Catching Up: Arrow

Arrow Movie PosterI have never read a single Green Arrow comic book. Not one.

My experience with the character created by Morton Weisinger in 1941 is relegated to his appearances on the “Justice League: Unlimited” cartoon (all hail Bruce Timm!) and of course the incarnation portrayed by Justin Hartley on seasons 6 and  8 – 10 of “Smallville.”

So there’s my experience with the Emerald Archer.

Enter “Arrow.”

Only a year and a half following the conclusion of “Smallville”s 10-year-run on the WB/CW, the network that targets female audiences through interchangeable male actors and vampires decided to tap back into the world created by DC comics. It launched a series devoted to Oliver Queen’s adventures in Starling City as Green Arrow…..I mean The Vigilante…no, The Hood…wait, that’s not it…..um, just The Arrow? OK, fine. The Arrow it is.

If you’re keeping track at home, the costumed protagonist of “Arrow” went through more name changes in its first 32 episodes than Clark Kent went through in the final three seasons of “Smallville” with “The Red-Blue Blur” and then simply “The Blur.”

This is after the show went out of its way in the season one episode “Year’s End” to make Oliver proclaim that the name Green Arrow was “Lame.”

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

“Arrow” premiered on Oct. 10, 2012 to 4.14 million viewers (sure Nielsen, just 4.14) and has now aired aired 32 episodes. For those first 32 episodes I didn’t watch.

Due to a combination of college, work, and a hesitance to invest myself in a new version of the character so soon after “Smallville’s” conclusion, I let “Arrow” go on its merry way.

Then the series’ first season was added to Netflix and I happened to be on winter break from school. I thought “what the heck” and buckled down to watch the entire run to date over the course of two weeks.

This is how I feel about the whole thing.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Good

Boom! Pow! Bang!

Good golly, “Arrow” knows how to put together an action scene.

The series is second only to “Person of Interest” when it comes to action on network television. We’re guaranteed some brutal fights when ever Oliver (Stephen Amell) dons his green outfit (and face paint). I’m still impressed by how many ways they’re able to use Oliver’s bow in a throw down.

I can count on one hand the number of times “Smallville” went above and beyond in fisticuffs department (6×17 “Combat” and 9×21 “Salvation”) thanks in part to a limited budget (super powers yo).

In Universe Continuity

Boy, this feels good.

A decent ongoing first season storyline that didn’t disappear for stretches at a time. Villains, like Count Vertigo, reappearing not once, but twice after their initial debut giving them a great over arching narrative.

Two different narratives, spread 5 years apart, influencing each other while setting up story lines to be paid off who knows when. Who would have thought the Arrow rock necklace Oliver gives Thea at the beginning of season 1 would have been the key to the Japanese life-giving formula in the season 2 winter finale?

The writers have “Arrow” going at a brisk pace now, especially with the reveal of Slade as the man controlling Brother Blood’s army building (a plan not too far removed from what “Agents of SHIELD” is doing over on ABC) and not to mention the introduction of Barry Allen for two episodes before he gets his own series in the fall.

  • The Glades = The Narrows
  • League of Assassins = League of Shadows + the plot to bring the city to its knees through a machine. I don’t understand this minute change, but oh well.

And that’s what’s really important here. While Marvel is off chugging out interlocking movies at a mind numbing pace with “SHIELD” establishing its first presence on television (and four Netlix series beginning in 2015). DC at least has a head start in the television department by a year.

There’s no telling how “Arrow” and the Flash series will inform each other once the latter gets off the ground, but if “Arrow” is any indication, I would expect a fair share of give and take between the two.

Sidekicks….I mean partners

It must be nice having team mates who can take care of themselves.

Diggle brings the brawn and Felicity brings the brains. Both aren’t afraid to get their hands messy and they don’t need a baby sitter…most of the time. Of course Felicity has been captured by the band guys, every one has to at some point, but they don’t need bailing out by Oliver every episode.

