Review of The Flash (TV series)

Unlike my review of “Gotham”, I’m not gonna whine this time about all the ways that the TV versions of The Flash and his supporting characters, etc., don’t match the established versions in the comics. Sure, there are several differences, but I have decided that I need to accept this as an “alternative universe” and be satisfied with that. (Besides, the comics history of Barry Allen, Iris West, Reverse-Flash, and other Flashes and supporting characters is itself a real mishmash of time-travel, parallel worlds, deaths & resurrections, and family feuds.) Plus, if you aren’t as much of a stickler for this stuff as I am, you probably don’t care to “hear” me going on about it, anyway.

Flash comic - BlitzI’ve always loved The Flash. Maybe I didn’t follow the character(s) as closely as I did Superman or Batman, but he is still a favorite. He simply has one of the coolest superpowers there is. He isn’t as gloomy and grim as Batman, but he isn’t quite the boyscout that Superman is, either. I guess that makes him more relatable, in some ways. He has one of the best and most recognizable — if somewhat goofy, at times — rogues’ galleries in all of comicdom. And, of course, there is his (and his successor’s) involvement with the Justice League and friendships with other heroes that makes Barry Allen an integral and beloved part of the DC Universe.

I liked the old “Flash” TV series back in the early 1990s, starring John Wesley Shipp, and was sad that it only lasted one season. So, naturally, I was thrilled to hear that the-powers-that-be were spinning off Barry Allen’s guest appearances on “Arrow” into his own series. The weeks dragged by as I waited with cautious optimism for “The Flash” (and “Gotham”) to debut. Of course, the show kicked off early this past October, and as I write this, the 7th episode has just aired. I have only watched the first six, but I think I have a pretty good feel for the show, now. Overall verdict: Two thumbs up!

I’ll begin my critique by commenting on the cast, though perhaps not in as much detail as I did those in “Gotham”….

Grant Gustin is a fine choice for the title character, Barry Allen (aka “The Flash”). I wasn’t familiar with Gustin’s previous work before I saw him on “Arrow”, but his voice and mannerisms do seem really, well, familiar. (Weird!) He has a bit more slender build than Barry is usually drawn, and he has brown hair (as does Shipp), whereas Barry has always been blonde or reddish-blonde in the comics. Still, he is doing a decent job playing a young, likable, science nerd who suddenly gets superpowers and has to deal with the usual hassles that that brings (e.g., keeping a secret identity, figuring out the nature/limits of your powers, learning to fight criminals, etc.). I also appreciate the fact that they cast someone in his early- to mid-20s, which is the age range I always thought the Flash was at his “origin”.

Joe and Iris West are well-portrayed by Jesse L. Martin and Candice Patton, respectively. Though I usually prefer that a character’s race/ethnicity be retained when going from page to screen, this is one of those cases — two, really — where it doesn’t matter and I don’t mind. (I’m sure DC and the producers will be so relieved.) The characters are both likable, relatable, and make a nice adopted family for Barry. Totally different situation than in the comics, but nice nonetheless. The unrequited feelings Barry has for best-friend Iris add another dimension to their relationship, of course. (Plus, there’s that whole other “thing” with Felicity Smoak from “Arrow” that is rather enjoyable.) I like that Barry finally revealed his powers to Det. West, who is, after all, a father-figure and mentor. It should be good for both of them in their personal and professional relationships. As for Iris’ blogging on “The Streak” / Flash, it’s a great lead-up to her eventually becoming a reporter (like in the comics), but I’m sure her putting her name on the blog will continue to put her in danger, as Barry and Joe feared. Let’s just hope the writers/producers don’t overdue the damsel-in-distress plotline.

Joe’s partner, Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), is a character I just can’t decide if I like, or even if I am supposed to. His name is based on the original Reverse-Flash villain from the comics, yet there are certain major differences in the characters, too. Eddie appears to be a good cop and partner to Joe. He also seems to be a good and loyal boyfriend for Iris, but, of course, we want her to (eventually) get together with Barry. Although Barry wants to have reason to dislike him, as do I, Eddie seems like a decent guy. The only thing that really bugs me is his voice. At least, at this point. He may still turn out to have an evil agenda.

theflash - TV posterNow, for the S.T.A.R. Labs crew… Danielle Panabaker’s Dr. Caitlin Snow seemed rather stiff and serious at first, but then we found out why, and she is now loosening up a bit. That’s good, because I like her. (That is, in the few other things I’ve seen her in, I thought she was cute and a decent actress. So, I want to like her character.) Unfortunately, she is most likely destined to become the villain Killer Frost. (Though, that could be fun, too!) Meanwhile, it makes sense to have a physician on the Flash’s support team. In the first couple episodes, I didn’t like Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) for some reason, but I’m warming up to him. He’s just another young, scientific genius who geeks out about superpowers and likes to make cool equipment, after all. I wasn’t familiar with the comics version, but a couple years ago DC apparently re-created the hero known as “Vibe” and named him “Cisco Ramon”, rather than the original “Paco Ramone”. What does this bode for the TV version? (He doesn’t really look the hero type.)

Dr. Harrison Wells is another interesting character whom I am somewhat ambivalent about. The character is newly created for TV, so the comics are no help. He obviously has a few secrets and is willing to go to great lengths to keep them. He is also fiercely protective of Barry and knows some things about Barry’s future, but does this necessarily make him a “good” guy? Tom Cavanaugh is a fine actor, and I hope they give him some opportunities to show more range. But, personally, I hope the writers/producers don’t reveal all about Wells until at least season 2. Keep the mystery going, dropping hints here and there, please.

