Review: The Flash (2014): 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.
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.