“The Flash,” which premiered Oct. 7 on the CW, is far from the only superhero show out there. On the contrary, it seems that the superhero theme is nearly ubiquitous on both the small and silver screens. Every summer seems to bring in another crop of comic book films featuring Marvel and DC characters battling to save the world, while studios simultaneously battle to win audiences. Superheroes have successfully conquered the box office, and now the fight has come to television.
Every major network seems to be jumping on the superhero bandwagon, from Fox’s Batman-prequel “Gotham” (2014), to ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (2013), to the CW’s “Arrow” (2012). “Gotham” and “Arrow,” which are each based on DC Comic narratives, present dark, gritty insights into the nature of heroism and vigilantism. Even “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” — which began as an optimistic and lighter take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe — has shifted to an edgier narrative in its second season. While each of these series presents comic book-inspired sets and action, they are still grounded in a darker portrayal of reality.
This is why “The Flash” is so unique. The pilot episode gives a refreshing, almost naïve look at a man confronting newfound powers. The show centers on Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a charming young forensic investigator who was struck by lightning at the same time that a particle accelerator malfunctioned. The lightning (and particle accelerator science-y magic) not only puts Barry into a coma for nine months, but also gives him the powers of super speed.
In this day and age of emphasis on realism in superhero stories, Flash’s origin story is a little improbable and even ridiculous. However, the premise is made more believable by Gustin’s performance — he plays Barry as a likeable, ordinary guy who just happened to get superpowers. At one point, Barry looks at his power-enhanced physique and asks, “Lightning gave me abs?” It’s this type of tongue-in-cheek humor, along with Gustin’s excellent delivery, which makes the show worth watching.
“Flash” also promises overlap with “Arrow.” Barry Allen was introduced in the second season of “Arrow” last winter, and the premiere episode of “The Flash” featured a cameo by “Arrow” hero Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). While it’s clear that the two shows will continue to be intertwined in some capacity, thankfully the first episode of “The Flash” proved that Gustin can hold his own as a series lead.
Starting strong, “The Flash” presents some serious moments and mysteries in the first episode. Barry’s mother was killed in unknown circumstances and his father was blamed for the murder and sent to prison. Overall, however, the show has an incredibly hopeful tone. Barry takes giddy runs to test his power, and the audience feels entertained and amused as he discovers his limits (or lack thereof). It’s nice to have a hero be a genuinely good guy, devoid of excessive brooding and giant personality flaws.
In terms of plot, the pilot is incredibly heavy on exposition and lighter on actual storytelling. Obviously, at this point the writers are more focused on introducing each character than providing those characters with meaningful interactions. For instance, the viewer already knows that Barry has feelings for his childhood friend, Iris West (Candice Patton), because there are several trope-filled moments in which the two discuss their relationship. Barry’s interactions with the science team that assists him with his powers is similarly stilted, although the character of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) provides an intriguing interpretation of the traditional superhero mentor.
For now, the relationships on “The Flash” remain very one-dimensional. Hopefully this is just a pilot episode side effect, and the dynamics between characters will develop and improve as the season continues.
“The Flash” is, in a word, enjoyable. It isn’t groundbreaking television, but it provides a solid hour of light, almost joyful, entertainment. In a television lineup of brooding superhero stories, it’s hard not to be charmed by the unabashed fun of “The Flash.”