Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Flash Pilot Episode - A (Very) Early Review

The pilot of The Flash fails to live up to the hype, but there is a lot of room for growth.
 by Grant Andrews

The pilot episode of the new CW Arrow spin-off series The Flash recently leaked online, and thousands of fans have consumed it within a matter of days. Without admitting to any illegal activity of my own (in case someone from the FBI is reading this), I offer a very early review of the first episode (which may or may not be based on pure speculation. Seriously, I admit to nothing).

For those who have been following the promotion and hype for the show, there is very little in the pilot that will surprise you. In fact, the extended promotional trailer contained nearly every important beat of the episode. It’s a run-of-the-mill origin story: a tragic young loss when hero Barry Allen’s mother is killed by a mysterious figure who merely appears as a whooshing blur that surrounds her; the requisite vengeance and redemption tale in the form of an innocent man (Barry’s father) jailed for the crime of murdering Barry’s mother (committed by someone who will undoubtedly be this season’s big bad, and I already have my suspicions); a mentor with a dark secret in the form of Dr. Harrison Wells; a team of hangers-on, one relentlessly chirpy and the other brooding and complex; and a beautiful girl who just isn’t that into him… yet. This all comes as pretty standard, even cliché superhero fare.

And while we’re used to seeing the nerdy, gifted but flawed everyman take on the superhero role, there is something peculiar about Grant Gustin’s portrayal of Barry Allen – it’s just not strong enough to carry a show. Whether this will eventually be the downfall of the show in the ratings remains to be seen. The hype alone will draw a few million eyeballs, but there just isn’t enough that’s unique about this show or striking enough about the characters to keep people coming back.

The pilot sees police forensic assistant Allen struck by lightning, which was caused by the destruction of a particle accelerator built by Dr. Wells’s S.T.A.R. Labs (I seriously hate these acronym-ridden shows. Typing all those full stops is a nightmare!). Barry falls into a coma for months, during which time he is visited frequently by the girl who protests too much that she only sees him as a brother, Iris, played by Candice Patton (can I claim credit for coining the amalgam Barris? Get it? Barry and Iris? Nevermind, I don’t want credit for that).

One thing that really stood out was the special effects. They were first-rate for television, from the initial explosion and lightning effects, the weather effects of the episode’s baddie, and the Flash’s trademark blurry trail as he speeds past. Even the costume department seemed to have a healthy injection of creativity and money, as the Flash suit looked particularly good when we’re used to much less from TV.

On the acting front, the supporting players were all perfectly okay and did what they were supposed to do, not really delivering anything noteworthy in their performances, with the exception of Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West, Iris’s father and a friend and confidante of Barry’s, who really is too good for the material he’s given here, and Tom Cavanagh as Dr. Harrison Wells, who plays his character’s delicious ambiguity sublimely. Gustin, while a fine actor and even convincing in the role, doesn’t have enough charisma to be an iconic hero, or enough swoon-factor to make the target demographic of teenage girls come back for more each week.

The show offers a solid foundation to expand on, and with the right mixture of action, mystery and character development, it could turn into a strong show and a ratings draw for the CW. It definitely hits all the right notes for a pilot and creates interest in its many tensions, but if the characters remain as bland as they currently are, particularly the lead, there will be little reason to stick with it.

The Flash is set to premier October 7 on CW. See the (perfectly legal) promo trailer below, and if you've seen the pilot, share your thoughts in the comments.