Over its past two seasons, Arrow has become superior television by forging its own identity as something more operatic and far more fun than Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, and The Flash–which shares a sizable chunk of its sibling show’s creative team—carries over that sense of madcap joy found at the heart of so much comic-book storytelling. Indeed, The Flash makes clear that it is a more lighthearted show than Arrow, consciously contrasting Barry’s optimism and remarkable powers with Oliver Queen’s darker, more violent skill set. In selling Barry as a hero, the show also faces the practical challenge of proving that it can pull off the Flash’s super-speed on a relatively limited CW budget. Based on the pilot, the results are encouraging, if only because director David Nutter is smart about knowing when to splurge on special effects and when to strategically shoot around Barry’s superhuman velocities.
Emboldened by Arrow’s popular success, the Flash premiere doesn’t shy away from introducing some of the goofier elements of the Flash mythos; where Oliver took as much as an entire season to embrace his role as hero, Barry does so by the third act. Encouragingly, however, the episode is not entirely bound by the conventions and assumptions of superhero storytelling. The antagonist is a clear analogue for a member of the Flash’s comic book rogues’ gallery—a colorful, fascinating assortment that rivals those of Batman and Spider-Man—but the character does not think like a supervillain. As he reveals in a pivotal confrontation, his sudden acquisition of superhuman abilities has led him to a logical, disturbing conclusion, but it isn’t the one that comic book fans might expect. It’s in moments like that in which The Flash shows Arrow’s willingness to deconstruct, even subvert superhero tropes, and that instinct bodes well for the show’s chances to break new ground in its very crowded genre.
Where The Flash may need the most work is in differentiating itself from its sibling. There are only so many ways a CW show can combine a superhero, a childhood friend turned potential love interest, and the police, but the arrangement of Barry, Iris West, and her father, Detective Joe West, is basically identical to that of Oliver Queen, Laurel Lance, and her father, Detective Quentin Lance; the fact that Law & Order veteran Jesse L. Martin plays Detective West doesn’t exactly help the familiarity of the setup. As the Flash, Barry depends on a support team that isn’t a million miles away from Oliver Queen’s crime-fighting comrades. The question here is whether The Flash can find enough specificity to overwhelm these structural similarities, and a lot of that comes down to characterization and performances; on that score, there are no particular acting standouts in the premiere, but they’re at least serviceable, with plenty of potential to grow into their roles. And, for all its storytelling faults, the Flash pilot is never generic, and it makes plenty of strong choices—just a few too many of them. Crucially, if this pilot demonstrates anything, it’s that The Flash is going to be fun, and that’s just the kind of promise to make to audiences while the show still works out the nuts and bolts of its narrative formula.