Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pilot preview: The CW's THE FLASH - super-fast, super-fun

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Months ahead of its 7 October premiere on The CW, I take a look at the pilot episode of their new superhero drama THE FLASH.

What's the background?
  • THE FLASH is The CW's latest superhero drama, based on the popular DC Comics character of supersonic Barry Allen (Glee's Gustin Grant)—a character introduced during the second season of Arrow, which comes from the same team. It's created by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns, with a pilot directed by David Nutter (Arrow).
What's it about?
  • Barry Allen is a young forensic scientist working for the Central City Police Department, who's accidentally struck by lightning during the nearby explosion of a cutting-edge particle accelerator. He awakens from a coma nine months later, amazed to discover he can now move at incredible velocity and heal at an extraordinary rate.
What was good or promising?
  • There's a huge sense of confidence that oozes from every pore of this pilot; maybe because they're adapting a cool superhero people are familiar with, but partly because the writers have learned valuable lessons from the well-received Arrow. In many ways, The Flash takes what worked from Arrow and applies it to the core ingredients of the 58-year-old comic-book character's mythology. Oliver Queen's "my name is..." opening monologue even gets tweaked for Barry Allen's use.
  • The cast are really good with no obvious weaknesses, and Grant Gustin (Glee) makes for a particularly likeable hero. The fact he's younger than the character's usually portrayed doesn't factor into matters one iota, and I love the character dynamics around him. His father's serving time for killing his mother, so Detective Joe West (Jesse J. Martin) has taken him under his wing, but Barry also harbours romantic feelings towards West's daughter and his best-friend Iris (Candice Patton). Throw in the fun scientists at S.T.A.R Labs, who become Barry's support team when he's given his powers—sullen bio-engineer Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker), enthusiastic engineer Cisco (Carlos Valdes), and geek godhead Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh)—and you have a terrific cocktail of personalities. Take away Barry's powers and I'd still happily watch a show about a young CSI with these people, which is exactly as it should be.
  • The special effects are occasionally very good, but generally decent and sometimes cheesy. I hope they find clever and inventive ways to demonstrate Barry's highs-speed, but they'll have to do so on a TV budget. It's unlikely they'll be delivering jaw-dropping "time freeze" sequences, as seen with the similarly hotfooted character Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but thankfully The Flash isn't a show that relies on snazzy visuals to work.
  • For the geek crowd, how could you not enjoy the cameo from Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) when Barry went to visit him for advice about becoming a costumed hero, or the respectful nod towards the failed 1990 TV series by casting that project's Flash (John Wesley Shipp) as this Barry's jailed father. Classy.
  • I like the idea (also utilised by Misfits) that the whole city and surrounding area has been infected by the exploding particle accelerator, which has spread contaminants via the simultaneous storm. This has apparently resulted in many other 'metahumans' like Barry, which gives the show a regular supply of other superheroes and villains whenever it needs them. Smallville did something similar by ensuring fragments of kryptonite from the meteor shower that heralded Clark Kent's arrival on Earth created lots of super-powered people/things to contend with.
What was bad or regrettable?
  • I'm struggling to think of anything that stood out as bad about this pilot, as it did pretty much everything you demand of an introductory episode. It avoided being too clich├ęd, kept focus on the characters, told a fun story, moved at a good pace (of course), involved lots of good effects work, and simply made me want to watch more. You could argue the villain was a little underwritten, but there were more important things to be focusing on.
What does the future hold?
  • An entertaining weekly superhero drama, it feels like! If you love Arrow but secretly wish that show had more characters with truly SUPER abilities (not just varying degrees of special ops and martial arts training), then The Flash is your salvation.
Who stands the best chance of enjoying this?
  • All fans of comic-book superhero shows and movies, but particularly Arrow's current audience because of the clear opportunities for crossover episodes. It's funny that DC Comics are struggling to create a cinematic universe to rival Marvel, and yet on television they appear to have found a winning formula with The CW (it remains to be seen if Gotham will work on Fox).
Who will probably hate it?
  • If you're sick to the back teeth of stories about people running around saving folk, dressed in silly costumes, there's no way you're going to like The Flash. The genre is past saturation point, so I can accept there will be feelings of fatigue from some quarters.
What are your final thoughts?
  • I was already sold on Grant Gustin going into this pilot (thanks to his appearances on Arrow), but I'm relieved The Flash sold me on everything else about the show. Provided the writing stays as sharp and propulsive as Arrow's mostly has... how can this fail? It may even become people's favourite of the pair, if only because there's more scope for interesting visuals and villains.
When does it air?
  • 7 October on The CW. There is no UK broadcaster, but it would be a perfect fit for E4. However, the chances are Sky1 will outbid them, if only because they're the UK home of Arrow and crossover episodes would be awkward to schedule if the other side of the story's airing on another network!