The Flash: 101 “Pilot” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
After the huge success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, almost every superhero property went straight for the ‘dark and gritty’ approach that made Nolan’s Batman films so popular – including The Flash’s TV godfather, Arrow. The Flash, however, is a much lighter and funnier affair – and works all the better for it
The Flash’s pilot is essentially a 45-minute origin story for the fastest man alive with all the origin story trimmings – taking in introductions of the supporting characters, requisite somewhat-wishy-washy transformation event and a starter villain (in this case, Clyde Mardon, aka DC Comics’ Weather Wizard). With so much to accomplish in so little time, one might expect the pilot to buckle under the weight of the heavy lifting needed – but The Flash manages to stay afloat with a breathlessly paced and zippy premiere (even if the fast pace often works against it).
Grant Gustin’s casting evoked fears from some – but Gustin continues his strong work from last year’s Arrow episodes here. He’s instantly likeable and endearing as Barry Allen (and gets some very funny moments) – but he’s capable with the more dramatic material too (the scene with his father, ably played by 90s Flash John Wesley Shipp, was an emotional highlight despite the inherent cheesiness of the scene). The supporting players vary – Jesse L Martin shows some great promise as Barry’s tough but loving surrogate dad Joe and Tom Cavanagh is a calm, collected presence with an intriguing splash of sinister (more on that later). However, some characters are left a little by the wayside – love interest Iris West feels a little dull and generic at the moment, saddled with an uninteresting romantic subplot). There’s obviously room for expansion on Iris later, but The Flash seems to have inherited Arrow’s awkwardness with love interests for now. Iris may be the show’s main weak link right now, but excitable, geeky STAR Labs worker Cisco Ramon veers dangerously close to being irritating at points, and badly needs some depth beyond repeating ‘cool’ an awful lot.
Despite the by-the-numbers romance subplot, the pilot remains a zippy and well-made delight – unashamedly fun and exciting from start to finish; in a market where superheroes are often angst-ridden and are tormented by their powers/responsibilities, it’s refreshing to see someone just enjoy being a superhero (even if angst will doubtless come later, in spades). Several scenes feel and look like they’re ripped from the pages of a comic book – none more so than the concluding scene where Barry unravels a tornado after an inspiring pep talk from Harrison Wells. Arrow may have taken time slipping into more comic-esque territory, but it’s good to see that The Flash is adapting the larger-than-life and fantastical atmosphere of the comics rather than aiming for ‘realism’ (besides, super speed would be rather hard to pull off as realistic) from episode one. Effects-wise, Barry’s super speed is depicted very well indeed; the Flash seemed a tricky prospect to pull off on TV but the visual effects here are solid by movie standards – there’s nothing especially innovative or original about how the speed effects are done, but it’s impressive nonetheless, especially on a TV budget.
Despite the general strength of the pilot, it fails on a reasonably important front – the villain. Clyde Mardon, aka Weather Wizard is depicted competently visually, but the character has about the same depth as a paddling pool (with a meagre 5 minutes or so of screen time to boot) – with a lack of motivation aside from a vaguely hinted at God complex, Mardon comes across as a blank slate for Barry to relatively easily defeat on his first adventure (and actor Chad Rook is fairly average, failing to add some much-needed depth of his own to the badly underwritten character). It’s not a crippling flaw of the pilot, and pilots usually deliver a relatively lackluster villain, but it’s frustrating to see a potentially interesting character quickly squandered. The real test will come in later weeks where iconic Flash foes such as Captain Cold make a debut, but it’s not an inspiring introduction to the meta-humans we’ll doubtless be seeing plenty of over the course of the series.
Most pilots usually have a final scene to introduce the story arc for the first season – and The Flash is no exception, delivering a whopper of a final scene that shows brings time travel into the mix and shows some hidden depths to Harrison Wells. Could Wells be Barry’s nemesis and true murderer of his mother, Reverse Flash (who was seen briefly in a flashback to Barry’s childhood)? It’s far too early to say, but it’s an exciting teaser for the future (2024 is not looking like a good year for The Flash, it seems) which sets up an intriguing mystery for the rest of the season.
All in all, The Flash makes a strong first impression with its pilot – its breathless pace does mean certain elements are passed over and the show’s first villain feels half-baked at best, but it’s an entertaining, breezy debut with a likeable lead and oodles of potential for the future. There are flaws to iron out, and the show needs to work on fleshing out some of the supporting characters, but it’s a solid first episode nonetheless, and one that could become something quite special if it follows the upward quality curve of other superhero shows like Arrow.
Scene of the Episode: Red Skies – The final scene brings several classic elements from the Flash mythos into play with a zoom, along with the reveal that Harrison Wells isn’t the kindly wheelchair-bound, visually impaired (the fibber) man that he seems to be. You could say he turned out to be the reverse of what we thought.