‘Tis the season to be jolly if you are a fan of comic book characters brought to life in movies and on TV. I try to be a fan of such things on the basis of their individual merit, but I do admit that I do get excited at the prospect that maybe the latest cinematic outing of my favorite comic book heroes might actually be good, and I enjoy at least giving them a go.
I’m particularly interested in the fact that superhero properties are finding their way to TV, as the weekly TV show is the audio-visual format that I think is most akin to the comic book experience – ongoing, serialized adventures that have the opportunity to build story and plot over multiple installments.
And even though it’ll be a while, probably, before Doctor Who is toppled from its position as my most highly anticipated television program of the year, there is one American show whose new season had me waiting with bated breath. More than Agents of SHIELD, more than Gotham, more than Arrow (a whole lot more than Arrow, actually), that show is…The Flash.
Now, The Flash hasn’t aired in Australia yet. But I have managed to watch it, at least a little bit, by buying episodes on iTunes. Impatient for other solutions, yet pricked in my conscience about downloading it illegally, I gave in and bought the Pilot. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but maybe would have a bit more if I hadn’t already seen pretty much every story beat in it when I saw the amazing five minute trailer that was released a few months ago.
I wasn’t planning on watching any more until it found its way to where I live Down Under, but last night I gave in and bought the second episode when my wife and I were looking for something to watch together. Unfortunately, she fell asleep before it even began, but having already shilled out my $1.99, I proceeded with viewing “The Fastest Man Alive” (which, come on, should have been the name of the pilot).
There is a whole lot about this show that feels familiar, almost like it’s all been seen in other recent superhero adaptations. You’ve got the format which attempts to be simultaneously procedural and serialized, the slow-build plot points that are meant to keep the viewers hungry for more, the main hero whose life is full of secrets known to everyone except those people who are closest to him, the impossible vow to never allow those secrets to impact those same special people, the main hero’s tense relationship with an authority figure in the police, the main hero’s tense relationship with an adopted father figure (in this case, it’s the same guy as the police figure) and the applied phlebotinum which allows new and randomly super-powered threats to show up each week.
But still, I like the show. It’s got a more satisfying blend of those elements than I’ve seen in a lot of its contemporaries, and I like the fact that Barry Allen, primarily, wants to use his powers for the good of others. Sure, he’s got his personal intentions related to his father, but There’s a line in the second episode in which Barry declares, “If I can save someone from a burning building, I’m going to!” Some of the context for that line is a bit dopey (it’s all in the context of the “You’re not my father!” moment referenced above). It’s also well acted, and based on the first two episodes, the show isn’t taking too long to begin unfolding its mysteries.
Poking around online (as I will tend to do) has revealed that one of the criticisms being leveled at the show, even back at this early “two episodes in” point, is that the series is too much like the early run of Smallville, with its “crazy super-powered lunatic” of the week format. Smallville justified that with radioactive meteors having fallen in the city, while The Flash talks about dark matter that pierced into our universe when a particle accelerator exploded. However, while it’s true that The Flash has used this as an explanation for its super-villains (Weather Wizard and Multiplex, at this stage), I think overall the effect is more justified.
With Smallville, the issue wasn’t just that there were a lot of meteors that had given a lot of people special abilities – it was that it also turned them into a small town full of psychotic serial killers who all went to high school together. Somehow, that made it harder to swallow, week after week. With The Flash, though, the whole thing happens in a city more or less the size of Kansas City, where we can assume that there are already a comfortable number of villains, thugs, and creeps who could have been impacted by the accident with the particle accelerator. Plus, Barry Allen actually works for the police, investigating crime scenes, so it makes a certain amount of sense that he, you know, comes into contact with bad guys.
But maybe the thing that really separates this show from Smallville is that it’s pretty clear that Barry’s journey to actually becoming The Flash is not going to take ten seasons to happen. This show is not about a guy with extraordinary abilities who is just trying to make his way in life, or is struggling with his origins and his destiny, or is being drawn almost against his will into a heroic mantle.
Rather, The Flash – so far – is about a decent guy who is trying to learn his unexpected special powers to save lives and to stop those who want to hurt people.
And if the show keeps on that tack, than I will be along for the ride.