For a more detailed and spoiler-filled version of this The Flash review, please click here.
The first episode of the CW’s anticipated new superhero drama, The Flash, is an impressive, albeit imperfect, piece of television. It’s slickly produced with some fine special effects, has an excellent cast, and it walks the line between being a thorough nerdfest for DC Comics stalwarts while still feeling like a CW drama. I’m keeping this review completely spoiler-free, but I’ll be back with a spoiler-filled discussion right after the credits roll!
In terms of tone, The Flash goes to great lengths to establish that it is almost the complete opposite of Arrow. It’s a much sunnier show…literally. Mostly, it’s daylight in Central City. Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen owes more to charmingly earnest superhero squares like Peter Parker than a smoldering bad boy like Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen. The tragedy in Barry’s past drives him, to be sure, but it doesn’t torment or define him. Playing Barry with such a light touch is quite a relief from much of DC’s other live-action output over the last decade or so, and Mr. Gustin’s performance should connect well with comic book fans and those new to the character.
While The Flash‘s lighter approach is refreshing, it’s a touch squeaky-clean. In fact, most of the supporting cast lacks that moral ambiguity or sexual energy that was on display in even the the earliest Arrow episodes. This is clearly by design, though. Everyone seems quite well cast, in particular Jesse L. Martin as Barry’s police force mentor/surrogate dad, Detective Joe West, who has some fun back and forth with Barry throughout the episode. As for the obligatory love story, the relationship between Barry and Iris comes off as a bit on-the-nose here (it’s a pilot, we expect these things), but I suspect that Candice Patton and Grant Gustin will develop a fine chemistry as we get deeper into the season.
Arrow fans have already had a look at Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes as Caitlyn Snow and Cisco Ramon, two STAR Labs employees who help Barry come to terms with his new powers, so those two have a bit of a head start on their characters. Both are fun, and along with Tom Cavanagh’s mysterious Harrison Wells they take care of any necessary sci-fi exposition to help get folks who might be unfamiliar with Flash’s powers up to speed. STAR Labs is central to this show’s mission statement, so it’s safe to say that we’ll get lots more superpowered action on The Flash throughout the season.
The Flash pilot packs an awful lot into its 42 minutes. We see Barry’s backstory, meet his friends and co-workers, and then get a complete Flash origin, from lightning bolt to power discovery to costume, and even a battle with a supervillain. It’s fun, it looks great, but it causes a few hiccups.
The necessity of getting all of this information out there in the first episode results in some character beats that are hit a little too heavily and a few instances of characters explaining who they are to each other (and the audience). Had The Flash been assured a season order from the outset, this story would have been better served with a two-parter or a two hour premiere. Still, there are few directors out there who handle a pilot as efficiently as David Nutter (who also directed the pilots for Arrow and Smallville, not to mention countless other episodes of genre TV shows), and considering everything that has to get done in a compressed period of time, this is a tight piece of storytelling.
Don’t worry, though, superhero fans are going to approve of The Flash. The show is true to both the spirit of the character’s comic book roots and the general rules of the DC TV Universe already established over on Arrow. Once Barry is in that suit (which looks better in motion than it does in photos) and moving at top speed, well…there’s no doubt that everyone involved understands the Flash and the world he operates in.
There are plenty of opportunities for DC easter egg hunting, from the subtle to the not-so-subtle. It’s safe to say that we’ll see the entirety of Flash’s legendary rogues gallery (one of the best in all of comics) as this series unfurls, and there’s potential for a great many more DC characters to make appearances. If you’ve been digging the way Arrow has hinted at its expanded DC Universe during season two (and that should continue in season three), then get ready…The Flash may take that to another level.
All in all, this is a promising start. I expect most of these kinks will be worked out nicely in the first few episodes as everyone settles into their roles. After all, it took Arrow almost an entire season to really find it’s groove before emerging in its second season as a comic fan favorite.