It’s good to see Diggle get his own story line (though maybe not enough), though we’re still pretty clueless on Felicity’s background.

The Bad

I like “Arrow,” please don’t forget that. But my list of nitpicks and out right complaints is needlessly longer than the list of praises I have for the series.

Warner Brothers loves Batman. Can you tell? It really shouldn’t be that hard since nearly every element of “Arrow’s” first season was modeled after some incarnation of Batman, with the elephant in the room being the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

It starts with Oliver’s original character template being an exact carbon copy of Bruce Wayne from “Batman Begins.” A humorless, borderline psychopath who pretends to be the millionaire playboy the public thinks he is.

The only difference is Christian Bale’s Wayne wasn’t humorless. One of the charms of the Christopher Nolan trilogy was Wayne’s dry give-and-take with Alfred and Lucius Fox, which is the type of relationship the show duplicates with Oliver and the much-needed Felicity Smoake.

Then there’s the supporting cast. Police Detective Quentin Lance, as played by Paul Blackthorne (I think of him as the poor man’s Billy Bob Thornton) is a gruffer Commissioner Gordon. This has become even more of a reality in season 2 with Quentin sliding into the role of a reluctant ally of the Arrow, complete with roof top meetings to give him intel on bad guys.

Then there’s Lance’s cardboard cut out of a lawyer daughter, Rachel Dawes Laurel. I’d like to congratulate the series’ showrunners for making me outright loathe its female lead in record time. Just under 25 episodes. “Smallville” was able to keep me from giving into my ire for Lana Lang  for six seasons.

Sure she’s going through a rough time after the effects of “The Undertaking,” but it’s hard to tell since she has a short-range of emotions with which to project, similar to many characters on the show.

Anyway, other similarities between “Arrow” and Batman so we can get on with this:

Now back to the characters.

Without the arrival of the wit and lightness of Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), “Arrow’s” first season would have been unbearably serious. Rickards brings a natural awkwardness to the role and her character is often used to call out the show on its own plot tropes.

My favorite example came in episode 15 of season 1, “Dodger,” when Felicity gives Oliver her rational plan for tracking down that weeks bad guy.

Oliver: That’s not how I typically get my information.

Felicity: How do you typically get it?

Oliver: I find the person, then I put the fear of God into them, until they talk. 

[Felicity looks surprised.]

 But we can try it your way.

That, in my viewing, is the funniest line Oliver has had in 32 episodes.

A show is only as good as how well it can can poke fun at itself. “Arrow” wasn’t in a place to do that until Felicity became a permanent member of the cast halfway through the first season.  The only way the character can be felled is if she becomes pigeonholed as the wise cracking, tech geek who has a slight crush on Oliver when Barry Allen isn’t around.

This leads me to my other complaint:

Everyone loves Oliver Queen

If you’re a female character with more than six speaking lines and are somehow blessed with not being related to Oliver, on some level you’re smitten with the man. I know it’s the CW and there has to be love triangles  squares  rhombus  triangles with every warm body, but “Arrow” is taking it to a new level.

Laurel, Sara, Shado, The Huntress, whoever Summer Glau is playing, and even Felicity. Six characters, two different time frames, all romantically involved or infatuated with Oliver at one point or another.

If the CW was in on the joke, they’d have an icon floating above every female character’s head counting down to when she and Oliver get their groove on to whichever song happened to peak on the Top 40 that week.

I know the CW aims primarily for the female viewing audience, but having one or two strictly platonic friendships between the opposite sexes is healthy for a show. Not every storyline needs to be motivated by sex.

Which makes me all the more conflicted about Felicity. I want her to stay just friends with Oliver, but I have to admit, if I were the type of person who devoted too many hours of his life to “shipping” two characters on a badly formatted Tumblr account with 15 GIFs per post, it would be Oliver and Felicity.

What can I say? I like odd ball pairings.

