Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Flash Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

So I watched the new Flash TV series tonight. I wasn't going to bother with it because I didn't want to start on a new show, but ultimately thought, eh, why not? I'll check out the first episode at least.

I liked it! Much more than I thought I would. In fact I like it more than I do Arrow. They managed to pack amazing amount of story into the 43 minute run time. It was more like a mini movie than a TV show. It set up the series perfectly and was actually pretty true to the comic book too. And best of all, it was fun! No grim and gritty brooding "heroes" anywhere to be seen. Yet.

It got a little too CW from time to time for my tastes, but I suppose that's to be expected, as executive producer and co-writer Greg Berlanti also worked on teen angst-fest Dawson's Creek. Berlanti also co-wrote the recent Green Lantern movie, which I didn't hate as much as the rest of the world.

This is the second time we've had a Flash TV series, of course. CBS aired one back in 1990 that was also pretty good, but it only lasted a season because it just couldn't compete with the ratings juggernaut that was The Cosby Show.

I don't know if I'll review this show every week as my time is stretched thin enough already. Any more shows and I'm gonna have to add to the Bob Canada's BlogWorld payroll.


The Plot:
Twelve year old Barry Allen (OK, he's in his twenties, but he looks twelve) is a geeky crime scene investigator who absolutely isn't meant to remind of us Peter Parker. He's in love with his best friend Iris West just as much as he is with the particle accelerator built by his hero, Dr. Harrison Wells. When Wells activates the accelerator, it overloads and sends a weird energy discharge throughout Central City, the realistically named home town of Barry.

The accelerator discharge causes a bolt of lightning to hit Barry, knocking him into a rack of "unidentified" chemicals, because all scientists keep such things in their labs without knowing what they are. This accident follows the comic book origin very closely for once, and puts Barry into a coma.

Barry wakes up nine months later, which I'm sure wasn't meant to be any kind of rebirth metaphor, and discovers that he now has super speed. Dr. Wells, who's been confined to a wheelchair as a result of the accident, which I'm sure wasn't meant to be ironic, wants to study Barry and his new abilities. Wells' assistants, 
Dr. Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon, who absolutely will never become Killer Frost and Vibe, help Barry deal with his condition.

They give him a special suit that can withstand super speed and Barry becomes the Flash, Central City's protector. He apparently has never heard of a secret identity, as he blabs it to his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. Joe asks Barry to keep his powers from Iris for plot complication reasons, and vows to help Barry clear his father's name.

• I'm not totally sold on Grant Gustin as The Flash. His acting was OK; it's his youthful looks that are throwing me. As one of the characters pointed out in the pilot, he looks like he's about twelve years old. 

Not only is it hard for me to buy him as a superhero, but I'm also having trouble picturing him as a crime scene investigator. Is that a job high school kids normally have? No wonder his boss doesn't take him seriously, it's like watching a little kid reciting forensic dialogue. Hopefully he'll grow on me as I keep watching.

Gustin bears more than a passing resemblance to Andrew Garfield, and plays Barry Allen in a very Peter Parker-like manner. Barry even gushes over Dr. Wells' particle accelerator, just like Parker did with Dr. Octavius' technobabble machine in Spider-Man 2.

• This is at least the third show on the air right now that begins with the exact same "My name is _________" narration (the other two being Arrow and Forever). I don't watch all that much TV, so there may even be others I don't know about.

It works, I suppose, but it's not as much fun as the "explain the premise theme songs" that The Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch had.

• Although Arrow has featured super powered characters from time to time, it's a fairly grounded and relatively realistic show. Adding the Flash to the same universe means that Oliver Queen suddenly lives in a world filled with people who can run so fast they go back in time or generate tornadoes with their mind. I wonder how all this will affect the overall tone of Arrow?

Dr. Wells explains to Barry that the accelerator explosion bathed Central City in other-dimensional energies, which may have caused others to develop superpowers.

This is the exact same thing they did on Smallville, in which the kryptonite meteors caused a rash of super folk that popped up one per week. Maybe that's how they'll explain the increased metahuman population on Arrow.

• In a flashback scene, Barry sees his mother surrounded by a vortex of red and yellow energy. A blurry yellow shape comes into focus for a second before his mother disappears.

I'm assuming the yellow shape will turn out to be the Reverse Flash, also known as Professor Zoom. He's the Flash's nemesis from the comic. Lord knows what they'll call him here though. I'm betting either name would probably be too comic booky for this comic book show.

• The Arrow appearance felt a little forced to me. Barry runs (!) the 600 miles to Starling City for no real reason other than to shoehorn in a cameo by his pal Oliver Queen. Any second I expected Oliver to say, " Well Barry, I look forward to seeing your adventures every Tuesday night at 8pm, 7 pm Central Time."

