“To understand what I’m about to tell you, you need to do something first. You need to believe in the impossible. Can you do that? Good. Because all of us, we have forgotten what miracles look like. Maybe because they haven’t made much of an appearance lately. Our lives have become ordinary. But there is someone out there who is truly extraordinary.”
It’s become so much easier to believe in the impossible in recent years. The guys over at Marvel have created an amazing theatrical universe where we escape into the comic book world of heroes at least a couple times a week. DC hasn’t managed to wow us in our theater seats so much recently. What they have been able to do is deliver hours of wonderful escapism television every week. That’s where the DC miracles are happening, first on Arrow and now Gotham and… The Flash. This is the decade when comic book pages truly come to life before our very eyes.
“I don’t know where you came from. I don’t know your name. But I have seen you do the impossible to protect the city I love. So for those of us who believe in you and what you’re doing, I just wanna say thank you.”
But we know who he is, don’t we? He’s Barry Allan, and this isn’t even his first live-action series. I’m not sure if many of you remember the 1990 show that starred John Wesley Shipp as The Scarlet Speedster. That show was a little more camp than the hero shows of this decade. That doesn’t mean that Warner forgot about it or the legion of fans who loved the show. They’ve taken a rather unprecedented move of incorporating characters and actors from that series and bringing them into this latest version of the hero on television. John Wesley Shipp now plays Barry’s father, while Mark Hamil returns to play The Trickster just as he did in 1990, complete with footage from that show to tell us of his earlier antics. Finally Amanda Pays returns in a couple of episodes as Dr. Tina McGee, who was Shipp’s partner in the first show and now reprises the character in a rather different role.
The Flash is CSI with a twist. Barry Allan (Gustin) is a police scientist working in the CSI lab of Central City. In fact, he appears to be the only staff of that unit, having pretty much the run of the lab. When he was 11 he witnessed his mother’s murder amid red and yellow streaks of lightning. Within the streaks he saw a man dressed in yellow. No one believed what he saw, and his father (Shipp) has been doing time for the murder he did not commit. Young Barry was taken in by their family friend Detective Joe West, played by Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin, and daughter Iris West (Patton). When a particle accelerator at Starr Labs explodes, the dark matter wave that spreads across Central City combines with a lab accident, and Barry is bestowed with incredible speed. Unfortunately, he was not the only one affected. Other people received various other powers and are referred to here as Meta Humans.
Barry spent nine months in a coma, where he was cared for by Dr. Harrison Wells (Cavanaugh), the now-disgraced scientist behind the failed experiment. When he awakes, he decides to use his powers to help people and is aided by Wells and two other Star Labs team members. Dr. Caitlin Snow (Panabaker) is a medical doctor who looks after his new special needs and patches him up when he gets hurt. Fortunately, he heals fast due to an accelerated metabolism. Then there’s Cisco Ramon (Valdes) who “builds the toys”, creating the special tech that allows Barry to take down powered bad guys and to control his own emerging powers. The problem is that one of the members of his team isn’t exactly who they claim to be and will reveal themselves as The Flash’s greatest nemesis before it’s all over.
There are the expected differences between the show and the comics lore. Iris West is the most changed character and the weakest link on the series. She’s a blogger who eventually gets a chance to write for a real paper, but they just want her for her stories on The Flash. I’m sure that Candice Patton is a fine enough actress, but this is a terrible part. The character is one-dimensional and spends more time whining than contributing anything to the story. The chemistry with her is so forced that it’s rather fortunate she’s with someone else. That someone else is Joe’s partner, Eddie (Cosnett), but he’s just as lame a character. He serves an ultimate goal, but he sure can test our patience in getting there. This show has a pretty wonderful cast with the very notable exception of these two.
Jesse L. Martin is one of the best television has to offer. He brings the authority from Law & Order and mixes in the kinds of things necessary for a hero show. His very presence on the show lends a great deal of gravitas to the whole thing. He is the anchor to reality that allows us to take the leaps of faith we need to to accept the extraordinary aspects of the show. Each time the show appears to be “out there”, Jesse Martin brings it all into sharp focus. I’m not sure any of this works without him. It was the best casting choice made on the series.
There is also a lot of nice chemistry to be found in the trio of Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco. I love them as a team. Each has just the right mix of what the others might lack to make this one of television’s better working relationships. That’s another crucial element. We can’t keep legs on this show just with the superhero aspects. We need enough entertainment between the incredible moments to compel us to stay with it all. This trio does that and more. You’re not just sitting there waiting for something super to happen. It’s actually a page out of the Marvel playbook. If you read Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or any of those early titles, it was the supporting characters that made the book appear real. Their stories were just as important as the heroics. That’s exactly what this team does for the show. Without it, there is no considerable future for the show. With it, this thing can go a decade or more.
