TV Thoughts: The Flash, “Pilot”

theflashMarvel may be crushing it at the movie theaters these days, but when it comes to super heroes on TV, DC is more than holding its own.*

* If you count cartoon franchises, DC wins by a mile. The best Marvel animated series of the past decade was cancelled after two seasons (that series being The Spectacular Spider-Man).

As much as I liked the post-Captain America 2 run of Agents of SHIELD last year, I have to admit it had to do a lot of heavy lifting to get there. If you’re a fan who tuned out, I suggest you check out the last two DVDs from the set, catch-up and come back in. And while SHIELD came into its own late last year, it was Arrow that consistently delivered the best live-action comic book stories last season.

One of the many threads from Arrow last year was the set-up for a potential spin-off centering on The Flash. Now, I was a fan of the late 80’s CBS version, mainly because we got a preview of Mark Hammill’s genius work to come as the definitive Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. But I’ll admit that it’s been a while since I watched the show, so my memory could be cheating a bit.

Of the new fall shows, I’d have to say it was The Flash I was most looking forward to. So much so that I passed on the chance to obtain a copy of the pilot when it leaked on-line earlier this summer and instead made myself wait to see it actually unfold on its premiere date. One reason is that I didn’t want to have to wait two months for the next installment if the show was good and the other was I wanted to enjoy the show in all its HD glory.

So, I’m a bit behind some of my fellow geeks out there when it comes to enjoying this pilot. But I’m glad that I waited to see it because it gave me something to look forward to during the fall premiere season.

And, so far, I’ve got to admit I’m pretty sold on this one. As dark and brooding as Arrow can be at times, it appears The Flash is on the other end of the spectrum. Yes, there is some potential for some heavy themes and stories, but the pilot didn’t delve so far into them so as to lose its spirit of fun. And just about all of this one was fun.

From the opening moments, the show and our hero tell us we’re going to have “to believe the impossible.” It then spends the next hour or so making the impossible seem entirely possible.

During the testing of a new particle collider, CSI tech Barry Allen is struck by lightning and put into a coma. Waking up nine months later, he discovers he has the ability to run really fast and that he can sometimes go faster than normal, making what is normal speed for you and me appear very slow to him. The accident destroyed Star Labs and the scientist in charge of the collider, Harrison Wells, brought Barry to Star Labs so he could be studies and kept alive (turns out that Barry’s accelerated heart beat was playing havoc with the hospital’s electricity). Waking up nine months later, Barry finds that life has continued on without him, but he’s now got the ability to run really fast as well as heal rapidly. He also discovers the storm has created a whole series of other “meta humans” just like him who may or may not share his desire to be a hero and make a difference.

Meanwhile, during his nine month nap, Barry’s best friend Iris is dating her cop father’s partner, just as Barry was trying to confess his true feelings for her. And the police officer who helped raise Barry after his mother was killed (allegedly by his father, played by the original Flash, John Wesley-Shipp) doesn’t believe Barry’s crazy theories about the night of the storm nor about the night his mother was killed.

In all of this, Barry still has to find time to head over to get advice from Oliver Queen and stop a freak of the week who can control the weather.

The pilot has bitten off a lot and it does pretty well at balancing everything. A lot of the credit goes to actor Grant Gustin, who we met last year on Arrow as Barry Allen. Gustin finds the right balance between geeky excitement over his new powers and the conflict about what he can or should do with them. He’s even given a nice emotional scene with his father, talking about the night his mom died. Gustin is the head on which the series will rise or fall and so far, he’s up to the task.

I also like that there’s a bit more of a sense of fun to this. I enjoy the dark, brooding nature of Arrow but it’s nice to see a super hero with a bit of light and fun to him. And the show isn’t afraid to poke fun at its own absurdities, including a line where Barry notes that the lighting strike gave him abs. (Because of course it did!)

The show has set up an interesting dynamic with Barry’s secret known to several people, all of whom will help him. One thing Arrow struggled to find in its first year was the team that knew of Oliver’s secret identity and just when various cast members could or should find out about Oliver’s dual life. I’m glad to see that Barry not only has his team at Star Labs but he’s got the police officer who raised him in on the secret as well. Of course, this means that Barry is sworn to keep the daughter safe and blissfully ignorant of his secret identity, giving us the Lois Lane lack of knowledge (at least until the end of season one, of course).

There’s even hints of pieces of this tying into a larger mythology for the show, most of it centering around the night that Barry’s mom died. I’ve not read any of the recent Flash comics in the newly rebooted New 52. But I hear rumblings that some of what is set up here is dealt with there. Given that Geoff Johns is a writer for both projects, I can see how there could be some crossover.

Thankfully, The Flash has come out of the gate with a strong pilot that has me intrigued to see more. This is one season pass I’ll keep on the DVR.

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