Wednesday, October 10, 2012
DAMN Good Television -- ARROW: "Pilot"
2012 has been a pretty good year for archers, hasn't it? Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Merida in Pixar's Brave, Hawkeye in The Avengers, and now comes DC Comics' Green Arrow in his very own CW network television series, Arrow.
When word of this series first leaked back in January, I was understandably concerned about what the final aired version would be like. It wasn't all that long ago that Justin Hartley was appearing on Smallville as Green Arrow, and let's face it, other recent DC Comics TV series (the short-lived Birds of Prey, the Aquaman pilot also starring Justin Hartley, the Adrianne Palicki Wonder Woman pilot, and a number of others never greenlit) haven't exactly fared well.
So how did the Arrow pilot turn out? Pretty damn good, actually. The setup for the series is strong but easy for non-comics fans to follow. Millionaire playboy Oliver Queen returns home after five years marooned on an island and being presumed dead by his mother Moira and younger sister Thea. The thing is, his experiences on that island (whatever they may have been) affected Oliver so much that he's decided to engage in vigilante-style justice and work his way through a long revenge list of targets that wronged Ollie's dead father Robert. Oh, and in case the series title wasn't enough of a clue for you, he does it in Robin Hood fashion with a bow and arrow. Because he can.
This pilot episode directed by David Nutter, who also directed the Smallville pilot, borrows origin elements from Jack Kirby's "The Green Arrow's First Case" in Adventure Comics #256, Mike Grell's Green Arrow: The Wonder Year and Andy Diggle and Jock's recent Green Arrow: Year One. A number of new elements are worked into this take on Green Arrow as well, such as expanding and developing Ollie's family to include a father with dark, tragic secrets yet to be revealed, a mother who is more than she initially appears, and a sister affected by her brother's presumed death. Ollie's traditional love interest, Dinah Laurel Lance, is here but given additional dramatic tension because of her dead sister and her police detective father Quentin, who blames Ollie for his daughter's death while also hunting him as the vigilante Arrow. And if that wasn't enough, there's the very Smallvilleian (Smallvilleish?) friendship with Tommy Merlyn, who presumably becomes his arch-nemesis Merlyn at some point down the road.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor tweaks to the mythos that seem to have been made for no discernible reason whatsoever. Ollie's hometown of Star City is now "Starling City" because Star City rolled off the tongue far too easily. Meanwhile, Dinah is called "Laurel" (apparently "Dinah" isn't hip enough) but her full name is stated as "Dinah Laurel Lance," so rabid Green Arrow and Black Canary fans can step back from their keyboards.
On the plus side, there are a few sly nods to DC Comics fans beyond the basics. Ollie refers to his sister Thea as "Speedy," either as a shout-out to Green Arrow's sidekick or possibly hinting that Thea could become his sidekick at some point? Legendary Green Arrow writer/artist Mike Grell is acknowledged by a reference to a "Judge Grell," while Ollie's bodyguard John Diggle is presumably named after the aforementioned writer Andy Diggle. And in a quick blink-and-you-miss-it shot, the mask of supervillain/antihero Deathstroke can be seen in an early scene when Ollie's lights his signal bonfire to be rescued.
As for the cast, this series lives or dies on the shoulders of Canadian actor Stephen Amell, who thankfully has more acting range than Justin Hartley in order to sell the dramatic, less-superhero moments. Amell is likeable and engaging, but able to convey the distinction between Ollie's playboy facade and the real traumatized man underneath. It also doesn't hurt that he trained extremely well for the part, showcasing his fitness using a salmon ladder and various uses of parkour. Among the rest, I think Katie Cassidy has potential as Laurel but it would nice to see her character expanded beyond legal aid attorney plot device and conflicted love interest. I also enjoyed seeing British actor Paul Blackthorne again as Quentin Lance, using an American accent similar to his Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files TV series that ended far too soon.
All in all, a promising start for Arrow and hopefully, the ratings will be strong enough to allow the series to develop further. There are a number of DC Comics characters coming up in future episodes, such as The Huntress, Deadshot and China White, so it's encouraging that Arrow is diving right into where it took Smallville several seasons to fully embrace. Here's hoping that viewers keep embracing Arrow week after week in return.