The various villains have been fun! Pretty good casting, so far. (Although, Nimbus/Mist and Weather Wizard really bugged me, I must admit.) Nice to see them “brought to life” off the comic pages, even if they do look different. I know, I know. Some of their traditional costumes would look ridiculously garish in real life. I do appreciate the efforts they are making to keep some recognizable elements, though.

Finally, the casting of John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s dad, Henry Allen, is a nice touch and quasi-homage to his stint as Barry / The Flash. (Btw, did you know Shipp voiced the character of Professor Zoom (aka Reverse-Flash) in an episode of “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”?)

On to the other stuff…

I noticed that they include an introductory narrative by the hero at the beginning of each episode, just as they do for “Arrow”. But, just like “The Flash” has a somewhat less dark & dire tone than “Arrow” (except for that whole Mom-was-murdered-and-Dad’s-in-prison thing), same goes for the intro. I don’t know if I’d want them to continue with this through successive seasons (like “Arrow” has), but it’s OK, so far. I kind of like that they tag on an additional few seconds of episode-specific remarks to sort of set the tone for the theme or reflection or lesson-of-the-week. Oh, and I like the music, too.

Speaking of plots (sort of), while I am enjoying seeing different villains show up, I hope they don’t get stuck in a villain-of-the-week rut. In fact, I’m pretty sure they won’t, since there are already plot threads being woven into what seems to be a larger, ongoing storyline. More than one, in fact. Besides investigating other superpowered beings who (mostly) got their powers from the same incident at S.T.A.R. Labs that gave Barry his, Dr. Wells et al. are now incarcerating these new supervillains in the bowels of the particle accelerator. That probably won’t end well. (Questions: Why does Wells still have access to the defunct facilities, especially if he is blamed for the explosion? Who is financing him? How does the construction for customized containment cells get done? Who feeds, monitors, and cares for the prisoners?)

There is the whole mystery surrounding Wells, of course: The hidden, advanced tech he has in that special room. The newspaper from the future. His not being disabled, after all. (Did he heal fast like Barry, or was he never really paralyzed? Is he from the future? Is he a villain?) What he knows about Barry and why he is so protective. His past dealings with General Eiling, who isn’t known as an enemy of the Flash. (Decent casting on Eiling, btw. Will we see him “transform”, as in the comics?) Was or will he be responsible for Grodd’s increased intelligence and/or ability to speak? As I said above, I hope they don’t wrap this all up in, say, a season (or mid-season) finale.

There is also the renewed quest to discover the identity of the superfast man-in-yellow that killed Barry’s Mom, so that his Dad can also be exonerated and released from prison. Now that Det. West knows about Barry and others having superpowers, he is on board with helping Barry figure it out. Good choice.

I enjoy the humor in the show. It’s pretty well-written and tasteful, not crude or asinine.

Wells, Ramon, & Snow

Wells, Ramon, & Snow

I am enjoying watching Barry push his limits and learn new things about his abilities — with the help and advice of Dr. Wells, Caitlin, and Cisco, of course. Also, generally speaking, I think the visual f/x are well done. That being said, there are some things that bug me that have to do with Barry’s powers. First, why does he use them so inconsistently? He’s a forensic scientist and ought to be able to figure these things out. For example, his confrontations with Weather Wizard, Multiplex, and Nimbus all showed the Flash punching and otherwise reacting as if he was a normal person at normal speed. (At least, at first.) Shouldn’t he be able to knock out any of these guys before they can whip up a hurricane wind, replicate, or turn to vapor? Also, in his first confrontation with Snart & Co. — before the superchill freeze-ray was introduced — Flash made a choice between EITHER going after the bad guys (who were just taking off down the street on their motorcycles) OR take the injured guard 7 blocks to the hospital. But, he SHOULD have been able to do both — a 14 blocks round-trip would only take a few seconds, then he could catch up to the baddies, even if it meant a superfast grid search to find them. In fact, Barry often complains that there isn’t enough time to do X, but if he’d quit whining and get running, he could do it! He makes bad decisions…. Sigh! I guess we are supposed to chalk these things up to his being a science nerd who is just getting used to also being a superpowered “man of action”. Still,…

Second, there is the physics involved in his powers. (Some of this complaint applies to the comics, too.) I wasn’t sure I would like the new version of the Flash costume, but it hasn’t bothered me at all. A little darker red than I would prefer, but pretty cool, actually. But, Barry made a comment that sounds really dumb to anyone who remembers basic physics. When a visiting Felicity Smoak saw his tennis-shoes smoking (after a quick run up & down a nearby building), he said he has a “friction-proof suit”. Assuming that means “friction-free” or “frictionless”, he’d be slippin’ and slidin’ all over — especially with no traction on the soles of his feet! (How would he even put it on?) That leads me to the question of momentum. How can he make all those sudden, right-angle turns at 100, 200, 300 mph? Normally, that shouldn’t be possible, since his momentum would be slamming him into things, whenever he tried changing direction. Related to this is the fact that anyone he grabs or picks up (even briefly) while moving them out of harm’s way at those speeds would be seriously injured by the sudden increases and decreases in speeds. Serious whiplash at best; broken necks and other bones, plus impact injuries, at worst! I hope the writers/producers will eventually address these phenomena, and I am guessing it will involve the Speed Force. (I didn’t have time to research it, but I am assuming that the comics have, at some point, attributed this to a property of the Speed Force that DC’s speedsters tap into. Doesn’t explain how Superman does it, though. Just ask Sheldon Cooper.)

Alright, that should do it! Overall, it’s a very enjoyable show for a superhero/action buff like me, and I look forward to what the rest of the season (and beyond) brings!

P.S.  Recent breaking news is that the show will involve some time travel later in the season. If I had my druthers, I would prefer they not delve into that for a couple of seasons, at least. But, I am still looking forward to it and (obviously) hope they do a faithful and skilled job with it.

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