When Barry Allen first showed up on The CW’s Arrow back in its second season, fans were freaking out. Grant Gustin’s portrayal of the character was humorous, ironic, light-hearted, everything that Arrow wasn’t, and everything that Barry Allen should be. There was just one hiccup: he wasn’t the Flash. Not yet, anyway. So when a lightning strike at the end of his last guest appearance left him unconscious, and a show starring the “fastest man alive” was announced, excitement tore off with resounding speed. The question is: does it live up to the hype?
The first thing that’s clear as you sit through the first couple episodes, and remains clear now in the second half of the first season, is this is not Arrow. It’s not even close. Juxtaposed, the two shows are about as similar in tone and feel as puppy is to a porcupine. Whereas Arrow is a dark and gritty show, clearly influenced by the likes of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, The Flash is more akin to Smallville, a mostly light-hearted, comic book-ey show that relies on clearly delineated heroes and villains, and espouses virtues of courage and concern for others.
In fact, what I like best about the show is that it’s able to do that with an incredible amount of charm. The once unknown Grant Gustin is among the most convincing heroes TV has seen (more convincing than Stephen Amell, I might add), and supporting cast members are nearly as good. Mechanical engineer Cisco Ramone offers comical relief that gives even SHIELD‘s Fitzsimmons a run for their money. The show has a killer (and consistent) love interest in Iris. Harrison Wells offers the show’s greatest mystery, and mesmerizes doing it. Cop and father figure Joe is as good as they come. Caitlin Snow directs Barry in a way that almost (note that I did say ‘almost’) matches Arrow‘s Felicity. The show isn’t just noteworthy because it’s an old-fashioned hero show, but because it’s one with style.
So should you watch it? Well, that depends on your interests. I must add a caveat to my praise of this show, because I am a comic book nerd. Arrow is not inherently a show for comic book nerds. It’s based on a comic book superhero, yes, but it appeals to the same audience that loves gritty shows like LOST and Luther. The same friends that got me into Arrow are the same friends that tried (and failed, I might add) to get me into The Walking Dead. From that perspective, The Flash is a different animal entirely. It’s better as a superhero show, with its bright colors, upbeat tone, and large-scale metahuman battles, but in so doing, it’s not quite as accessible.
But if you’re not turned off by the cheesy science-stretching and bright-colored costumes, you’ll be rewarded. There’s plenty of fanfare to keep comic collectors occupied (including nods not only to Reverse Flash/Professor Zoom, but Gorilla Grodd and Captain Cold as well), but the show offers that without making it the main point. Fanfare for the sake of fanfare doesn’t make a good show (Gotham, anyone?), and the makers of The Flash recognized that. I won’t belabor the point by bringing up the same praises of the show’s dramatic elements that I did earlier, but I want to bring up something I alluded to earlier: Barry Allen’s hero ethic.
Joe, who is both a police detective and the foster dad that raised Barry for most of his life, said in a recent episode that Barry always helps whoever he can, no matter what. Throughout the course of the show, that ethic is juxtaposed to Harrison Wells, whose discourse is that sometimes you can’t save certain people because other things take priority. Many stories have justified Wells’ version of things. But not this show. This show makes the point, if anything, that the lives of other people always take precedence. Wells is interested in making sure Barry stays alive. To Barry, that’s a perk. It’s other people that matter. If you think that sounds familiar, that’s because somebody else said it roughly 2,000 years ago.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” – 1 John 3:16