Archive | 9:32 pm

Fall 2014 Review: The Flash

8 Oct

The Flash

It’s hard, when you’re watching every fall TV debut in a relatively compressed preiod of time, to not instantly compare The Flash and Gotham, as the two comics-based new superhero shows to debut this season (Constantine is also based on a comic, but is less similar).

Gotham tries to be more and do more. It doesn’t know what it is, tries on several hats, and none of them really fit. There’s a fine line between fusion of genres and simple lack of direction, and Gotham falls distinctly on the latter end. The Flasth, on the other hand, doesn’t try to do too much. It’s ambition is restrained. However, it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and for The Flash, that self-awareness and ability to pull back and do it rather than try for too much and do it more is a huge asset.

The Flash doesn’t break any barriers (except when The Flash breaks the sound barrier – JOKE). There’s nothing particularly new or novel. It’s hardly an absolute must watch. Yet, what it does, within its limited realm, it does quite well. It’s earnest, and smart, and pretty fun. It’s very comic book; there are villains, there are wacky origin stories, there are costumes and secret identities. It’s also very comic book in other ways; there’s uncomplicated and obvious love interests, big talk of power and responsibility, and complex and sometimes unnecessary webs of secrets and lies.

Theis can sound cliche, uninventive, and unoriginal, and sure, that wouldn’t be inaccurate. If you like comic books and superhero movies, though, you’ll enjoy The Flash, because, like Marvel seems to be good at with its movies, the creators behind The Flash (and Arrow, I hear, though I haven’t dug deep into that show just yet) just know how to craft a solid superhero show. Barry Allen is a likeable nerd who gets to play the social outcast, without pushing it too far (he’s not a Toby Maguire-as-Peter Park level nerd – remember nerds are at least somewhat cool these days). His father was convicted of murdering his mother, even though Barry saw that that wasn’t the case, but he doesn’t know what actually happened. Barry was raised by Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin, who serves a mentor and a detective, who, after disbelieving Barry’s conspiracy theories about his mother’s death, changes his mind after seeing Barry’s powers. There’s a couple of young, cool scientists who steer Barry to be the best superhero he can be, and a head scientist, played by Ed’s Tom Cavanagh, who seems like a probably villain but whose motives remain mysteries.

There’s plenty of nods to the rich world of The Flash comics, which I’ve had to research or ask friends about, and there’s clearly a love and a respect for the comic, which comes through even to a notvce fan, and even when the characters aren’t adapted exactly as they are in the books.

It’s an easy, low-on-thinking, fun watch. It’s paced well. The show is serial enough to keep you wanting to watch week to week, but seems likely to have many self-contained weekly adventures, which, while you pretty much know how they’re going to end (Flash gets the bad guy), that’s okay because it’s a light and pleasant journey getting there.

Will I watch it again? Yes, I will. If you like superheroes and comics then I’ve got a feeling you’ll probably like The Flash. If you’re not already predisposed to like these things, it’s not worth a second glance.

Fall 2014 Review: Gotham

8 Oct


I rarely chastise ambition on TV, because usually I appreciate a show trying to do something different, even if it fails, more than a show trying to do more of the same and being meidocore. There’s a thin line, though, sometimes between uncharted ambition and simple directionlessness that can sometimes be hard to read. It’s difficult, when you’re watching every fall TV pilot, to not instantly compare The Flash to Gotham, the two comics-based new shows to debut this season. And while Gotham feels like the more ambitious show straight out of the gate, The Flash, without being great, knows exactly what it’s doing and what it’s going for, and settles quickly into a solidly enjoyable hour, while Gotham feels rudderless and unsteady.

The premise is thus; Jim Gordon, the future commissioner, is just starting out as a detective, and as he gains experience and fights the good fight, several of Batman’s most famous villains are also on the rise in the dark and sinister underworld of Gotham. Bruce Wayne himself is a kid, his parents having very recently died as of the first episode. Gordon meets with Wayne and his caretaker Alfred, determined to solve his parents murder, and builds a bond of trust that we know will last a life time.

His partner is Harvey Bullock, he’s played by fantastic tv actor Donal Logue, and is probably the best supporting character in the show, as a cop whose working both sides, cozy with the city’s organized crime, but somewhat looking out for Gordon as well, though mostly trying to make sure he doesn’t stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. There’s Fish Mooney, an overwrought gangster played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who didn’t quite work for me. There’s also a young penguin and a young riddler, both of which are unnecessarily over the top as if to scream instead of merely winking that these are the villains from the Batman universe you know and love.

The dominant motif is film noir, which makes an abundance of sense in the Batman universe, but it feels off at various places and doesn’t have the chops, dialogue-wise or cinematography-wise to entirely pull it off. I do think there’s a show that works here; my version eliminates all the familiar characters except Gordon, who I think can be compelling enough on his own, and has him deal with organized crime and other seedy, but less familiar villlains, struggling to stay above the filth, and figuring out what comprimises he needs to make to survive.  Gotham is in a way hamstrung rather than helped by the fame and general awareness of its source material; most of the major characters have made strong impressions in our minds, and we have distinct expectatoins for them, which makes it more difficult for Gotham’s creators to make them their own. Sticking with less familiar characters could allow the creators to both focus on the noir and be a little more inventive and free.

That’s just one version though. It’s not inconceivable the creators could work out the kinks but I’m not convinced from the first episode that they have a plan, other than throw together a bunch of familiar elements and hope people get attached and want to see origin stories. The dialogue and writing feel stilted and the plot is relatively uninteresting, considering its head start of stuff we already know about Batman. Knowing its about the Batman universe fairly or unfairly increased expectations somewhat, and Gotham didn’t meet those.

Will I watch it again? No, I’m not planning to. It certainly wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t particularly inspring either, and though, this is a unfair to take against the show, I have a little bit of Batman fatigue (a much weaker case than my vampire fatigue).  I just didn’t see enough to make me feel like I need to come back with so many other shows demanding my attention.