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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Flash (2014) (First Half)

The Flash (2014)
(First Half).

I had my doubts about this series. A lot of doubts. Reasonable doubts, I feel, because Barry Allen's defining feature in comic books has always been how very, very boring he is, and how he essentially is just a precursor to several much more interesting characters, like Wally West. Ergo, it was some weeks before I actually watched the TV series: I had always intended to, but I was busy and had better things on than trudging through what would surely be a snorefest of hitherto unseen proportions.

Actually, though, I'm kind of enjoying it.

The Flash, set in the same universe as Arrow, tells the story of Barry Allen, a forensic scientist with the Central City police force who witnessed an impossibly fast man wreathed in lightning murder his mother when he was a child. After an accident with a particle accelerator, Barry is hit by lightning and falls into a coma, only to reawaken six months later and find that he now has super-speed, and that others in Central City have acquired strange powers as well. Teaming up with scientists Cisco and Caitlin, and their enigmatic boss and the designer of the particle accelerator, Harrison Wells, Barry sets out to deal with these superhuman criminals (because they are always criminals).

Let's start with the principle character, Barry. Barry has never been the most interesting DC comics character, being basically a tightly wadded mass of every generic, cardboardy character DC has ever created, with a power that is so absurdly over-useful that it becomes difficult to think of a situation where he is ever truly in trouble. 


Many of those problems still apply in the TV series - lord knows they struggle to find ways for Barry to actually be challenged - but Barry does actually have a personality here, in that he is essentially a small labrador puppy wearing an unconvincing Grant Gustin suit. Gustin plays him as a kind of unending font of enthusiasm and willingness-to-please, and it works pretty well. It shows up best in his interactions with Wells, played by Tom Cavanagh, who is more or less the opposite, being almost monotone in how subdued he is, and portraying character through small, slight gestures of body language and facial expression. Which isn't to say Wells is boring: He's actually my favourite character.

The supporting cast is, in general, very good, if not quite on a par with Arrow's. Caitlin and Cisco are both very fun to watch (Caitlin more than Cisco, who feels like he should be in a show skewed even lighter then The Flash), while Iris West, her father Joe, and his police partner Eddie Thawne all play their respective archetypal roles with considerable skill. 

The episodic plots are strong, while the overall ur-plot of the series (Barry, Joe and Wells' search for the Reverse Flash, and Wells' unknown future-related agenda for Barry) is often glossed over, given chunks of episode here and there to focus on it and then mostly forgotten about, bar the almost weekly ritual of Wells doing something evil in the final scene of whatever episode is airing that time - in fact, Wells' obvious villainy is so obvious that in the Arrow crossover episode, the writers felt compelled to make a joke about it.

Goddamn, Cavanaugh, you could be John Barrowman's brother.

The ur-plot only really hit full force in episode nine, the last episode of this half, which saw Barry encounter the Reverse Flash several times in person, and Wells, Joe and Eddie to all encounter him separately (leading to Wells getting badly beaten). It was an episode that raised more questions than answers, as the final scenes of the episode threw multiple plot twists at the audience, including some that will probably leave viewers scratching their heads and going 'Wait a minute ...' until next year.

In many ways, if you've seen Arrow, you will know what to expect from The Flash. Their structures are identical, right down to the amount of time apportioned out to subplots in each episode, and the opening narration by a main character at the start (although while Ollie's is very much 'RESPONSIBILITY AND GRIM', Barry's narration is just 'EVERYTHING IS AWESOME AND SOAM I'). Even the villain set-up is more or less the same: A villainous version of the hero in a very similar costume, who has some kind of connection to the demise of one of his parents. 

But that's no bad thing, especially as the CW is carving out a nice 'DC adaptations' niche for itself, with Supergirl and Wonder Woman adaptations purportedly in various stages of 'in the works'. It's a formula which works, and which only requires a few alterations every week to keep it feeling relatively fresh. 

The Wests.

The Flash returns in late January - I almost wrote late August there, that would have been a sizeable error - with an episode called 'Revenge of the Rogues', which will apparently see Captain Cold teaming up with a heat themed supervillain to personally target a now-obsessed-with-speeding-up Barry. 

I'm actually really looking forward to it. Not that episode, I don't imagine that one will be especially good, just the return of the series in general. 

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