One of the most hotly-anticipated events at this year’s San Diego Comic Con was the official reveal of The CW’s The Flash television series. With DC putting so much faith into its television universe, it has a great deal riding on the success of The Fastest Man Alive. How does it compare to companion show Arrow, and does it bring the promising hope for the future of superhero television that its fans crave?
To start, the show mirrors the Arrow formula right off the bat, showing a speedy Barry Allen racing through a crowded Central City with star Grant Gustin’s narration giving an introduction. The pilot wastes no time showcasing their special effects department, a division that will certainly be a major factor in the future of the show.
As we learn about Barry’s past and transformation into The Flash, audiences meet several key players in his character’s arc. Perhaps the most important is that of best friend Iris West (played by Candice Patton). It is through her and her father (played by Jesse L. Martin) that the heart of Barry’s characterization rests. His love struggles with Iris and conflicts with Detective West over the death of Barry’s parents hits several key emotional points over the course of the pilot and lends the show credibility as more than just an effects hotbed.
Still, The Flash is a superhero show, and the action is in full force with the pilot. Through the help of Harrison Wells (played by Tom Cavanagh), Barry learns of the S.T.A.R. Labs accident that lead to his powers, as well as the creation of supervillain Weather Wizard (named Clyde Mardon, played by Chad Rook). With the help of the S.T.A.R. Labs team (Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes), Barry must stop a spree of bank robberies accompanied by mysterious thunderstorms throughout the city.
Grant Gustin’s performance as Barry Allen is nothing short of perfect, with the Glee actor showcasing a wide range of talent as he embraces his new abilities. Veteran actor Tom Cavanagh’s role is no less impressive, mixing intelligent and scheming into a role with a great deal of potential.
The show falters somewhat with the addition of the S.T.A.R. Labs duo of Caitlin Snow (Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Valdes). While not entirely cringeworthy, they are written with lingo and performances that seem to try to hard to be hip with younger crowds. Given the comic book basis for them, they will hopefully be given more weight in the future than they have in the pilot, but the young actors have a long way to go to match the Felicity and Diggle team in their companion show.
The action of the show is incomparable, especially given the high expectations of trying to create a truly super-powered showcase not seen in Arrow. One sequence, in which Barry Allen has been taken out, finds Wells urging Allen to run with a finely-done monologue. The cinematography, story, and music combine to make one of the most captivating, if brief, sequences superhero television has seen yet.
The major question is whether these effects will hold up given The CW’s usual budgets. The pilot does rely heavily on close-ups of Barry Allen to give the impression of speed, which could indicate the producers are biting off more than their allowance will give. If The Flash is to succeed with audiences, the network must understand the lightning in a bottle on their hands and act appropriately to give the show room to showcase its talents. The Arrow writing team crossing over have already show their ability to translate DC storylines to mainstream audiences, but there has yet to be show as effects-heavy as The Flash.
Overall, the pilot is an incredible and fantastic start for a tentpole DC character. It compliments Arrow‘s Dark Knight-esque aesthetics with a whimsical and bright flavor needed to portray the power-loving Barry Allen. Fans who have hoped to see the DC universe expand and interact beyond Arrow will almost certainly love the premiere. The Flash has tons of potential to take DC Comics to levels its movie series have not quite hit yet. The rest will be up to The CW and its willingness to let the show run free.