What is a superhero series without its villains? Sometimes that’s why we tune in in the first place. The Flash’s rogues gallery is well represented in the first season. I already mentioned Mark Hamill’s return as The Trickster. We have a nice flow of Meta Humans for the team to track down and imprison in a special super-prison inside the particle accelerator. There’s a guy who can turn his body to steel (think Colossus). Another girl can teleport like Nightcrawler but without the Bamf. They do use a very similar effect to show the aftermath of each teleportation. Another girl can detonate anything she touches. One guy can turn into deadly gas, while another controls the weather ala Storm. You’ve got the requisite shape shifter and someone who can multiply himself to create a real one-man army. There are many episodes that fall into a meta-of-the-week pattern, giving Barry and his team a chance to learn more about his powers.
Some of these stand out. Caitlin believed her fiancée was killed in the failed experiment. Instead he was merged with another scientist, and together they can control flame. Here I have to give a big kudos to the f/x team. They managed to create a person on fire who looks ten times better than the recent Fantastic Four did with Johnny Storm, and they did it on a television budget vs. several hundred millions. The fiancée is played by Robbie Amel, who happens to also be the cousin of The Arrow himself, Steven Amel. I actually thought they were brothers at first, because the resemblance is uncanny. The scientist is played by genre favorite Victor Garber.
Another strong villain presence is Captain Cold, who is played by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller. He gets several appearances and is the best of the best here. Miller steps up his game here and plays it all with great skill. He even teams up with his Prison Break brother Dominic Purcell in four episodes. The two both have an active season coming up. They will appear as regulars in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow and a limited Prison Break revival season. Sleep might not be an option for these guys over the next year.
Comic fans already know that Wells is the Reverse Flash. If you watch the short codas after each episode, you know it as well. Not much of a spoiler here. The drama comes from the team working with Wells while investigating him and both keeping each other in the dark. It’s one of my favorite conventions of the show. We have a hero and nemesis who are both at opposite ends of their history together. Wells has already lived a history where he battled often with The Flash. In his mind they have been enemies for years. Meanwhile, Barry is just at the beginning and doesn’t have any history at all with the super-villain. I like the dichotomy that’s at play here. For a comic fan it’s getting the history of an established show with the wonder of a new hero just coming into his own. In this show you get your cake, and you can eat it too.
This show does indeed exist in the same universe as The Arrow. Characters cross over a few times with visits from Felicity, Palmer, and Oliver. Detective West will spend an episode in Starling City where he’ll interact with Detective Lance and Laurel. They might exist together, but these are two very different shows. The Flash is much brighter with far more humor involved. The Arrow is a dark show with an almost monochrome city, while The Flash is extremely colorful and bright. We’re talking both mood and visual atmosphere here. They make rather nice bookends with some overlap in the middle.
The show builds its pace and stakes toward a pretty thrilling finale. You get all of the elements you might remember from the comics. There’s time travel and even an appearance by Grodd. That one I found particularly satisfying. You will find the entire season satisfying, and I suggest you get your hands on it in a flash.
The Flash is presented in its original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4. Colors are bright in this high definition image presentation. You’ll find wonderful sharpness and detail. The lightning effects are brilliant and bold. Black levels are as good as the broadcasts ever were. This is television on Blu-ray at its best.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is often a force of its own. Surrounds bring the speed images to life. Dialog is the most important element here. It is well served, to be sure. The score is frantic and helps build atmosphere. Subs even find their place from time to time. Pretty solid stuff.
Deleted Scenes and Audio Commentary on select episodes.
Behind The Story – The Trickster Returns: (8:39) A look behind the scenes on Mark Hamill’s return after 25 years as The Trickster.
Fastest Man Alive: (26:23) This is a feature on the show’s f/x. We’re not just talking about the speed designs. There’s a lot of time spent on the train crash. You get pre viz, conceptual artwork, animatics, and the various layers being combined.
The Chemistry Of Emily And Grant: (4:20) This feature shows Grant Gustin auditioning for the part.
Gag Reel: (8:24)
DC Comics Night At ComicCon 2014: (29:31) This is the biggest panel I’ve seen yet. There are over 30 participants from Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, and Constantine.
It’s refreshing to have a brighter hero show for a change. While I love both Arrow and Gotham, this trend to make comic stories so dark needs to be balanced somewhat. The Flash delivers that counterbalance, and I’m quite taken with it all. I don’t watch any shows live anymore. I know I’ll be catching them on disc to review each fall. This time I’m very tempted to keep up with the adventures of Barry Allan, “the fastest man alive”.