Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry and Kara Team Up for a Musical in an Alternate Reality in 'Duet'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 3.17 "Duet"

Mon-El and J'onn arrive carrying a comatose Supergirl who was whammied by the Music Meister. Unable to wake her up, they turn to Team Flash to save her. The Music Meister surprises The Flash and puts him in a similar coma, one that the team can't cure. Kara and Barry wake up without their powers in an alternate reality where life is like a musical and the only way to escape is by following the script, complete with singing and dancing, to the end.

This season of The Flash has been very dour and depressing. It has largely just been a showcase for why Barry is the absolute worst and anyone who works alongside him will ultimately get hurt by his actions. The show is at least consistent in there being major consequences for Barry creating Flashpoint. And yet, so much of it has been Barry and the team learning the same thing over and over again without learning their lesson at all. It has gotten very annoying. Plus, it's just hard to care about the season-long story. Yes, Savitar is a menacing villain and terrifying sight. But that whole story only further embraces the darkness and the qualities the show should be suppressing instead of focusing on even more. And yet, all it takes is an episode like "Duet" to showcase why The Flash is still capable of being a great show. Yes, it mostly relies on the fantastic rapport between Grant Gustin's Barry and Melissa Benoist's Kara. And yet, that's a pairing that just works incredibly well because it's so upbeat, positive and joyous to watch.

It also shouldn't be surprising at all that this creative team has finally put on a musical episode. Across all of the Arrowverse shows, they have really assembled a number of actors with great pipes. Both Gustin and Benoist broke out on Glee - with this episode's villain also being played by Darren Criss. In addition to that, Carlos Valdes, Jeremy Jordan, Jesse L. Martin, John Barrowman and Victor Garber all have extensive credits on Broadway. Both of these shows have some extremely talented singers. So, it's nice to see the creative team finally embrace that. Plus, "Duet" is a nice parody of movie musicals as well. Barry and Kara have a number of self-aware moments where they realize just how easy it is to convince people to do things in musicals. It's a genre that both of them have such an appreciation for. The Music Meister even notes that Kara loves The Wizard of Oz while Barry adores Singin' in the Rain. But more than that, it's just fun to see them in this 1930s era set where the plot is mostly secondary to all of the singing.

Of course, "Duet" also comes at a time when both Barry and Kara are at romantic crossroads. Neither of them are happy with their respective love interests. Kara is upset with Mon-El because he lied to her about his royal identity. Meanwhile, Barry called off his engagement to Iris because he believed he had to focus on saving her in the future. These romantic obstacles really aren't that great on either show. Kara's fight with Mon-El was a long time coming while Barry's issues happened solely to create conflict during this point in the season. And yet, the grand lesson that The Music Meister is trying to teach Barry and Kara is the power of love. He's put on this grand spectacle in order for them to realize just how much they love Iris and Mon-El, respectively. Yes, it's cheesy and corny. But it's very effective too. It's easy to complain about the handling of these romantic couplings. But when things are good, it's wonderful to get swept up into the emotion of it all. It's great to see both couples reunited by the end of this hour.

But again, the lesson is secondary to the music performances. Barry and Kara simply have to follow the script in this alternate reality they find themselves in. Both characters have been trapped in these kind of circumstances before - Barry in the speed force and Kara dealing with the black mercy. And yet, this alternate world is just so much fun. The accents alone are absolutely delightful. It's a simple story of warring gangs and star-crossed lovers. But it's also great to see these familiar characters in new roles and dynamics while seeing Barry and Kara have to go along with it. Of course, the music performances are pretty great too. Seeing Martin, Garber and Barrowman team up for "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys and Dolls is incredible. Their voices blend together perfectly. And then, the original songs really take this episode over-the-top. If you didn't know that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom was writing a song for this episode, then you easily could have guessed once Barry and Kara started performing "Super Friend." It's the same kind of comedic song that makes fun of the current situations while embracing the musical format that that show typically does. Plus, it's really catching too. It's probably the song that will be stuck in my head the most for the next week.

And lastly, the hour concludes with Barry performing "Runnin' Home to You" to Iris and him proving once again how much he genuinely loves her. It's another original song for this episode. It's composed by La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It shows that just because this episode is full of high energy and delightfully cheesy sequences it's still able to pack a powerful emotional punch. It's great that "Duet" ends with Barry getting a solo song. This is still his show after all - despite how insufferable he has been in the episodes leading up to this moment. Plus, it feels right that both Barry and Kara got solo songs to bookend the episode - with a couple ensemble pieces in the middle. Really the only complaint I have with this episode is that there wasn't enough musical moments. This would have been a fantastic premise for an actual two-part crossover event. The final product works perfectly fine though as is. It shows how powerful it can be when Barry and Kara are on the screen together. But also just how much emotional there still is in Barry's relationship with Iris. It is genuinely moving to see him propose again. This time it's through song. The audience really shouldn't get caught up in this moment again since he already proposed once and it fell through quickly thereafter. And yet, this moment is too special and amazing not to. It's just a fantastic moment to end on that hopefully hints at a better and more consistent future for Barry and Iris as a couple.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Duet" was directed by Dermott Downs with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Aaron Helbing & Todd Helbing.
  • It's odd that the episode cuts away from the musical to show Cisco, J'onn and Wally take down The Music Meister in the real world. It feels like the show believing it needs to have one sequence of normal superheroics. It's a great character pairing though. It's exciting to see the three of them work together to defeat this villain by combining all of their powers.
  • Of course, it makes absolutely zero sense for The Music Meister to rob a bank while he has Barry and Iris trapped in these comas! Does he do it just to get back into STAR Labs to lay out the lesson that everyone has learned? If so, there had to be an easier way to do so. It's not a tough place to break into.
  • I also love that the show keeps it mysterious as to where and when The Music Meister comes from. He appears almost as a spirit of sorts to bring Barry and Kara together to learn the same lesson because they are both messing up their lives. That's really the only explanation necessary.
  • The reveal that Joe and Stein are husbands in the musical reality is terrific. So is Barry's reaction to it and saying he's fine with it because "he likes musical." Again, it's such a self-aware moment that absolutely works despite how corny it is.
  • It's a little disappointing that Carlos Valdes and Jeremy Jordan aren't more important in the musical story. They have their moments during the big dance number. They show that they are great singers as well. The fact that we got anything should be good enough.
  • It's awkward and surprising that Team Flash doesn't know that J'onn is a Martian who can fly, read minds and shape shift. Of course, the Flash characters really haven't interacted with the Supergirl characters outside of Kara so far. Plus, J'onn and Mon-El don't know all that Cisco can do either.
  • It's odd that Chyler Leigh was a part of the Grey's Anatomy musical episode but not this one. And yet, I don't know how she would fit into the story of the alternate world either. Of course, that's operating under the belief that the creative team won't want to do something like this again.