Arrow: spoiler-free pilot review

Rachael gives us her take on the promising Arrow pilot, which screened at this year's San Diego Comic-Con...

I came into the CW’s Arrow with very little background on this particular DC hero. All I had to go on was the fact that this is not the first or even the second time the CW has tried to do superheroes. Smallville was a success, unfortunately Birds Of Prey was not, and as far as I know Aquaman never made it past a plot point in Entourage.

As a layman, what I got from the plot was simple. Poor little rich boy undergoes a traumatic castaway experience on a weird island in the South China Sea and comes back half a decade later emotionally crippled and ready to kick ass. In essence, the Oliver Queen Arrow presents us with a young man with money and vigilantism like Batman, archery skills like Katniss Everdeen, a very limited sense of humour, and absolutely no qualms with killing bad guys.

I have to say the last element actually appeals to me. I like my traumatised heroes to actually manifest said trauma in disturbing ways. No Arkham for the enemies of Oliver Queen – just a double tap with a stone age medieval weapon. Stephen Amell’s Arrow feels like a polished, well-financed Punisher, which is one of my favourite things about his character. However, his heroics are one of the least impressive elements of Amell’s performance.

Where Amell, and in fact the entire show, shines is in the portrayal of Ollie interacting with his loved ones. The interpersonal dynamics of a fractured family orbiting a near-stranger they used to love is one of the strongest elements of the show. In particular, watching as Ollie tries to navigate the relationships with those around him who basically put him in the “dead and buried” category. This is particularly stark when interacting with his little sister Thea played by Willa Holland, his ex Laurel played by Katie Cassidy –  who earned my undying affection as the original Ruby from Supernatural, and his grand dame of a mother played by Susannah Thompson.

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Maybe I’m just weak for relationships that take work, but watching Ollie with his family and friends was by far and away the most interesting of the show for me. Yes, the violence and action were excellent, but so much of what makes Arrow work is watching someone who has been gone for a very long time try to readjust to the things he lost – like his mother moving on, him sleeping in a bed, shaving, and, I’d imagine, having access to toilet paper.

Unfortunately, Arrow suffers from a bad case of predictability, and an absolutely terrible voiceover. I kept wishing I had the ability to shush him so I could just watch the show in peace. If the showrunners could find a way to make that narration work with the show rather than against it, it will do them a huge service. I can handle a little predictability, but I can’t in good conscience abide being distracted from my action, or the purely aesthetic enjoyment of a shirtless Ollie doing the most ridiculous version of pull-ups I have ever seen in my life.

Unlike Smallville, the viewer enters into the world of Arrow and soon discovers who the bad guys are. For a network directed at a teen audience, the situations the pilot throws out are surprisingly mature, and that’s not a criticism. If you’re going to go with a PTSD-riddled, billionaire playboy archer as your central character then hey, take that ball and run with it. I’m much happier to see that the goal in this first season seems like it will have a bit more gravitas than the meandering, “Oh, will Lana ever notice Clark? Can his ridiculous power stay a secret?” tone of its predecessor.  

A man trying to find the line between vengeance and restoration is an enticing story. Watching that man’s search while he tries to reconnect with himself and everyone around him is even better. It’s one that, if done right, could be a fairly enjoyable addition to genre television. 

Arrow begins on the CW on the 10th of October.

Read our spoiler-free pilot reviews of The Following and Revolution.

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