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TV Show Review – Arrow

arrowThe history of television is rife with examples of failed superhero television. It’s just not a genre that translates well for popular consumption. Vampires, for some reason, make great TV, but superheroes tend to be non-starters. Remember the old Flash TV show from the early 90s? That was hilariously bad, with a ridiculously padded suit and utterly implausible storylines. Or the Wonder Woman show – what crap (though it did give me a total young-boy chubby for Lynda Carter). That Clark & Lois show wasn’t entirely bad, except that it had Superman, who has only ever been entertaining in the first Christoper Reeves movie. Recently we had that stupid Cape show, and that went down in flames without getting a second season.

Which is to say that I was not optimistic about Arrow. Green Arrow has always been, in my opinion, the poor-man’s wannabe Batman. His backstory is almost identical – billionaire playboy fights crime with just his training and wits to protect him – but he was far less interesting. Especially once Frank Miller reinvented Batman, the original was definitely far cooler.

The show, though, completely surprised me. I started watching because my wife and daughter wanted to check it out. It’s on the CW, a network that specializes in over-attractive people embedded in angst-filled romantic triangles and sorrowful lost loves. It’s like the entire channel is dedicated to fifteen-year-old girls. But Arrow is action-packed and thrilling, and has a few stars who I liked before I started watching (OK, one – Paul Blackthorne, who brought Harry Dresden to television for one ill-fated season).

Arrow tells the story of Oliver Queen, who is shipwrecked for five years on a South Pacific island and returns to his home a hardened, violent man. He’s heir to an enormous fortune, so he has the means to outfit himself with state-of-the-art weaponry and gadgets. As the show progresses, he slowly assembles a team of capable people who help him defuse bombs, rescue hostages, and turn bad guys into pin cushions. So yes, this sounds like Batman – but the show starts at that basic premise and takes off in an entirely new direction.

For starters, Oliver does not seek out his training. The show includes an entire, concurrent backstory told in terribly exciting flashbacks, and these explain how Oliver Queen, worthless playboy, turns into Oliver Queen, avenging angel of pain and justice. These flashbacks tell us how he got so good with a bow, how he learned to fight, and how he became so incredibly good at jumping over things. This story, the one that already happened when the show begins, is easily as interesting as the story happening in the present.

Not that the present story is anything but bad-ass. There’s an enormous conspiracy of rich assholes. There are murderous vigilantes. We get to see incredible firefights, extraordinary martial arts, and some really cool chase scenes across rooftops. Oliver Queen might not be supernaturally powerful, but his entire body is a weapon, and he’s crazy good at using it.

Plus Oliver is definitely not adhering to Batman’s no-kill code. He offers his targets the chance to repent, and if they don’t, he kills the crap out of them. Obviously, this makes the local constabulary a little nervous, which generates a city-wide manhunt. Oliver has to routinely avoid police traps, a situation complicated by his hesitation to harm cops. He’ll perforate a crook without a second thought, but he goes far out of his way (and even gets hurt a couple times) because he absolutely will not attack the boys in blue.

Another great twist is that he is never actually called Green Arrow. He’s called The Vigilante or The Hood, but the one time someone suggests the name ‘Green Arrow,’ it is laughed right out of existence. It doesn’t happen again. Oliver doesn’t have a superhero code name, a fact that by itself serves to make the show a heck of a lot more palatable.

Fans of the comics will be happy to spot the various nods to the source material, and the occasional clever points they throw out there. Oliver’s sister, Thea, was nicknamed ‘Speedy’ as a kid. Oliver opens a nightclub and calls it Verdant. He tracks a bad guy to a company named Sagittarius. His nemesis is a deadly sniper who Interpol has code-named Deadshot. Those are just a few teasers, a handful of places where the writers are saying, ‘yeah, we know where we came from.’

Unfortunately, Arrow is still on the CW, and this means you will be subjected to a few Twilight moments. There’s forbidden love, sappy music, and puppy-dog eyes. Everybody in the show is too pretty, and we regularly get to witness colorful raves full of designer drugs, which give Oliver a chance to point an arrow at someone and say, ‘You have failed this city.’ If you hear him say that, that’s your ass. So even though there’s a little too much CW in Arrow, you can get past it, because it’s still pretty much chock-full of excitement, intrigue and violence.

We only just finished the first season, which you can watch in its entirety on Netflix. I have no idea what will happen in the second season, but I can’t wait to find out. I’m hoping for more stories from the island, more vigilante justice, and more kick-ass bloodshed. I’m virtually certain I will enjoy it. Arrow proves that a superhero show can have grit and excitement and believability without sacrificing its roots, and I can’t wait to see more.

7 Responses to “TV Show Review – Arrow”

  1. peer says:

    While Im normally quite eye to eye with you (Thanks for the Tpy of Daybreak – Great show!) (hopefully thats the right term…)I disagree here. I was interested in first but disbanded the show mid-season. The stories were to formalic to samey – perhaps one of the problems why Superheroshows dont translate well into TV shows. Im also not too fond of the actor skills of the main lead (who was probably chosen for the body and not for his ability to fake emotions).

  2. Matt Drake says:

    I will grant you that the acting in Arrow is not always superb. The lead isn’t the only person who gets a little ham-fisted – it’s the CW, so nearly everyone has to overdo it at some point, or they’ll lose that key young-girl demographic. But I wasn’t seeing formula. It was building towards a big finish, and for the most part, every episode built on the ones before it. Sure, a few times there was a ‘bad guy of the week’ episode, but those were mostly used as a furtherance of the overall story. Stuff that happens in the first episode comes back all the way through the show.

  3. Jerry M says:

    The show is good…yeah, there are a lot of sappy/crappy drama parts in there but if you gloss over those it’s very entertaining. Really like the dual story line, Starling City/Island. In fact I think the Island part in many ways is the better story because it cuts out a lot of the emo scenes. Overall I like it, have mid-season finale tonight.

  4. Tas Jones says:

    Matt,
    New reader here (though I did just buy Cutthroat Cavern based on your review). The first season had a lot of potential, and a little bit two much CW. I stuck with it though, and feel that the show has raised to a new level this season. I particularly like the way they are developing a TV version of the DC mythology. Thanks for the review.

  5. Sharon says:

    If you liked Season 1, I think you’re going to love Season 2.

  6. Matt Drake says:

    We just finished the mid-season finale, and we are definitely digging it. But I am a little disappointed in the direction it seems to be headed. Solomon Grundy and Flash have no business being on this show – until now, if has been a superhero show with no supers. That was why I loved it. But it is still a ton of fun, and maybe Oliver will go back to putting arrows in bad guys instead of being a weenie about smoking dudes who have it coming.

  7. my name solomon birhanu says:

    WOW ARROW me apershat

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