The main problem with Arrow, the CW’s new series which adapts the DC Comics superhero Green Arrow to the small screen, is that it isn’t charming. At all.
At his best, in the comics, Green Arrow is a modern-day Robin Hood. And not just because he wears green, shoots arrows, and steals from the rich to give to the poor. He’s also a magnificently smug bastard. He’s funny, arrogant, romantic, passionate, flirty, and theatrical. He believes in protest movements, civil rights marches, sit-ins and stand-ins and civil disobedience and his own righteousness above all. He fights for social justice as well as criminal justice. He forces his too spicy chili on his friends and cannot keep his dick in his pants. He’s a big, broad character with some very human flaws.
And obviously that character could work because that’s basically Robert Downey Jr.’s take on Iron Man, another billionaire with father issues who went through a life threatening ordeal to emerge with superhuman abilities and a new desire to use his power to make the world a better place. But instead of trying to make Oliver Queen into Tony Stark, which would have been awesome, director David Nutter and writers Andrew Kreisberg, Marc Guggenheim, and Greg Berlanti go in the other direction and try to make him Bruce Wayne.
But even Bruce Wayne has more personality than Queen displays in the pilot. This isn’t star Stephen Arnell’s fault, he broods fine. He just never has a moment to be likable. The story starts with Oliver Queen returning to Starling City after five years shipwrecked on an island where he developed superhuman jumping and arrow shooting skills. The writers try to show that the deaths of his father and girlfriend in the shipwreck still haunt Oliver and leave him emotionally torn, but instead he just comes across as cold and judgmental of everyone, including his mother, sister, best friend, and ex-girlfriend (who, in a twist, is the sister of the girlfriend lost at sea and the daughter of the cop dedicated to bringing the vigilante Arrow down). The only person Queen shows any genuine affection for is his old housekeeper Raisa, a wise Latina in place of the usual magical negro. Why are we supposed to like this guy, even before he kills a crook just to hide his true identity?
Maybe, like Smallville, a clear influence on this series, Arrow is trying to tell the complete hero’s journey, from his angsty return to civilization to his emergence as a full fledged superhero. There are certainly hints of future plans in the pilot. There’s romantic and crime-fighting partner Laurel (Black Canary) Lance as Ollie’s conflicted ex-girlfriend. There’s villain and rival superarcher Merlyn as his roguish best friend. While the addition of sister is new, her nickname and her drug habit imply she will one day be his sidekick Speedy. Maybe by season four they’ll get to a point where episodes can actually be fun.
Really, they should have hit the ground running. If the show was about an established Green Arrow and his team taking down a superheroic analogue for a real life miscreant who the law cannot or will not touch week after week, with all the banter, spectacle, and pathos that implies, I’d be watching week after week. Basically, I think Arrow would have been better as Leverage with pointy bits.
But that’s not the show we have. What we have is a show that thinks that having fun and having a relationship are signs of weakness and frivolousness. We, the comic book fans, may know that Merlyn is headed for a heel turn, but Colin Donnell plays him with more charm, affection, and joie de vivre than Oliver ever has. If the show had been about this hard partying roguish cad learning to be a real hero, that would be a lot closer to the Green Arrow I know, and a lot closer to a show I'd actually watch.
But Arrow is not Green Arrow. And he’s not Batman or Iron Man either. He’s just another brooding hunk who kills a never-ending series of faceless thugs with a bow, and I can’t bring myself to care.