The Flash Season 1 Review: Up to Speed

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DC is building a universe on television akin to Marvel’s on the big screen. The Flash, branching off from Arrow, had a lot to offer in its first season.

But the show’s biggest strength is that it didn’t want to be taken seriously and adapted comic book stories as straightforward as anyone could. What we got felt like a living, breathing ‘60s era comic book, complete with goofy villains with goofy names, deeply layered science fiction, and sunny optimism.

Grant Gustin wasted no time charming his way into the role, giving off a nerdy, Peter Parkerish vibe that worked perfectly as a contrast to Stephen Amell’s Dark Knight-inspired Oliver Queen. His quest to stop the man who killed his mother spanned the entire season, but Gustin pulled all the stops in Barry’s climactic scene in the finale where he meets his mother, proving that this series, while goofier than its Starling City cousin, was also more emotionally effective (seriously, I’ve never cried during Arrow, but I straight-up wept when Barry had to say goodbye to his mom in the past).

With the supporting cast, the writers developed a familiar support system for Barry. He’s got the girl he’s chasing (Iris), her boyfriend and Barry’s coworker (Eddie), her father and chief of police (Joe), a no-nonsense supporter of his superheroism (Wells), and some goofy sidekicks (Cisco and Caitlin). Replace those names with Laurel, Tommy, Quentin, Diggle, and Felicity and you’ve got season one of Arrow. That’s how The Flash looked when it started, but as the season went on, there were a number of surprises to keep things fresh.

For instance, Joe finds out Flash’s identity early on, but uses his detective skills to assist Central City’s superhero while still remaining a father figure to him. This is a fresh dynamic that gave way for some surprisingly emotional moments. Joe is Barry’s most reliable ally.

And then of course, Diggle doesn’t turn out to be the season’s main villain who came back in time to rid the world of the Flash forever. Tom Cavanagh grew into Dr. Wells/Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash very well over the season, like Gustin, peaking in the finale. The slow reveal of his character mostly worked while the show was building, but by the last third of the season grinded to a halt. The last four episodes were great because Reverse-Flash was very much the main villain and the show felt less like a procedural.

Then there’s Cisco and Caitlin, who, through a quick Google search, have clear destinies awaiting them (the show is probably going to get very dark when one of them does the one thing that they’re supposed to do).

So The Flash felt just different enough from Arrow right from the get-go, but still similar enough that crossovers seemed natural. But this lighter series really sang when it was farthest away from its cousin’s bleaker tone.

The best episode of the season was “Tricksters,” where Mark Hamill hammed it up as a villain called The Trickster. His goal was to steal money from Central City’s rich or something. It didn’t matter, it was a simple tale of a villain doing something bad, a hero doing something good, with a plethora of fun moments and over-the-top acting.

Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold was another highlight, as his snarky demeanor gave Barry some of his most entertaining clashes with supervillains.

Thanks to fun alone, The Flash had a better first season than Arrow did. Is it as good as Arrow is now? I’d say it’s just shy, mostly because this series took a little too long to let its main villain be outwardly villainous. There were too many villains of the week in his place.

But when this series was at its best (i.e. “Tricksters” and “Fast Enough”), it was better than Arrow has ever come close to. The Flash just isn’t consistent enough yet to dethrone the CW’s other series as the best live-action superhero show of all time. Thankfully, there’s another season is on the way to challenge that. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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