Superhero Comics are sort of exasperating if you don’t enjoy trends in general. Its expansion during the last decade into every aspect of pop culture is probably asphyxiating. Personally, I was a huge superhero comics reader (I quit after getting exasperated with the sheer act of keeping up, but I still enjoy superhero fiction conceptually), but at the same time, I’m exasperated with superhero movies. It’s not about the whole gate-keeping fact, where you would wish that only comic readers get interested. It’s about the fact that these productions tend to overcrowd and outshine the cinematic productions that I think are genuinely compelling.
The Flash is compellingly fun TV unlike anything on the theaters. Admittedly, on this first batch of episodes we have received (three so far), there’s a bit of a formula to the proceedings (namely ending every episode with a foreshadowing teaser of what’ll probably be the season finale confrontation between Harrison Wells and Barry) that undermines some of that fun, but outside of that, you get a show that doesn’t apologize for being what it is nor does it try to constantly extend the brand unnaturally. Of course, its interest in foreshadowing future plot lines has more to do with the fact that it is a TV show, but where in the Marvel movies you often feel there are scenes that were commanded in order to raise the fandom’s thirst. The Flash has to do this to survive in a competitive TV environment.
When it gets down to it, the big thing about The Flash is that it entirely feels like something these people wanted to make. A lot of projects like this feel like something that needed to be done in order to perpetuate the brand, sell some merchandise and call it a day. The Flash is earnest and sincere in its love of its eponymous character and his surrounding universe. Even something as cheesy as “I didn’t get struck by lightning. We all were struck by lightning” (said by Barry to signify the fact that the makeshift team he’s formed around him to fight super crime has become an emotional support net rather than just a logistical one) works entirely based on the fact that Grant Gustin nails Barry’s sincerity and lust for life and justice.
In many ways, this is first and foremost an actor’s show. Outside of Gustin, Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh in particular stand out and whenever they’re on the screen, the show manages to reach new heights entirely on their support work. Martin’s Joe West could be another tired father figure, but Martin brings a world-weariness/idealistic mix that could only be matched by Morgan Freeman in Se7en and it’s a testament to how sharply drawn these characters are that I sincerely think that Joe West’s favorite movie is Se7en. Cavanagh’s on double duty here, playing the duplicitous Wells with astounding warmth and otherworldly (or perhaps other timely would be more accurate) coldness. It’s amazing that Cavanagh manages to sell both his uplifting speeches about science and justice, as well as his stabbing and killing, not just by themselves but as part of the same individual.
Outside of them, we have Cisco Ramon (played by Ramon Valdez) and Caitlin Snow (played by Danielle Panabaker) doing serviceable work as charming exposition machines. The show does expand a bit on Snow’s character and background but otherwise, there’s not much else to these characters. Fortunately, Valdez and Panabaker do bring in their charms and make the characters much more tolerable on the screen than they would be on paper. Same can be said of Candice Patton’s Iris West, a character who on the page doesn’t much going for her outside of her status as a goal for Barry (sadly, the show’s weakest aspect by far) but Patton herself makes Iris loveable and motivated. Hopefully, the show will address this eventually and preferably soon.
Overall, The Flash is accomplished in ways that many TV shows on their first season simply aren’t. A lot of it has to do with the fact that its writing room is pulling double duty working this and Arrow, so they have tons of experience. But most of it is simply the fact that it has a heavily engaged cast that knows what the show is and decides to get on its wavelength of sincere cheese. At its best, it outruns every single show on TV in terms of humor and showmanship. At its worst, well, it’s still ahead of the game. Hopefully, however, we’ll get more outrunning than just coasting through.