Superhero Television has evolved quite a bit since the era of mostly live action Superman series, with Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s Smallville series and it’s absolutely astounding ten(!) season run as a very appropriate comparison. After over 200 episodes, the Tom Welling lead series had begun to feel like interest in the genre on the small screen was waining for most audiences. With even dedicated viewers who loved the show as willing to admit it eventually became a show mostly watched to see how the writers would expanded Clark’s univese with special guest DC characters like Aquaman, Green Arrow, Flash, and even the Justice Society of America. As caped crusaders were becoming more compelling on the silver screen for many, comic book fans presumed that their favorite characters would be taking a long vacation from our living rooms.
Then both Arrow and Flash (both under the supervision of Greg Berlanti) surprised not just comic fans, but even casual viewers and numerous jaded critics were beginning to actively find out what channel the CW is on their home cable package. Their premiere seasons were both refreshingly grounded and wisely held the comic book roots in high regard, while simultaneously knowing how to recontextualise the more absurd elements for a new and younger audience with a taste for capes and cowls after the <I>Avengers</I> in 2012.
Flash season one had a similar, grounded approach to how it established it’s world and rules – much like Arrow. When we first met Barry Allen back before he got powers that could outrun even the Man of Steel, lead actor Grant Gustin had an instantly likable and appealing personality, with a performance that can carry even the shows weaker Monster of the Week episodes. In fact, the performances across the board during it’s freshman year helped elevate the series to appointment television. Supporting actors like Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, Danielle Panabaker and guest stars like John Wesley Shipp and Tom Felton all bring characters to life with material that quite too frequently rings as surface level material.
Grant Gustin is a charismatic lead, and he carries a lot of this show on his shoulders to great affect. But at this point if feels like the writing is letting his full potential down by constantly hitting the same emotional points for him to utilize. Which leads to the larger issues with these 23 episodes, and that is an over reliance on established format and formula. While the show still manages to create exciting moments and episodes, the sheer abundance of material required for this many hours of content forced them to be stretched in very frustratingly thin portions.
The titular episode of the season, “Flashpoint,” is an iconic run in the scarlet speedsters long running canon. But the handling of this character defining moment becomes lackluster. While the season heavily references back to the Flashpoint event, the creative team only gives us a single episode to feel the weight of three months in this alternate timeline. One may argue that it would be stealing from Arrow, but perhaps bringing this character defining issue more to the forefront with a trope like flashbacks during the season could have set up future payoffs of a deeper emotional connection to what is being set up in the new Earth 1 timeline. There is just too much potential in the season as a whole to overlook it for some exceptional work, Kevin Smith’s handing of the “Killer Frost” is a stand out episode for the series, let alone the season.
These are common issues that can be thrown at the “Blank” of the Week format of broadcast television that at this point is feeling more and more dated when adheared to so strictly in the foundation of a series. After an incredibly Shakey first six episodes, the series begins to find the narrative they want to focus on for the season, however the amount of missed opertunity to hook viewers in those first episodes is a detriment to the overall quality, with the writer’s room looking like they had no idea where they were taking the show after last season’s giant cliffhanger.
Where many would agree that the series excels is when it embraces the high concept fantastic adventures like a <I>Flashpoint</I>, or characters like King Shark, or Gorilla Grodd. Which is why the handling of the seasons big bad, Savitar, whom we are told is the first meta human to posses the power of the speed force, and is established as somewhat of a God within the shows cannon (someone recently watched X-Men: Apocalypse) will be seen as a let down for most fans of the series hoping for something slightly new and refreshing after two seasons featuring speedster villains. The season fails to establish him early as yet another unintended result of Flashpoint, with his overarching narrative thread as a looming threat gets dropped for episodes on end, largely reiterating the same details over and over when he does make an appearance.
The show feels that by simply using time travel, timelines, and multiverse jargon, they’re creating dramatic tension, but all that we get are overly furrowed brows on our leads. Savitar is handled as a looming threat that the writers put too much on the viewer to fill in the blanks in regards to why we should fear for Team Flash. He’s a spectre that never has personality, has no compelling scenes that could establish his motivations, and he’s covered from head to toe is prosthetics, effects, and voice modulation, all in the pursuit of a twist. As we ramp up in the closing episodes towards the big moment the series is now pot committed to revealing, it’s hard not to feel delivery of such a turn could have landed a more compelling impact on both the season and series had it at the very least happened somewhere closer to the midpoint of the season.
Issues like this are present all over the place within the 23 episodes that encapsulate this new chapter in Barry’s life to varying degrees. While there are very clear signs of the writing staff settling into a rhythm and format, that is something to be expected as a series like this enters its third season. This is the time where most shows finally get an understanding of their voice and become acquainted with their characters. Where it becomes an issue for Flash is that the show has settled on being <I>Smallville</I> with better effects instead of elevating into something more, focusing just too much on the side of “good enough.”
One of the recurring slams against the old WB series was that it could never escape the stigma of being <I>Dawson’s Creek</I> with Superman. Flash began very much outside of that mold, however as the numerous CW shows begin to merge and intertwine, as the focus shifts from Barry’s struggle with saving the world (and ramifications that emerge out of the fallout) and having a normal life to it’s present fixation of who is dating whom, it’s hard not to wonder if season four is going to scratch it’s repetitive expositional voiceover opener and start instead with a catchy Paula Cole song.
:: Extras ::
The home release on Blu-Ray sports an impressive audio/video presentation, with wonderful use of the lower end bass and a very rich pallet with stunning image quality.
On the special features side of things, the box set sports a decent, if slightly lackluster collection of special features. We get a peek at the musical side of the show with “Hitting the Fast Note,” “I’m Your Super Friend,” “Harmony in a Flash,” and Synchronicity in a flash.” Combined they run roughly half an hour, with the first two taking a look at the musical episode and the other two focus on composer Blake Neely. “Risk of Gorilla City” runs in the neighborhood of nine minutes and focuses on the effects side of the Grodd character. “A Flash in Time” is a nice feature the on the comic book origins of Flashpoint. “Villain School: The Flash Rogues” is on the weaker end, covering the villains of the season for almost seven minutes. We also get featurettes like “Allied: The Invasion Complex,” which covers the huge multi episode crossover event, “A Conversation with Andrew Kreisberg and Kevin Smith” that is audio only and runs four meager minutes. And lastly, the release contains the “2016 Flash Comic-Con Panel” which is a nice inclusion, though with the cast largely unable to get into detail about the season it’s mostly just a half hour of watching the cast have fun with each other. Also included are some “Deleted Scenes” and “Gag Reel.”
Tags: Arrow, Bluray, CW, Flashpoint (DC Comics), Grant Gustin, greg berlanti, Invasion, Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp, Legends of Tomorrow, Season Three, Supergirl, The Flash, Tom Cavanagh, Tom Felton