December 4, 2014 by Jason Seligson
This is the current landscape of comic-book based TV: brooding characters; heroes that are too consumed by their own bleak superhero sagas and depressing origin stories that they can’t even crack a joke once in a while. Sure, they may hold the weight of the world on their shoulders, but rare is the moment when any of these characters look at their lives and say, “Hey, I’m going to enjoy this for a little while.” Sadly, most of these shows have lacked a basic dose of levity in the past. But the CW is attempting to remedy that. By giving audiences The Flash, the network has helped both prove and redefine what a comic book show can be, because ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ is the best — and brightest — hero on TV right now.
First, some background for those that haven’t watched. The CW first introduced us to Barry Allen in an excellent two-episode guest arc on Arrow. Upon his arrival to Starling City, Barry claims he’s come to work a police case with ties to his hometown; but his true motivation is to discover more about the murder of his mother, a crime for which his father was wrongly imprisoned. Barry and Oliver clash at first, but Barry soon learns Oliver’s secret identity and saves him in a crucial moment. The two become allies — and Barry even gives Oliver a better disguise.
Throughout the majority of these episodes, Barry is just a normal guy. He is certainly, by design, the anti-Oliver Queen: he’s optimistic where Oliver is cynical; he’s a scientist, so he’s more brain than brawn; and while Oliver’s a playboy billionaire, Barry’s more of a nerdy, regular kind of guy (the regular part will only be temporary of course). By the end of his second Arrow appearance, “Three Ghosts,” Barry returns to his home lab in a stormy Central City. A TV news report playing in the background announces the explosion of the city’s particle accelerator; moments later, lightning crashes through the window and strikes Barry, knocking him unconscious. This is the moment when Barry “becomes the impossible.” But the producers leave Barry’s fate in question; there was still a great deal to know about the character at the end of the episode – which makes him the perfect candidate for a spinoff.
The Flash premiered this fall, nearly a year after Barry’s first appearance. Here’s a short primer to catch you up without going into too many spoilers.
The pilot’s first task was filling in many of the gaps that Arrow left us with. After nine months of lying in a coma, Barry wakes up to discover he has been given super-speed. Barry has been under the care of scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs, most importantly, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh), the man who created the particle accelerator. Wells and his team wish to study Barry, but Barry sees his new-found powers as an opportunity to help people. Soon enough, and not surprisingly, we learn that other people have been affected by the particle accelerator; meta-humans are cropping up all over the city, and they need to be stopped. Eventually, Barry dons a suit and without hesitation, embraces his role as a hero. Sounds like your classic superhero story, right? Sure, but there’s way more to it than that.
Much like its spiritual predecessor, Smallville, there’s a lot more running through this show than simply battling freaks-of-the-week. Every new episode of this show reveals something new and exciting about this world and the people that inhabit it. First off, The Flash really benefits from its supporting cast. My personal favorite is Jesse L. Martin as Joe West. West is a Central City cop—but he’s also the man who raised Barry after his mother died and father went to prison. Their familial dynamic, at times playful or serious, but always sincere, has been such a joy to watch unfold.
The supporting characters fill out the cast very nicely. I admit that I was skeptical of Well’s team of scientists, Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon when they first made their cameos back on Arrow, but I’ve quickly grown to appreciate their presences. I really like Caitlin’s pragmatism and how it clashes with Cisco’s flights of fancy. I think they’ve created an interesting back story by having the particle accelerator cause the death (or so we think) of her fiancé, Ronnie Raymond. Initially, I thought Cisco might be nothing more than comic relief. But I genuinely appreciate Cisco’s wit—and his penchant for naming the villains that Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team have gone up against. It’s another way that The Flash continues to have fun—they’re committed to the rich comic book lore that exists, but they’re also not against poking fun or being meta about it. Lastly, while Barry’s love interest/pseudo-sister Iris hasn’t had a ton to do yet other than start a blog about The Flash, the writers have already taken steps to not relegate her to the “damsel in distress” role, which is itself a welcome change.
The biggest mystery introduced thus far also boils down to the show’s most fascinating figure: Harrison Wells. Who is he? I won’t spoil some of Wells’ more recent actions, but here is what we know about him so far. In the pilot, Wells is one of the world’s most renowned scientists (not to mention Barry’s idol), but once his particle accelerator fails, he must face the consequences of his creation and all the destruction it caused. Wells becomes a paraplegic and takes care of Barry after he is struck by the lightning which puts him in a coma for nine months; he even helps Barry defeat the first of several metahumans created by the accelerator. But in the pilot’s final moments, we’re presented with a very different man than we first met. Wells enters a secret room in S.T.A.R Labs and reveals that not only can he walk, but that he some awareness of The Flash’s existence in the future. The newspaper he reads is dated 2024 and reads: Flash Missing Vanishes in Crisis. We know Wells is basically the architect of The Flash, but to what end? There are many questions that remain: Is he Barry’s nemesis from the comic books, the Reverse Flash? Does he know about the future because he’s from there? If so, has he come to hurt Barry? Are his intentions misguided but noble? Is he trying to help Barry become a hero? It’s difficult to peg Wells, but as long as he remains as enigmatic as he is now, I’ll have no complaints.
The best part about both Arrow and The Flash being on at the same time is that these shows share the same universe. However, watching both is not required. The similarities are enough to reward fans of both shows without alienating those that don’t. Tonally, the two shows are as different as their eponymous heroes, but that’s okay too. The bond between Oliver and Barry may be strong, but there is so much room for it to deepen and grow. In The Flash pilot, when Barry starts to doubt himself, he takes a (seriously) quick trip to Starling City to see his old friend. And in a reverse of Barry’s appearance on Arrow, it’s Oliver who does the rescuing. He offers Barry exactly what he needs to hear in order to step up and save his city. “You can inspire people,” he says, “in a way that I never could. Oliver even hints at Barry adopting anew name: The Flash. Again, it doesn’t matter that the shows are separate. Stephen Amell and Gustin play off each other so well that the moment works whether you’ve seen Arrow or not.
A handful of characters have made their way over to The Flash’s first few episodes by way of Starling City—including Felicity and The Clock King, but the two shows will collide before their winter hiatuses in epic fashion with a two night crossover event. For TV, this kind of thing is unprecedented. With Arrow and The Flash, the larger DC world is widening by the day and will hopefully only expand from here. Marvel may be conquering the box office, but DC is collecting its victories on the small screen, and with The Flash, they’ve got one hell of a win.