May 20, 2015

TV Retrospective: "The Flash" - Season 1

The superhero genre is only getting more crowded. What once started off on the big screen has started to seep into TV with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham and even Netflix's own Daredevil. It is getting harder to find something of value in the medium, especially as they become more self-mythologizing and brooding in reality. Then there's CW's model. From the writers of the Superman series Smallville comes The Flash: the latest DC property and first spin-off from Arrow to be adapted into a series. It was the story about the fastest man alive whose powers weren't necessarily impressive outside of that. However, in the first season of the show, it managed to do something unprecedented. It made superheroes fun without being too campy or nonsensical.
The general ideas of The Flash are present every week in the opening "credits." Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) witnesses his mother dying as a freak storm happens. He gets the gift of agility miraculously and teams with S.T.A.R. to take down superpowered villains. Along with the dastardly leader Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the team goes on adventures that occasionally features Arrow crossover episodes. As a whole, the format is stocked from there. In typical CW fashion, the plots revolve around the characters and their motivations more than cool action set pieces (which there are many of). The energy is fast and the stakes become higher as the series progresses. Most of all, it is fun in the process.
While CW has plans to do a multiple series crossover in the Fall, The Flash's first season was a breath of fresh air solely because of how new it was. While Arrow was an occasional guest, the series was predominantly about the adventures in Central City. There was constant problems with loved ones and vulnerability, but they were explored with more of a sense of earnestness than the cynicism that fueled Gotham. There was always hope and the existential crises always felt optimistic. Even in the phenomenal final episode "Fast Enough" where tragedy becomes otherworldly, the show has a grounded sense of character. The stakes were beginning to turn on the act of being a hero for yourself as well as others. When balanced properly, the show was able to become some of the more wrenching moments in TV series comic adaptations period. 
While the end goal was something that occasionally popped up, the series was also willing to embrace its weirdness. There were villainous gorillas and Mark Hamill stopped by as The Trickster once. These villains may be a little too comic to hold a series, but for an episode were able to shine and make something more conflicting for S.T.A.R. characters. It was just as much about the victory as it was getting there. There were long term characters like Reverse Flash that would appear randomly and be dissected at length. However, the universe progressed without becoming too absurd for its own good. For as weird as the characters got, they were grounded in the atmosphere of the show. It was sometimes convenient, but never a bore.
It is hard to really expect a series to maintain its quality in the modern age, especially when crossovers is synonymous with everything thanks to Marvel's Cinematic Universe. There has come to be an expectation as to how a show progresses. While we may unfortunately see that ruin The Flash in time, it does leave some room for what is potentially to come. The story of the first season was very much involved around a one season arc. The ending was satisfying. Most of all, it was full of character moments that were endearing enough to make this more than a silly show. At best, we can expect something along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to come in the fall. At worst, many will be lost in what's to come. For now, we have a perfectly enjoyable season of superhero TV that strove to be something unique and excelled in the process. The Flash may have lacked the prestige, but it was the underdog that made its mark consistently with relative themes beyond that of cool effects.
Most of all, it was a show with great characters and writing that what started off as a central vehicle for The Flash began to turn into an ensemble full of memorable characters, specifically Cisco (Carlos Valdes) as the funny young scientist who defied nerd stereotypes at every turn. Even the progressive view of father figure (Jesse L. Martin) showed that The Flash, if anything, was a show willing to embrace nuclear families by having an interracial household that had no hang ups on this fact. In an era where shows like Fresh Off the Boat are trying to increase awareness of minorities, it is more interesting to watch shows that focus on everyone working together without concern to gender or race. While superhero culture has theoretically been working on that, The Flash is one of the few that has actually made it enjoyable.
The effects may have been very basic, but The Flash is a show that strives to make superheroes into something cool and more relative. We like Barry not because of his powers, but because he has the issues that any young man faces. There's the familiar identity struggles, but that is sandwiched between metaphorical battles with villains, nature and time. Maybe the show occasionally went into too ridiculous of directions, but it did manage to make the teen drama into something wholly unique and satisfying. One can only hope that this idea holds up as next season starts up and we're forced to come to terms with the ridiculous, heightened cliffhanger that ends this season. Even if it doesn't live up to it, it will be hard to find a show that was as fun and innovative to the superhero genre on TV as this one.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

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