RTF Review: “THE FLASH – Season 1“
By: Adam Basciano
“Season 1 of The Flash follows Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), an assistant police forensic investigator who was orphaned when his father was falsely imprisoned following the mysterious murder of his mother. The season begins with Allen being struck by lightning during an intense storm caused by a particle accelerator explosion that bathes the city with an unusual form of radiation. The strike puts Allen in a coma for nine months. When he wakes up, he quickly learns he can move at superhuman speeds. It’s a fate that also befalls others in the wake of the explosion and storm, creating several “metahumans.” Allen then uses his newfound power to fight crime and go on a hunt for his mother’s true killer.”
Let me give you all a bit of background as to my Flash fandom. After Batman and Superman, The Flash is my third favorite superhero. Next comes Wonder Woman, followed by Daredevil, the only Marvel hero to crack my top 5 list. My awareness and fondness for The Flash started with the television series that aired in the 90s. Back then, it was the characters super speed and costume that hooked me. Re-watching as an adult, the stories are still cool, and I really appreciate the set design, and opening theme by Danny Elfman. The show never really found an audience, because it always shifted around on the CBS schedule, and was ultimately cancelled. My first Flash comic books were the TV show tie-ins. Then came the Justice League animated series, which introduced me to the Wally West incarnation of the character, voiced wonderfully by Michael Rosenbaum. Smallville then continued to increase my Flash fandom, by bringing Bart Allen to the small screen. The WB/CW have been considering a series based on the character since Smallville, but it took the success of Arrow, to give The Flash the green light, to go full speed ahead. The result is one of the best first seasons of television.
To be as good as The Flash was in Season 1, the cast has to gel, and everyone has to pull their weight. And they do. I liked everyone in the main cast. Grant Gustin overplayed the “nerd” angle a little bit in his two episode stint on Arrow. It was more Peter Parker & Clark Kent than Barry Allen, but once The Flash got going, Gustin settled into the character we are used to. He conveyed the shock and fear of what was happening to him, but then balanced that out with the euphoria of the character testing his powers. We saw a mix of confidence and self doubt from Gustin as The Flash, depending on the situation that presents itself. Read The Flash for any length of time, and you will see the comic book character have these exact same feelings. The Flash in the comic books comes off as the most genuinely likeable guy on the Justice League team, and Gustin’s portrayal, makes him the most easily likeable superhero character on TV.
Candice Patton as Iris West got a lot of fanboy hate because the show made a race change. You know what…WHO CARES? Patton did a great job. She had great chemistry with Gustin. Even though Barry has romantic feelings for Iris, I like that they were best friends and the show runners didn’t overplay the love triangle between Barry, Iris, and her boyfriend Eddie Thawne. I loved the scenes with Patton as Iris and Grant as The Flash, meet on the rooftops. They had a very Superman (1978) feel to them. Iris never was really the damsel in distress. She was a blogger/reporter who wrote about The Flash, helped give him his name, and eventually became part of Team Flash. Patton in this season, gives Iris a sense of strength, conviction and kindness we don’t see in the comic books, because the character is so rarely highlighted enough to notice most times.
Speaking of Team Flash, Barry Allen has a group of the smartest people working at Star Labs helping him on com link; helping him get out of problems he may encounter, as well as helping him understand the ins and outs of his powers. While I detest The CW formula of every superhero having a team, especially a hero with Barry’s intellect and power set, they’re here, and we have Danielle Panabaker playing Caitlin Snow, while Carlos Valdes plays Cisco Ramon. Both characters have comic book roots. Caitlin Snow is one of a couple people to adopt the super villain moniker of Killer Frost, while Cisco Ramon is the hero known as Vibe, one of writer Geoff Johns’ more recent creations. Both actors and characters eventually become their alter egos counter parts. In this first season though, fans will be able to pick up on the seeds planted that will lead to the eventual transformations. I think both actors have great one-two punch chemistry together. Danielle Panabaker plays Caitlin Snow as the straight laced, get right down to business scientist, while Carlos Valdes as Cisco is always ready with a good quip, or pop culture reference ready to lighten the mood. I know those quips and references are written by a staff of writers, but it is Carlos Valdes and his impeccably timed and perfect delivery that really makes things pop.
