Review: The Flash (2014): Pilot

The Flash TV Pilot

Regular readers know that although I am a super hero fan, my heart belongs to the DC Universe more so than the Marvel characters.  So while I have been enjoying the Marvel movies as much as everyone else (Guardians of the Galaxy is insanely fun) I have been frustrated to see the DC characters mishandled by Warner Bros.  WhileMarvel has released ten hit movies in a row, Warner Brothers has released the terrific Nolan Batman trilogy, the popular but wrong-headed Man of Steel and the dreadful Green Lantern.  The DC characters have been seeing the most play on TV where they are limited to the kind of budget that the CW can afford.  Which typically means there is a low ceiling on the super heroics.  Smallville spent ten years depicting the adventures of Clark Kent before he became Superman.  And Arrow shows Ollie Queen as a vigilante who is not much better than the thugs he fights against.

When I heard that the makers of Arrow were spinning off The Flash to his own series, I was skeptical to say the least.  The Flash is one of the brightest characters in all of comics.  He is positively upbeat and cheery.  A stark contrast to the Green Arrow TV show.  If they gave the Flash the Arrow treatment, I wasn’t interested.  When the CW started releasing images of the costume, my apprehension grew.  Standing still, it looked cheap.  But the good news is that in motion and blurred by CGI, Grant Gustin looks enough like the Flash for me.  In fact, the looks is impressive for a TV show.

This weekend, I caught a screener of the pilot episode which airs this fall.  And I am happy to report that the show nails just about everything about the Flash.  This is a straight-up super hero show that is bound to please fans of the comic book.  Since the show doesn’t air till Fall, I will avoid dropping spoilers.  Although I have to say the show’s official trailer was extremely spoilery!

Barry Allen has a job that makes him a perfect candidate for a TV show.  He’s a forensic scientist.  When he’s not wearing red tights and running at light speed, he’s basically CSI: Central City.  Traditionally, Barry Allen has been portrayed as a square.  He wore a bow tie long after bow ties went out of style.  He was a blonde scientist in a lab coat with a crew cut and he was always spouting off scientific jumbo he called “Flash facts”.  Barry was so dull that eventually DC comics killed him off and replaced him with his younger, edgier side kick.

The show manages to make Barry Allen more interesting than he was typically portrayed in the comic books.  They do this by blending Barry’s origin story with the more relatable characteristic of his replacement, Wally West.  The Barry Allen of the TV show is a young guy who wants to do the right thing.  He’s got relatable problems at work and a frustrated love life.  He’s still a nerdy forensic scientist who’s always spouting science facts, but he’s also an every-man with problems the viewer can relate to.

When the comic book brought back Barry Allen after an absence that lasted for decades, they tweaked his backstory to make it more tragic and presumably more interesting.  The show opens with this new backstory in which Barry’s mother is killed under mysterious circumstances.  Barry sees a bolt of lightning.  Inside the lightning, he thinks he sees his mother’s murderer.  But the police do not believe him and his father is wrongfully charged with his mother’s murder.  In a nice nod to the past, Barry’s dad is played by John Wesley Shipp who played Barry in the 1990’s Flash TV show.

With his mother murdered and his father in jail, Barry is taken in by Officer Joe West.  Officer West has a daughter named Iris who regards Barry as a brother.  This makes for a complicated relationship.  The Iris of the comics is Barry’s love interest.  On the show, Barry clearly has feelings for Iris.  But she sees him as a friend.

But romance takes a backseat to Barry’s job helping the police solve mysteries.  Since Barry believes that his father is innocent, he is also driven to solve the mystery of his mother’s murder.  This puts him at odds with his surrogate father who believes that the case was solved when Barry was a child.

The Flash TV Pilot 2

Everything changes one day when Star Labs tests a device called a particle accelerator.  The test goes wrong which showers Central City with all kinds of theoretical radiation like anti-matter and a bunch of other comic book stuff.  This leads to Barry being dosed with chemicals and hit by lightning just like in his comic book origin story.  Nine months later, he wakes from a coma while being treated by what’s left of the team at Star Labs.

Tom Cavanagh plays the head of Star Labs who is responsible for the explosion that gave Barry his powers.  Since the accident, he has been confined to a wheel chair and he has become a pariah in Central City.  He takes an interest in Barry’s accelerated healing and begins to test the limits of his powers.  Cavanagh’s character is interesting because his motives are unclear.  Is he a mentor to Barry or something more sinister.  There’s evidence to support both.

