Tuesday, October 7, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry Allen Is Struck By Lightning & Becomes the Fastest Man Alive in 'Pilot'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Following being struck by lightning and nine months in a coma, Barry Allen awakens to find his life has changed - the accident has given him the power of super speed. When another meta-human attacks the city, it's time to put Barry's new powers, and himself, to the test.

The Flash is one of the many DC Comics adaptations this fall - joining FOX's Gotham and NBC's upcoming Constantine. It's also a spin-off of The CW's own successful Arrow. The same creative team that has made that series work wonderfully after two seasons is starting over again for The Flash. Barry Allen was introduced in two episodes of Arrow last year and was an instantly memorable character. The premiere episode is one of the best pilots from the past development cycle because it already seems like the show knows exactly what it is aspiring to be.

More importantly though, The Flash is a ton of fun. It's tone is much lighter than the other two DC Comics dramas this fall - as well as Arrow. It still makes sense that the world of The Flash can coincide with the world of Arrow. One is not inherently better than the other. But they are both huge assets to the series that they separately aspire to be. The lightness and fun of The Flash helps it stand out amongst this ever-growing field. It seems every network wants their own superhero show right now. The Flash stands out and in the best way possible because of its masterful tone.

There is still a heavy worldliness to The Flash. When Barry was younger, his mother was murdered and his father was convicted of the crime. There is tragedy in this show. But there's a certain spark that comes from having this world of the fantastic suddenly flung on Barry's shoulders. Sure, there's some on-the-nose writing in the episode's first act - making references to either people or object's fastness. And then, people do die over the course of this first episode as Barry is learning how to fight the battle against the other meta-humans in this new world. And yet, Barry smiles. There's a strong sense of comedy to juxtapose the tragedy.

There's a gravitas to the proceedings as well. The casting of Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh lend credibility to the series. They spark on screen immediately. Martin has done the whole detective thing already - with his long stint on the original Law & Order. But his character here offers a new variation on the archetype. He's Barry's fatherly figure after his real father is sent away. He's the one always covering for Barry but he's just as capable at being upset about all the crazy theories that Barry has. But he is also brought into the main premise of the series by the end of the hour. He sees firsthand what Barry and villain-of-the-week Clyde Mardon can do. He's astonished but now willing to believe in the impossible. Meanwhile, Cavanagh is great as former revolutionary in the physics community Dr. Harrison Wells who is now shunned after the devastation the particle accelerator explosion causes. He's looking for new meaning out of life after everything has been dramatically taken away from him. With Barry, he has found that potential again. But then, there's the final act twist showcasing that he may have nefarious motives after all - when he goes into a secret room and is able to peak into the future. That was really exciting.

This premiere isn't perfect. Clyde Mardon really isn't that specific or charismatic a villain. Barry just needed to face someone who would be a challenge but who would ultimately be defeated rather easily. The show didn't want to waste one of the more familiar or extravagant villains for the premiere. They'll have to build that up - fortunately the show already has a strong foundation to do so. Additionally, the characters played by Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes all need specific depth. With Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon, that added depth seems likely because they are a part of Barry's team. With Iris West, however, I'm not sure she'll ever be interesting as long as she is kept out of the loop. She doesn't quite fit into this universe and that is a major problem if she is suppose to be Barry's love interest for the ongoing series. But all of these problems seem like they could be easily fixed. So I can't wait to see what they'll do for the rest of this season. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was directed by David Nutter with story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns and teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns.
  • Arrow has never been that subtle when it comes to explaining its episode's themes. That is especially apparent in the big crossover moment when Barry meets with Oliver. That scene basically just explains how The Flash will be different from Arrow even though they exist at the same time.
  • The special effects actually look great. That's a major concern in tackling this project and they manage to pull off both Barry's super-speed and Mardon's weather-controlling abilities quite well.
  • It's just so great that this show got John Wesley Shipp - star of CBS' 1990 The Flash series - to play Barry's dad in this version.