Preview: The Flash 1×1 (The CW)

Marvel at what DC has become

The Flash review

In the US: Tuesdays, 8pm ET, The CW. Starts October 7

Superheroes are all the rage at the cinema right now. In the comics book world, DC and Marvel predominate, but for many years, DC was the only real name at the movies, with Batman and Superman movies galore. However, Marvel has now not only caught up, it’s setting the pace and showing how comics should be adapted. So while DC has gone dark, gritty and important in the past decade, an attitude that the Lego Movie mercilessly mocked…

…Marvel has gone for relatively light, fun movies, such as Iron Man, Thor and the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. DC’s movies have also been self-contained, while Marvel has had its superbeings unite in The Avengers and guest in each other’s movies and TV shows with aplomb.

But DC is picking up the pace, both at the movies and on TV. The forthcoming Batman v Superman is going to feature not only the eponymous two heroes, it’s also got Wonder Woman, Cyborg and various other members of the Justice League lined up to appear, with more movies together and individually lined up if these are a success. And on the small screen, it has the continuing adventures of Green Arrow in Arrow and Batman prequel Gotham lined up for the autumn/fall.

But it’s still all a bit dark and gritty, isn’t it? However, DC appears to be well aware of its gloomy reputation so it’s giving us something a bit lighter and a bit more fun. And since The CW did so well with first Smallville (the Guinness World Record holder ‘longest consecutive running sci-fi TV show’) and then Arrow and believes that superheroes are the best way to attract male viewers who might have been scared off by all that Gossip Girl and The Carrie Diaries, it seems appropriate for it to be the launchpad for this new show based on one of DC’s (literally) lightest characters: The Flash, a character who ends up being able move even faster than Superman, following a laboratory accident.

Indeed, for the past season of Arrow, The CW has been slowly introducing The Flash and his helper monkeys to viewers, inserting him (and them) pre-powers into various episodes, originally intending to turn one episode into a backdoor pilot. It backed off from that idea and instead decided to give him a launch episode all of his own.

And not only is it very good, in some ways better even than Arrow’s first episode, it’s really just what DC is looking for – fun, light and full of crossovers from other superheroes. Just don’t be too surprised if it all seems very familiar and a bit… light.

But first, here’s a dark and gritty (hugely spoilering) trailer – it seems some habits die hard.

Barry Allen was just 11 years old when his mother was killed in a bizarre and terrifying incident and his father was falsely convicted of the murder. With his life changed forever by the tragedy, Barry was taken in and raised by Detective Joe West, the father of Barry’s best friend, Iris. Now, Barry has become a brilliant, driven and endearingly geeky CSI investigator, whose determination to uncover the truth about his mother’s strange death leads him to follow up on every unexplained urban legend and scientific advancement that comes along. Barry’s latest obsession is a cutting edge particle accelerator, created by visionary physicist Harrison Wells and his S.T.A.R. Labs team, who claim that this invention will bring about unimaginable advancements in power and medicine.

However, something goes horribly wrong during the public unveiling, and when the devastating explosion causes a freak storm, many lives are lost and Barry is struck by lightning. After nine months in a coma, Barry awakens to find his life has changed once again – the accident has given him the power of super speed, granting him the ability to move through Central City like an unseen guardian angel. Though initially excited by his newfound powers, Barry is shocked to discover he is not the only “meta-human” who was created in the wake of the accelerator explosion – and not everyone is using their new powers for good. In the months since the accident, the city has seen a sharp increase in missing people, unexplained deaths and other strange phenomena. Barry now has a renewed purpose – using his gift of speed to protect the innocent, while never giving up on his quest to solve his mother’s murder and clear his father’s name. For now, only a few close friends and associates know that Barry is literally the fastest man alive, but it won’t be long before the world learns what Barry Allen has become…The Flash.

The series stars Grant Gustin (“Glee,” “Arrow”) as Barry Allen/The Flash, Candice Patton (“The Game”) as Iris West, Rick Cosnett (“The Vampire Diaries”) as Eddie Thawne, Danielle Panabaker (“Necessary Roughness,” “Justified”) as Caitlin Snow, Carlos Valdes (“Once” on Broadway ) as Cisco Ramon, with Tom Cavanagh (“Ed,” “Eli Stone”) as Harrison Wells and Jesse L. Martin (“Law & Order”) as Detective West.

THE FLASH is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “The Tomorrow People,” “Green Lantern”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Arrow,” “Eli Stone”), David Nutter (“Arrow,” “Game of Thrones”) and Sarah Schechter. The pilot was directed by David Nutter. This series is based upon characters published by DC Entertainment.

