When superheroes are at their best, they have the ability to make us feel empowered while having fun at the same time. That spirit is alive in The CW's The Flash, premiering on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Eastern.
The Flash is one of the standouts of this television season, and is, arguably, the most purely fun hour on television this side of Shonda Rhimes. Here's why you should be excited for The Flash:
When did superheroes stop being fun?
Over the past four years, the entertainment landscape has been flooded with superhero stories. You can trace back the superhero resurgence to Fox's X-Men in 2000 and Sony's Spider-Man in 2002. Both films were a result of Marvel's licensing deals to dig itself out of bankruptcy.
Marvel eventually dug itself out of financial turmoil, saw the earning potential with those franchises, and countered with a hero of its own in Iron Man in 2008. That eventually led to The Avengers, which paved the way for the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy, and in the near future, a Netflix four-pack of original shows based on Marvel heroes.
On the other side of the field, Marvel Studios' biggest rival, Warner Brothers (which produces films based on heroes from DC Comics), began investing in Christopher Nolan's grittier, more serious Dark Knight franchise. Its massive success is part of the reason why its Superman reboot Man of Steel, Man of Steel's Justice League-heavy 2016 sequel, and DC-backed shows like The CW's Arrow and Fox's Gotham have gone for a darker tone.
But The Flash doesn't.
What makes The Flash special is in the bones of its concept. The hero's bright red suit, lightning bolt ears, yellow boots, and super speed make him a bit different from what DC has been been trotting out for the past few years. There's something lighter about the hero, and his power — zipping around from mystery to mystery — when compared to his peers.
Co-creator Greg Berlanti and his team seem to recognize this. They could have easily plumbed Barry Allen's (played by Grant Gustin) back-story — his father was framed for the murder of his mother — for yet another grim tale of hardened superheroes. Instead, they're choosing to play up elements of Barry's character — he is meticulous (slow even) in his forensic analysis (his job) so that no one is wrongly prosecuted, his selflessness, his shyness — that will bring us a show that isn't afraid to be fun, or even corny. Some of that is a nod to the comics.
Who is The Flash in the comics?
In the DC Universe, there are actually multiple Flashes. Barry Allen and Wally West are the two most iconic ones. And Allen is actually the more "serious" one. West's Flash is more of a wisecracker, bringing levity to the very earnest Justice League. Audiences have responded to that persona. IGN ranked West its #8 hero of all time while Allen placed in the 40s.
The current comics have Allen claiming the title of The Flash, but still have brief glimmers of the lightheartedness and fun that made West so popular:
The team at The CW seems to be combining certain elements of the two in this show. And the earnest light-heartedness and upbeat tone that they've found is working.
Who are the villains?
One of the biggest challenges The Flash will face is figuring out how to keep its super-speed sequences fresh. NBC's Heroes, probably the foremost example of a show going sour amazingly quick, had the bad habit of showing us the same powers in the same way, over and over, or sometimes never showing them at all. The criminally under-loved Alphas on SyFy, didn't have the budget to fully blossom. TV superpower sequences require imagination and budget — something not every show can boast.
There are moments in the premiere where you can already feel the zippy effects — usually they involve close-ups of Gustin making "amazed" faces — starting to gnaw away at the show. This series is never going to command the budget that Game of Thrones has, so it's going to need to think of different ways at presenting Allen's powers.
Or there's another option: the show could build out its villains. In the season premiere, the villain has the power to manipulate weather, allowing the creative team to build around the concept and show the Flash using his power in interesting ways.
In the comics, Flash's biggest foes were Zoom, a character who can manipulate time around himself, Gorilla Grodd (there are rumors Grodd will be making an appearance on the show), a genius gorilla with telepathic and psionic abilities, and Captain Cold (to be played by Wentworth Miller), a parka-wearing villain who started out with ice guns but eventually gained the ability to slow molecules around himself in the more recent comics. Both of these foes lend themselves to do some fun stuff visually and more ways to break up sequences of Barry using his powers.
Those two have yet to make their grand entrances on The Flash. The looming quasi-villain that we have, is scientist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), a new character created specifically for the show (though Cavanagh has hinted at the possibility that it might be a cover). This puts devout fans and neophytes on the same page.
Cavanagh plays him splendidly, adding intrigue and acrylic humanity into a role that still remains a mystery. He's one of the best things about the pilot, and watching the motives of Wells unspool week after week should be a treat for both comic fans and Flash newbies.
How else does the show maintain a lighthearted tone?
Although the show constantly reassures us that Barry, his pals, and his main love interest Iris West (Candice Patton) are all adults, the show sounds and feels a bit like it's taking place down the street from Gossip Girl's Constance Billard school.
"I'm stress-eating over my dissertation … If I don't graduate soon, I'm going to be more muffin top than woman," Iris tells Barry in one scene.
The show's dialogue is slapdash, slowing down only to spell out the villain of the week or the angst of Barry's unrequited love for Iris, to say nothing of the ill-timed, lightning-induced coma that kept them apart. This may sound like it's a stretch that goes a bit too far. Your concern is understandable.
But the bubble pop writing works well with the whimsy tone of the show. There are a few moments when the show tries for something deeper, and the dialogue labors under that weight ("This is not cool. A man died."). To the show's credit, it knows this, and these moments feel more like something the powers that be think they should do rather than what they want to do.
The Flash doesn't seem interested in building out some high-brow mythology, nor pleasing those interested in seeing that chewy stuff. It's just trying to have fun. And it's at its best when it remembers that.