Friday, July 10, 2015

Why The Flash Season 1 Is An Essential Show To Run Out And Watch!

The Good: Engaging plot and character arcs, Generally good acting, Cool effects
The Bad: Some bottle episodes that are massive duds
The Basics: The Flash gets off to a very impressive start with a first season brought down only by episodes that lose focus on the season's larger, compelling, story!

With the San Diego Comic Con in full swing (and my being very far from it), I find myself considering the works I actually enjoyed last season. As Comic Con panels are announced and news breaks from them, the one I was actually excited about was The Flash. I was, admittedly, biased going into the first season of The Flash; one year I spent studying the graphic novels focused on The Flash and so I had developed a fondness for the character and his corner of the DC Universe. In a number of ways, the first season of The Flash only had to disappoint me to keep me from heaping praise upon it. And there were a handful of episodes in the twenty-three episode first season that did disappoint. Largely, though, The Flash is an incredibly satisfying and ambitious start to the character's story.

The Flash was produced for The CW, a television network that aims for a younger - teenage, twentysomething - audience and The Flash tries to straddle high-concept elements with a look and feel that is just plain cool. In the first season, the show mostly succeeds. While the first season has both a general formula and the occasional bottle episode, most of the first season is centered around a mystery that drives the hero in the process of becoming to search for answers and become something more.

Barry Allen is a police forensics scientist working in Central City, where he lives haunted by the memories of the night his mother was killed and his father was arrested for the crime. Barry is best friends with Iris West, the daughter of Joe West, Barry's legal guardian after Henry Allen was locked away for the murder of Nora Allen. The night that S.T.A.R. Labs brings its revolutionary particle accelerator online, Barry Allen is in his police lab when he is affected by the shutdown of the accelerator and is knocked unconscious. Barry wakes up nine months later to discover that S.T.A.R. Labs has kept him alive and that he now has the ability to move at incredibly fast speeds.

Unfortunately for Barry Allen and the team at S.T.A.R. Labs - which includes the genius Dr. Harrison Wells, Dr. Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon - Barry was not the only one affected by the particle accelerator. Other metahumans begin to pop up who can manipulate weather, electricity and emotions. While Barry slowly develops into his alter-ego, The Flash, he captures the metahumans he can and imprisons them within S.T.A.R. Labs. But along the way, Allen is plagued by very human adversaries who use technology to get what they want and a mysterious speedster who wears a yellow costume that Barry almost immediately recalls as being present at his mother's murder more than a decade prior!

In its first season, The Flash works to introduce and develop the primary characters while making the show accessible to new viewers and help build the DC franchise by featuring crossover characters from The CW's other DC Comics-based television series, Arrow. While that occasionally leads to a terrible episode - "All Star Team-Up" which involves a villain who controls bees is a stand-out for horrible - the character conflicts and work done to develop relationships overcomes a sense of formula. Moreover, the show's big mystery - what happened in the Allen house the night of Nora Allen's murder - becomes the driving element of the season, especially when Barry Allen encounters the yellow-suited Reverse Flash as an adult!

While the series occasionally employs a snappy comic book sense of patter and dialogue, what makes The Flash so watchable in its first season is how grounded the show remains despite Barry Allen getting super-powers. Allen's super speed does not make it easier for him to watch Iris Allen falling in love with Eddie Thawne and his friendships with Cisco and Joe come with consequences that sometimes are exploited by the Villain Of The Week. Largely, though, The Flash works because Barry Allen is a good guy who wants to exonerate his wrongfully imprisoned father, do right by his friends and his city and stop those who are irresponsibly deploying their newfound powers upon Central City.

The key characters in the first season of The Flash are:

Barry Allen - The Flash. He is a young man who grew up in the West house after he witnessed his mother killed amid red and yellow flashes of light in their house. He was driven to become a police scientist and growing up with Iris, he began to fall in love with her, though he lacked the courage to tell her his true feelings. After being knocked out by the particle accelerator's wave, he awakens with super-speed. Dr. Wells, who Barry idolized for years, helps to train Barry into a super hero and encourages the young man to work to go faster. Barry works hard to maintain the moral high ground and balance his new job as Central City's protector with his desire to spend free time with Iris and his job working for the Central City Police Department,

Iris West - Daughter of Joe West, she is a reporter. She begins working for the Central City Picture News when her blog on "the streak" (the earliest sightings of The Flash in Central City) gets her noticed by the publication. Shortly after the particle accelerator accident, she began dating Eddie Thawne, a fact that she kept from her father. She moves in with Eddie and cares deeply about Barry's happiness even as she starts following the clues that might lead her to discover his alter ego,

