As David Uzumeri said to me on Twitter, “not just me!” We are apparently alone in our disdain for the CW’s upcoming Flash television series. Team Superhero, you have lost me with this one — a bloodless, note-perfect execution of one superhero trope after another. But little more than that.
We open with a slow pan across a cityscape and a vignette from our lead’s childhood — that inevitable sense of small town America within the big city, created and nurtured by a loving mother who assures young Barry that “it’s better to have a good heart than fast legs,” and then dies. But not by natural causes. Barry’s mother is murdered by a meta-human, although he doesn’t know this yet, and it will in part fuel his latter days quest for the truth, vengeance, and youthful adventures. All he knows at eleven is that a man, somehow inside a ball of sci-fi lightning, orphaned him. But Barry doesn’t let it get him down — this iteration of the character is more Spider-Man than Dark Knight (and thank goodness). His coworkers think him strange, he’s distracted and nerdy, and he’s more interested in truth-telling than fighting. Some of these are traditionally Barry Allen qualities — some not — but the visual language of the trailer owes so much to superhero films and TV shows of the past that it’s difficult to distinguish him from the pack. He is Peter Parker but fast instead of gymnastic. He is Clark Kent without cornfields and super-strength. Who is Barry Allen? Would someone utterly new to the character have a sense of his character and motivations?
This is a CW show that was created in response to the popularity of its Green Arrow adaptation, Arrow, and it’s very much a CW show. Those dark warehouses full of inexplicable chains and shadows are straight out of Supernatural. Those ab jokes, pee jokes, and gelled up hairdos are straight out of every CW show ever. The cast seems capable, young faces are balanced by a few seasoned players, but the trailer doesn’t give us much to chew on in that respect. Instead we get lightning-lightning-spandex. So much plot that we may know the first season’s arc in whole, at the very least, the first episode. There will be some kind of special effects budget for Flash, I guess, but will Grant Gustin manage Barry’s quiet brilliance and aw shucks competence? Will there be Flash Facts? This is all unclear. “It’s time to think big,” a villain proclaims, and hell, I wish they would. But by all indications, this is a small story with narrow themes and influences, gifted with a budget beyond its artistic means. A line that will play great in the promos, and another, and another, something explodes, and then, an Arrow tie-in. Ah, brand extension.
The success of the Nolan Bat films and the Marvel movies has made Hollywood greedy for those reliable superhero dollars. Constantine is taken? What’s left? Does the CW have a vision for Barry Allen and his young crime-fighting fans? Why Flash? Why not? Assemble a team of attractive, young actors, spike their hair and pepper their dialogue with off-colour quips, spend big on lightning, and watch the dollars roll in. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.