The CW network has become something of a cottage industry for B-level (and C-level) superheroes, with shows such as Arrow, The 100, and The Originals. This fall they’ve added The Flash, based on the longtime DC comics series and presented as a spinoff from Arrow. Although The Flash doesn’t break any new ground in that regard, the show is watchable and is a bit unusual in avoiding the contemporary fashion of ostentatious gloominess.
That little spark of idiosyncrasy may well have contributed to the ratings success of the premiere episode: it was the most-watched series premiere in CW Network history, racing past previous record-holder The Vampire Diaries thanks to an impressive viewership increase of 33 percent in Live+3 days audience.
Although the protagonist, the young, bumbling, assistant crime scene investigator Barry Allen, has the Tragic Past required of all TV crime drama protagonists, Grant Gustin is either sufficiently well-directed or sufficiently untalented to keep from conveying much angst about it. Honestly, I could not discern which was the case, on the basis of the pilot episode, but the lack of artificially amped-up negative emotions is a blessing, from my point of view. It certainly seems, moreover, that it is intentional on the producers’ part, given that the dialogue of the pilot episode does not indicate any serious unresolved sense of trauma on Allen’s part. In addition, his evident joy when he discovers his superpower is funny and charming. This element of The Flash is a decidedly welcome deviation from the contemporary norm.
The childhood trauma Allen endured was awfully severe, making his current equanimity even more impressive. Allen’s mother was murdered, and his father was convicted for the crime and sentenced to prison, where he now languishes more than a decade later. (In an amusing touch, Henry Allen is played by John Wesley Shipp, who played Allen and his Flash alter ego in a 1990-91 CBS-TV series.) Allen was raised by police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), with whom he is now a colleague at the Central City Police Department and who plays the wise, benevolent, strong black person all TV series are evidently required by federal law to have.
The show creates two teams with whom Barry is involved: the police and S.T.A.R. labs, a developer of super-high-tech inventions. The latter is the source of Barry’s powers: a lightning strike set off by the explosion of a particle accelerator at the S.T.A.R. labs. In addition, and sure to serve as a source of future plot complications, Barry is convinced that he saw his mother’s murderer at the time of the killing: a ball of lightning with a human face. Why the police didn’t believe such a clear eyewitness description is never explained (sarcasm alert!), but there is an obvious resemblance between this image, as shown in flashbacks to the murder scene, and villain Clyde Mardon’s penchant for the use of lightning in his crimes (about which, more in a moment).
A second evident setup for future plot complications is the character of Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), who presents himself as a benevolent character and a paraplegic but is probably neither. Similar possibilities for plot machinations are represented by the two main female characters; both are young and attractive (and romantically involved with a man or pining for a lost lover), and there is one in each work team.
The two teams represent the two main sides of Barry’s life—his superpower and his devotion to good—which combine to inspire his resolve to protect the city from criminals both human and “metahuman” like himself. That, of course, sets the stage for the weekly episodes: crime dramas with a superpower angle.
The Flash has a suitably flamboyant villain, Clyde Mardon, who likes to rob banks and kill people and whose superpower is the ability to control the weather. (Perhaps he is the one responsible for the global warming last century, though why stopped warming the earth eighteen years ago remains a mystery.) Another interesting element of the show is that in his Flash periods, Allen thinks as fast as he moves, which is both logically necessary and a source of interesting situations.
As noted earlier, however, the real point of interest in the series is its refusal to indulge in fashionable gloominess. If the show brings nothing to the culture but that, it will have done something quite worthwhile.