Review: Arrow (The CW/Sky1) 1×1

Batman meets Bourne Identity meets Robin Hood


In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by Sky1. Starts 8pm, October 22
In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm, CTV2
in Australia: Nine Network. Air date to be confirmed

Can you ever truly make a superhero realistic? It’s a tricky proposition. Christopher Nolan just about managed it with Batman, although fundamentally, it was still about a guy trained by ninja to dress up like a giant bat to fight crime. Think about that for too long and it all falls apart.

Nevertheless, while Marvel is enchanting the entire world with escapist fun superheroes, that’s the direction DC Comics is taking with Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel and now on The CW with Arrow. Green Arrow, for those who don’t know much about the comic hero, is a sort of Batman/Robin Hood rip-off: a billionaire called Oliver Queen who discovers for himself the true costs of crime and vows to put an end to it using… the mighty power of archery that he’s learnt while shipwrecked on an island.

No, I didn’t mean to say a Heckler & Koch G36 5.56x45mm assault rifle. Archery. As in a bow and arrow. Hence Green Arrow.

See? It all starts to fall apart right there, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what The CW, former home of another bit of attempted superhero realism, Smallville, is trying to make realistic. The words ‘The Bourne Identity‘ have even been mentioned in terms of aesthetic and approach.

And you know what? If it weren’t for two things, it might actually have managed to pull it off and be a pretty perfect bit of gritty superhero vigilantism. The first is that it looks like Smallville trying to do gritty on a budget of thruppeny halfpence. The second is the voiceover. Every time the hero tells us what’s going on, all that effort goes out of the window and you want to laugh yourself silly.

But if you can avoid doing that, this is actually one of the most promising new dramas of the season. Here’s a trailer, complete with voiceover:

After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the Pacific. When he returns home to Starling City, his devoted mother Moira, much-beloved sister Thea, and best friend Tommy welcome him home, but they sense Oliver has been changed by his ordeal on the island. While Oliver hides the truth about the man he’s become, he desperately wants to make amends for the actions he took as the boy he was. Most particularly, he seeks reconciliation with his former girlfriend, Laurel Lance. As Oliver reconnects with those closest to him, he secretly creates the persona of Arrow – a vigilante – to right the wrongs of his family, fight the ills of society, and restore Starling City to its former glory.

By day, Oliver plays the role of a wealthy, carefree and careless philanderer he used to be – flanked by his devoted chauffeur/bodyguard, John Diggle – while carefully concealing the secret identity he turns to under cover of darkness. However, Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance, is determined to arrest the vigilante operating in his city. Meanwhile, Oliver’s own mother, Moira, knows much more about the deadly shipwreck than she has let on – and is more ruthless than he could ever imagine.

The series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Colin Donnell as Tommy, Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance, David Ramsey as John Diggle, Willa Holland as Thea Queen, with Susanna Thompson as Moira Queen and Paul Blackthorne as Detective Quentin Lance.

Based on characters appearing in comic books and graphic novels published by DC Comics, ARROW is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Green Lantern,” “Brothers & Sisters”), Marc Guggenheim (“FlashForward,” “Eli Stone”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Warehouse 13,” “The Vampire Diaries”) and David Nutter (“Smallville,” “Supernatural,” “Game of Thrones”). Melissa Kellner Berman (“Eli Stone,” “Dirty Sexy Money”) is co-executive producer. The pilot was directed by David Nutter from a teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim, story by Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim.

Is it any good?
David Nutter is the lucky charm of pilot episodes. Of the 18 he’s directed since 1995, 17 have been picked up for series, with only The Doctors failing to make the grade in 2011. So everyone wants him to direct their pilot.

Who directs your pilot is important for another reason – they largely set the style for the rest of the series. And the thing is, David Nutter does have a certain style when it comes to direction: watch Arrow and you’ll get an eerie sense of Smallville déjà vu, not just because Smallville also featured DC Comics’ Robin Hood superhero Green Arrow for a number of years, but because Nutter doesn’t quite manage to avoid all the same traps that Smallville faced in terms of look that made it fall just shy of true realism.

