Super-Hero TV 2014: The Flash

Let’s not beat around the bush: I have mixed feelings about The Flash, which debuted last night on The CW.

When I was a child, the Flash was my favorite super-hero. Maybe because he had that most ethereal and dreamlike and mercurial of all powers: He was just really, really fast. Maybe because of the hard emphasis on science in his stories, which appealed to geeky young Barry. Or maybe — just maybe — because his name was Barry.

So it was with excitement and a little trepidation (because, after all, it’s DC and it’s the CW) that I tuned in to watch the show. And there was some great stuff and there were some things that made me sigh and say, “Really? Really?

The whole point of Barry Allen has always been, “He’s a saint. He’s a good guy who does good stuff for no other reason than the fact that he’s a good guy.” Of course, in the modern era, this is considered “boring” and “unrelatable,” so recent creative personnel have grafted tragedy, guilt, and pathos onto the character. As a kid, he saw his mother murdered and his father framed for it. Well, OK. Because, sure, no one ever embarks on a path to Do Good without some kind of heinous crime in their past. We’re all Batman, apparently.

Still, that addition is something the comics did years ago, so that boat has sailed. What annoyed me most about last night’s show were little things, tiny bits that sullied the character and his legend and — worst of all — were completely unnecessary to the story.

For example:

I tweeted that in the middle of the show, right after Barry dramatically and super-speedily dives away from a crashing car…and we learn that the driver died in the crash.

Really, show? Barry had just proven that he was fast enough to catch up to a speeding car, open the door, and hop in, but when a car is barreling towards him, all he can think to do is dive aside?

The point of the character is selfless heroism. CW’s ad campaign for The Flash beats us over the head with words like “courage” and “hero.” So, show your main character doing something heroic!

But, no. Not in the new world of DC’s dark, guilty characters. Barry later wrings a whole line of dialogue out of his guilt over not saving the driver. That’s right: someone dies in front of him and he talks about it for a whole sentence! What tragedy! What an impact that’s had on him! I bet the season finale will involve Barry weeping at the man’s grave.

No. No, this will never be brought up again. It’s faux depth, faux pathos.

Look, this is insane. They bumped that guy off and made their hero look like a putz for a single line of dialogue that ultimately meant nothing. Barry pretty quickly shrugs off that guilt and goes a-heroing.

Would the show have been harmed in some way if he’d saved the guy in the car? Would that storyline have been impacted? He could still question his destiny, could still wonder if this was the right path for him, since those are questions the show runners clearly wanted him to wrestle with for roughly 90 seconds.1

Let’s backtrack for a moment, to the scene where Barry — newly powered — sees a waitress drop her tray in slo-mo. I nearly leapt off the sofa, so excited was I — this scene was right out of the comics, right out of Showcase #4 from 1956, where Barry uses his powers for the first time, catching the falling items and replacing them on the tray so quickly that the waitress is left thinking, “Gee, that was close — I almost dropped that.”

I was psyched to see that classic moment given its due.

But, of course, on TV, Barry just watches the food fall. He does nothing.

Come on.

Look, no matter your opinion of the show, that’s just spitting on the original. Again, what would it have hurt to have him catch it? Why do an obvious, overt reference to the source material, only to step on it? What’s the point?

In the original, Barry is focused. He acts on instinct. He moves immediately, without doubt, and he comes away thinking, “Whoa! What’s going on with me?”

On the show, Barry hesitates. He gets distracted. He does literally nothing. And he comes away thinking, “Whoa! What’s going on with me?”

How is the latter better than the former? Especially in a show about super-speed, shouldn’t the main character always be acting, rather than standing around?

I realize these seem like small, niggling details.2 Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the show is bad because of choices such as these. I’m just saying they don’t add anything at best…and they detract at worst.

I am glad that Barry came up with the idea of reversing the tornado on his own — I was worried that his connection to the gang back at S.T.A.R. would mean he would basically be getting advice from them all the time. But he thought of it on his own, so good for him. The Flash’s intelligence and scientific know-how are central to his character and his stories, so good on the show for making him smart enough to think of these things on his own.

Less glad-making was the decision to have him winded and pretty much giving up until Wells gets on the radio to inspire him to get up and try again… Again, how does it hurt the show to have Barry exhausted and defeated…but then dig down deep on his own and try again? It’s such a small thing, but it communicates volumes about his character.

But clearly, based on the tag at the end, they’re setting Wells up as either a sort of demiurgic power…or perhaps, in a twist, a good guy from the future trying to make sure Barry lives up to his destiny.

OK, we’ll see.

And, yes, I’ll see, too. As annoyed as I was by the little things, the show did just enough right that I’ll keep tuning in. I’m hoping that the bizarre tendency to undermine its hero is merely a symptom of this being a pilot, and that the actual series will resist the urge to do so regularly.

Oh, but one more thing: In the comics — written in the 1950s — Iris West is an accomplished, independent photojournalist. On the show, she’s a grad student who serves coffee and lives with a domineering father who insists on hiding the truth from her “for her own protection.”

Pretty sad that a woman created in the 1950s was more empowered then than now.

  1. Right up until Green Arrow — I’m sorry, Arrow — shrugs and says, “Dude, be a hero!”
  2. Hey, it could be worse — at least I’m not whining that he’s not blond!

Leave a Comment