Thursday, 28 March 2013

I've been watching ARROW, have you?

Thursday, 28 March 2013

I'm not doing as many episodic reviews as I used to, and to be honest I haven't watched more than a few episodes of most new shows lately. My TiVo is full of whole series it's been diligently recording weeks after I saw a premiere, then realised I didn't care enough to make return visits. I always think I'll get around to things in good time, but most shows eventually get deleted after three or four months.

However, one show I've stuck with has been The CW's ARROW, which airs on Sky1 here in the UK. I didn't expect this to be the case when I reviewed the fun pilot, because I didn't care for The CW's previous superhero smash-hit Smallville, but Arrow's proven to be very entertaining.

There's a confidence about its performances and writing, which is perhaps because much of the legwork's already been done by Batman--which Arrow owes more than a passing resemblance to. In both, a billionaire playboy returns to his city after five years away, becoming a masked vigilante who fights crime. I don't think the producers of Arrow would deny their show has been inspired by Batman (the comic-book it's based on, The Green Arrow, makes that abundantly clear), or that they've taken conceptual and stylistic cues from Christopher Nolan's "realistic" vision of Batman in his Dark Knight trilogy. With that kind of foundation in place, Arrow could explode off the starting blocks with gusto and swagger. More importantly, it's found ways to add something of its own to the genre. In the early episodes I was impressed to find them tackling the apparent "obviousness" that 'The Hood' vigilante is Oliver Queen, and how they quickly brought his bodyguard Diggle into his circle of trust. In later episodes, a few more people also know Oliver's true identity, which is a welcome development--even if one's a clich├ęd sexy secretary/intelligent geek hybrid.

Arrow's also managed to create a fun Rogue's Gallery of villains for The Hood to battle, and even the ones partly-inspired by Batman baddies have been fun in their own way. I particularly liked Catwoman knock-off The Huntress, and Torchwood's John Barrowman has been better than expected as The Hood's mysterious nemesis--The Archer, who's also the father of Queen's best-friend Tommy Merlyn. They've even utilized Detective Comics' very own Deadshot, who first appeared in Batman #59.

But arguably the best thing about Arrow has been its take on the Lost-style flashback format, where a good portion of each episodes fills in Oliver's five-year back-story cast away on a mysterious island. It's here we know he turned from a moaning rich brat into the unflappable superhero who returned, and seeing exactly how this played out has been an unexpected treat. It's in this parallel story, where Oliver makes friends with Chinese warrior Yao Fei (Byron Mann), that Arrow perhaps truly excels. I wasn't expecting this storyline to become as rich as it has, with the island swarming with mercenaries and Oliver having to befriend an Australian Intelligence operative called Slade Wilson (Spartacus' Manu Bennett) who lives inside the fuselage of a downed plane. One thing I really look for in good drama is surprises, and Arrow's kept them trickling along.

My only concern is how the confirmed second season might struggle to keep things going at the same pace, because various characters and relationships are bound to settle down. Unless you're a devotee of The Green Arrow comics, you didn't know these characters or have many preconceptions about the whole series, so it's been able to surprise and sidestep expectations rather neatly. That will prove trickier as time passes, and it might be a problem because the bread-and-butter stories of The Hood taking down businessman who have "failed the city" aren't all that interesting. A ninja dressed as a giant bat with a bat-like car is a cool visual, but Arrow still has to wrestle with the fact its hero looks like a male model who loves Legend of Zelda cosplay. It doesn't feel as stupid having an archer in green leathers go up against men with automatic firearms now, which was half the battle of early episodes, but I still can't get too excited whenever The Hood is around. I sometimes find myself willing the action to shift back to more island flashbacks, which surprises me...

I suppose watching the origin of a superhero feels more compelling than watching the everyday activities of a fully-formed superhero. Or to me it does.

Anyway, you should give Arrow a try if you haven't already. I've seen up to "Dead to Rights" (episode 16) and the serialised aspect of its plot has barely paused for breath, while the mythology keeps getting richer. It's also introduced a large array of supporting characters, and most don't feel too superfluous as they might have been--although Oliver's ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katy Cassidy) has largely failed to become Arrow's version of a Lois Lane. I think the writers are just having too much fun elsewhere to invest the time it takes to create 'shippers for Oliver and Laurel, but maybe they'll get around to it.

ARROW airs on The CW every Wednesday in the US, and Sky1 every Monday in the UK.