The CW’s new series, ‘The Flash,’ makes stunning TV debut

The Flash, CW PR image.
The Flash, CW PR image. (Character copyright, DC Comics)

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2014 – The CW’s new superhero series “The Flash” debuted Tuesday evening with a splash with a much-better-than-average “secret origins” pilot episode. The series looked sharp from its opening moments right through to its enigmatic finale, benefiting from surprisingly believable acting, sympathetic and complex characters, sharp special effects and brisk pacing.

“The Flash” evolved into a series as a logical spinoff from the final episodes last season of the CW’s popular “Arrow” series, which is once again set in an updated version of the DC Universe. Barry Allen/Flash was introduced at that time to such favorable reviews that the new series was scheduled almost immediately for this fall.

The new series is lighter than “Arrow,” although it does have a few very dark moments and character conflicts that develop quickly but realistically. An added plus: No cheesy “Six Million Dollar Man” speed effects. Flash’s super speed comes across as thoroughly believable, although his costume is a bit duller and more practical than the one he wears in the comics.

Grant Gustin stars in the new series as CSI Barry Allen (aka The Flash), a geeky, good-hearted but troubled CSI. He’s haunted by the mysterious murder of his mom when he was a boy and the subsequent but dubious conviction of his dad for the crime.

(Trivia alert 1: In a nice touch, the role of Papa Allen is handled here by none other than John Wesley Shipp, who portrayed Flash in CBS nifty but all-too-brief superhero series back in 1990-1991. As longtime Flash comics fans, we liked that earlier series and mourned its passing.)

Gustin’s interpretation of the Scarlet Speedster transforms Flash into a determined but quite likeable character, reminiscent at times of Toby Maguire’s Spider Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America in attitude and approach. His portrayal should quickly win over the CW’s generally youthful demographic but could very well win over crossover adults as well.

Differing from the much simpler background DC gave this character in the 1960s revival we grew up with, the CW’s Flash has a considerably more complicated secret origin.

In the pilot, we learn that young TV Barry was raised from that point by Det. Joe West, played here by Jesse Martin, “Law & Order’s” longtime Det. Ed Green in a virtual reprise of that earlier role. Barry also became best buds with West’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), which creates later complications when he falls in love with her.

West later become one of Barry’s bosses down in Star City’s police HQ, where he takes on a new, good-looking new partner named Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). This creates romantic problems for Barry when he discovers that Iris prefers Thawne to himself—you know, the old “But Barry, I like you as a friend” thing. More problematic: it’s also possible that Thawne has some darker connections, but we’re not supposed to know that yet.

Longtime Flash comics fans don’t need a spoiler alert because they already know Barry Allen becomes Flash when he’s struck by a huge lightning bolt while working among a batch of chemicals in the police lab.

What’s different here is the lightning originates from your typical scientific experiment “gone horribly wrong.” In this case, it’s an out-of-control particle accelerator, a nifty contemporary riff on the real life doomsday predictions floating about a couple of years back when the Europeans began to fire up their own particle accelerator.

In the pilot, the out-of-control accelerator is the brainchild of famous scientist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) of S.T.A.R. Labs, a man Barry Allen greatly admires. Wells—and his associates, cautious bioengineer Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and her goofy, geeky, creative associate Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) who just happens to be a high-tech gadget designer extraordinaire.

(Trivia alert 2: Isn’t “Cisco Ramon” the name of a later, very Hispanic DC superhero known as “Vibe?” Hmmm…)

All three S.T.A.R. Labs characters have been added to the DC universe we once knew. Further complicating matters, they all have a hand in teaching Allen how to use his new powers, which lets them in on Flash’s now not-so-secret identity, something Det. West also learns.

Word is that we’ll eventually meet another at least semi-regular cast member in upcoming Episode 3 of “The Flash”: namely, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell), aka nuclear dude Firestorm.

More spinoffs? Who knows? If this keeps up, we might just have enough characters to do a Justice League movie, assuming the CW can do a decent revival of Green Lantern after his disastrous debut on the silver screen a couple of summers ago.

Meantime, we’ll still have “Arrow” and “The Flash,” at least for now. This morning we learned the good news that “Flash’s” debut boasted terrific numbers, beating out both ABC and Fox Tuesday night and becoming the CW’s highest-rated, most-watched new series premiere since its popular “Vampire Diaries” back in 2009.

The bad news: The CW is pitting “Flash” against CBS’ immortal, long-running “NCIS,” the once and future king of the current TV universe. Evidence: This critic had to have his Jethro Gibbs fix at 8 p.m. last night, and caught the “Flash” pilot episode—commercials and all—on the CW’s website this morning.

Either the programming wizards at the CW are geniuses, figuring out that NCIS might finally be peaking. Or they’re afflicted with acute hubris, imagining their new “Flash” can kill off Jethro Gibbs where countless evil criminals, vicious terrorists, foreign spies and assassins all have failed. In any event, this is a cruel timeslot and “Flash” will have to work OT to win, show, or at least place this season, given the competition.

That said, we wish “The Flash” well. It’s great TV, smart, nicely executed, and boasting complex, sympathetic characters possessing story lines that can continue to grow.

And, although we may be regarded as unfashionably male here for making this observation, Ms. Patton and Ms. Panabaker, in true CW tradition, are mind-bogglingly easy on the eyes. That could help keep ratings up or at least respectable for this new show, even against NCIS, particularly in that advertiser-important youthful demographic.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17