Note: This post is a few days late due to my real job being particularly demanding over the last week. Also, if you would like to read a less rambling review of the episodes you can check out Anthony Schultz’s review over at F*ck You.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m aware that I will possibly never be fully satisfied by any movie or TV show version of The Flash. The Flash has been my favorite superhero for as long as I can remember. I would do just about anything to have superspeed and I have no doubts that it would take me less than five minutes after discovering my new abilities to start working on a costume and begin fighting crime. Because of this, and the obvious limitations of live-action media, I always have a nit to pick when it comes to stuff like this while at the same time feeling obligated to indulge it. I own and have seen every episode of the original Flash TV show that premiered just over 24 years ago. And in case you are wondering…no…it isn’t a very good show. The acting is barely passable, the special effects are more short-bus special than good special, and the writing left a lot to be desired (like good writing, for example). But because I’m a huge fan of The Flash I own it.
A few years back they were discussing production of a Flash movie (not to be confused with the current talk of a Flash movie) and, despite being such a huge fan of the character, I was 100% against the idea. Given the state of most Hollywood movies at the time (and even now) I didn’t want them laying one cocaine stained finger on my hero less it end up like the Green Lantern movie that came out around the same time (which was maybe not as horrible a movie as everyone thought, but considering I didn’t actually finish the movie…and I very rarely will turn off a movie out of pure boredom…it wasn’t exactly a winner either).
So of course when I heard that The Flash was going to show up on CW’s Arrow and that that was going to serve as a lead in to a spin-off…I wasn’t too thrilled at first. At that point I had maybe watched 5 minutes of an episode of Arrow and wasn’t too impressed. Add to that CW’s habit of making seemingly vapid shows with subpar writing that are used to showcase groups of pretty people who I’ve always suspected are really just highly advanced Autons, and I was really not too happy. But I am a Flash fan so I kept track of the air date and sat down to watch the two episodes of Arrow that were to include the future face of my favorite fleet-footed fighter of…crime (dammit…so close…foes maybe? Fiendish foes? Yes!)
And against all my reservations and doubts…I actually enjoyed them. Now, I have a rule I try to live by (as much as I can bring myself to anyway). I try to give everything one shot. For superhero shows, or shows I feel should have promise, I try to give it 3-5 episodes to convince me. If a show can’t get itself working after that, even if it gets better in the second season, I’m already cashed in. It shouldn’t take a show a whole season to get good. So, having watched those two episodes, I decided to go ahead and go back to episode one of Arrow and give it a chance, and I have to admit that it really isn’t all that bad of a show. Yes some of the acting is problematic, but overall it is pretty decent and usually watchable. Granted, I haven’t fully caught up with Arrow (I’ve only watched the first eight episodes), but it did give me hope that maybe…just maybe…this new Flash show would work.
So I just finished watching the premier episode of The Flash (I don’t have cable so I had to wait a day to watch it on the website) and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with it. I didn’t think it was perfect, I have my problems with it, but I didn’t have any trouble making it through the episode and I fully expect it to keep drawing me in. So of course now I need to discuss what I thought was wrong with it because this is the internet and I have a blog.
I’ll start with Grant Gustin since he is playing the title character. When I first saw pictures of this guy I, like a lot of people, had issues. “He’s too scrawny. Why the hell doesn’t he have blond hair…Barry Allen has blond hair! Why does he look like he’s 12 years old?!” But I still wanted to try and reserve judgment (you know…beyond the judgement above because seriously…eat a damn sandwich, kid!) and give it a fair shake. Then pictures with the costume came out and I started to get a little nervous again.
Now, I realize it would be pretty difficult (and kind of goofy looking) to make a Flash costume for a live-action show that is true to the comic book. They tried in the 90’s Flash show and it looked kind of ridiculous.
But even then, here they were showing us yet another dark, gritty costume with muted colors that looked kind of like a bondage outfit. But I was still going to give it a shot…I was just kind of nervous now that my heart would be broken once again.
And then I saw the aforementioned Arrow episodes and I was relieved by Mr. Gustin’s performance. My favorite thing about Barry Allen has always been that he is just a normal kind of guy but a little on the dorky side. I like that he isn’t some huge body builder superhero or super cool and smooth. Honestly, he was kind of always like the perfect dad character. The kind of guy that picks you up from school and tells you some stupid “dad joke” that is almost so painful that it could be used for “enhanced interrogation”, but then he takes you to get ice cream because you got picked on today and then you play catch in the yard for a little while even though he’s got a lot of stuff to do before the day is over. Just a really nice guy.