Is it any good?
It’s a lot of fun, is actually shot in daylight for a change and is happy to honour its comic book roots, rather than being embarrassed by them. But if you’ve seen Smallville, Arrow or The Flash, you’ll have a certain sense of déjà vu.

That wasn’t a typo just then. Those of you who are old enough will remember the 1990 adaptation of The Flash, starring John Wesley Shipp.

That series very much embodied the DC attitude to adaptations of that time, right down to getting Danny Elfman to do the music (Elfman wrote the theme to Tim Burton’s Batman): light, fluffy, not too serious. Squint a bit and stick it next to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and you’d be hard pushed to spot much by way of tonal difference.

Obviously, being based on the same source material and featuring the same character, there are a lot of things in common between The Flash 1990 and 2014 editions, not least of which is that in a lovely touch, Shipp has been cast as the 2014 Flash’s dad. But as well as having the traditional comic book origin for the Barry Allen Flash – a lab accident and lightning – Flash (2014) borrows from Flash (1990) by having Barry being assisted in his criminal investigations by scientists from Star Labs, who do lots of very similar tests on him and give him a supersuit to deal with his superspeed.

On top of that, there’s the Smallville influence. Now, The Flash is set in the same TV universe as Arrow – the Green-masked man even does a gritty, growly cameo in this episode – and that’s a universe resolutely free of superheroes and super-powers of mystical and alien origins. So the question the producers clearly faced was how to come up with enough villains of suitable menace for the Flash to deal with every week. Although lightning – or in this case a particle collider explosion that caused a space-time rupture and lightning – can’t strike twice, the Smallville ‘meteor-freak’ solution was obviously too tempting because the villain in the pilot at least gets his super-powers from the same storm that creates the Flash. Expect to see more of the same.

Now let’s add on a bit of the Arrow template: just as that show’s pilot was seeded with comic book references that were used later on, so, too, does The Flash. Look closely, fans, and you’ll spot an empty cage marked Grodd, a truck with the ‘Ferris’ name on it and characters with familiar names, such as Iris West and Eddie Thawne. Despite the Felicity romance over on Arrow, there’s also another potential love interest in the form of Caitlin Snow, who seems more like the Amanda Pays/Tina McGee character of 1990 Flash than Killer Frost at this point.

But there are differences from those other shows. There are jokes, for starters. And there are some good special effects. And Barry gets to wear his costume in the first episode, rather than the last.

Despite slightly retreading ground covered by Arrow, this is very much an origins episode, introducing Barry’s family history, his friends, his skills as a CSI and – post-Flash conversion – his new partners in fighting crime, including a somewhat ambivalent Tom Cavanagh. At this stage, we have a Barry Allen who’s just growing into his superspeed. This isn’t yet a Flash who can run so fast using the ‘Speed Force’ that he can travel through time and change history. But the show architects that possibility into the first episode with not just Barry’s childhood accident but a last-minute revelation that’ll make you see there’s more to the show than the ‘villain of the week’ scenario suggested.

Whether (spoiler alert) Cavanagh is trying to prevent the future or cause it, having come back in time, perhaps because he’s Reverse Flash or something else, and whether (spoiler alert) Cavanagh as Reverse Flash caused Barry’s mum’s death or whether that was Barry himself, time-travelling, to try to prevent it happening or not, we’ll have to wait and see, but there’s an actual story arc, at least, something that 2014 storytelling has over 1990 storytelling.

This isn’t Dostoevsky. There are attempts at characterisation all over the place, but it’s not the deepest, and even dark and gritty efforts such as “I’m bitter because I lost my job and my fiancé was killed in that lab explosion” are really there for jokes rather than because Caitlin Snow is going to go around freezing people to death because she’s so angry.

It’s not Romeo and Juliet either, because despite the love triangles, with Barry’s future fiancé Iris dating Professor ZoomThawne, this is the standard (slightly dangerous) ’nerd loves pretty girl who just Friends-zones him in return’ trope and there’s Snow equally close by.

But thankfully not only does The Flash know it’s none of these things, it knows not to be and to not even try. Instead, it’s a happy little show that just happens to have a bit of a dark underbelly. It’s about a man who was a bit of klutz and now just wants to do the right thing and help people because he’s a nice guy. Yes, his mum was murdered, but that doesn’t mean he has to dress up as any kind of mammal and beat up the mentally ill to work it out.

It’s a fun show, with some good effects, some moderately interesting characters and enough intelligence to make the show more than just a simple piece of fluff. It’s a bit more near the comics book fan end of the spectrum than perhaps the casual viewer will enjoy, but not so close that it’s off-putting. And given that Geoff Johns co-wrote the pilot, it seems likely the quality of the scripts will only increase over time once he stops contributing, too.

Now: where’s my Wonder Woman show?


  • 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.