One of the smartest things The Flash manages to do in its first full episode as a TV series is establish just about everything it needs to hum along as both a show and as a unique take on the similar subject matter that fuels its parent show, Arrow. The series quickly reaps the benefits of being spun off of a show that has figured out a fairly solid formula for superheroics in a TV setting. Unlike many pilots, by the end of The Flash’s first episode it’s crystal clear what kind of show this is going to be, how the writers will generate weekly stories, and what threads they’ll slowly unravel as the series unfolds over the course of the season.
Indeed, one of the pilot’s greatest virtues is that it doesn’t belabor the point when it comes to setting things up. Once the first act is out of the way pretty much all of the necessary backstory has been handled. We know that Barry’s mother died under mysterious circumstances, his father was wrongly convicted of the murder, that Barry has a thing for justice, and we also get introduced to most of the show’s supporting cast in the form of the West’s, Joe and Iris, and S.T.A.R. Labs’ Dr. Harrison Wells. With all that out of the way Barry’s immediately thrust into having super powers and rather than allowing him to be confused or mopey about the situation he’s simply excited and ready to get on with the business of being a hero.
This in turn lets the episode get to work and showcase exactly how it intends to present its take on the burgeoning DC TV universe. Unlike Arrow’s darker look into heroes, The Flash quickly shows that it’s interested in being a much lighter, more hopeful show. This difference is readily apparent when Barry first starts experimenting with his new powers, he darts around some back alleys and after accidentally running straight into the back of a laundry van, Barry’s sole reaction is proclaiming that the experience was “awesome.” It’s nothing too complicated or original, but it’s a simple declaration of purpose, The Flash may not be all sunshine and happiness, but it’s interested in finding the upbeat side of things while its parent show plays in darker, more shadowy areas of the world.
This more upbeat tone also manifests in the relationships being built among the cast, which are refreshingly free of animosity, at least for the most part. There are rough edges here and there, the destruction caused by the explosion of S.T.A.R. Labs’ particle accelerator isn’t brushed away as multiple characters had their lives irrevocably altered by the accident, but what ultimately comes through is a sense of camaraderie. Unlike in Arrow, where it took quite some time for the cast and characters to truly come together, The Flash almost immediately reveals Barry’s identity to every major cast member. In fact, by the end of the pilot the only people who don’t know Barry’s new identity are Iris West and Joe West’s partner/Iris’ boyfriend, Eddie Thawne.
It’s a sound decision in that it mostly eliminates the generally tedious need for heroes to keep their secret identities from those closest to them and also allows the core crime fighting team to assemble rapidly rather than slowly build over the course of the season. With the group in place, and everyone seemingly on the same page, The Flash is able to get on with the crime fighting rather than having to endlessly build to the point where the characters are ready to fight villains as a unit. It’s a lesson that the writers seem to have taken from their time on Arrow, where they initially felt obliged to keep Oliver’s identity secret from most of the other characters but quickly found that things became more interesting once most of the characters were brought in on Oliver’s secret.
The Flash seems to have arrived almost fully formed and it’s hard not to point to Arrow as the reason why. The creative team behind that show has put a new spin on a formula that’s proven effective and the pilot is a strong proof of concept for a slightly altered take on what’s already working so well on Arrow. The pilot of The Flash isn’t always elegantly managed. As with most pilots, there’s plenty of exposition and clunky dialogue that primarily works to set the stage rather than naturally allowing characters to reveal information about themselves, but the core of what’s set up here feels sturdy and sprightly. There’s a strong cast, Tom Cavanagh is a particular standout, solid effects work which lend a nice physicality and punch to Barry’s powers, and an outlook that sets the show apart from Arrow. All of which is enough to inspire faith that The Flash can live up to the potential of what’s on display here in this first hour. The Flash is off to a quick start, now it’s just a matter of seeing how long it takes for the series to get to its cruising speed.