Wednesday, October 8, 2014

DAMN Good Television -- THE FLASH: "Pilot"


After a hiatus of only 23 years, fans of the CBS series The Flash finally have a second season of their favorite Fastest Man Alive.  Although the thing is, John Wesley Shipp has been replaced as The Flash by a much younger Grant Gustin and the show is now on The CW as a spinoff of the series Arrow.  Apart from the overall improvements in special effects, costuming, lighting, camerawork, etc., it's...basically the same show.  Well...um...sort of.

This 2014 version was first announced in July 2013, with the idea of debuting Barry Allen on two episodes of Arrow followed by a third episode later in the show's second season where he would become The Flash.  This was going to essentially serve as a back-door pilot for a Flash spinoff series, until the decision was made to film a proper standalone pilot episode instead.  And having learned lessons from making Arrow, executive producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns chose to fully embrace the DC Comics Universe right off the bat, exploring the concept of strange superpowers the way Arrow often avoids in favor of a more realistic approach.

The first episode, directed by Smallville and Arrow pilot veteran David Nutter, opens with a brief taste of Barry Allen racing through Central City as The Flash before flashing back to his childhood at the age of eleven.  We see the return of Shipp now playing Barry's father Henry Allen, and the loving relationship he has with his wife Nora before everything goes to hell.  Waking up to a weird sight of water floating up from a nearby fishtank, Barry goes downstairs to find his mom caught in the middle of a strange, yellow blur racing back and forth.  Unable to reach Nora because of the blur, Henry tells Barry to run and suddenly, young Barry finds himself blocks away from his house...in a flash.

Jumping ahead about twelve years or so, we see the adult and constantly late Barry Allen arriving at a crime scene that introduces his former legal guardian, Detective Joe West (Jesse L Martin), and his boss, Captain David Singh (Patrick Sabongui) of the Central City Police Department.  As forensic assistant Barry examines the crime scene with mental observations texted across the screen for viewers similar to the BBC series Sherlock, we learn that a pair of criminals called the Mardon brothers (Clyde and presumably, the more important Mark) have caught the attention of the CCPD.

Gustin picks up right where he left off after his two Arrow episodes earlier this year, continuing to show Barry's awkward but well-intentioned charm, making him quickly likeable and relatable to the audience.  And with the tragic murder of Barry's mother under mysterious circumstances yet to be explained and his father's false imprisonment for said murder, Gustin gives Barry a vulnerability that makes you instantly sympathetic to the character.

We then meet Iris West (Candice Patton), Joe's daughter and Barry's future love, and get a glimpse of Barry's unrequited crush that is pretty much the norm for any male superhero.  Even with Iris seeing Barry as just a friend (for the moment at least), Patton and Gustin have a good chemistry that wants you to see these two hook up despite the somewhat skeevy notion that the two grew up together in the same house as foster siblings. 

Barry and Iris end up going to S.T.A.R. Labs to hear Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) speak about his exciting new particle accelerator that we know from Arrow is destined to go completely FUBAR.  Iris' laptop is stolen during Wells' speech, forcing Barry to give chase and also show us how slow he currently is.  After sucker-punching Barry with a laptop to the stomach, the thief is quickly caught by Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), who was given the nickname "Detective Prettyboy" and immediately becomes Barry's rival for Iris' attention.

Barry returns to his spacious loft apartment, returning us to a very important scene from the end of the Arrow episode "Three Ghosts."  Essentially, we get an expanded version this time, as Barry is caught in the particle accelerator energy wave and is struck by lightning, which sends him crashing into a nearby rack of chemicals.  He wakes up nine months later in S.T.A.R. Labs, syncing the series up with the start of Arrow's Season 3, and meets tech geek Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and the frosty Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker).  Together, they provide the necessary expository explanation that Barry's accident has placed him in a constant state of cellular regeneration, which Barry sums up as "Lightning gave me abs?"

As the pilot episode progresses, Barry discovers his super-speed stopping an arrested criminal reaching for a cop's gun and after a brief sprint in a nearby alley, we're literally off and running.  Harrison (now in a wheelchair), Cisco and Caitlin quickly form Barry's science support for his newfound abilities, testing his speed on an abandoned Ferris airfield that possibly foreshadows a Green Lantern connection.  During the test, Barry suddenly recalls seeing a blurred yellow figure during his mother's murder that makes him wonder if the man who killed his mother had the same powers as he has.  (Spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the DC Comics limited series Flashpoint -- he does.)

On top of all this, Clyde Mardon has returned with spiffy new weather-controlling abilities, Iris is now secretly dating Eddie Thawne without telling her father, and Joe flat out tells Barry that all the strange stuff he saw as a kid never happened and he needs to accept that Henry Allen murdered his wife.  As a result, Barry runs off to Starling City and has another meeting with special guest superhero The Arrow for advice.  Stephen Amell has a nice cameo role here as his character Oliver Queen, who tells Barry that "You can inspire people" in a way that he can't and that he's able to "save people -- in a flash."  (Say, that's catchy...)

So naturally he does, after obtaining a spiffy scarlet suit from Cisco and Caitlin that's supposedly aerodynamic, but looks a bit loose and leathery instead.  The inevitable superhero vs. supervillain showdown ensues that ultimately hints at Mark Mardon's appearance somewhere down the line and reveals Barry's new identity and powers to Joe in the process.  Later on, Barry visits his father Henry in Iron Heights prison and reassures him that he knows Henry didn't kill his mother.

That pretty much sets up Season One, teasing a number of possible supervillains for the future (Don't blink or you'll miss a certain busted cage) along with a number of character conflicts that should prove interesting.  However, there's a very important epilogue that you should be playing very close attention to that I won't spoil here apart from saying someone is far more than he seems and we may get to see a rather huge DC Comics event at some point.

All in all, The Flash left the starting position strong and with some solid storytelling and great special effects to showcase superpowers, has the potential to become bigger and better than ArrowThe series should provide a fun, brighter change of pace from the gritty crime and corruption on Arrow and Gotham, with far more depth and creativity than Smallville had during its 10-year run.  And with the show's willingness to bring in Shipp along with his co-star Amanda Pays, fans of the original Flash series should be in for a real treat. 

Anyone else up for a Mark Hamill episode after he finishes filming Star Wars Episode VII...?

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