A lot of folks have been excited for Arrow’s spinoff, The Flash, and that’s probably down to the backdoor pilot they seeded last season. The introduction of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen was exciting, in no small part due to the fact that Gustin was instantly likable.
But now the real pilot is upon us and, well… it was a strangely abrupt offering.
The things that were good about Allen’s introduction over in Starling City are still present in the pilot episode. Grant Gustin is just an endearing kinda guy, which is pretty important because the Flash (specifically Allen’s incarnation) is a rare kind of superhero in that pretty much everybody is supposed to like him. But there’s a lot of awkwardness that makes this episode a rushed jump-start. The Flash needs more time to incubate.
One of the more interesting (even if it can be frustrating at times) aspects to Arrow is that Oliver Queen’s origin, his formation as a hero, is being told in stages—we find out about his five years away from home as the action in Starling City continues. Films do not have the ability to do this, often packing superhero origins into the first 45-minutes-to-an-hour of their initial film and pushing on from there. The Flash unfortunately made the same decision with their premiere offering; Barry gets hit by weird lightning, figures out his powers, saves the day. Bam, one episode. He’s the Flash now. It’s hard to buy, and also too rote to be interesting.
There’s very little discovery involved, and Barry finds his new abilities too easy to accept. We’re supposed to go along with this because Barry’s smart! He’s knows science! But the idea that your biological functions could change so completely and you wouldn’t need time to adjust is just silly. If anything, Barry Allen should be allowed more time to come to terms with his new identity than Oliver Queen. Sure, Oliver has to develop a skill set, and that does take more time than being caught in a freak accident. But the idea that becoming the Flash is simpler because the powers just show up is far too one-dimensional. The show could have easily taken a season allowing Barry to discover his capabilities. Instead, everything he does is kind of a given.
In addition, the show seems to be having trouble differentiating itself from Arrow in its infancy. The pilot goes through very unbelievable pains to set Barry up with the exact same kind of support system that Oliver Queen has. A base, two buddies to back him up with science and equipment, a special costume. A cop who knows about his powers, in whom he will confide. Undoubtedly, the CW is hoping to keep Arrow fans onboard, but they’re going about it the wrong way—we need to know what’s going to make The Flash different, and it can’t just be superpowers.
Barry’s relationships don’t exactly play either when compared to the parent show. Oliver Queen has complex relationships with all the women in his life, and there’s plenty of drama. But one of the more interesting aspects to Arrow is that people still behave like adults. They have flings and don’t make a big deal of it. Two women caring for Oliver at once doesn’t automatically result in cat fight and backstabbing tropes. What Barry has is essentially an adoptive sister, Iris West, who he’s very clearly sweet on. He goes to tell her so after waking up from his accident, but she interrupts and tells him that she knows—she loves him like a sibling too. Then she turns out to be dating another guy. This trope has been done to death, and what’s more, it’s so hard to believe that Iris doesn’t know Barry has a crush, as he does nothing but make doe-eyes at her. It seems more like she’s letting him down gently, which in turn makes his pining come off too Nice Guy™. It would be better to avoid that, especially when Barry is such a darling otherwise.
I should note that Iris West does end up marrying Barry Allen in the comics (though these shows have been pretty adamant about not retreading the material too closely, so… we’ll see). But it’s probably going to take multiple seasons of heartbreak because Iris’ detective dad insists that Barry not tell his daughter about the new-fangled powers. Again, with the tropes we should cancel for the foreseeable future. There’s no reason even given, he just insists and Barry says ‘sure why not, secondary father figure.’ And then it turns out that the scientist who is accidentally responsible for creating Barry and all the metahumans around is actually faking his need for a wheelchair (uuuggghhh) and is probably from the future because STAKES. WE HAVE THEM. Also, Barry’s dad didn’t kill his mom when he was a wee lad, but the person who did probably has powers like Barry. He’s probably from the future too(?), but Barry doesn’t know that’s a thing, so it makes no sense for him to assume there’s another person around with his powers who existed before the freak particle accelerator storm.
There’s also a hilarious torch-passing scene, which has Barry run all the way to Starling City to get validation from Oliver. It’s actually pretty darned cute, even if it is a little ridiculous to watch the two of them give the sign-off on each other’s awesomeness. “Cool.” “Cool.” <—this is actual dialogue, I cannot stop laughing….
None of this means that The Flash won’t upend itself and become a great show down the line. It just seems that we’re off to a slow start.
There are some very cool callbacks and alterations to the source material in the show all the same, which will be a treat for comics fans. Iris West and her father are black (played by Candice Patton and Jesse L. Martin! yaaaaaaay), an alteration from the comics that also helps for a more diverse cast. There’s a flip in the adoptive narrative—in the comics, Iris West was the adopted daughter of Ira West. In the show, Barry was essentially adopted by Detective West following his father being framed for his mother’s murder. Barry’s dad is played by John Wesley Ship, who played the title character in the 1990 Flash television show, and Amanda Pays shows up as Dr. McGee, also from the 90s show. Everyone has the civilian name of another superhero or villain, so potential abounds; Dr. Caitlin Snow is an iteration of Killer Frost, Cisco Ramon is the alter ego of Vibe, and Iris’ new boyfriend Eddie Thawne is clearly based on Professor Zoom, so he’s definitely one that Barry should keep an eye on.
(Also, Grodd. Probably just a through away reference there, but wouldn’t that be… interesting?)
The real question is whether or not the show can distinguish itself enough to make a distinct contribution to the DC universe that CW is trying to build. While the cast is charming enough so far, it’s going to take a little bit more elbow grease and imagination to get The Flash truly moving.