And that is what I like about Barry Allen. He’s good and honest and loyal and he really just cares. And Grant Gustin convinced me that he was that kind of guy. Yes he has the childhood trauma…but not in the way Batman does. It haunts him, but instead of dressing up like a bat and throwing sharp objects at criminals…it works to push him forward…to get better so he can help. I realize Batman helps people, but I don’t get the feeling that is at the top of his list of priorities when he puts on the costume. He does good as Bruce Wayne with his philanthropic work, but I still get the feeling his focus is more on punching the crime that killed his parents in the face rather than keeping possible future Bruce Waynes safe from going through what he went through. Yes the result is the same, but Barry seems to want to solve his mother’s murder (that isn’t a spoiler if you read the comics) for her and his father’s sake…not because it hurt him, even though it obviously did. You get the feeling it is more important to save his father than to fix the hurt he experienced. I don’t get that from Batman.
So I’m good with Grant Gustin. I think my only issue with him is that he spent the entire episode looking like he was going to start crying at any second. Even when he was legitimately happy his eyes looked watery. It wasn’t terrible but it was a little distracting. But beyond his perpetually weepy face, he did good, and I think he can grow with the role well.
Moving on to our supporting cast. I was okay with Candice Patton as Iris West. I was actually surprised I didn’t see the explosion of nerd-racism that normally comes with casting an African American actor in a “traditionally” white role. Apparently either Flash fans are less racist or there aren’t as many Flash fans as I thought (or I just managed to somehow miss the outrage over the last few months). My only issue with her is that she is just kind of there. She’s a fairly typical WB/CW actress. She’s attractive…but there just doesn’t seem to be much to her. She isn’t a bad actress, and she seemed engaged in the role, but I never was really all that excited when I saw her on screen. Maybe that’ll change, but for now she’s just kind of an “meh” character.
Jesse L. Martin as Detective West however was pretty good. Despite the fact that they seem to have just made up the character for the show to kind of shoe-horn a non-romantic long-term relationship between Barry and Iris, he is a good character. In the comics this character’s role is played by Captain Darryl Frye who is the one that takes Barry in and raises him like his own. I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t go with this since they pulled so much else from the New 52 version of The Flash, but whatever. I’m not sure how I feel about (SPOILERS) him knowing Barry’s secret right from the start, but I can deal.
The S.T.A.R. Labs crew is honestly the only real weak spot of the first episodes. I wasn’t too impressed with Tom Cavanagh as Dr. Wells. His delivery was a little awkward and I just never really believed what he was trying to convey. Same thing goes for Danielle Panabaker as Dr. Snow. She spends a bit of time trying (a little unsuccessfully) to portray an embittered scientist who has just lost her fiance and her job, and her face doesn’t seem to do “shock and awe” very well when it comes to her character’s reactions to what Barry can do. And lastly we have Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon. Why does every show need this character nowadays? Why does there always have to be the “whoa, cool!” character that is supposed to be this super young genius but who comes across as a long-haired stoner who should be on a never-ending quest for Cheetos rather than building high-tech uniforms and communication devices. I’ve always barely tolerated this character type and I can’t say I’m too happy to see it here either.
Add to that the fact that I’m not entirely sure why they are necessary at all. In the comics Barry Allen is an accomplished scientist in his own right. In this version he is also incredibly smart, but in the comics it was Barry that made his own costume and he didn’t need a team of scientists to help him figure out what happened to him. Even if you wanted to keep the element of the particle accelerator being the ultimate cause of his powers, this would still be something that Barry could eventually figure out on his own without having Dr. Exposition and his Science Groupies to lay it out for him. That might even add a nice little mystery that Barry needs to work to figure out over the course of the first season. Instead, because apparently the creators of Arrow (and by extension The Flash) like to do ensemble shows, we get three pretty unnecessary characters. Maybe my opinion of them will change, and maybe once I know what the hell is up with (SPOILERS) Dr. Wells’s magically time-traveling newspaper it’ll make more sense as to why he is so off-putting.
Lastly we have a cameo by John Wesley Shipp playing Barry’s father Henry Allen. For those who don’t know, Mr. Shipp took his turn playing Barry Allen in the original Flash show, and while I will give him crap for his portrayal of the character 24 years ago, I thought this was a nice little bit of fan service, and he really did an okay job here, but seriously…the man has aged a little rough.
And now we get to the special effects. This is honestly the hardest part of The Flash because The Flash can do some really visually amazing things. In a comic this is easy…you just draw super cool crap. Even in a cartoon version you can do incredible things with a character that has powers. But despite the leaps and bounds of digital effects, there are still some things we can’t manage, even with a good budget. Having said that, the effects in this episode are pretty damn good. Honestly the only part I had an issues with is a very brief moment during Barry’s first test run with the S.T.A.R. Labs team when it kind of slows down a little and he does this weird jump thing and it is very obviously a CGI Grant Gustin. It looks odd and more than a little disturbing. Fortunately it only lasts for a second and then it is gone, taking only the smallest part of all our souls along with it to the deep hell pit it came from.