A key aspect to the first season was Barry Allen’s relationship to his fathers. Yes I used the word in the plural form. First there is his biological father Henry Allen, played by former Flash actor, John Wesley Shipp. Then there is his adoptive father of sorts, Joe West, played by Jesse L. Martin. Finally, there is Barry’s mentor at Star Labs, Dr. Harrison Wells, played by Tom Cavanagh. If you can watch certain scenes between Barry and both Joe and Henry without shedding at least one tear, then you may not have a heart. One specific scene between Barry and Joe occurred in the season finale, when Barry was unsure about going back in time and saving his mom, because it would mean he would never stay with Joe and Iris and come to consider Joe his father. Joe tells him, no matter what happens Barry will always be his son. The water works began flowing for me. This also happened earlier in the season. when Henry Allen discovers his son is the Scarlett Speedster. Henry reveals all his hopes and dreams for Barry, and then ends the poignant speech telling Barry he is proud of him. Both actors were holding back tears in this scene, and I could not help but get choked up watching them. Both Martin, and Shipp, have the ability to pull you into their scenes, to the point that you forget it is make believe, and completely buy into the father son dynamic. Kudos to Gustin of course, who had to hold up his end of the bargain in these scenes.
You know that saying, a hero is only as great as his villain? Well The Flash has one in Harrison Wells, who is really Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse Flash. Tom Cavanagh gave a wonderful performance throughout the season. The last villain performance I saw that was this good on superhero television, was John Glover as Lionel Luthor on Smallville and then later on in Smallville’s run, Michael Rosenbaum. Cavanagh switches from mentor, scientist and do-gooder. to evil bastard with ease. Was Cavanagh a pro wrestler in another life, because he perfected the art of the swerve! For weeks and episodes on end during that season of The Flash, I would fluctuate from believing that he was the Reverse Flash, to thinking he could not possibly be Reverse Flash. The best part of his performance, was the fact that the character believes he is 100% right and justified in wanting to kill Barry in order to get home to his own time. The delivery of dialogue in such scenes from Cavanagh has so much conviction attached to them; you almost start to agree with him. Cavanagh give one of the best super-villain performances on TV.
Another thing that makes Season 1 of The Flash great is the tone of the show. For those who have always wanted DC Comics to do something more light hearted and fun akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Flash is definitely for you. The Flash holds nothing back and completely gives in to what it is; a comic book superhero series. Season 1 truly feels like a comic book is coming to life on your TV screen. Fans of the comic book will definitely notice that Season 1 is a loose adaptation and an amalgamation of the “Rebirth” and “Flashpoint” storylines. If you watch this show, it’s impossible not to get giddy with The Flash reciting his opening monologue, where he tells you he’s Barry Allen, what happened to him, and that he is The Fastest Man Alive. While I did not recite it verbatim, the show does, pulling it right from the first page of every Flash comic book. This little touch puts the show over the top for me in the awesome sauce department. As for the ever famous rogue’s gallery, you would think the creative team would try to drastically alter their costumes, or avoid using some of the cheesier code names? Nope, not The Flash. The show embraces the cheesy names, and even makes them cool, by having pop culture guru, and Star Labs funny man, Cisco Ramon name them. Even Gorilla Grodd gets an episode all to himself!
I want to discuss is the quality of the Visual Effects, and which episodes I think are absolute MUST WATCH if you decide to skim through Season 1, whether you’ve watched it already, or decide to give it a chance. The visual effects on this show are simply incredible. We see The Flash running up buildings, running on water, and reversing a tornado, just to name a few. And then there’s Grodd, who was a fully rendered Gorilla, and he looked absolutely badass! I am not sure how The Flash movie is going to surprise me now that the VFX turned out a WOW moment every time they were used. Here are some episodes that you definitely need to give a look. The pilot obviously. It gets the origin out of the way fairly quickly and we get to see The Flash do the hero thing in short order. From there, make sure to check out “Going Rogue”, and “Revenge of the Rogues.” Here you’ll not only get your first looks at Captain Cold and Heatwave teaming up to torment The Flash, you will also get a “Prison Break” reunion, as Wentworth Miller and Domenic Purcell are reunited to play Captain Cold and Heatwave respectively. Their chemistry together is fantastic, and mirrors their comic book counterpart’s exactly. Their costumes are pretty spot on too despite minor changes. Follow this up with the two parter The Flash Vs Arrow, where um...The Flash and Arrow fight before teaming up. Its universe integration a la the MCU.
