Friday, March 4, 2016
The Flash (2014)
Genre: Comic book, action adventure
Having a kid makes you watch a lot of shows you normally wouldn't. The Flash is one that turned out not to be awful.
Fitting into the continuity that DC and the CW already built with Arrow (about the Green Arrow, naturally) the Flash takes the Arrowverse more in the direction of DC comics by introducing metahumans, time travel, multiple universes, and so forth.
When I read comics, for whatever reason I drifted to Marvel first and never really paid much attention to DC, and as a result most of the villains they show on the Flash are newish to me. I'm vaguely familiar with the DC universe from watching the old 1980's Justice League cartoon series and more recently Batman The Animated Series and Batman the Brave and the Bold with my son.
As a result, I came into the Flash with minimal expectations, and was pleasantly surprised when the first season turned out to be quite well done and the second season (so far) turns out not to suck too badly. The writing team either changed or got worse in season two, but its still watchable.
The cast mostly does a credible job, but the real stars are Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin, who respectively play Dr. Harrison Wells and Detective Joe West. In the first season, Tom Cavanagh brought a delightful air of subtle menace to his role, managing to seem amiable enough but threatening and keeping a dark secret as well. Jesse L. Martin brings Joe West to life, taking a role that in less competent hands would be merely mawkish or cliche ridden and turning it into a rounded and interesting character.
One of the nicer aspects of the Flash is that it fits today's world so well, though it never really takes a closer look at what it portrays. Joe West and his daughter Iris, Barry Allen's adoptive family, are black. In the real world that sort of adoptive situation is rare because its actively discouraged. Race is simply not discussed in the Flash, ever, which considering Joe West's position as a police detective is difficult to justify. I don't demand that every show be The Wire, nor do I demand a deep examination of race in America from a show aimed mostly at teens and young adults. But the total silence seems at first slightly odd and then almost oppressive.
So far two characters are acknowledged to be gay. Police captain David Singh (who doesn't look Sikh to me) once grumpily justified a bacon cheese burger on the grounds that his boyfriend was trying to make him eat healthier, and later had wedding jitters as he prepared to marry his boyfriend. It was handled well, Singh was established as a character before his sexuality was brought up. He was always a hardass police captain who was gay, not a gay police captain. And that is a sign of progress, even just five years ago the fact that he was gay would have needed a lot more explanation and would have been a much larger part of his character.
The other openly gay character is a brilliant supervillain, who like Singh is more than just a gay villain.
The Flash is a monster of the week type show, with a season long story arc that threads through all the individual episodes. The characters are mostly well developed and interesting enough, and while most of the villains were one shot a few are recurring and become (as villains inevitably must) more interesting than the heroes.
Barry Allen isn't as angsty as a typical X-Man, but the writers try to wring every drop of pathos out of him that they can. Ultimately he's sort of shallow, because superheros almost inevitably are. He runs in circles around bad guys, discovers that he isn't fast enough, finds the inner willpower to go faster, and runs in faster circles around bad guys which defeats them.
But Wentworth Miller's Leonard Snart manages to rise above the constraints of being the guy in a parka with a cold ray, and become the sort of villain you can cheer for. And considering how cheesy Captain Cold is in most other portrayals that's saying something.
Overall, the Flash is a solid TV show delivering an average amount of entertainment.