Like most pilots, The Flash‘s first forty-plus minutes are spent ticking boxes off a checklist. Obligatory comic homages (and wink to other DC show on the same network)? Check. Potential hero character with tragic child experiences (which later turn out to be nefarious, planned events of some sort)? Check. Lots of goofy hero-related puns? You better fucking believe it.
Forget about what story “City of Heroes” actually tells (it’s something boring involving the Weather Wizard): The Flash is the best new network drama of the fall, and it’s not really even close. From the kick-ass score composed by Blake Neely (seriously; the score is brilliant) to the energetic, goofy-in-that-charming-kind-of-way lead performance from Grant Gustin, “City of Heroes” lifts above what’s actually shown in this episode by the immense potential it shows as a series. There’s time travel (future newspapers! The yellow that kind of seems to tease Reverse-Flash when Barry’s mother gets killed, itself an actual event in Flashpoint!), the colorful rogue of Flash villians (we get a nod to Gorilla Grodd, who I’m sure we’ll see later this season), and the intriguing tease of the first season’s big conceit: the role of Harrison Wells (hey Tom Cavanaugh!) as disgruntled, disgraced physicist andy guy whose ambiguous motivations and apparent knowledge of the future makes him the most charming Big Bad I’ve seen since John Locke got all Smoked out.
Sure, I could do without the cheesy Arrow cameo (“you can save people… in a flash!”) and obligatory love story between Barry and his co-worker’s daughter: but “City of Heroes” has much more going for it than some of the expected, eye-roll worthy sequences about love, duty, and how one man was destined to be struck by lightning in his office during a storm that created a race of “metahumans” (aka the show’s excuse to trot out case-of-the-week villains for the near future). Surprisingly, it takes the events we saw last season in Arrow and gives them great perspective: Wells’ failure to control the particle accelerator changed the career paths of many, not to mention taking the life of Dr. Caitlin Snow’s wife (and causing said love triangle between Barry, Iris, and the kind-of shady Eddie Thawne).
There’s real gravitas given to the events that interrupt the events of The Flash pilot halfway through: after the time jump, “City of Heroes” does a great job making that time lapse feel meaningful to the world, even if it goes a little too far in suggesting that all these events are “destiny” (which I know are staples to the comic book genre, but don’t translate that well to other forms of media in the 21st century without feeling stale). For better or worse, that event changed the entire world Barry and co. live in, and “City of Heroes” spends the better half of the back half establishing this new world order, where mentors are shady (I know Eddie Thawne is traditionally Professor Zoom, but I’m kind of hoping it’s Harrison) and Barry’s uncertainty about the death of his mother is finally confirmed. It really makes it feel like something was truly “opened” in Central City after the particle accelerator experiences an ‘anamoly’, and really adds a lot to the tension of the episode, which otherwise is a lot of typical pilot material.
It might be a little (ok, a lot) cheesy, and still trying to figure out how to film speed well (close-ups in shaky cam? not so good), but The Flash is off to a solid start, even better when one places it alongside Arrow‘s pilot for comparison. I was hoping The Flash would aim to be a lighter, more sci-fi heavy companion to The CW’s popular salmon-ladder enhanced juggernaut: “City of Heroes” establishes exactly that, a personality that rises above the predictable pilot material and makes for one of the more compelling, confident pilots of the fall.
– all season, I’ll be splitting review duties over here with Sean Colletti, my podcast co-host and fellow contributor to TVOvermind and Sound on Sight. He’ll be here next week with a review of “Fastest Man Alive”, our first true introduction into the modern, everyday setting of The Flash.