Friday, February 19, 2010


After a slight delay, it's time to begin my series of reviews....

Episode 1: "Pilot"

Central City is terrorized by a motorcycle gang and even the police department seems helpless against the wave of crime. A pair of brothers step into the fight -- Jay Allen, head of Central City's elite motorcylce police unit and Barry Allen, chief scientist of the Central City police department's forensics unit. A freak accident involving a bolt of lightning and a deluge of chemicals bestows on Barry the ability to move at super speed. Will even these newfound powers be enough, though, for Barry to save the city? Or will tragedy dog the Allen family's path?

My Take: A two-hour pilot gave the writers plenty of time to develop the characters and story. Too bad the majority of those characters were two-dimensional and the story was nothing really inventive. Most of the acting here is solid if a bit on the melodramatic side. It does, occasionally, veer off into true "ham" and "cheese" acting in a couple of places. The script itself isn't that subtle either; which adds to the problems. The whole idea of a criminal motorcycle gang just seems a bit silly and they never come across as that viable of a threat.

The villain of the piece is such a stock character that it's hard to actually take him seriously. There is no depth here and only the thinnest of motivations which makes the character worse than bad... it makes him boring.

John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen does bring some charm to the role and he was certainly pretty 'easy on the eyes' but there are times in the script when he tries to sell some of lighter moments a bit too much and he never quite brings across the grief or righteous indignation the script calls for. The supporting cast is also pretty strong and it was a nice idea from the producers to provide the series with such a deep supporting cast for the series -- it's an idea that fell away for a time in TV and has only really been making a comeback in recent years.

Surprisingly, the special effects still do look pretty good after all these years. There are a few obvious instances of green screen work but, for the most part, the money spent to produce the effects was money well spent.

As a comic book fan though.... This story has some real problems.

From the start viewers can see the influence the Tim Burton Batman movies had on the series. In the comic books Central City was a light, fairly bright, Midwestern city. Probably the best real-world analogue city would be Chicago or St. Louis. It was never the kind of dark, broken place that Gotham City was in Burton's vision and yet that is what viewers get -- complete with the same art deco touches of Burton's Gotham.

Another big problem is the fact that the writers felt compelled to give Barry a "tragic origin" and a family conflict which was never present in the comic books. Unlike a lot of heroes, comic book Barry became a costumed crimefighter because he felt it was the right thing to do and because he had grown up reading stories about comic book superheroes (that's right, Barry was a comic book geek. Gotta love it). Here, the TV writers introduced a brother (comic book Barry was an only child) for the express purpose of killing him off so that Barry would become a hero in order to seek "justice".

The TV writers also introduced a sub-conflict with Barry's father not respecting his second son's career choice and looking down at forensics as "not real police work." This is in marked contrast to comic book Barry whose parents lived in a small, folksy, Midwestern town for his father had been the town doctor before retiring. Both this conflict and the "tragic origin" sit badly on the character; even the ending has lines that were stolen almost verbatim from Burton's Batman and the Flash was never meant to be a Batman-like hero.

There is also the strange transformation of Iris West from being a reporter in the comic books to being an artist here. Why? Don't know. Despite attempts to shoehorn her career as an artist into the plot to add some conflict to her relationship with Barry it just never comes off right.

I also had a big problem with the costume. It just looks bad in nearly every possible way. In dark lighting it isn't too egregious but in bright daylight all of it's flaws can clearly be seen... The sculpted muscles are, again, too much of a throwback to Burton's Batman; plus, they make the Flash look bulky. Up until some parts of the modern era the Flash was depicted with a leanly muscular runner's physique. The costume here makes him look more like a bodybuilder. The shading and shadowing used to emphasize the muscles also looks very obvious and fake in direct light and, in perhaps the costume's greatest flaw, it looks flocked. The Flash's costume should be sleek... not fuzzy!

So, from a comic book standpoint, was there anything good here?.... A little. The scene where Barry ends up running 30 miles in a matter of seconds while trying to catch a bus because he's late for a date with Iris is a little tribute to the comic book origin where Barry first discovered his powers when he ended up outrunning a cab he was trying to catch because he was late for a date with Iris. The writers also threw in a few other touches which showed they were at least tipping their hats to the show's comic book roots (See the "Flash Facts" below).

The bottom line? For those who have never heard of the comic book Flash before this would have probably been a pretty good introduction for a character who at least had some things in common with the comic book character. The special effects have withstood the test of time which means that for their original time period of the early 1990's they probably blew away most of what people saw on TV. For comic book fans, though, there was probably a lot of confusion and questioning of why the TV writers felt compelled to change so much about the character.

Flash Facts:

The brief appearance of reporter Linda Park is a tribute to the comic book character of the same name. The comic book version of reporter Linda Park, however, was much younger and would become romantically involved with the third version of the Flash -- Wally West.

STAR Labs (Scientific and Technological Advanced Research) was and still is a staple of DC Comics. The labs have branches throughout the DC universe and are often responsible for either saving the day by providing some advanced weapon or special chemical concoction or for starting trouble in the first place when one of their experiements goes awry and produces some monster or superpowered criminal. They have featured most heavily in Superman stories over the years.

STAR Labs is located on Garrick avenue. This is certainly a tribute to the first Flash character (who debuted in 1939) whose secret identity was Jay Garrick -- a research chemist. Likewise, Barry's brother, Jay is probably also a tribute to the Garrick character.

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