Season One – “Pilot”
By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. After the doldrums of Fox’s Gotham, The Flash has its work cut out for it. What’s the incentive to watch yet another DC Comics’ television show if its going to be as pandering, showy, and as silly as its forebears? With Gotham sinking like a stone and Arrow shouldering the burden of DC’s television ambitions, memories are arriving quick and fast to almost twenty years ago, when Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman and, um, The Flash were the major networks’ superhero offerings, and those thoughts still sting. Television needs a hero. And apparently Batman is still twenty years away.
Enter CW’s The Flash. While this series already has quite a bit riding against it, its pilot does something that is crucially missing from so many of today’s comic books, especially that of DC’s: it makes it actually look fun to have superpowers. From its very opening, when Grant Gustin introduces himself as Barry Allen, he tells us he’s “The Fastest Man Alive”, and you can actually hear the excitement in his voice. From the very beginning, we’re assured this won’t be the dour seriousness of Gotham, or even that of Arrow‘s Starling City. What we have instead is something else. We have cheer and optimism, even some glee in the fantastic.
Of course there has to be some levity in it all, because even in The Flash, there’s some severity to suffer: early in the episode we see Barry, age 11, witnessing his mother being murdered, and later on we come to understand that his father was wrongly convicted of the crime and subsequently incarcerated. Many superhero origin stories have been retconned to include the death of a parent or loved one, providing pathos and motivation to do good in the world, and Barry Allen was certainly no exception. Geoff Johns, one of the show’s producers (and CCO of DC Entertainment), wrote that origin in the Flash: Rebirth series and it works well for this show, helping it to straddle the barrier between taking itself too seriously and being a goofy campfest.
Of course, this being a pilot, the show has to also toe that line between caution and exuberance, and there’s also plenty of supporting characters to introduce: there’s no Flash without Iris West, and while Candace Patton plays the character as straight as possible, the teleplay seems more interested in feeding her (and the audience) clunky expository dialogue that’ll help with future episodes rather than offering her much more to do than batting eyelashes at Gustin’s Barry, or smooching on Rick Cosnett’s Eddie Thawne (whose moniker might inspire raised eyebrows for any real Johnny or Jane DC).
And with our hero’s origin tale comes the havoc of the DC Universe set loose with a sizable television budget: DC’s mega-laboratory S.T.A.R. Labs is host to a particle accelerator far more advanced than that of Switzerland’s CERN, and is the genesis of all the series’ goings-on. During its first televised particle collision, the instillation inadvertently causes a massive shockwave, from which a lightning bolt hits Barry, a forensic expert for Central City’s police department, through the skylights of CCPD’s crimelab. The shockwave also happens to strike a plane carrying the Mardon Brothers, notorious bank robbers and killers on the police’s radar (especially that of Iris’ father, Detective Joe West), and they’re presumed dead, while Barry remains in a coma. He wakes up in S.T.A.R. Labs after nine months, but doesn’t realize what has changed within him until he steps out into the world and realizes his perception of time is vastly swifter than that of everyone around him. Also, he can run really, really fast.
Most of The Flash‘s cameos are handled with beautiful subtlety (especially when you compare it to Gotham); the shows winks and nods are there for the fanboys and girls to decipher almost immediately while leaving the rest of the audience to discover its intricacies in due time. The only hamstring the show really suffers is the obligatory cameo from the CW’s other superhero success story, Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen. The sequence, however fist-pumping and cool to see realized, is still a stumbling hiccup for a show that moves so briskly. The sequence would be a fitting extra sequence for a first season boxed set, not for a crucial pilot episode.
The Flash is much like its hero: swift, efficient, and exhilarating. CW has brazenly hit a stride in broadening its own private DC Television Universe, effectively eclipsing Fox and even NBC (before Constantine even had a chance) while entertaining audiences both new and informed. And if CW can maintain quality to the contrasting flipsides of its superhero coin, Oliver Queen and Barry Allen may one day surpass their Justice League superiors. When justice is served in the blink of an eye, there’s no longer a reason to look up in the sky.
Most of Barry’s origin story – including his mother’s death – is shown in the first ten minutes of the show. For a fan of superhero comics/films/tv shows, it’s absolutely exhilarating to be over and done with such things before the first commercial break.
As Barry discovers his powers, the quality of the effects were pleasantly surprising. He’s STOKED about it, and you can feel his elation at discovering his new powers – it’s so fun to see superpowers as a blessing and not a curse.
The character of Harrison Wells is the biggest question mark in this series so far. No clues will come from the comics, as this character is original to the show. He’s certainly more than he seems, but we’ll have to wait to find out what exactly.
As television’s original Barry Allen, John Wesley Shipp playing this Barry’s father would feel too obvious if it didn’t work so perfectly.
The previews for the next season showed enough cameos and easter eggs to make a comic nerd audibly squeal (these two certainly did). From their Arrow experience, the showrunners know their high-geek-percentage audience implicitly, and are capitalizing on that.
The quality of the effects were stellar; let’s hope they didn’t blow their budget on the pilot.