Nitpicks

“My name is Oliver Queen…”

“Arrow” is in desperate need of a theme song opening.

Instead we get an awkward one-minute summery of the show with a grating voice over by Amell as Oliver. 32 episodes into a series and your audience should have the premise and background of the show committed to memory.

There is the title card, which sometimes comes as late as 10 minutes into an episode, but that’s not enough.

Full disclosure, after watching the series to date, I still haven’t committed any of the cast members names to memory (thank you IMDB).  A theme song opening would remedy that.

Of Note: The in-episode voice overs by Oliver ended sometime in season one, so there’s that.

Flash back coordination

“Arrow” is taking an obvious page from the “Lost” playbook and driving much of the series’ plot through flashbacks to Oliver’s five years on the island. There’s usually 4 – 5 per episode and sometimes it relates to what’s happening in the present, but it usually doesn’t until a few episodes later.

Typically, these portions of the episode are the most engaging for myself. The showrunners might realize this, since we’re getting that story piecemeal and by my memory only one episode in the first season was largely entirely flashbacks (the one of many where Oliver is knocked unconscious), please correct me if I’m wrong.

Either the flashbacks need to be more constrained to benefit the flow of the present day story or there needs to be more entirely flashback driven episodes.

“We have to go back…for 10 minutes!”

Season 2 opened with Diggle and Felicity parachuting on the island where Oliver had once again isolated himself after the Undertaking.

I thought a good portion of the premiere would be spent on the island, but all three characters were back in Starling City within 10 minutes. I can’t help but think the writers wanted to explore the trio on the island more, but a strongly worded network note made them change course late in the writing process.

I’d really like to see a premiere where they’re on the island for at least 30 minutes before returning home.

Conclusion

I love “Smallville.” It’s my favorite show of all-time and all 10 seasons sit comfortably in a DVD carrying case in my closet.

“Smallville” was a show with a lot of faults and a lot of charm.

But putting up just the first season of “Arrow” and “Smallville” for judgement, the former comes away the winner by a slight margin. While both engaged a “case of the week” format, with “Smallville’s” Freak of the Week and “Arrow’s” ‘Person who failed this city of the week’, the latter was able to at least make it mean something to the overall plot of the season.

(I think you only need to watch six episodes of Smallville’s first season)

While “Smallville” had characters with more depth & likability and projected a more comfortable onscreen tone, “Arrow” is excelling at furthering its universe through plot lines and characters from the DC Universe, something its predecessor didn’t begin doing  until its fourth season.

For “Arrow” to fully embrace its potential it would have to be on a network that isn’t the CW, probably on FOX (where “Gotham” is slated to air in the fall). Its soap opera trappings prevent characters from progressing at an ideal rate and some story lines are spinning their wheels, especially in regards to Thea and her boy toy Roy, who I feel should be closer to Arrow by now.

But I honestly want to see the show further break out of its “Pseudo-Batman” mold, but I am enjoying the relationship between Arrow and Officer Lance. As long as Hollywood believes audiences want nothing but dark, brooding and damaged characters (which apparently didn’t exist before Christopher Nolan came along), that’s what they’ll keep feeding us. Luckily, I don’t see the upcoming “Flash” TV show being nearly as dark.

“Arrow” is on strong footing going forward, and by the end of its second season it might be worthy of my own personal “Must See TV” label.  Even though it’s not yet, I will be tuning in, though likely with the help of my DVR.

Arrow’s second season continues on the CW with “Blast Radius” on January 15th at 8/7 central.

 

Posted using Tinydesk blog editor

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About Daniel McFadin

Writer for NBCSports.com. Former Sporting News intern. Graduated from IUPUI in Indianapolis with a master in sports journalism in 2014 and from Arkansas State University in 2013 with a degree in Journalism. Originally from Lewisville, Texas, now in Fort Worth. Ask me if I like Star Wars. I dare you.
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