The particle accelerator is a neat addition to the TV origin because it creates an easy explanation for all the weird things Barry will encounter during his adventures.  Like the Hellmouth on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Kryptonite meteors on Smallville, the accident is responsible for creating all kinds of threats for Barry to face in future episodes.  In the pilot, Barry tests his powers against a bank robber who can control the weather.  Although the name is never used on the show, comic fans will recognize the character as the Weather Wizard.

Being a TV pilot, the show sets up conflicts that will pay off in future episodes.  There’s a new officer on the force named Eddie Thawne.  Fans of the comic know not to trust a character with that last name.  TV viewers unfamiliar with the comics will probably be distrustful of the guy the minute Iris starts talking about how good looking he is.  The show ends with a tantalizing tease of things to come.

Obviously, a TV show budget comes with limitations.  But working within those restrictions, The Flash TV show does a terrific job of capturing all of the essentials of the character.  This is the best live-action version of a DC character in a long, long time.  I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.

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Posted on August 2, 2014, in reviews, Super Heroes, TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I’m not normally a DC/Marvel universe fan, but after reading this review and the one of Guardians of the Galaxy, I’ve added both to my watch lists. I never get excited about super hero themed shows/movies in advance, but I almost always enjoy them. You’ve actually got me excited about this show and the movie. My husband and daughter (both avid comic fans) thank you!

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    • I’m glad to hear it. It’s really amazing to me how the super hero genre has become so popular in the mainstream. The best super hero stories are accessible to general audiences while also giving the fans what they want. Guardians is just an insanely fun space opera. If you like Star Wars, odds are you’ll like this. Personally, I think it’s the best space adventure film since Return of the Jedi.

      I don’t want to oversell the Flash TV show. First of all, I have only seen the pilot. But if the rest of the series is as good as the pilot, it will be a fun show. I’m hoping it proves to be even more popular than Arrow. It definitely appeals more to me.

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  2. Huzzah for Flash posts!

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    • I have been enjoying the series quite a bit. Arrow too. Of all the super hero shows currently on TV, the CW shows are the most fun.

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      • Time to actually respond (I was just posting my thoughts on Dr. Wells when I saw this :P ).

        1) Bow ties are cool! Thanks to Bill Nye and probably more so Dr. Who!

        2) I actually like the look of Wonder Woman in that pic. Not sure if I’ll like anything else DC does with her though…

        “Fans of the comic no” should be “know” there, btw ^_^

        The show so far though. The running scenes, when they do a close up on his face as he goes past things reminds me very very strongly of Smallville. Speaking of which, you mentioned the comic-science to give people powers. I hope they are smart and lay off the freak-of-the-week bit. They kept from that with Arrow, but he’s just a man so I think it’s a little easier to do. Flash, while not quite Smallville’s Clark Kent, still has super powers. So it will be interesting to see what they do to keep things from getting stale after time, or if they will fall into that repetetive trap. Overall though, I have been enjoying it.

        Arrow has been fun, though last week’s ep keeping out of any “5 years ago” bits seemed kinda strange… And less fun as those generally have been my favorite part of the series. I’ve heard more people giving bad press to Gotham than those who like it, but personally I’ve been enjoying it. Took a moment to get into it’s slower pace (compared to Flash and Arrow), but I realized its look, pacing, feel, etc. all give it a more realistic look and feel that’s rather refreshing.

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        • Ugh, Gotham. Sure it looks great. But it’s sooooo dumb. It’s two shows smooshed together which do not compliment one another. One is a campy show. And update on the Adam West Batman. Most of the villains are operating on this level and it’s a lot of fun. The other is a hard-hitting crime procedural. The lead actors are in this much more boring, derivative show. The problem is, the cob drama sucks all the fun out of the camp. The two forces are constantly at war.

          Probably the most reliable story line in the series so far has been Bruce’s and we only check in on him a few minutes at a time. I wonder as the show goes on if we will see less of the Jim and Harvey show and more of Bruce and Alfred. I don’t know. I think the premise of the show is fatally flawed.

          Arrow has been a lot of fun. I was bummed about what happened to Sarah, but it looks like we’ll get Laurel as BC before the season is up. That’s much needed. I love that the show (and Flash) have embraced their comic book roots. So much better than what we saw on the big screen with Man of Steel.

