The Flash, Season 1, Episode 1, “City of Heroes”
October 7, 2014, 8:00 PM, CW
Folks, I’m not going to bury the lead here. The pilot for The Flash is without a doubt the best pilot of the season so far. I was planning on writing notes during the premiere for this recap, but the whole thing moved so fast and was so captivating that my notepad was blank. While Gotham is oscillating between tones and still finding its footing three episodes in, “City of Heroes” not only matches the speed and energy of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and his titular alter ego, but does it with a confidence and ease that is not surprising given the creative team behind it. With this first outing, I am confident that this will be one of the best new shows of the 2014/15 season.
The series is from Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns, the same team behind the CW’s other hit DC series, Arrow. Barry, as well as other characters and elements from the pilot, were introduced throughout last season, although the episodes you’ll want to watch are “The Scientist”, ‘Three Ghosts” and “The Brave and the Bold”. Those three episodes did a fantastic job at introducing us to Barry Allen, an always-late forensic scientist for the Central City Police Department. Like every other DC hero, Barry is scarred at a young age by the death of a family member. Specifically, the mysterious murder of his mother that involved a red and yellow lightening field and him suddenly being blocks away from his house. This lead to his father Henry (played by John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry back in The Flash series from 1990) to be arrested and imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit and for Barry to be taken under the wing of Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin, not missing a beat from his Law and Order days) and become obsessed with odd cases from around the world. But when a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs run by Harrison Welles (Tom Cavanaugh) explodes during a heavy rainstorm, it sends out a wave of energy that along with a bolt of lightning that strikes Barry in his apartment and a stand full of chemicals, puts Barry into a 9 month coma while rewriting his entire physiology, which allows him to move faster than any other human. It also creates numerous other “meta-humans”, one of which is Clyde Mardon aka. the Weather Wizard, a bank robber who is the white male DC version of Storm, who is dispensed with by the end of the episode in the pilot’s only weakness.
From the description I’ve given of the episode, one would assume that this is typical superhero origin boilerplate. Something we’ve seen thousands of times before and that even a non-geek could write in their sleep. And in a way, you’d be right. You have the surrogate father, the love interest, the romantic rival for said love interest (who also happens to be said surrogate father’s partner) and the team from S.T.A.R. Labs that help Barry out and give him his costume, one of which played by genre queen Danielle Panabaker. But what separates The Flash from Gotham, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and even its brother series Arrow is its tone and execution. While Barry shares a similar tragedy to Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen, he’s not encumbered by it and doesn’t let it define his worldview. He’s not a brooding anti-hero but a good natured, wide-eyed and energetic kid who just wants to help people and do the right thing. And with every comic book series and film being “dark and gritty”, it’s nice to see one that embraces the goofy nature of both the character and the title over the years. And as goofy as the book got (anyone who recognizes the name on the busted out cage at S.T.A.R. Labs knows what I’m referring to), the series does a great job at grounding it somewhat realistically so that it can share the same universe with Arrow. As dumb as Barry’s origin of “how he got his powers” is, it was a lot dumber when the character was first introduced. And “particle accelerator explosion” is a way better excuse for our “meta-human of the week” formula than “Kryptonite meteors” in Smallville. And unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which had to play its cards so close to the chest that for 3/4’s of the 1st season it floundered around and annoyed its target audience, The Flash has a bold confidence and ease right from the beginning. It knows what it is, what it wants to be and how to get there.
And with an intriguing stinger that sets up more mystery to the murder of Barry’s mother, as well as a cameo from Oliver Queen over at Starling City who gives his blessing, The Flash is already miles ahead of the competition of not only the best comic book series of the year but one of the best new series of the season.
Aside from a ineffective "villain of the week", "City of Heroes" is the best pilot of the season so far and promises great things from The Flash.