Tuesday, June 7, 2016

TV Review: Arrow (Season 4) and The Flash (Season 2)

So we reach that time of the year when the US TV Season draws to a close, and all the imported shows start to finish at once in a blaze of finales and cliffhangers. Exciting, but also daunting, as the long summer stretches out in front of us, although we're so behind on some shows we've got enough catching up to do. And iZombie just dropped onto Netflix, so there's that too. We've struggled to keep up with the superhero shows this year, as there are just so many of them, not least four - four! - from the CW stable  (yes I know Supergirl is on CBS but it's the same production house) in what is an increasingly ambitious TV shared-universe. With both Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow on their first season I'll talk about them separately, but it feels fair to wrap up the other two together. So how are things with The Flash, and The (Green) Arrow? 

I've come into both these seasons with nearly oppositve expections. After a great second season, last years third season of Arrow struggled to find much coherence, wheras The Flash opened it's TV life with what may be a textbook first season. Arrow needed to course correct, The Flash needed to build on what it had. What happended instread is that they seemed to feed off each other in a strange way; both stopping and starting in fits and spurts, both managing some solid character work on the one hand, and wasting goodwill on the other. I've seen a fair amount of online backlash this year from more than a few sources, but much of these issues are deep in the shows DNA; always there, if you like, but have bubbled up in frustrating ways. 

The simplest way to put this is the pacing of both shows have suffered from moving both too fast, and too slow, at the same time. If you'd asked me back in December, I'd have been pretty pleased, as they both laid in the groundwork for Legends of Tomorrow reasonably organically (or as much as you can) and moved their own stories forward along with it. It's after the festive break that it all seems to go a bit wrong. Too often both Oliver and Barry have been caught in loops we've seen before; frustrating soap-opera plotting where they make the same personal or proffesional mistakes that serve, fundamentally, to slow down the main story because you've got 22 episodes to fill. And then, towards the end of the season, too much happens, too quickly, throwing big moments and interesting characters away that could have filled that earlier void. 

For instance; I'm all for introducing Wally West into the Flash, and was excited to see him dosed up and ready to powered. But then (as with Jessie Wells), nothing comes of it, leaving Wally with a bunch of pretty by-the-numbers character development with no pay off. Over on Arrow we see the same thing with the Thea-Anarky storyline, that is potentially pretty interesting with a lot to do with the ever-improving Speedy, but whilst it pays off, it lacks the slower burn that the dynamic required to actually work. At least Arrow has managed to give it's female leads some decent storylines, because Iris and Caitlyn have been pretty much forgotten over in Central City, relegated to "would be girlfreind" and "hostage" respectively. 

Both series can bring some good stuff when they want to though. Strangely written out, Patty Spivot was a fun presence with great chemisty with Barry, and I'd like to see her back. Thea continues to be a pretty great character in her own right these days. And whilst I never thought I'd say this back in season 1, I'll miss Laurel. On the villians side, Zoom was a less interesting do-over of the Reverse Flash, sadly, and missing Tom Cavanagh's pretty wonderful performance, but Damien Darkh dominated every scene he was in, proving that a great villian really can do wonders.

On balance I still really enjoy on these shows; they're fun to hang out with week-to-week even when they are coasting on the strength of their leads. Even when they're frustrating - and there has been times they've been frustrating - the basic pleasure of them will keep me tuning in. They are, after all popcorn shows, and scratch that itch quite nicely. It's also worth noting that The Flash ends with the door open for a fuller rebuild of the show's dynamic; something that may let them tune back into it's first season, than it's choppier second. Arrow may be more set in it's ways, but it's fifth season offers a chance to close out the (increasingly pointless) flahsbacks in a meaningful way, so there is that to look forward to as well.