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          • How to improve “Gotham”:

            http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/10/27/gotham-7-ways

            The Fox Batman prequel is still one of the best new shows of the fall, but there are still several problems, including the overacting, the putting of every actor in each episode and too many villains already introduced. “Gotham” could also benefit from adding sex, becoming less of a procedural and, perhaps, killing “un-kill-able” characters.

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            • 5 Ways to Fix Gotham on Fox:

              http://www.twcc.com/articles/2014/10/05/5/5-ways-to-fix-gotham-on-fox

              Recast the unpurrrrfect Camren Bicondova (as Selina Kyle)

              Camren Bicondova (Selina Kyle) is the youngest star to portray the character of Catwoman. With her tiny stature of only 5’1″ tall and her wild short hair, it’s a bit hard to believe that she is so elusive as the show suggests. And where is the cat-like attitude? Perhaps a little bit older of an actress could bring more depth to one the most beloved characters in the Batman franchise.

              Showcase Little Bruce Wayne as More Brooding and Less Bratty

              We all know that Bruce Wayne – the hunky billionaire, with brains to match was once just a little boy. But perhaps losing his parents forces the man to spring from the boy a bit quicker and gives him insight, such as homeless teenagers need more than just a fashion makeover. We expect better!

              Provide more screen time to Edward Nygma/The Riddler

              Many may not have realized that Edward Nygma aka The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) is even in this new series with the minute amount of screen time he is getting. Perhaps the writers for Gotham could let him out of the crime lab for just a few more lines that “Guess what this is?” This is the time to develop the characters, not to lock them away.

              Let Richard Kind’s comedic skills shine as Mayor James

              Gotham has the feel of an old film noir and movie buffs know that the best film noir characters are created by combining a dynamic presence with a bit of sarcastic wit. Richard Kind can add some more comic elements to his role as Gotham’s Mayor and make him really shine. The line between comedy and tragedy is always very thin!

              Can Ben McKenzie please shake off his old ‘The O.C.’ facial tics?

              Ben McKenzie has a plumb of a role playing the good guy cop in the most corrupt city in the world. But Ben, the facial ballet must stop! This is a good guy you are playing — and they played best when they are played simply. Stand straight, deliver your lines and you will shine.

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          • Funny that you think the Bruce Wayne parts of the show are good. To me the show is moving along fine, then BAM, it comes to a screeching halt while we check in on Bruce simply because he will be Batman. He does almost nothing to move the main plot along. Alfred bugs me too. I have never once thought of him as an aggressive a-hole, but apparently the writers of Gotham think he is.

            I find the rest of the show great overall. Probably my favorite new show of the season. I don’t see a clash of styles. To me it is what a crime procedural/serial would look like in the Batman universe.

            It isn’t perfect, but there are very, very few shows that are great in the beginning. Look at first season TNG, or early Seinfeld. The characters are off (still developing their personalities) and the storylines not as good or funny. I do agree that they tried to introduce too many characters too fast.

            It is a comic book universe, and one that is particularly known for having over the top, ridiculous villains that exist in a very dark and gritty world. I think Gotham is doing a decent job bringing it to life.

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            • I’d have to disagree on Camren as Catwoman. Tiny frames can mean lighter and easier to to slip between tight spaces to get away, and easier to scale up things. Plus, the actress is 15 or something, and the character herself is also meant to be young, close to Bruce’s age considering the relationship the two will have years down the road. You don’t want someone much older. And I find it fine she isn’t very cat-like so far as she still has some of the spunk I think about when I picture Catwoman. This is, after all, most likely years before she becomes Catwoman, as a teenager, so you don’t need her that Catwoman like yet.

              Wasn’t one of Terrance’s complaints that there is too much focus on too many characters already? And yet he’s requesting more Edward time? Kinda contradictory. We know he’s there, he can pick up a bigger role later.

              For Bruce parts, I’m kinda mixed. I find them interesting, but I do agree they don’t tend to deal much with the rest of the story so in a way they are also distracting. Either tie them in better (as somewhat stated give him some roles that actually deal with the events somehow), or tie him in less…? If they wanted to do Bruce Wayne as a kid, they should have made it a mini-series or something. I do agree with Carl that it feels a bit odd seeing Alfred as he is in this series. He’s not the soft spoken Englishman we usually see, but a rough voiced tough ol’ bugger of an Englishman. In some sense it does make more sense this sort of Alfred would end up more likely to let Bruce turn into Batman. He doesn’t seem much of a parent figure, and he’s rough around the edges like the sort of guy you can picture teaching Bruce how to throw a punch rather than be a proper gentleman (like most Alfreds). At the same time though, he’s constantly yelling at Bruce NOT to do such things so its a bit of a paradox (especially when he said he’d let Bruce make his own choices since that was Thomas Wayne’s wish)…

              Going all the way back to Lebeau though, I don’t really see much a campy/serious conflict. Only time I really can is with the two folks that were kidnapping the homeless kids. But, like Carl, I mainly viewed that as the show is still young and still finding it’s footing. The writers and direction, not to mention the actors as well as their characters.

