Post-Gazette Reviews ‘The Flash’

‘The Flash’ sprints to prime time

Monday, 06 October 2014 12:00 AM Written by  Rob Owe,  Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette

Sometimes a TV show can be both more of the same and a genre refresh at the same time. The CW’s “The Flash” (8 p.m. Tuesday, WPCW) is such a show.

On the surface, it’s just another superhero drama in classic CW style: good-looking characters, a possible love interest for the hero, decent special effects, etc. But “The Flash” purposefully avoids the dark tone of “Arrow” and instead reflects the optimistic spirit of its title character Barry “The Flash” Allen (Grant Gustin). It’s a much needed and welcome shift from the dark tone of so many superhero franchises today.

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Barry’s already appeared on “Arrow” – “The Flash” is essentially a spin-off and Oliver Queen makes a cameo in Tuesday’s premiere  – and this pilot for “The Flash” re-tells the story of how Barry got his powers and gives him a backstory filled with familial strife and the potential for that back story to connect with the present. (The first of these flashback scenes brings to mind the cornier family stories in the early seasons of “Smallville,” which is not a complaint; it adds to the wholesome vibe that trails after The Flash as he zips around Central City.)

Barry was 11 when his mother was killed in a bizarre incident – it involved what appear to be light waves and possibly a super-speed murderer – and Barry’s father (John Wesley Shipp, who played The Flash in a short-lived 1990 CBS series) was blamed for her death.

After his father went to prison, Barry grew up in the home of police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin, “Law & Order”) alongside West’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), whom Barry now has a crush on.

Barry’s also a fan of physics to a perhaps unlikely degree. He geeks out over the prospect of a particle accelerator test at S.T.A.R. Labs. But when the machine malfunctions, Barry gets electrocuted by lightning and goes into a coma for nine months.

When he wakes, Barry finds he’s the fastest man alive and he’s in the care of S.T.A.R. Labs star physicist Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh, “Ed”). Barry quickly leaves the lab to reunite with his work colleagues but not before asking Wells if he can keep the S.T.A.R. Labs sweatshirt he’s wearing. It’s a small moment but one that’s telling about Barry’s character and it makes him so incredibly likable.

Credit for that goes to both the script – by series executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “Everwood”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Arrow,” “Eli Stone”) and Geoff Johns (“Arrow,” “Smallville”) – and to Mr. Gustin, who makes Barry someone viewers will want to cheer for. It’s not just that he’s awkward and geeky but also that he’s hopeful despite a tormented past and just so gosh darn nice.

Mr. Gustin previously played an evil choir student on “Glee” but he sheds that image for this new role.

Viewers bored with superhero shows might not take to “The Flash” regardless. It’s not a revolutionary show but at a certain level it is a step away from the angst and a return to the positive, uplifting feelings evoked by the 1978 Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie.

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