Joe West - One of the lead detectives at the Central City Police Department, he is paired with Eddie Thawne after his prior partner was killed the night of the accelerator accident. He believes very firmly in the law, but learns of Barry's speedster secret very early. He asks Barry to keep his Flash identity from Iris to protect his daughter, though he empathizes with Barry's love for her. He becomes the target of a number of metahumans who have personal grudges against him (he locked up a number of criminals who become affected by the accelerator) and has an innate distrust of Dr. Wells. He forms an unlikely friendship with Cisco when he decides to investigate Nora Allen's death without Barry,

Dr. Caitlin Snow - One of the lead research scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs, she lost her fiance in the accelerator accident and has been in mourning since. Unfortunately for her, Iris digs up stories of a man wandering the streets of Central City, able to engulf himself in flame, and she realizes it is her lost love. She assists Barry with understanding the medical aspects surrounding his transformation and the transformation and abilities of other metahumans in Central City. She is very stiff and usually unemotional,

Dr. Harrison Wells - The owner of S.T.A.R. Labs, he was a respected physicist until his particle accelerator malfunctioned and caused damage to Central City and led to the rise of metahumans. Wheelchair bound since the night of the accident, he is hiding numerous secrets from his S.T.A.R. Labs team, not the least of which is that he has access to a secret room in S.T.A.R. Labs that includes an interface that is technology centuries ahead of anything else. He pushes Barry Allen to be the best possible Flash he can,

Cisco Ramon - The enthusiastic, geeky junior researcher at S.T.A.R. Labs, he is one of the few members of the staff who remained after the accident. As Barry's abilities developed, he began to give nicknames to the adversaries Barry encountered and he became wary of Barry's abilities. Seeing how every other metahuman became demented and evil with their powers, Cisco developed a cold gun to stop Barry should The Flash ever go off the rails. Unfortunately, his prototype was stolen and that leaves Cisco and the Flash (as well as Cisco's brother) at the mercy of a cold thief who wants to continue robbing Central City. Cisco builds most of the tech The Flash needs, including his suit,

and Detective Eddie Thawne - Joe West's partner on the Central City Police Force, he is young, focused, and romantically involved with Iris West. After dating for a while, he ask iris to move in with him and comes clean with Joe, who is worried about having the extra relationship factor to worry about in his relationship with his partner. Before long, Eddie notices the metahuman problem and becomes aware of the Flash's true identity.

The Flash utilizes its character mix well and it manages to use the cast fairly impressively. Jesse L. Martin plays Joe well, though the character is often used as a tool for exposition (Joe is baffled by the technobabble about the Metahuman Of The Week, so other explain it to him with analogies or simpler, clearer, terms). Tom Cavanaugh plays Harrison Wells with erudition and authority, making his character's rise out of the wheelchair at the end of the first episode absolutely chilling.

The cast for The Flash is young in its first season, though, and while Cisco Ramon is cool and infused with the necessary enthusiasm and energy by Carlos Valdes, Valdes seldom finds the balance that makes the viewer believe that Ramon is a super-genius who applies a scientific method to his reasoning. Danielle Panabaker plays Dr. Snow with a stiffness that makes her seem more Vulcan than human and that plays poorly throughout the first season.

The ensemble for The Flash is led in its first season by actor Grant Gustin. Gustin is energetic and gets through the technobabble well. At least as importantly, Gustin quickly adapts to working with virtual objects, people, and sets to help sell the fantastic world that surrounds the flash. Gustin is also able to emote well with his eyes and facial expressions to portray beautifully the longing Allen has for Iris West.

Ultimately, anyone looking for the start of the next great character-driven superhero epic would be well-served by picking up The Flash Season 1; it is surprisingly smart for a show that aired on the CW!

For a more complete guide to the first season of The Flash, be sure to check out my reviews of each of the episodes of the first season at:
"City Of Heroes"
"Fastest Man Alive"
"Things You Can't Outrun"
"Going Rogue"
"The Flash Is Born"
"Power Outage"
"Flash Vs. Arrow"
"The Man In The Yellow Suit"
"Revenge Of The Rogues"
"The Sound And The Fury"
"Crazy For You"
"The Nuclear Man"
"Out Of Time"
"Rogue Time"
"All Star Team Up"
"Who Is Harrison Wells?"
"The Trap"
"Grodd Lives"
"Rogue Air"
"Fast Enough"

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
”Shadows” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Walking Dead - Season 5


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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