PILOT LITE: The Flash (2014 television pilot)

Posted: October 10, 2014 in Arrow, Captain Cold, DC, Flash, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

For better or worse, it is impossible to discuss The Flash without first addressing the series that laid the groundwork for it. In its first couple of seasons, Arrow has established a definitively serious tone for its cast of characters. I think, overall, it works for the series. It’s dealing with a younger, angrier Oliver Queen who has far more self-doubt than is typically seen in the comics (at least prior to that whole “New 52” thing). As such, the tone fits his character. In season two, when the future-Flash Barry Allen was introduced and it was announced that he would be getting his own spin-off series, I was a little hesitant due to said tone. Barry has always been a character known for being (for lack of a better term) a “good” guy. So how would his character work in a world that’s as somber and dour as Arrow’s? Well, the two-parter that introduced him answered that question partially, and it turns out it’s “pretty well, actually”. The character is still the same old Barry from the comics. He’s sincere and good-hearted, just updated to better reflect the world that we live in currently, which makes perfect sense.

“Diggle, why is this guy so happy?”

When the character was introduced via Arrow, he was a stranger in a strange land. To know exactly how he’d function in this world, we’d need to see him with his own cast in his own story. It seems obvious that the tone would need to be lightened, but it’s never a given that creators are on the same page as fans. So I was very happy to see that The Flash is fun. Sure, its got drama and high-stakes but it has a feeling that matches its protagonist. It’s optimistic.

The pilot re-introduces us to Barry Allen, CSI and loveable dork. It quickly establishes the supporting cast and backstory before using footage from Arrow to re-set the origin. Since these shows are so closely connected, it was good to see them use the pre-established origin rather than reshoot it and annoy continuity nerds like me. From there, the plot jumps ahead nine months and primarily focuses on Barry coming to terms with his powers and his new lot in life. The supporting players aren’t given a whole lot to do in the 45 minute running time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That ensures that the focus is firmly on Barry and what we do get of the secondary cast is mostly laying foundations for bigger stories later. Dr. Snow’s fiancé was killed in the STAR Labs blast? I wonder if that’ll come back…

The Motion Blur

There’s also a great scene near the last act that brings Barry back to Starling City so that he can get some advice from an old, green-hooded friend. Connecting television shows is even more of a gamble than films. If a movie flops, it can fairly easily be swept aside with relatively little damage done to connecting films. If a series underperforms, there’s an entire season worth of stories that have to either be adapted or dropped from one or both series. And that’s to say nothing of the aforementioned tone that needs to, if not match, at least play as complimentary. I think it’s fair to assume that the risk has already paid off. The Flash gave The CW Network a five year ratings high for a pilot and has successfully established a tone of its own that doesn’t contrast (or copy) what came before it.

Shh…spoilers!

Honestly, my only complaint with the pilot is an issue I have with the character’s recent history rather than the show itself. The episode opens with the death of Barry’s mother. This moment (gone into in great length in another adaptation, The Flashpoint Paradox) is a relatively recent addition to the mythos of the character. For decades, Barry was the guy who gained incredible powers and used them to help others because that’s just the kind of person he was. Now, he’s motivated by the loss of a parent and…I won’t discuss it any further because of possible spoilers for the series. Regardless, not every hero needs to be motivated by past trauma and loss. I always loved The Flash because he didn’t have a compulsion or “ghost” pushing him into helping people. He did it because he wanted to. He felt it was right. The pilot tries to establish this character trait prior to his mother’s murder (a young Barry takes on some kids who bully others) and I applaud them for it, but the tragedy is still there. Since it’s now a part of the character’s history in the comics, it makes perfect sense that they’d use this story and I don’t fault them for it, I just wish that it wasn’t as central as it is.

Is he really a captain?

The series finds a nice way to skirt the previously established, no-powers world of Arrow in a fashion that is both logical and simple. Not only does this wildly open the potential roster of DC guest-stars but it also relieves the burden of having to “downgrade” the power-levels of characters that may not fit-in on a show that tries to skew more toward the “real world”. That will also allow for more appropriate villains for Barry to go up against. With the announcement that Captain Cold, Multiplex, Heat Wave and Reverse-Flash will be making appearances, we may finally see a live-action Rogue’s Gallery that was never seen in the original Flash-based television series.

Speaking of the original series, it’s clear that the showrunners have a deep reverence for the history of the DC Universe as well as the legacies that these characters have in the real world. I was surprised and excited when it was announced that John Wesley Shipp (star of the 1990 series) was cast as Barry’s father. Meta-textually, having a past Flash act as the current’s mentor is a beautiful homage to the legacy of said character. And on a personal level, the original Flash series meant a lot to me growing up. It was just the right mix of outlandish and adult for me and I have many fond memories of watching it with my grandfather. I’ll talk more on that series at a later time, but the acknowledgment it receives here is more than welcome. And the recently announced casting of Amanda Pays (playing the same role she had in the 90’s series) was another welcome tip-of-the-hat.

Ah, nostalgia…

I realize that I’ve been very positive about the two pilots that I’ve reviewed thus far. While I still think that Gotham was well done, I’m curious if it can sustain its tone and story for an entire season without feeling boring or tired. With The Flash, I have no such worry. The creative team have proven themselves with one series already and continue to show their love and reverence for this universe. It’s interesting to me how easy it seems to be to adapt comic characters to television these days. Budget notwithstanding, the two mediums are quite similar in terms of storytelling. They’re both episodic yet reward audiences with long-form, over-arching narratives. If they’re so similar then why does it seems like this code was just recently cracked by the creators of this particular television universe? I don’t have any answers. All I can say is that I can’t wait to see how they flesh out their world and who they adapt next.

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