TV Review: The Flash pilot episode
This review originally ran as part of our SDCC 2014 coverage
PLOT: Years after his mother's mysterious murder, Barry Allen is working as a forensic scientist for the Central City police and trying to live a normal life. But when a particle accelerator malfunctions (don't you hate it when that happens?), Barry is struck by a bolt of weird lightning and granted the ability to run really, really, really fast.
REVIEW: When it comes to television, spinoffs are rarely as successful as their originators. THE FLASH may be capitalizing on the popularity of ARROW (Oliver Queen makes a cameo appearance, naturally), but it's also trying its hand at building a larger DC universe—something their film division still hasn't done yet. And if this pilot is any indication, it may have a decent shot at doing both.
The first episode opens with a brief flashback segment featuring a young Barry Allen being bullied after standing up for another kid. "I guess I wasn't fast enough," he fortuitously tells his loving mother who loves him. Unfortunately, he wakes up later that night to find his mom surrounded by a ball of lightning right before she dies. Cut to 14 years later: Barry is working for the police as a brilliant forensic specialist with special Beautiful Mind powers that help him solve crime. Though he seems to have it all together, we soon discover that he's still haunted by his mother's death and his father's wrongful incarceration for the crime and still investigating the truth.
Being a nerd, Barry goes to S.T.A.R. Labs to visit his hero, Dr. Harrison Wells (played by "Ed" and "Scrubs" star Tom Cavanagh), and his brand new particle accelerator. As tends to happen, the device malfunctions, creating an energy shockwave that flows through the city and strikes our hero with lightning. Barry wakes up in S.T.A.R. Labs and learns that he's been in a coma for nine months, having died multiple times, although Dr. Wells believes that his heart was beating too fast for the EKG to register. It turns out the shockwave killed and injured a number of people throughout the city, forcing the doctor to close the lab in disgrace and abandon his work.
However, Wells' recognizes that there's something special in how Barry Allen survived. And soon Barry recognizes it too when things begin to move in slow motion and his body starts vibrating and zooming around the city. Tests confirm that he's in a constant state of cellular regeneration thanks to the lightning strike (leading to the classic line, "Lightning gave me abs?") Apparently, the particle accelerator opened up another dimension and unleashed anti-matter, dark matter and other theoretical energies, creating not only Barry's speed and quick healing powers—but potentially other equally powerful "metahumans."
One of these metahumans coincidentally emerges at exactly this time as a guy who can control weather and uses his Storm-like power to rob banks. Not sure if he's up for being a superhero, Barry gets a little advice in the aforementioned cameo by Oliver Queen aka Arrow. Queen's brief appearance consists almost entirely of perfectly scripted quotes, like "I don’t think the bolt of lightning struck you; it chose you!" or "You can inspire people in a way I never could—watching over people, saving people in a flash!" It's goofy, but a fun bit from a connected universe and fans of the series clearly ate it up.
Realizing he might have a responsibility to his city, Barry turns to Dr. Well's two assistants for support: Caitlin Snow, played by SKY HIGH's Danielle Panabaker, and Cisco Ramon. (Comic fans might recognize their potential alter egos as Killer Frost and Vibe.) Their first iteration of The Flash costume is hilarious—a red leotard with matching helmet, kneepads and goggles. The lightning bolt symbol on his ears actually serves a purpose as a two-way headset that also helps fight against pesky sonic booms. Thankfully a somewhat more professional crimefighting outfit is later made, and thus The Flash is born to kick some bad guy ass.
Overall, I thought the pilot episode was pretty solid. Directed by David Nutter (who did the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones), it had a decent amount of action and the Flash effects were well executed. (The bad guy's weather creations… not so much.) There was a fun comic-y vibe to it, with a good bit of humor—both successful and not. (I did love the cop's reaction to the villain monologuing.) It is a show on the CW though, so you can expect some stilted acting and cliché romantic plots. (Barry's in love with his clueless best friend, who's dating the new hotshot cop). And the suit still looks goofy as hell, though admittedly it is a tough one to adapt.
I think what this episode does best is lay down some good groundwork for the characters and their future adventures. Having other villains come from the same accident that created the Flash is a good idea, as it gives Wells and his team proper motivation for fixing the problems they themselves started. And there's still the overall mystery of Barry's mom's death and freeing his dad from jail—plenty of stuff to supplement the likely villain-of-the-week formula. In fact, the pilot already included a scene with Barry's father (played by former 90s Flash John Wesley Shipp), as well as a big teaser at the end that hints at some very interesting stuff to come.
THE FLASH is not some groundbreaking new television program. There are plenty of other shows on other channels attempting to do that. It's trying to have some fun as a weekly superhero showcase and in that I think it succeeds.
Join us next week for our regular weekly review of The Flash and chime in below on what you thought of the pilot!