For more team up action, see “All-Star Team Up”, featuring Ray Palmer aka Brandon Routh as The Atom. There’s a nice nod to Brandon Routh and his past playing Superman too. Also The CW showed Marvel how easily it would be to do Iron Man on TV! (The Atom from Arrowverse is essentially Iron-Man with a different paint job, and the power of shrinkage. Also, he’s less of a smart ass) The Flash Season 1, does not simply use existing DC heroes that have already appeared on Arrow. It adds to the CW DCU by devoting two episodes to showcasing Firestorm. Firestorm is no top seller for DC Comics but is a cool character, which I am glad is got his first taste of some live action screen time here. The show really took it back to some OG Firestorm comics, having Ronnie Raymond merge with Dr. Martin Stein. Love the casting for this duo. For Martin Stein, we have Victor Garber, Jennifer Garner, aka Elektra’s dad on Alias. For Ronnie Raymond, The CW employed nepotism and cast Robbie Amell, cousin of Green Arrow himself, Stephen Amell. The two actors playing Firestorm are at drastically different places in their career, which helps serve the yin and yang the characters are to each other, and the clashes they have while merged. There have been four Fantastic 4 films produced. Three of which, were big budget special effects driven films. Firestorm has made a handful of live action appearances, and yet Firestorm in “Flame On” mode looks better then all four attempts at the Human Torch. I am not trying to rag on Marvel, because I love me some Marvel too, but it’s true. To see if you agree with me about Firestorm, watch “The Nuclear Man” and “Fallout.” If you need more proof, see Legends of Tomorrow.
While the episodes listed above were all standouts, they weren’t my absolute favourite. For The Flash Vs Reverse Flash action, that award goes to; “The Man In The Yellow Suit”, “Out of Time”, “Who is Harrison Wells” and “Fast Enough.” These episodes feature the big reveal that Harrison Wells is The Reverse Flash, explains how Eobard Thawne steals Harrison Wells’ life, and involves plenty of time travel. The fights between the two speedsters are incredible. Whether it involves the two trading super powered punches while running across a football field, using Central City as their maze/race track, or fighting at super speed and in super slow motion for Barry’s mothers life in the Allen household; these scenes will make your jaw drop from a VFX standpoint.
My favourite Rogue episodes were “Tricksters” and “Grodd Lives” “Tricksters” was awesome because not only did the show manage to use both iterations of the character from the books, but also brought back the original Trickster from the 90s TV series, played by Mark Hamill. Seeing Mark Hamill was great. Looking at him, you see Luke Skywalker, but when he spoke I heard The Joker. And that is pretty damn cool! There’s even a fantastically funny nod to Star Wars in the episode. “Grodd Lives” is the impossible, being made possible. Never in my life did I think I’d see Gorilla Grodd brought to life in live action, yet, it happened, and it was great. The depiction of his telepathic mind control was perfect. Having actor Clancy Brown be Grodd’s voice was a great way to bring another DCU animation alumni into the live action DCU fold. If Trickster and Grodd team up in the future of the series, then animated versions The Joker and Lex Luthor will simultaneously be teaming in live action, as two other DC Comics characters. That my friends is mind blowing! There are some wonderful homage’s to both King Kong and Planet of the Apes in this episode. As far as the look of the CGI Grodd? I have no idea how The Flash vfx team pulled that off on a TV budget, but they did. We are a long way from a guy dressed in a monkey costume.
Season 1 of The Flash is colorful, fun, emotional, and action packed. It is superhero-sci-fi at its absolute best! It is also one of those rare prime time shows in today’s television landscape that you can watch as a family, which has something everyone will enjoy. Whether you are a fan of the comic books or not, once you start watching this show, YOU WILL LOVE IT! Flash Fact: Season 1 of The Flash is fantastic!