On Tuesday, the CW nails three important elements to its latest comic book adaptation, The Flash. First, the series is completely on point with what the network is doing elsewhere (Arrow, etc.). Second, it’s actually very well done. And third, it’s wholly entertaining.
That all might sound simple and basic — and it is — but it’s surprisingly difficult to pull off, not just at the CW but across the industry.
Given that the network has produced broadcast’s best pilot — Jane the Virgin — and comes in super strong with The Flash, it’s a robust 2 for 2 and maybe that signals good things going forward.
For viewers, there are plenty of good things about The Flash, starting with the fact that, at its most basic, it’s just fun. Sometimes that’s a welcome relief when we live in a TV landscape that has things like Stalker polluting it.
It gets at that entertainment value simply and, not surprisingly, with speed. When we first meet Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), he’s an 11-year-old witnessing something truly bizarre at his house – an event that leaves his mother dead and his father framed for the murder that he didn’t commit. Barry is raised by Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). Joe’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton) becomes Barry’s best friend, and when Barry grows up he becomes a CSI sleuth in fictional Central City, partly because he wants to figure out what unnatural phenomenon was responsible for his mother’s death.
That might be a good enough story as it stands, but of course, we know that there’s a speed element that’s still to come. Barry is geeked out on a cool and promising new particle accelerator created by rock star physicist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh), head of S.T.A.R. Labs.
On the night of the grand unveiling, something goes very wrong — there’s an explosion and then a deadly storm, and Barry gets a jolt he never sees coming.
That jolt gives him the power of speed (well, first it puts him in a coma for almost a year). When he awakes, a now wheelchair-bound Wells has lent out his help in bringing Barry to better health (and his team eventually whips up a suit when they realize young mister Allen is going to be zipping around the city).
The appeal of The Flash is partly in Barry’s likability – you want him to succeed. And the pilot has just the right pace for revealing his newfound powers. The S.T.A.R. Lab folks (Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes) add value as well, but it’s the combination of the show’s budding superhero qualities with the gravitas offered by Cavanaugh and Martin that make it a show the whole family can watch, and one that offers delights on both ends of the spectrum.
Bottom line, though, is if you can’t smash something like the Hulk does or be a badass in the mold of Batman, you’re going to need to make that “I run fast” thing the basis of jokes and endearment rather than fear and awe. In that sense, The Flash ends up being entertaining because it knows precisely the right mood, which is especially good to see in a pilot.