The Flash: Season One Review, Guaranteed Spoiler-Free

Complete Season One review of The Flash. No spoilers. No nonsense.

The Flash started admirably with a focused, Hollywood blockbuster-level story. Quickly, it devolved into the antiquated villain-of-the-week crap all of these shows succumb to. Will this formula ever stop? Is it because it's easy? It must be. It saves talentless producers from consistently coming up with pertinent story lines that move our characters forward. As long as they can finger through a Dewey Decimal System of villains they can throw half-assed at our characters, the fan boys will clap their hands like monkeys, accepting anything you feed them, and the writers don't have to produce an entire 45 minutes of worthy story arcs for 23 weeks worth of content. Everyone wins!

This is not to say I did not enjoy The Flash. It was decent. It had a handful of downright superb episodes and that's the only reason I lasted an entire season: I was strung along by that drip feed. It might also have to do with the fact that tolerable superhero TV is in its infancy, and quality standards weren't exactly high until Daredevil hit. Regardless, The Flash started off well enough, introducing some mildly challenging sci-fi material for even the potato-level intellect of your average CW viewer. The absurd high school drama was drilled in with full force almost weekly with women love interests who are little more than flighty devices that say enough words and look just hot enough to make our men tight in the pants and want to save the day. It's too bad because there were rare scenes with Candice Patton, for example, where she inexplicably proved she wasn't just a face with boobs hanging from her chin. It's the writers fault, not the actors.

"I'm so renewed."
You know why these writers don't get better? Because massive fanboy circle jerk sites like IGN just can't control themselves. They never scored an episode lower than a 7 because they have no idea that the numbers 1 through 6 exist. Some of these episodes were legitimately horrendous. Are we afraid to admit that? But why single out IGN? It's not just them. It's every major voice in entertainment including us, the fans. I want superhero TV to get better. I am in love with comics and their stories, but I won't have a geekgasm every time an obscure villain gets a name drop or just because they put a dude in a red suit and called the show The Flash. If you want the amazing art form we so dearly love to be taken seriously, then take it seriously!  Believe it or not, superhero TV can be better, a lot better if we stop praising everything that wears tight suits and saves the day just because we saw it in our comic books.

You're most likely thinking right now, this writer is a jaded douche nozzle. Jaded, true, but also realistic. I am one of the few comic fans who can and does embrace creative changes with the characters I love both big and small. I don't mind if you change the race of a character. I don't care that a suit isn't blue enough or red enough. I don't care that Will Smith's Deadshot "eye" isn't on the correct side of his face. Yes, that's a thing that people care about for some reason. I don't care if Tom Hardy's Bane isn't comically roided out and carrying a backpack full of green venom. I'm more than OK with something not being precisely like the comics.

CW's The Flash does not play out exactly like it does in the comics. There are some major changes they made to the characters and plot. I'm fine with all of that. Grant Gustin is a terrific actor and his version of Barry Allen is pretty awesome, in my opinion. Jesse L. Martin is excellent as Barry's adopted father, Joe. He's one of the best characters on the show and is one of the best represented father figures I've ever seen in superhero movies or TV. His struggle with Barry's insane life, Iris as his daughter, and her love interest, Eddie, is a beautiful rendering of a father's growth with the craziness of the young adults around him. Martin and Gustin together make for the most endearing and believable father/son relationships in comic TV I've ever seen. And while I believe Grant Gustin's love for Iris, I don't believe anything about her. She is one of the biggest motivating factors in Barry's life and she's just a nuisance. A gorgeous, super hot nuisance, but it's jarring. On one side of the scale, you have a terrific actor in Gustin who I believe in as a superhero. Gustin carries the weight of all the absurd villains, and his ditzy love interests and somehow makes me believe it means something to him. On the other side, you have heaps of inanely conceived counterpoints, whether in the form of romance or antagonists, that are at constant odds with a lead actor far more interesting and capable than any of it.

Though Gustin is clearly the shining star in this cacophony, Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells is arguably far more fascinating. As Barry's confidant and teacher, Cavanagh's arc never ceases to engage. Wells' brilliance as a physicist, his inspiration to Barry, his wheelchair, and even his broken, yet rhythmic line delivery provided for a character that was always fun to see the layers peeled from. His story, intrinsic to Barry's, is one of the best reasons to keep watching as their relationship as mentor and student grow.

Sharing a common goal with Wells to advance Barry's powers is the charming Carlos Valdes as fan-favorite, Cisco. Though beginning the season as relatively tacked-on, Cisco grew to be the only comic relief that wasn't eye-rollingly bad. His comic and emotional timing is as on point as it gets. Sure, the writers tried to squeeze a little too hard from him in order to force a laugh, but most of the time, Valdes nails it with his clever charm and awesome T-shirts.

"Looks like you need to cool off, Flash! Get it? Cuz I'm so cold."
There may be a lot of great things to say about most of our protagonists, but leading our most reprised villains is the intensely bad Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold who either knows his character is ridiculous and just wants a paycheck, or doesn't know and still just wants a paycheck. Going so far as to enunciate explicitly that he wants his drink... wait for it... "ice cold" in one episode, and delivering every other line with a sleepy monotonous drone that dove off the edge of being taken seriously before he even finishes his first sentence in the series. This guy is just every kind of awful down to his freeze ray and winter jacket that he insists on wearing because he's just so cold, ya know? I mean, if you're going to go that far with his character, at least make him look as outrageous as his comic book counterpart is, and maybe Miller's total lack of subtlety would make some kind of sense.

Miller is only the worst of it because he's one of the villains we just have to keep looking at and listening to. The rest of them are all pretty bad, save for two particularly spectacular villains which I won't spoil here. Thankfully, the ones that mattered most are treated with a little respect and the ensuing skirmishes with them are usually damn good.

Besides Daredevil, of course, The Flash actually has a handful of the best action scenes I've seen on network TV. Yeah, the abundance of look-at-how-cool-and-fast-I-am gimmicks gets really old, but later in the series, a lot of it became rather exhilarating with some excellent splash images of Barry breaking speed barriers that looks like they exploded right off of an amazing render of a comic book page. These action segments are not all gems, however, due to some hugely inconsistent writing. Barry is fast enough to outrun a bullet, but can't get away from some electronic bees (don't ask) and resorts to swatting like a school girl, appearing clueless as to what he could have possibly done to get away. I don't know? Maybe run faster than a speeding train like you did more than ten episodes ago? These kinds of contrivances just to move an absolutely stupid plot forward confounded me again and again.

That's the thing with The Flash, its highs were some of the best I've seen come out of comics-to-live-action ever, though its lows sunk to insulting perfunctory fan-service, and half-baked love triangles with the writing quality of a middle-school diary. The Flash could often be moving, heart wrenching, funny, riveting, and endearing, yet bookended and sprinkled with effortless tripe. The season finale was without question one of the best episodes, if not the best episode of the entire season, and had little of the latter, and a heaping dose of the former. Barry's story came to an emotionally reeling climax that in retrospect might just be part of their offensive drip feed formula, baiting us to lower our standards and tolerate the crap they give us so long as we get an episode like that every once in a while.

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 - J.G. Barnes