"The Flash" Quickly Upstages Its "Arrow" Origins Review

If you look at the shows airing right now, not only are we in the oft-lauded “Golden Age” of television, but we’re also witnessing the “Golden Age” of the spin-off. Right now, we have Fear the Walking Dead (born of The Walking Dead), Better Call Saul (born of Breaking Bad), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among others, but the king of them all might just be DC’s The Flash, which got a back-door pilot courtesy of Arrow’s stellar second season. The Flash might not have the same superb writing as Better Call Saul, and it may indeed be a little bit cheesy, but only because that’s exactly what it needs to be. It manages to balance a classic comic book era ‘gee whiz’ mentality, pulpy teenage drama, and fairly faithful recreations of the hero’s classic villains, and it does so while maintaining surprisingly high production values and a top-notch cast (especially Grant Gustin and Tom Cavanagh).

When we last saw Barry Allen (Gustin) in Arrow’s second season, he’d been struck by lightning in his lab and that’s effectively where we find him when The Flash kicks off its first season: in the aftermath. Only now, we get a little background as to what caused the freak storm in the first place. It turns out that S.T.A.R. Labs’ attempt to create a working particle accelerator didn’t go according to plan, and the effects of that failure were felt by everyone, including Barry, S.T.A.R. Labs’ resident genius Dr. Harrison Wells (Cavanagh) and his two assistants Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes). Some people lost their lives (like Caitlin’s fiancé) and others, who were caught in the shockwave of the explosion, had theirs changed forever. Nine months after the accident, Barry Allen wakes from his coma to find that Dr. Wells has taken a keen interest in Barry’s case due to some anomalies they noticed during his slumber. Soon, Barry and his new scientific friends discover that Barry can now move at superspeeds and it doesn’t take them long after that to decide that the natural progression is to have Barry act as a guardian for the city to protect it from a number of other superpowered individuals who’ve chosen to use their new gifts for personal gain, including another speedster whose existence has huge implications for Barry Allen’s past, present, and future.

In the time between his multiple-episode guest spot in Arrow’s second season and the start of The Flash, Grant Gustin did a little growing up and really made the role of Barry Allen his own—and the showrunners followed suit. What started with a bit of fan service has since grown into a series all its own with a first season that easily rivals Arrow’s best moments during its second season high. Clearly the folks over at DC and the CW figured out what made Arrow such a success and applied it to The Flash, because many of the familiar elements are there: the team of confidants who assist the hero in his weekly trial, the villain-of-the-week structure combined with an overarching plot, the shifting love triangles, and a bit of winking to remind audiences the show is fully aware a bit of camp is inherent in a show with costumed heroes. Yet, unlike Arrow, where the winks come between some very dour moments and are often delivered as humorous one-liners from a character who can’t believe the situation they’re in, The Flash just embraces that strangeness wholeheartedly and infects its audience with an enthusiasm that keeps them coming back for each new episode.

Perhaps the best examples of The Flash’s willingness to go all out are its villains. For one, the desire to find grounded ways to make The Flash’s rogues gallery fit into the real world, which Arrow did quite well, has been entirely stifled. With the ‘accident’, the concept of superpowered ‘metahumans’ enters into DC’s TV universe, and yet it’s not the teleporting or shapeshifting villains that really make The Flash seem like such a departure from Arrow. Rather it’s The Flash’s willingness to let its commonplace villains, like Captain Cold (played with such hammy infusion by Wentworth Miller) or a jailed Trickster (reprised from the 1990 series by Mark Hamill) go over the top, even if they’re just a guy with a freeze ray or goofy pranks. When you combine that with The Flash’s willingness to give us a telepathic, CGI gorilla for a villain (and not just a very smart, large man named Grodd whom other people refer to pejoratively as a ‘gorilla’—which is likely how Arrow would have adapted the character), it’s clear that for as much as The Flash is following Arrow’s lead, it’s also sprinting past it with nothing holding it back.

Simply put, The Flash is an injection of fun that DC’s television universe badly needed to counteract the doom and gloom route that Arrow pursued in the tail end of its second season and throughout all of its third season. The crossover episodes between Arrow’s third season and The Flash’s first season are some of the best that both shows produced this year, and it really creates a feeling that at any point a guest hero could drop in for an episode to assist with an especially sticky situation. In other words, Arrow and The Flash are both better and feel more like actual comic book stories because they can crossover. If DC can keep this up and add a few more series to make their TV universe even bigger, then things are only going to get better for DC fans.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

An Ultraviolet digital copy of the entire series is included, along with featurettes on the hero, the special effects, a screen test, Mark Hamill’s reprisal of his role from the 1990 Flash series (which starred John Wesley Shipp who plays Barry’s dad in this version), the 2014 Comic-Con Panel, audio commentaries, and deleted scenes.

"The Flash: The Complete First Season" is on sale September 22, 2015 and is rated tv-pg. Action, Adventure, Drama. Directed by Glen Winter, Ralph Hemecker, Dermott Downs. Written by Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, Grainne Godfree. Starring Danielle Panabaker, Jesse L Martin, Tom Cavanagh.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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