Mostly, this is in the area of CGI. While it’s never quite as heinous as the infamous Hitchcockian boat scene in the pilot of Ringer, attempts to create the Queen family’s yacht and the island on which Oliver Queen spends five years all fail ridiculously.

Then there are the interior studio scenes, which not only look like the interiors of studios, they’re lit with strange hues that you’d never see in real life and only highlight the unreality of a billionaire who wants to fight crime using technology that was out of date 500 years ago. Whether Arrow will ever get over this initial problem of aesthetics remains to be seen, but past evidence shows that few shows ever manage to.

If it can dispense with the voiceover from our hero, though that would be great and relatively easy to do, and would go a long way towards achieving the verisimilitude the producers desire. Because no matter how hard you try to make something realistic, if you have someone saying things like “The island held many dangers. To live, I had to make myself more than what I was, to forge myself into a weapon. I am returning not the boy who was shipwrecked but the man who will bring justice to those who have poisoned my city. My name is Oliver Queen,” every ten minutes, you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Those niggles about realism aside, this is actually a very good bit of superhero drama. Okay, it’s not Vegas or The Last Resort, let alone Homeland, but it’s actually the best pilot episode of any drama The CW – the US equivalent of Channel 5, UK readers – has produced since Gossip Girl at least.

For starters, we have a decent leading man: Stephen Amell, who pulls off both the physicality of Oliver Queen as well as the dual-role of the reformed Oliver Queen, buddhist Marxist superhero, and Oliver Queen, billionaire party boy, with far more aplomb, versatility and plausibility than the lighter Justin Hartley of Smallville ever managed.

We also have a good supporting cast, ranging from Colin Donnell as Queen’s best friend and Katie Cassidy as former girlfriend Laurel Lance to Paul Blackthorne as Lance’s father and the cop who has to catch Green Arrow. They all play their parts well and have a proper amount of characterisation in a script that leaves plenty of room for development while simultaneously giving everyone enough background, all without any major implausible plot expositions by anyone. There’s humour, the action does actually look very The Bourne Identity and is well executed, and the script does manage to make everyone well motivated.

So on its own terms, it works well and thankfully, it doesn’t quite succumb to the Smallville trap of having 10 minutes of plot and action, and 30 minutes of characters talking about how they feel about the plot and the action. It’s enjoyable, interesting, and fun, with enough tidbits to make you want to see where everything is going. It could possibly do with a little more action, but what we get is very good.

Of course, for comics fans, there’s the question of authenticity. On this, I’m afraid I have no idea. Sorry. Green Arrow was never one of my comics – talk to me next year if Amazon, the teenage years of Wonder Woman, gets picked up. But island, shipwreck, dead parent, archery, etc, are at least roughly in the right direction, AFAIK.

I also know enough to spot the occasional head nod to the comic. Laurel Lance, the daughter of a police detective, is, of course, Dinah Laurel Lance, The Black Canary and Green Arrow’s on-off girlfriend. What they’ll do with her character in the interests of mimesis, given she does have a genuine superhero power – ‘the canary cry’ – and wears fishnet tights in the comics, will be interesting to see:

Black Canary

Oliver Queen’s sister Thea is also given the nickname Speedy – which is the name of Green Arrow’s sidekick in the comics – but whether they’ll actually turn Thea into his sidekick, we’ll have to wait and see.

So on the whole, I’m going to give this a cautious recommendation to both comics experts and those who’ve never touched one in their life. If you can suspend your disbelief that a billionaire would dress up at night to fight crime with just a bow and arrow and zip line to help him, then there’s a lot to enjoy in Arrow. You’ll just have to shout “La, la, la! I can’t hear you!” over the voiceover.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.