Friday, 14 November 2014

Imagine If The Flash Was Called The Streak

The Flash has always been one of my favourite superheroes. I've mentioned before how I love Wally West's Flash more than any other. Which is why I'm gonna talk about Barry Allen. Obviously.

It might seem like I'm hating on Barry Allen, but I'm really not. Barry is a great. A real hero's hero. A man with a serious dedication to his principles and what is right, often at the expense of his own social life or well-being. A police officer's sense of justice with a scientist's mind. The man Batman wishes he could have been. And when Batman wishes he could be you, you're pretty much all the awesome possible.

I just always had a real soft spot in my heart for Wally West. That's as much because he was the Flash I grew up with (since Barry was too busy being dead during my informative to leave as much of an impact on me), as it is because I've always liked wise-crackling heroes like Spider-Man, and Wally cracks with the wise, especially in the animated Justice League series.

What can I say?

I like Barry just fine, although his policeman demeanor didn't leave as much of an impression on me. However, I did appreciate his dry sense of humour and the innovative ways he used his powers, which often turned 'man who can run fast' into such a simplistic description of his power set as to be laughable.

Now, you may or may not know (I don't want to make assumptions either way because if I assume you know, I'm being presumptuous, and if I assume you don't, I'm being elitist, so I'm gonna assume you may be vaguely aware it is a thing that exist but still tell you about it because being presumptuously elitist is the way to go) but there is a new Flash television show. With real people even. You know, those type of shows that aren't animated or a cartoon... um, like with real life actors- life action.

Life action!

Now, before we look at the new millennial Flash TV show, we need to discuss the early 1990s Flash TV show, and by we, I mean me. Now, the 1990s Flash was awesome despite itself. I say that because it shouldn't have worked. No, really. It just shouldn't have worked. Like at all.

The atmosphere of the show is definitely trying to ride the Bat-tails of the immensely popular Tim Burton Batman movies, with a sort-of gothic aesthetic for the Gotham-inspired grungy Central City. And that Bat-influence is all over the opening theme too, which is just Danny Elfman's Batman theme without the melancholy opening because the Flash hasn't got time for that. I suppose that Elfman just felt like copy-and-pasting since a pay cheque is a pay cheque.

Also, the show was quite camp at times, well a lot of the time. The villains often chewed scenery with ridiculous motivations and grandiose over-acted posturing deserving of prime-time soap opera. This campiness allowed for one of the most memorable villain performances in television history because did I mention that Mark Hamill played the Trickster? Because "Holy Joker-lite Batman!" he did.

"I was Luke Skywalker, you know."

Hamill is perfect as the crazed James Jesse, putting in a manic performance as the Trickster that you just know helped fuel his amazing voice-work as the Joker for the next couple of decades. His voice whirls and crackles, giggles and hackles, bellows and shackles from one extreme to another. It's a gloriously over-the-top performance that is just a wonder to behold.

On the other hand, although the show handled its source material with respect and gravitas, it at times felt like a soap opera, not least due to the interpersonal drama between Barry and Tina. And like a soap opera, the acting could occasionally be stiff, especially Amanda Pays as Tina. Yet, despite seemingly remembering her lines as she says them, Pays is incredibly likable as Tina and really grows as strong foil for Barry over the course of the season.

John Wesley Shipp actually was a soap opera actor before he donned the red suit but he is great as Barry Allen. Self-effacing yet warm, with a gentle charm but disciplined disposition. At times filled with doubt but with an unwavering conviction, he's a genuine hero but a man who feels the weight of the responsibility he has taken upon himself as Central City's protector. And Shipp manages to endue Barry with all these qualities despite his somewhat limited range due to the sheer warmth and personality he puts into the character. The fact he also makes the suit work despite the padded muscles should be taken into consideration too.

Pulling. It. Off.

And that's the thing, the individual elements that make up the show should have counted against it, culminating in a barely watchable endeavor best forgotten. But instead it is a incredibly agreeable show and a decent watch, not anything that breaks the mold, but a real enjoyable superhero show with more going for it than against it.

After having watched the first couple episodes of The Flash 2014 TV series, it seems that being more than the sum of its parts is par for the course for life action Flash TV shows. It's a CW show, so like Smallville, Arrow, and Beauty and the 'Beast' before it, it features a number of really specific type of beautiful people with sharp jawlines and thin frames doing beautiful people things. Yet despite that, the actors are all really dedicated with some compelling performances. Like, for example, John Wesley "I was the Flash motherchuckers" Shipp as Barry Allen's father, Henry.

I had the biggest nerdgasm ever when this happened.
I didn't even know that I felt so strongly about the 1990 Flash show but apparently I did.

It's a masterstroke of casting. A loving nod to fans of the 1990 series but it's not just a hand out to Shipp, capitulising on his past time in the titular role. If anything, over the intervening years Shipp seems to seriously have developed as an actor. He is quite emotive as Barry's compassionate yet constrained father, wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of wife (Spoilers, I guess). Compellingly conveying the regret of a man who has had his life and son taken away from him but the tenderness of his love for his son despite the harshness of his environment.

And Grant Gustin as Barry is a good fit, playing him a bit more dorky than Shipp but highlighting his keen scientific mind and passion for knowledge, while still showcasing his caring nature and sense of justice. He is also a little bit more of a wisecracker than Shipp's Bary with a deft gift for a quick quip but Gustin pulls off the darker aspects of the character quite well, countering his bright side with a real sense of tragedy due to his mother's death.

He also pulls off his costume despite not having padded muscles.

The special effects are decent, nothing spectacular but impressive for a CW network show and the designs are solid but what really makes this show work are the characters and tight writing. Which makes sense since one of the main writers for the show is Geoff Johns, aka. the best Flash comic book writer ever. Little nods to the future of the character are thrown in here and there, while the story definitely seems to be developing a natural arc, based on one of the best Flash stories in comics.

Johns intense familiarity with the character and mythos of the Flash means that the show has a sense of identity and confidence that the 1990 Flash did lack. With a purposely light tone, the show hits on the appeal of the character, he's not a brooding Dark Knight or benevolent protector Man of Steel, he's a speedster and speedsters need light to see where they're going.

Even though he's dubbed the Streak by the news channels in the fictional universe of the show, this feels very much like the Flash. Long may he run.


References:

The Flash (2014 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (1990 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (Barry Allen)

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