Friday, 24 May 2013

The CW's ARROW: did the first season hit the mark?

Friday, 24 May 2013
Warning: contains major spoilers. I didn't expect to watch all of Arrow's first season, but this ersatz Batman was surprisingly entertaining—although, like many US network shows, it began to test my patience with an inexcusable 23-episode run. The second-half was consequently much weaker and you could feel the writers filling time, but it helped that Arrow had built itself a large world of characters, relationships, and storylines.

There was also the clever idea of telling two distinct stories: the present-day crusade of wealthy playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) cleaning up his city as vigilante 'The Hood'; and how he was reborn as said superhero after years stranded on an island. I actually preferred the island storyline most of the time--despite the fact we know where everything's headed and that Oliver's life is never in danger--although that storyline was a victim of the season's length.

The big finale, "Sacrifice", ended the show's inaugural season on a high-note; with fisticuffs and city-wide destruction. The show has borrowed many elements from Batman and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy (in particular), so it was only right the finale involved the destruction of a suburban district—echoing the scenes of chaos from the end of Batman Begins. We even had some old clich├ęs like a device to disarm by cutting some wires, although I appreciated it being an Ocean's Eleven-esque "earthquake device" instead of a bomb.

More importantly, Arrow kept an emphasis on character. The first season was ultimately about two best-friends discovering the sins of their fathers: Oliver (whose dad was killed for rebelling against a corporate a conspiracy to regenerate the city by half-destroying it), and his best-friend Tommy (whose dad was the chief conspirator, who moonlighted as Oliver's nemesis 'the Dark Archer'). Incidentally, was it ever explained why Tommy's dad Malcolm (John Barrowman) also decided to dress in a hood and go around shooting arrows with a bow? That can't be coincidence. Maybe we'll find out in season 2.

What I enjoyed most about Arrow is that it felt more focused and purposeful than these shows tend to. A lot of it owed a debt to other superhero properties (including a foundation in comic-books of its own), so it's not that original, but its crutches seemed to give the writers greater confidence. It was always moving and wasn't afraid of bring some ideas to a conclusion, while setting up fresh stuff. I'm not sure the writers can sustain this for years to come, because the island-based storyline already feels worn-out and we've barely scratched the surface of the five-year period Oliver was a castaway, but we'll see.

The only thing I actively dislike about Arrow is Stephen Amell's performance as the earlier Oliver, because he's decided to play that part as a whining brat. It just makes me wonder why people in the present don't comment on the fact Oliver's personality's done a complete 180, because his flashback persona makes it feel like Oliver's a 10-year-old boy in a floppy wig. Amell's 32 years old, so I assume the island-Oliver is in his mid-20s, but he just doesn't behave or even talk like anyone that old. It's laughable how limited Amell is in this dual role, but a blessing he's convincing in the primary role of 'hunky costumed hero with abs of steel'.

The first season ended with a key death and pyrrhic victory, leaving you wanting to see how things will continue in the second season. Considering the fact I didn't think Arrow would keep me engaged for 23 hours, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt about their chances of success spinning the story out for another year, and perhaps more.

What about you? Did you watch Arrow? Did it surprise you and keep you watching, or did you give up on it?