Adaptations of DC comics have a tendency to go for a darker, "grittier" style, as seen in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, the upcoming supervillain ensemble film Suicide Squad, and even The CW's Arrow. These heroes stand on rooftops, brooding down at their shadowy cities with furrowed brows, shoulders weighted with existential angst.
This is not, however, the case for The Flash.
The CW's take on Barry Allen finds him juggling his duties as a resident science dork at S.T.A.R. Labs with consulting for the local police. But unlike Arrow, where Barry first appeared before spinning off into his own series, The Flash embraces the inherent cheesiness and brightness of its comic book origins.
While Arrow, Fox's Gotham, and even Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. indulge those aforementioned dark corners, Central City is awash in shiny primary colors. There's the cool blue of S.T.A.R. Labs, saturating the white walls as Barry and his friends scrutinize a case. There are the yellow lights of the coffee shop and the Central City police station, where Barry and his adoptive father (Jesse L. Martin) pace between cases. Then there's the fiery burst of the Flash's red in the streak of light he leaves behind.
This isn't to say that Barry's life is all zippy capers. His father (John Wesley Shipp) has been wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years for the murder of Barry's mother, which he saw committed by a metahuman he could not explain. Grant Gustin plays Barry with a dimpled grin, determined focus, and palpable vulnerability, especially as he follows in the grand comics tradition of nursing a deep crush on his childhood best friend, Iris (Candice Patton).
As Barry gets deeper and deeper into becoming the Flash, he struggles to balance his crime-fighting with his personal life, fights to find his mother's killer, and attempts to come to terms with his new heroic identity. There is time travel. There are villainous twists. There is a battle raging within both Central City and Barry himself.
The last time we saw Barry, he was rocketing up into the sky toward a mammoth black hole that was threatening to destroy the city. When we catch up with him during the second season premiere, which takes place six months afterward, the fallout is predictably a mess. Barry is a much moodier, self-righteous version of himself than usual, who refuses to take his friends' help for fear of endangering them (or what I like to call "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Syndrome").
Even in this darker chapter, though, The Flash keeps its signature sheen alive. These five moments from the premiere prove there is no other show that delights in the retro cheesiness and openhearted joy of comics quite like The Flash does, even when its hero tries to resist.
(Herein lies your warning that this post contains spoilers for The Flash.)
1) The city institutes its first annual "Flash Day"
To thank the Flash for his service, Central City's mayor calls for an official day honoring the masked man. He delivers a gushing speech to a crowd of Central City citizens wearing Flash T-shirts and waving foam lightning bolts. He sure hopes the Flash will show up to accept his key to the city. When Barry finally streaks onstage, the band starts playing in earnest — only to be interrupted by a masked villain with a superhumanly booming voice throwing a hot dog stand in Barry's face.
All this scene needs is to smash-cut to some little twerp running around with a newspaper screaming, "Extra, extra! Read all about it! The Flash gets his butt handed to him on Flash Day!"
2) Nerds bond over being nerds
While Gustin anchors the show, Carlos Valdes stole much of the first season as Cisco, Barry's friend and S.T.A.R. Labs employee. Cisco's skills are typically vague in that way where he can basically do anything you ask, but his enthusiasm for the Flash and the metahumans he encounters surpass mere scientific curiosity. Throughout the first season, for instance, Cisco's eagerness took the form of trying to give every villain they encountered a snappy, comic-friendly name — like "Captain Cold," Wentworth Miller's smirky outlaw who delights in quite literally chewing the scenery.
Cisco is a genius, but he's also a true-blue comics geek who can't believe he gets to play with superheroes every day.
In the second season, Cisco gets a colleague in effusive geekdom. Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) is one half of metahuman "Firestorm" (the other half played by Robbie Amell), but on his own he is a brilliant physicist and enormous nerd. As the team tries to understand their new foe who sucks up radiation, Victor gets increasingly caught up in the physics of it all and finally declares the faceless man "the Atom Smasher." Cisco's starry-eyed reaction is priceless, and heartwarming besides.
3) The Flash gets a new suit
To be fair, the new suit looks almost exactly the same as the old one, but there is one important difference. For the second season, Barry will don a suit that has the red Flash lightning bolt against a white background rather than red — taking him one step closer to the Flash of the original comics. As Cisco and Dr. Martin agree, it certainly makes the bolt pop more.
4) Barry finally gets his father out of prison — and it reminds him of the strong, unconventional family he leaned on in that absence
Many a hero has been made from tragic circumstances that left him orphaned. While Barry got his powers from a particle accelerator explosion, his mother's death and father's wrongful imprisonment still led him toward a makeshift family to get by. Many of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the first season were thanks to Barry coming to grips with the fact that his mentor (a wicked Tom Cavanaugh) might not be a father figure he wants in his life, after all.
On the other hand, some of the most uncomfortable aspects of the show involved Barry's all-consuming crush on Iris, his de facto sister. But the show has course-corrected somewhat, letting Iris become more of her own force rather than just an object of Barry's affection. He has also leaned harder on Cisco and fellow S.T.A.R. Labs genius Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) for support.
In the second season premiere, Barry finally gets the evidence he needs to free his father. They throw a party for his homecoming, complete with "welcome home!" cake, and it's genuinely heartwarming that Barry might get his old family back. But his father begs off, saying that he can't stick around to distract Barry from fulfilling his destiny as the Flash.
This, frankly, is a thin excuse to avoid integrating Shipp into the show. But even with Barry's heartbreak (which Gustin plays beautifully), this development is not an unwelcome one. The Flash's cast members have become so comfortable with one another onscreen that they sell this specious logic with their warmth.
5) Most importantly: The Flash gets his very own Bat-Signal
Once Barry decides to come back into the fold and let his friends help him fight this latest radioactive threat, they create a method of alerting the villain of the week to the Flash's presence that looks an awful lot like something Cisco "saw in a comic book once."
That's right: The Flash gets a Flash-Light.
(I make no apologies. Please enjoy this delightful show.)
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 pm on The CW.
Corrected to reflect that Victor Garber plays Dr. Martin Stein, not Dr. Victor Martin.