Of course this isn't the first time the two characters have met. Barry wandered onto the set of Arrow a couple of times last year in Season 2, to lay the groundwork for this series.

• One thing I've never liked about DC Comics: their fake city names. Superman lives in Metropolis, Batman lives in Gotham City, Arrow in Starling City and The Flash in Central City. 

This is all well and good until you need to show where one of these fictitious burgs lies on a map. Where's Metropolis? Is it near New York City? IS it New York City? How far does it lie from Gotham?

DC's fake cities always pulled me right out of the story and reminded me that none of this stuff was real. Give me Marvel Comics any day, where their heroes all punched and flew around right in New York City, baby!

• You probably didn't recognize him, but that was the Weather Wizard who battled the Flash in this episode. He looked quite a bit different here than he did in the comic. I guess they thought a guy in a green jumpsuit (with pointed toes) who brandishes a magic wand was too much for today's jaded audience.

• Barry's not very good at keeping a secret identity. By the end of the pilot at least four people know he's really the Flash. So why even bother with the mask?

• There were a crap ton of Easter Eggs and comic book references in the pilot. Here are a just a few:
• The Big Belly Burger diner is a staple of DC Comics, and has also appeared in Arrow.
• STAR Labs is heavily featured in the comics and Arrow as well.
• TV Reporter Linda Park is from the Flash comic. She ended up marring the comic version of Wally West, aka Kid Flash and later THE Flash.
• Jitters, the coffee shop in which Iris works, is from the comics.
• At one point Barry crashes, at super speed, into a laundry truck labeled Gambi Cleaners.
In the comics, a tailor named Paul Gambi created the costumes for most of the Flash's rouges gallery.
• Barry tries out his new abilities at the Ferris Air testing facility. Ferris Air was where Hal Jordan, aka the Green Lantern, worked as a test pilot. 
• The idea of the Flash running really fast around a tornado in order to dissipate it came directly from a 1969 Flash comic.
• Barry's dad is played by John Wesley Shipp, who starred in the 1990 Flash TV series.
• Iris' boyfriend is Detective Eddie Thawne. In the comics, Thawne becomes the Reverse Flash (well, one of them anyway). 
• In the comics, Dr. Caitlin Snow is the civilian identity of Killer Frost, a super villain with icy powers. Also in the comics, Cisco Ramon is the real name of the superhero Vibe, who has vibratory powers.
Whether these two characters will actually become metahumans remains to be seen, but I'd say it's a good bet.
• As Dr. Wells gives Barry a tour of the destroyed STAR Labs, they walk by a broken cage labeled "GRODD." This is a reference to Gorilla Grodd, a super intelligent talking ape who's a longtime enemy of the Flash in the comics. 
Does that mean we'll see Grodd in the series? Can they do a passable talking gorilla on a TV budget? 
• This is some major nitpicking here, but what the heck. When we see Iris at the coffee shop, she's walking around giving refills to various customers, pouring coffee into their cups from a single pitcher. In this day and age of ridiculously complex coffee orders, what are the odds that every one of those customers are drinking the exact same triple venti half-caff no foam lattes?

• At the end of the episode, the disabled Dr. Wells enters a secret chamber, rises from his wheelchair (!) and stares at a newspaper reading "FLASH MISSING. VANISHES IN CRISIS." The paper is dated April 25, 2024. Interesting!

A couple things here. First of all, I'm assuming the "Crisis" in the headline refers to DC Comics' 1985 mini series Crisis On Infinite Earths, a story which tried but failed mightily to unify DC's various and sundry universes (universi?). 

It would be awesome if they did a Crisis storyline in the series, but if they did it would have to be a stripped-down, economy model. There's no way they could do it on TV– they'd need an Avengers-sized budget to do proper justice to a story like that.

Secondly, the idea that there will ever be a newspaper dated 2024 is laughable at best. The newspaper did have kind of a shimmery, transparent look to it, so I guess it's possible it was supposed to be some sort of flexible tablet display or hologram. Still, it struck me as funny. Well, not funny ha-ha, as there's nothing humorous about the death of newspapers, but you know what I mean.

And so there we have The Flash pilot. It did an admirable job of world building and setting up the story lines for the season and it's got me hooked after just one episode. I can't wait to see what happens next week!


  1. Couldn't agree with your assessment more, Bob. I was hesitant to watch, but found myself experiencing some of that childhood super-hero fun. I'll stay tuned for more.

  2. Funny how DC is so good at producing TV shows, but can't seem to make a decent superhero movie. Well, not a fun one anyway.


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