TV Nights: The Flash Series
With the new Flash TV show on the horizon I thought it would be a good idea to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a while here but never really had the time for it, watch a TV season to review here. If you’re a regular visitor and noticed a lack of regular posts lately, this is why. Instead of watching a 75-120+ minute movie to review, I bunkered in for the long haul to watch 22 episodes of the Flash, and did make a little time for a movie here and there between episodes. I watched a lot of television when I was younger and I’m certain that I watched the entire run of the Flash back in 1990 when I would have been the ripe age of 10 years old. Twenty four years later and the only thing that had stuck with me was a scene involving Barry alphabetizing books on a shelf as a test for his powers which ended up being in one of the last two episodes. Exciting, I know. But looking back on the show, it’s definitely dated and covers a lot of the typical sci-fi/superhero cliched storylines in it, but aside from that it was quite an enjoyable watch and it’s disappointing that it didn’t find an audience back in 1990. I can only hope that the new series lives up to the standard that this episode has set for it in my eyes.
The pilot movie sets things up in a pretty standard way, there’s a lightning strike and a bunch of mixed chemicals, a villain with ties to Barry Allen’s brother, and a death that pushes Barry over the edge to become a costumed vigilante instead of trying to get rid of his powers. It sets up most of the main characters, and also several who never really resurface again outside of one episode here or there like his girlfriend, the bike gang, the police commissioner, and his immediate family. It does set up the two main relationships in the show, between Barry and his scientist slash pseudo-love interest Tina, and his best friend slash co-worker Julio. Though throughout the entire series it never fully follows through with the two expected results: he never officially dates Tina, and Julio never officially finds out that Barry is the Flash.
While the show is almost entirely episodic, with only a handful of callbacks to earlier characters as it gets to the end of its run, there is an interesting arc that the show goes through with its 22 episodes. During most of the early episodes, Barry Allen spends his time fighting regular street level criminals who only occasionally have some technology that gives them a slight advantage against the Flash. It’s not until the episode Ghost in the Machine that they bring in something that could really be considered a supervillain, and after that the supervillains pretty much keep coming until the end including several of The Flash’s more well known adversaries like Mirror Master, Captain Cold, and the Trickster. I also noticed that even though the show tended towards trying to make things more realistic, it was often downplayed by the score which played up the comical aspect of the villains. At least, when the score isn’t trying it’s best to sound like the score from Tim Burton’s Batman.
One of the best things about the Flash is John Wesley Shipp who plays Barry Allen, and will have some part to play in the new Flash series. While he is a bit on the muscular side of things which isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of the Flash, and has those muscles enhanced even further with the padded Flash costume, he’s a very likable guy who makes you care about Barry Allen and the Flash. I also quite like his alter ego’s job as a police forensic scientist which gives him a bit of a scientific edge so he’s not a total meathead, but he’s also essentially still a police officer which keeps him in the know when it comes to crimes. As the series went on, he tended to use his scientific knowledge less and less and became a bit of a womanizer, becoming at least superficially romantically involved with pretty much any female character that showed up in the series except for Tina who everyone figured he should have ended up with and probably would have if the show lasted longer.
Another great thing about the show are the side characters. Tina was a great match for Barry Allen, she was the level headed, British scientist who filled in a lot of the exposition without ever being boring. I also quite liked the pseudo sexual tension throughout the course of the show. It was quite the opposite from something like Lois and Clark where it was never really bubbling up ready to burst, it was a much more comfortable, natural chemistry like a couple that had already been married for a couple years. The passion was still there, but it wasn’t in the forefront, and there was a lot more of an annoyance factor from being ignored or taken for granted. I also liked some of the other minor characters like the two beat cops Murph and Bellows who are generally comic relief but rarely fall into pure slapstick or buffoonery. I also quite liked the grifter slash informant, played by Dick Miller who is always out trying to pull a con, but in a totally lovable way. And finally there’s the interesting reporter played by Richard Belzer who often appears only on television, though he does make a few live appearances towards the end of the series. There’s also plenty of great guest stars who I knew quite well from my days of watching 90’s sci-fi television, like the kid from Seaquest, Tasha Yar and Seven of Nine together, Lennier from Babylon 5, a young Bryan Cranston, and of course the great Mark Hamill playing more or less a live action version of the Joker.
There are a couple things that hold this show back from really being a true classic. One is the special effects. They do not hold up at all with the badly blurred, somewhat ghostlike effect of Barry going full speed. Another is the score which I already mentioned, which often turns what could be serious moments into something a bit more comical, and turns comic relief moments into something more appropriate in a Benny Hill show. It really had a problem with how seriously the show wanted to take itself. It started out with these more serious villains, but it also threw in a zany hippie with a psychotropic drug. Not to mention the fact that Barry managed to get knocked out more often than Lana Lang did in Smallville. If it wasn’t for his sped-up metabolism, Barry Allen would have some serious brain damage from all the knocks in the head he took throughout the course of the series.
Out of the 22 episodes, I did generally enjoy them all but there were a few stand-out episodes that I have to mention. Watching the Detectives is one of the best during the first part of the series and surprisingly reveals The Flash’s true identity to someone outside of Tina in only the third episode. It also sets up Barry’s best love interest, the private detective Megan Lockheart who shows up in a couple other great episodes down the line. Ghost in the Machine is the first one that really nails the right tone and brings in the first supervillain, it also has the only bit of score that I like in the classic-sounding theme for the Nightshade, the 50’s era vigilante. The Trickster and Trial of the Trickster really show off an early version of Mark Hamill’s Joker from Batman the Animated Series along with the best love interest, though it does have a bit too much overplayed comic relief with some of the gags. Fast Forward is the obligatory time travel episode where Barry gets knocked 10 years into a future without the Flash where it has become a dystopia. I’m just a sucker for these kinds of episodes even though this one doesn’t really do anything new. Twin Streaks is the episode that had the single scene that I remembered, and a Flash clone with the mind of a child which scratches the surface at some interesting sci-fi morality questions and also has some good comic relief as John Wesley Shipp gets to play a naive Flash. And finally, Alpha which is another sci-fi staple with an android woman who grows beyond her programming and becomes self-aware, though her government creators want to capture her and terminate her. And finally, I would have to say that my least favorite episode would be Done With Mirrors which features David Cassidy as Mirror Master which bothers me to no end that he’s able to fool the top scientist at Star Labs with a visual hologram of her entire lab on fire, and yet there would be absolutely no heat coming off of these illusions. It also has way too much comic relief, especially with a random mime hologram, it just really bugged me to no end besides the fact that David Cassidy was not a menacing villain in the least. But out of all of the 22 episodes, there were many more that I enjoyed than there were ones that I didn’t like so much. It was very much a fun revisit even though I remembered almost nothing of the show. If you get the chance, and can look past a little bit of 90’s era, television budget special effects, I would highly recommend this show. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.