Friday, June 5, 2015

TV Review: The Flash, Series 1

As we continue to plug through the final arc of Gotham, I was wondering out loud why, given the constant criticism that seemed to affect Agents of SHIELD last year, the generally patchier and weaker Not-Batman-Show doesn't seem to be attracting quite as much vocal derision. I mean, I appreciate that internet critics can be a little like Hyenas, deciding to pick on a target and then hounding it over and above any actual flaws it has, whilst mysteriously ignoring others, but I also wondered if a big factor is that this year there is far more choice, and much of it is pretty good. Last year you could watch Arrow or SHIELD for a superhero fix and that was it. This year you have those shows, Gotham, the short-lived Constantine, plus the two stand-outs, Daredevil, and The Flash

Nominally a spin off of the darker and gloomier Arrow - the other Batman show that doesn't have Batman in it - the tone for The Flash was pretty much setup last year with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) appearing in that show with a lighter, breezier attitude. Having then being struck by lightning and comatose for nine months, he comes out of it plugged into the "Speed Force", and becomes "The Fastest Man Alive", fighting crime in Central City with the help of a collection of science nerds, a couple of cops and what is fast becoming the worst cliche of these shows, the fated future girlfriend. 

Lets talk about Iris West for a bit, because she's the only weak link in a great opening series. The problem with the current "girlfriend" archetype (see also, Laurel Lance, Barbara Keen) is two fold, for my money. The first is that no matter how much you try and make them feisty and whatever, keeping them in ignorance of the hero "for their own good" infantilizes and robs of agency one of your key female characters. Iris is surrounded by men who increasingly keep her in the dark because they know better than her, and thats really dumb. She does, at least, get to call them on it, but about 15 episodes after the situation got annoying. 

Secondly it leaves the character hanging out to dry. In Daredevil, the writers made sure that Karen had her own story to follow, that eventually tied into the main arc but crucially gave her a purpose in the narrative in her own right. In Arrow, both Laurel and Thea have hugely benefited from being given their own origin storylines independent (and often opposed by) overbearing male heroes "trying to keep them safe". But Iris spends too much time with nothing to do, leaving her to be the unintentionally awkward killjoy, or complainer because she doesn't know whats going on other than that people are keeping secrets from her. Less of this please. Soon. 

But, the good stuff, and there is a lot. The Flash is clever, funny and warm, and most importantly, completely unashamed by being a show about superheroes. embracing it wholeheartedly. So we get updated versions of the Flash's traditional villians, with standout turns for Captain Cold, The Trickster and amazingly, Gorilla Grodd. Think about that for a moment - a psychic gorilla supervillian in an episode that didn't'; just work, but was one of the season's highlights. Capping the villian roster is a great turn from Tom Cavanagh as the Reverse Flash, with the sort of complex, and compelling performance that made every scene he was in better for it. 

Another surprising bonus was the integration with Arrow, especially if you watched both shows. Apart from a couple of formal cross-overs, the idea that suddenly both shows exist in a wider universe aids both, Barry can challenge Olivers self-absorbed assholery in a way the other Star(ling) City characters can't. Characters like Laurel, Felicity and Ray were able to lighten up around the Central City team, and even small scenes like the two "Dad Cop" characters bonding give depth which a way you wouldn't get otherwise. That said, if you only have time for one, watch The Flash, as it's been more consistent this year, and it's finale seems to promise some real crazyness to comes. 

Finally, it's possible that if I'd been able to see the Supergirl Pilot I'd feel that it owes a lot to the "clear blue skies" approach of The Flash and I'd be really looking forward to.