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              • Those aren’t Terrence’s opinions necessarily. He’s just posting articles from other sites. One was from Entertainment Weekly.

                I didn’t fully agree with the criticism of Camren as Catwoman. But I don’t think the show knows what to do with her. She’s too young to be a sexy cat-burgler. But, um, what else do you do with Catwoman. So now we have a very awkward characterization of a tween Catwoman acting like Michelle Pfeiffer. I like the look of Camren as a young Catwoman. But for whatever reason, the show won’t give her very much dialogue or a storyline. She’s just creeping around in the background.

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            • I can see where you would think the Bruce Wayne scenes interrupt the flow of the show if you are enjoying the procedural. They are disconnected from the rest of the show. Problem is, when we get our brief 3-5 minutes with Bruce, I find what is going on in Wayne Manor more interesting than most of the rest of the show. They did have that one truly unfortunate moment when Alfred snapped and called Bruce a “stupid child” and shook him. Obviously, they were trying to show that Alfred as a Butler turned single dad was in over his head. But it didn’t play that way. We don’t get to see enough of their relationship. So just showing that moment in isolation painted Alfred in a really poor light. But I think I would prefer a show about a young Bruce Wayne dealing with the loss of his parents and preparing for the destiny before him than what Gotham is currently giving us. I find the Bruce-Alfred relationship to be the ONLY genuine relationship on the show.

              The key relationship on the show should be Gordon and Bullock. But they have both been too cartoonish. Gordon is the only non-corrupt man in all of Gotham City and the only cop who isn’t grossly incompetent. Bullock is an oaf who goes out of his way to show just how little he cares about doing his job. The police commissioner openly lament’s Gordon’s reluctance to accept bribes in the middle of the police station. The police of Gotham are about as competent as the Keystone Cops.

              As far as the tone, you’ve got Jada Pinkett-Smith chewing scenery like she’s starving to death. You’ve got villains of the week like Balloon Man who actually kills people using weather balloons which is a conceit that probably would have been rejected as too goofy by the Adam West show. I think the best example of tonal dissonance was the bad guys from the second episode. They were polite 1950’s mobsters who also felt like rejects from 60’s Batman except that they were involved in a child slavery ring. Either be goofy or be serious! But don’t be both in the same scene.

              The show has a fatal flaw in its premise. It can only ever run in place. We already know what’s going to happen to most of these characters. Penguin will rise through the ranks of the underworld. We’ll never see the Riddler don a green mask. The characters can’t fulfill their destinies until Bruce becomes Batman and that is YEARS from happening. All they can do for the next several years is act in ways that creepily foreshadow their destinies which we all already know.

              Another one of the show’s major failings is that more often than not they tell rather than show. This is storytelling 101. The entire season to date has been centered on a gang war that we have only caught glimpses of. It took weeks for the show to even introduce both players. Everyone talks about the gang war and how Arkham Asylum (which is somehow supposed to be a shining beacon of hope for Gotham?) but we very rarely ever see any indication that war is raging in the streets. Or even that it is building.

              Penguin has been the show’s break-out star. Why? Because he gleefully murders people in just about every episode. In the pilot, Gordon pretends to murder him and tells him not to come back to Gotham. What he should be doing is lying low. Preferably as far away from Gotham as possible. Instead, he immediately comes back to Gotham and leaves a trail of bodies behind him. He kills people for shoes and sandwiches. In one episode, he steals a wad of cash and later kills a guy for a pair of shoes so he can get a job as a waiter. Wouldn’t it have been easier to buy the shoes with the cash he just stole?

              Of all the comics-based shows on the air right now, Gotham has the best look and the worst story-telling. Yes, I preferred the premiere of Constantine which at least told a story. I understand that very few shows hit their stride right out of the gate. Agents of SHIELD started off very slowly and is now quite enjoyable. But I don’t think Gotham can overcome the fatal flaw of setting the show during a time when it can never take advantage of the Batman mythos fully. I’ll keep watching to see if the show can prove me wrong.

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