Originally seeded during season 2 of “Arrow” in the episodes “The Scientist” and “Three Ghosts” (S2E08/S2E09), “The Flash” would see a much more overt approach to super powers brought into the nascent DC TV Universe as Barry was struck by super-charged lightning caused by the explosion of S.T.A.R. Labs’ new particle accelerator.
Much like its title character, “The Flash” can’t help but run at things at full speed and in the pilot alone we get a recap of Barry’s accident, his first case as a superhero (or ‘metahuman’) plus the groundwork for a series-long arc and a huge reveal about the actions of a supporting cast member. In in this last one that the series’ biggest weakness is revealed. It rushes ahead with the revelations and then has to spin its wheels for a few episodes before picking up the thread again later. This happens periodically through the season but gets much much worse in the final third, when the villain’s identity and plan is finally revealed and then nothing really happens with it for about four episodes.
In the comics, “The Flash” has a colourful and varied rogues gallery, a rival even to the Technicolor troops which terrorised Adam West’s “Batman” and this new 21st Century TV series is more than willing to embrace some of the more outré specimens, albeit with a little bit more grit and gravitas. Thanks to some savvy casting and design, silly sounding villains such as Peak-A-Boo, Weather Wizard and Captain Cold turn out to be pretty good fun. The series even manages to give us a fearsome and impressive Gorilla Grodd…eventually.
The main flaw with the first season of “The Flash” is that it often feels like it doesn’t have quite enough story to fill its full 23 episode quota and therefore often relies on characters being really, really obtuse for quite a while before suddenly smartening up just when the story needs them to. There are more than a few moments where one or more characters also make baffling decisions which seem totally out of character or unjustifiable. The perfect example of this is in the late season episode “Rogue Time” (S1E16), a pseudo-filler episode which fritters away the tension and goodwill from the cliff-hanger that preceded it where The Flash lets Captain Cold escape in return for a dubious promise not to kill or reveal his secret identity. It’s also a shame that the first season made the same choice as “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies: creating virtually every hero and villain from the same single accident/ source makes your world feel small and limited. Hopefully the series will spread its wings a bit as it proceeds and bring in non-S.T.A.R. Labs- created metahumans.
Maintaining a more comic-booky, light-hearted tone than its increasingly morose stablemate, there are still plenty of highlights in an uneven but entertaining season. The inevitable cross-over/ versus episode where the story contrives to have Oliver Queen battle The Flash is well staged and does a brilliant job of pushing the experience vs ability angle in explaining how a man with a bow and arrow could possibly hold his own let alone overcome the fastest man alive. Other highlights include a visit from Ray Palmer as the universe’s version of Iron Man The Atom and the introduction of Firestorm. The episode where Grodd finally appears (after having been teased too early and for too long) is also one of the best as is the appearance of Mark Hammil as The Trickster (despite the potential continuity can of worms his appearance opens regarding the canonicity of the 1990’s “Flash” TV series). Although stretched too thin over too many episodes, the overarching mystery of Eobard Thawne/The Reverse Flash/ Dr Harrison Wells eventually comes to a thrilling if not entirely satisfactory conclusion in an unexpectedly timey-wimey way that will have major repercussions for season two.
The casting is solid, with Grant Gustin note perfect as Barry Allen/ The Flash. The supporting cast is pretty good too, with Carolos Valdes’ Cisco Ramon a particular highlight as he pulls double duty not only as the team’s resident engineering genius but also the audience’s proxy, acknowledging and revelling in the absurdity of the comic book world and gifting many of the metahumans with their comic book names. Tom Cavanagh does a great job pulling off the beneficent/ malevolent balancing act his character arc needs and adds a much needed credibility to the inability of the Flash team to sense what he’s up to all along. Jesse Martin brings a level of maturity and gravitas to the pretty young CW cast as Detective Joe West, Barry’s surrogate father and it’s a nice fourth-wall breaking touch that Barry’s actual father is played by 1990’s TV Flash John Wesley Shipp. Only Candice Patton disappoints as Iris West but then she’s written so poorly there’s little the actress can do to avoid being a drag on proceedings. The writers seem so unsure what to do with the character, it’s a wonder she doesn’t end up getting permanently Fridged.
First seasons of genre shows are always a mixed bag and despite a few clunkers, “The Flash” is actually more sure-footed than a lot of other shows which went on to become true greats. It benefitted from being an entertaining and fun hour of escapism, a welcome antidote at a time when “Arrow” was growing more and more miserable and, having opened up the DCTVU to actual superpowers, it’s broadened the kind of stories that can be told. I’m looking forward to Season 2 but I’m also hoping that “The Flash” will smarten up a bit in both its storytelling and characterisation. I really don’t want to see another everything-but-the-kitchen-sink episode where The Flash ends up combatting a tidal wave by running back and forth a lot only to accidentally go back in time and hit the reset button.