Other than that (and the kind of fakey look of future Weather Wizard’s magical fog machine) the special effects were pretty impressive for a TV show. Of course we’ll have to see if they can keep this up. Effects heavy shows always have a hard time maintaining consistent effects levels as they have to contend with their per episode budget. That is why you get episodes of Star Trek where they have some weird power outage and no one can leave the ship…or two of the actors are stuck in a cave on some barren planet. That is how a show traditionally recoups some of its money after they have an episode where they pull out all the stops with the CGI the week before. The problem is that the only thing that separates Barry “The Flash” Allen from Barry “The Crime Lab Analyst” Allen are those special effects. So we’ll see how that goes.
So far it has been a fairly positive, and I’d have to say out of 10, accounting for my fandom bias, I’d probably give this episode a 7 or 8 on its own. But I did have a few problems with the story itself and frankly this is something I have a problem with with most modern shows. This episode, much like the other brand new DC comics related production Gotham, just went too damn fast even for The Flash (see what I did there?). I get it…establishing a superhero show is hard. Superhero movies and shows in general tend to suffer from backstory weigh-down. Superheroes as a rule are chock full of all manner of continuity and backstory and trying to convey that in a one hour episodes or even a full-length movie is a tough slog. That is why what Marvel did was so brilliant. They used the first movies of their main heroes to get that stuff out of the way and then they were free to use the sequels and the Avengers movie to really give us something awesome.
In general the first episode of The Flash didn’t do too bad a job handling this. They introduced the childhood trauma and then got us right into the story with convenient exposition drops fitting pretty well into the conversation. Still, I just felt like they got us from dopey, perpetually late Barry Allen to Scarlet Speedster way too fast. They could have drawn everything out between two episodes and it would have worked just as well and wouldn’t have felt as rushed. Instead it takes us a whopping 12 minutes to get from zero to lab accident and only 6 minutes after that for him to start using his powers to actually do stuff (of course, having said that, the original Flash show actually also had the lab accident 12 minutes in with the first display of actual powers 22 minutes in so maybe it is a Flash thing). I’m not saying they need to spend a whole episode just focusing on character development like they did in the old days, but seriously…what’s the hurry?
Is this a result of so many shows getting cancelled before they make it past their first season? Is this an attempt to try and cram so much story in to such a short amount of time before the network can decide they don’t want to keep it going? I just don’t like feeling like a show is an over-energetic five year old trying to tell you a story and constantly rushing from one part of the story to the next without taking a breath. Maybe I’m wrong…it happens a lot. Maybe this wasn’t too much too soon. But sometimes doing this makes me wonder what the show will have left to work with by the end of the first season…or after four or five seasons. Do we just not expect shows to last that long anymore? I turn to Gotham for a great example of this. The third episode of that show also came out this week and (SPOILERS) the Penguin, who left Gotham in the first episode and was told by Gordon to never come back…is already back. Why not leave him gone for the entire season, showing him slowly building power and working the angles until finally…now in control of his own gang he comes strolling in at the end of the first season to start kicking some ass? Why does he have to do this from Gotham on the DL? Especially considering that he was only gone a couple days maybe a week and everyone seems to know who he is/was. I just don’t see why they can’t slow it down and take their time, but then again I can’t afford the quality coke-laced hookers that TV producers can…so maybe I’m not qualified for this discussion.
The only other issue I had, and it isn’t so much of an issue as a point of confusion, was the brief introduction of Barry’s magic CSI analysis powers. At the beginning of the episode Barry shows up at the scene of a bank robbery/homicide and begins looking around the crime scene. At one point he gets down on his stomach to look at some car tire tracks and you get a visual effect where you can “see” what he sees regarding the front tire tread width being narrower than the rear tire which lead him to being able to ID the car used in the robbery/homicide. They use this effect a lot in the BBC’s new version of Sherlock Homes to give a visual representation of his powers of observation and it is actually a pretty neat visual effect. Now, I think shows have started to overuse this effect and it is becoming a little banal, but it is still kind of neat. My problem wasn’t really that they used it, it is that they used it for a second at the beginning of the episode and then never used it again. Why introduce an aspect of Barry’s personality and then ignore it for the rest of the episode? Why not use it when Barry is trying to figure out how to stop Weather Wizard’s tornado? That would have been the perfect place for it. Instead it just feels like they forgot about it and it makes it seem even more odd that it was used at all in the first place.
Overall though it was a pretty good episode. I will probably watch the pilot again and I will definitely be tuning in next week to see what happens next. Gotham on the other hand has two more episodes to convince me.