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Pop CultureOctober 26, 2016

Monitor: The Flash is everything you wanted in a comic book superhero show


With dozens of new television shows being aired every month, it’s hard to keep up. Aaron Yap finally got around to seeing The Flash and found it to be everything he’d ever dreamed of.

It’s increasingly rare to stumble onto a TV show by accident. You’re either scrambling to keep up with the latest social media-trending phenomenon, or indulging that one friend who’s constantly harassing you to watch the best thing in the world. The last time I can honestly say I decided, on my own accord, to watch a show happened on a long distance flight two years ago. Browsing through the in-flight entertainment channels – arguably one of the most ideal scenarios to give anything a chance you otherwise wouldn’t – I landed on the first season of the DC superhero series The Flash. It was just the sort of fare that yelled “untaxing to consume 40,000 ft in the air”. Before I knew it I’d binged through several episodes and it was almost time to land.


I consider myself a casual viewer of comic book entertainment. I’ve managed to keep up the with current cinematic universe-building of the Marvel and DC franchises as much as the next person. But I’m not invested enough to scrutinise, in minutiae, the creative direction of these properties. I had no familiarity with the previous incarnations of The Flash beyond the fact that he wore a red suit and was the fastest man alive. My initial positive response to the show probably had something to do with its passing resemblance to the dopey Jerry O’Connell series My Secret Identity which I fondly remember watching as a kid (I’m sure its creators had The Flash on their minds when they came up with it).

But a few episodes deep, and following through the season to its end, it became clearer to me that, as someone who wasn’t overly crazy about comic book superheroes, The Flash was everything I wanted from a comic book superhero show. To put it plainly, it was just fun to watch. During that period, no other show came close to its silly, joyous exuberance. It was the lovably corny reprieve I didn’t know I needed from dark cable dramas and their tortured anti-heroes. The overriding tone that the showrunners — Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns — struck for the world of its hero was one of beaming optimism and sincerity. Funnily enough, it was a far cry from DC’s gloomy cinematic counterparts and closer to Marvel’s lighter, fleet touch. From a storytelling standpoint, it also occurred to me that maybe TV, despite the luxuries afforded by film’s larger budgets, is a more suitable medium to capture the sinuous serialisation of comic books.

While it was apparent that The Flash was going to be a show with numerous plates spinning in the air, there was nothing outwardly complicated about the formula, at least not in its first season. It effortlessly juggled two narrative modes. The traditional villain-of-the-week, where our lightning-speed hero — lanky, slightly dorky crime scene investigator Barry Allen (Glee’s Grant Gustin) — had to battle sinister “meta-humans”. The other was a season-long arc involving his quest to free his dad (John Wesley Shipp) who’s been wrongly convicted of his mum’s murder since childhood. In-between the show regularly found room to acknowledge the close, earnest rapport of Barry’s surrogate family: detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Joe’s daughter/Barry’s long-time flame Iris (Candice Patton), the S.T.A.R. Labs science-geek dream-team of Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). When everything clicked into place, the pace was brisk, the dialogue witty, the drama tender and heartfelt, and the action, featuring some of TV’s slickest effects work, often thrilling and eye-popping.

The Man Who Saved Central City

The sophomore season wasn’t without its bright spots, but as its plotting expanded in multiple directions, the show got somewhat clunkier. Its shaky, careless handling of time travel elements, alongside the introduction of parallel universes, made for needlessly convoluted viewing. For sure, the idea of “multiverses” – reminiscent of cult sci-fi favourite Fringe – gave the narrative a heady conceptual kick; seeing humorously tweaked doppelgangers of the characters we already knew and love was hard to resist. But the accruing complications didn’t play to the show’s strengths. The writers were frustratingly coy with the hidden identity of its chief bad guy, Zoom. They gave us reasons to question our sympathies with Barry, whose ongoing struggles with heroic responsibility resulted in behaviour that appeared more like impulsive idiocy. On top of that, there was a universe-sized obligation to intermittently check in with Arrow, the DC show it spun off from, and establish the origins for yet another spin-off, Legends of Tomorrow.

*Spoilers ahead*

Given that the third season is offering a reset of sorts, The Flash is in a good position to correct its flaws. But the fallout from Barry tinkering with time travel is still so massive, it may take a little while before the show regains steady footing. Barry’s decision to go back in time to prevent his mum’s murder at the end of season two created another timeline, a whole new version of his world known as “Flashpoint” (the ripple effect would be felt not only on The Flash, but other DC-universe-related TV shows too). It’s got to a point where Barry has to draw time travel diagrams in back-to-back episodes, so I’m really hoping the temporal gymnastics will be placed on ice for the time being. A little back-to-basics could be helpful. Some warm camaraderie, breezy jocularity, interesting villains, and The Flash doing cool speedy shit, and I might continue spreading the gospel that this is the best superhero show on telly.


The Flash is available to view on TVNZ On Demand.

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