2014 has been a great year for television. The Good Wife continues to hit its groove. The Affair burst onto the scene and twisted the way we watch television. Transparent is powerful. And there were some gothic little surprises like Penny Dreadful and Black Mirror.
Then there is The Flash, the CW's Arrow followup into the world of DC Comics. It doesn't come with the clout, buzz, or edge that these other shows have. And, because of its nature, it's probably never going be mentioned in the same breath as those other works.
That's a shame. Because there isn't a more enjoyable show on TV right now. Writers Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, and Andrew Kreisberg's major theme might be simple — anyone can change the world — but the show delivers it with a joyfulness and lightness that elevates and makes that message something you can believe in.
The Flash isn't necessarily the best show of 2014, but it might be the one you like the most.
The Flash knows how to have fun
The most important aspect that makes The Flash stand out is its spirit and how different that feeling is from the myriad of superhero tales out there.
Since the dawn of the first X-Men film and through Christopher Nolan's run on his Dark Knight trilogy, there's been an unspoken rule that superheroes have to be dark and serious. This leads to pained antiheroes, hefty stories with big stakes, and a lack of shiny happy people.
That's not happening on The Flash.
Whether it's too silly by half Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and very serious Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) bickering about metas (the show's nickname for superhumans), Barry Allen's (Grant Gustin) goofy heroism, or the honey-glazed unrequited love between Barry and Iris (Candice Patten), there's so much playfulness happening in The Flash. The show creators, the cast, and the crew are more concerned with having fun than they are concerned with being great.
Grant Gustin is a perfect fit
So many superheroes are defined by tragic pasts. Batman is continually haunted by his parents. Wolverine can't shake the experimentation that happened to him. The Avengers all have skeletons in their closets, Black Widow especially. Even Superman got some grit to him in Man of Steel. Good, for many of these these heroes, is a penance for their past.
Barry Allen is cut from a different pattern. He's a superhero who is happy, and joyful. He's someone who is organically good, even with his own tragic back-story (involving the death of his mother and his father's imprisonment for the crime). As Barry, Grant Gustin gives those qualities a full-bodied life.
Gustin is charming, dorky, and perhaps too handsome to be a believable forensic scientist, but it all works because he leans into the goofy physical comedy of his character. He's saving the world awkwardly and joyfully, and he brings a vitality and a humanity to Allen that no hero can match.
The Flash also knows how to be imaginative
On so many superhero shows, the villains become redundant. A whole season of super-speed saving the world would get old quickly if there weren't different ways to imagine how that might happen. In other words, you can only save a man from a speeding bullet so many times without it getting boring.
Thankfully, The Flash has found ways around that.
In the first episode The Flash takes on the Weather Wizard by creating a cyclone. A few episodes later, he dodges clones. Later, he has to run faster than poison gas. And one of the best scenes of the season happens when he faces off against Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). Cold derails a train, which crumples in slow motion. And then, in a sequence with superb visual imagination, the Flash weaves in and out of the crushed train, freighting victims out of the wreck:
Are these effects comparable to something you might see on Game of Thrones or in the movies? Of course not. But this sequence is imaginative and exciting. It exhibits the type of thinking that keeps this series fresh, leaving you enthralled by the prospect of what this weirdly perfect little show might do next.
Come back every day of December for Vox's picks of some of our favorite pop culture of 2014.