Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Flash, Season 1

I've never watched a single episode of the DC Comics series Arrow, and until recently (when I suddenly had a television to plug my DVD player into, after a long hiatus from watching TV at home) I hadn't seen its spinoff, The Flash. Then, I spotted a deal - the first two seasons of The Flash for the same price Season 3 is selling at. And they're good, hefty, 23-episode seasons, too; not those sneaky box sets that invite you to spend $24 for an 11-episode series. This deal came out to approximately 50 cents an episode, which these days is pretty good. And so, by the way, is this series. It's a really fun show in the superhero format, starting with essentially the same Flash origin story told not long ago (with Ezra Miller in the speedster role) in the Justice League movie.

This series, made for the CW network, stars Grant Gustin, best known for his recurring role on Glee, as Barry Allen a.k.a. the Flash. Personally, I have no previous acquaintance with this young actor, but I found him very appealing and easy to sympathize with. In a comics-based film and TV-series landscape full of dark, gritty antiheroes and damaged heroes, the Flash's upbeat personality and essentially pure character is a breath of fresh air. Of course, he wouldn't be much of a superhero if he didn't have stuff to be unhappy about, yet he has a persistent and infectious attitude of good cheer and a good heart that makes him stand out against the background of awful villains, monsters, and disasters constantly swirling around him. The tragedy of his life, in case you don't already know, is that his mother was killed by a time-traveling speedster when he was about 11 years old, and his future self couldn't (or didn't) stop it, and his father spent years in prison on a false accusation of killing her. Now Barry is a CSI working for the Central City Police Department, where his foster father Joe West (played by Jesse Martin of Law and Order) is a detective. He has an unrequited crush on Joe's daughter Iris (the lovely Candice Patton), who is in love with Joe's partner, "Detective Pretty Boy" Eddie Thawne (Zimbabwe-born actor Rick Cosnett), who thus becomes both Barry's friend and his romantic rival. Eddie's importance is even more intricately woven into the plot of Season 1, but I won't go there for fear of spoiling it.

So, one fine day, Barry is nerding around in his forensic science lab when the local particle collider blasts him with a bolt of technobabble. Six months later, he wakes up with super speed. Cool, eh? Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh of Ed), the now discredited CEO of S.T.A.R. Labs, takes Barry under his wing and becomes his mentor, leading him to become a better superhero every week with the aid of bio-engineer Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker of Mr. Brooks and Shark) and computer whiz Cisco Ramon (Colombian-American actor Carlos Valdes). Together they try to protect Central City from other metahumans (as they call people who developed super powers after the supercollider meltdown), who are mostly villains for some reason, while Barry tries to figure out how to beat the Reverse-Flash (that future speedster who killed his mother) and clear his father's name. Other regular or recurring cast members include Stephen Amell in crossover appearances as Oliver Queen/Arrow; Robbie Amell (a cousin of Stephen) as Caitlin's fiance Ronnie Raymond/Firestorm, a regular guy who becomes a metahuman by merging with another dude; Victor Garber (Alias) as Dr. Martin Stein, the other half of Firestorm; Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) as villain Leonard "Captain Cold" Snart, who doesn't need superpowers to be a threat; Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) as the evil General Eiling; Liam "Spartacus" McIntyre as Mark Mardon/Weather Wizard, a guy who can hurl lightning bolts and conjure hailstones out of thin air; Matt Letscher (who crossed over to the Arrowverse series Legends of Tomorrow) as Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash; etc., etc.

Thanks in part to the Cisco character, this series is full of fun nerd-culture cross references. Two of the three scenes that made it for me, however, were in-jokes that didn't involve Cisco. (1) Mark Hamill, who after his Star Wars role as Luke Skywalker is probably best known as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, plays a psychotic Arrowverse villain called the Trickster, who has the Joker's tacky sense of humor and insane giggle. In one scene, he looks a younger villain in the eyes and says, " your father." Get it? Of course you do. (2) Brandon Routh, who is mostly known for playing the Caped Crusader in that pre-Henry Cavill Superman movie everyone has forgotten about, crosses over from Legends as Ray Palmer/A.T.O.M., a man in a flying suit. In his introductory scene, members of Team Flash are looking up in the sky when someone says, "Is that a bird?" and someone else says, "No, it's a plane..." (3) The Flash discovers a futuristic artificial-intelligence computer named Gideon hidden in his time-traveling enemy's secret lair. When he asks her why should obey his command, Gideon tells him, "You built me." Whoa, dude. Time travel is just sick! Wouldn't it be nice if the show hangs around long enough for us to see Barry Allen pull off that trick?

And now, a couple of things that un-made it for me: (1) Crossovers from Arrow. Like I said, I've never watched that show, and based on the slow drip of information conveyed through Arrow/The Flash crossovers, I'm not sure that I ever would. From the perspective of a viewer who is only in on half of the super-franchise (no pun intended), these crossovers strike me as kind of stiff and stilted. The characters just aren't like themselves, I think, when they are taken out of their own world and put among the characters of another. There is a strained feeling to every scene and nearly every line of dialogue, sometimes conveying a sense that the two shows' writers are trying to one-up each other, and at other times carrying perceptible artifacts of an early draft in which the heading at the top of the page said "The obligatory scene shared by Barry and Oliver goes here," or "Don't forget to have Cisco offer to upgrade Laurel Lance's techno-thingummy." Plus, I'm apparently missing the crossovers going in the other direction, which feels like a cheat. Finally, now that I've also watched Season 2 with even more crossovers between the shows, I'm picking up on clues that developments on the Arrow side have been pretty dark, with characters that were together at one point not being together anymore, and characters who seemed to be going somewhere now apparently having gone the way of all flesh. McQueen's Star City doesn't seem like as nice a place to visit as Center City and, frankly, I wish he would stay there instead of bringing his issues to Barry's town. For my other complaint (2) I will only hint that there were a couple of characters that I thought shouldn't have been killed off. I'll leave it at that.

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