The Red Menace Finally Watches "The Flash" Season One
Anyone who's read these pages knows that I am a big fan of The Flash, both in comics and the DC Animated universe. This has led to several folks asking me what I thought of the CW's live action Flash tv show, and to me awkwardly explaining that I hadn't actually watched it yet. There's nothing we keep up with on a weekly basis in our household, and we don't have a DVR, so I can really only watch shows that come to Amazon or Netflix. Well, that dream is finally realized and Mr. Menace and I watched the entire first season of "The Flash" in the matter of a few weeks. So how does it hold up? Do I still love the fastest man alive, or has my enthusiasm been dampened? Let's break it down into a few key points. (NB: Generally spoiler-free, but I allude to the overall plot points, because let's face it - I am actually the LAST PERSON IN AMERICA watching this show. You all know what happened.)
The Hero: If you've read my other posts on this subject, you know that my personal favorite Flash is the third incarnation, Wally West. The CW show, like its 90's predecessor, focuses instead on the second Flash, Barry Allen. Or at least, it says it does - the character is called Barry, and like the Silver Age Flash, he's a forensic detective. However, when you look at the personality of this Barry Allen (played adorably well by Grant Gustin) he looks far more like Wally. Barry in his original comics was quite straight and narrow, with a more black and white idea of justice. Wally was more fun and warm, with a mind towards rehabilitating his rogues rather than simply punishing them. Overall, that seems to be the Flash that the CW is going for, to the point that Mr. Menace and I refer to the character as "Barley." He's Wally, as far as I'm concerned, but with Barry's name and allies. In the end it doesn't hurt the show, but it occasionally puzzles me deeply, particularly when they portray things like Barry going on a date with Linda Park (traditionally Wally's love interest.) In terms of acting, Gustin does a great job portraying a young, inexperienced Flash who is still finding his literal and metaphorical feet. He's adorably awkward, but looks more and more comfortable in his heroic role as the time goes on.
The Team: The set-up to the show is that Barry gets his powers when STAR Labs is experimenting with a particle accelerator that malfunctions, bathing Central City in a mysterious radiation that imbues some of the citizens, including him, with amazing abilities. As a result most of the STAR team is injured or dispersed, but the remaining crew - founder and mysterious genius, Harrison Wells, bioengineer Caitlin Snow, and mechanical engineer Cisco Ramon - take Barry under their wing and try to help him understand his powers. (Even though betrayal lurks within the team, you still feel like they genuinely love each other. It's complicated.) Barry's other allies include his adoptive family, Detective Joe West and his daughter, Iris, with whom Barry is secretly (pretty much only to Iris) in love; his biological father, Henry Allen, who is wrongly imprisoned for the murder of Barry's mother, and Eddie Thawn, Joe's partner on the police force and Iris' boyfriend. This motley crew provide different supports and tensions for Barry throughout the season, and while there are some melodramatic notes (hey, this show is on the CW), one of the things I really like about the series is that it understands that the Flash is all about family. In the comics, the long line of speedsters from Jay to Barry to Wally to Bart aren't just passing on a mantle - they're connected in ways that make them both literally and figuratively a family, and the show seems to get the importance of that - Barry has the family he's related to, in his father, but also the one that raised him in Joe and Iris, and the one that he himself adopts in the denizens of STAR Labs. This gives the show some of the heart that is so important to what I love about this hero.
That's not to say that it's perfectly handled - the team is oddly comfortable with killing several of the villains Barry fights, and even in a universe that has established the existence of Lazarus pits, this seems a bit callous, and even worse, out of character. Though Barry isn't personally responsible for the bulk of these villain deaths, he seems less chagrined by them happening than I would expect from the sort of hero who actively helps his enemies to find redemption.
In addition, everyone is incredibly casual with Barry's identity, to the point where it almost seems meaningless to wear a mask at all. It seems like by the end of the series all of Central City knows who the Flash is, and if they don't, they can just waltz through the non-existent security at STAR Labs and find out.
In spite of these flaws, however, I appreciate Barry's chosen family. The actors, once again, are well-suited to their roles; for example, Cisco should be annoying but instead is genuinely funny, thanks to the skills of Carlos Valdez. For a CW melodrama, there's a surprising amount of nuance and character growth, even in the first season, and I'm interested to see where Season 2 will take it.
This post is getting long, and since it's Thanksgiving here in the States tomorrow, there's plenty of baking and then eating to be done, so I'm pausing here. Tune in next month, when I break down my feelings about the Rogues and storylines! In the meantime, if you've watched the show, tell me what you think in the comments. But no Season 2 spoilers, please - I remain too slow to keep up with the Flash.