornado aimed directly at the city. Only the Flash can stop the tornado by running circles around it in the counter direction until it dissipates (or explodes, which is what seems to happen for some reason). Clyde tries to attack Barry, but West shoots him – which conveniently saves the Flash from having to get his hands dirty by killing someone. I hope that doesn’t become the formula in every episode.
In an epilogue, Wells enters a secret room at S.T.A.R. Labs and steps right out of his wheelchair. He turns on a holographic doodad that projects a newspaper headline from the future year 2024. Huh, what’s that about? Has Wells been faking the injury to his legs, and is he really a bad guy? I guess we’ll find out more about him later.
As I mentioned, ‘The Flash’ is designed as a spin-off from ‘Arrow‘. I don’t watch that show (the first episode turned me off it), but I’m told that the Barry Allen character was introduced there last season as a sort of backdoor pilot excuse for starting this one. In a gratuitous tie-in here, Barry races over to Starling City to get advice from his pal Oliver Queen, who basically tells him that being a superhero is awesome and he should totally do it. In his barely two minutes on screen, I’m reminded why I haven’t watched and have no desire to watch ‘Arrow’. Stephen Amell is a quite poor actor and his gruff-voiced line readings are just terrible. This scene is by far the worst part of the ‘Flash’ pilot.
Fortunately, in other respects, I actually liked ‘The Flash’ a lot more than I expected, and found its first episode to be way better than the one for ‘Arrow’. I enjoyed that this one has a much lighter tone, with almost none of Arrow’s brooding, angsty bullshit. ‘The Flash’ has humor and warmth, and a likable lead character. Sure, the plot is silly, the visual effects quality is frequently dodgy (some VFX scenes look great and others awful) , and the pilot awkwardly tries to cram way too much origin story stuff into an hour, but I see potential here. Although not a great show yet, with a little time and work, this could wind up being a better comic book series (and launching pad for future DC Comics spin-offs) than Fox’s much-hyped ‘Gotham‘.