Not The Fastest Man Alive—But Close Enough

Not The Fastest Man Alive—But Close Enough

“The Flash” is an awesome TV show.

Veeeery minor spoilers follow, but nothing significant.

It’s not without its flaws, which we will get to in depth, but it’s an incredibly fun and enjoyable program that anyone with even the most vague interest in the superhero genre should check out.

“The Flash”’s biggest advantage is that it truly understands the balance between the funny and the serious and knows how to work that divide.

As my friend says, this a show where, in at least half of the episodes, solving the problem boils down to the following exchange:

Dr. Wells: Barry, you have to run this fast.
Caitlin: Barry, I don’t think you CAN run that fast!
Barry: I’ve gotta run that fast!
*He runs that fast*
Cisco: Wow, I can’t believe you ran that fast!

And it’s amazing.

So a show like that obviously has to embrace the ridiculousness. Most of the best superhero movies (“The Dark Knight” excepted, of course) embrace that to one degree or another. These stories don’t function without humor and self-awareness. If you have doubts about that, go watch “Man of Steel.”

But “The Flash” also makes sure to not limit its dramatic options. It can get serious, painful, and even scary.

A lot of the credit for that goes to Tom Cavanagh, who plays the glorious Harrison Wells, one of my favorite television characters of all time. You can feel the show shift every time he speaks. Most of the other characters speak in that cheesy, comic book, half serious kind of way. It’s all surface level, all simple, all fun.

When Cavanagh speaks, the subtext just appears. There are deep, complex layers to almost every line he delivers. It’s absurd how much power he can put into his speech.

He brings a gravitas to his every scene that no other actor in the show possesses, a gravitas that can elevate a speech about something called “the speed force” from a comic book platitude to a powerful, intense moment of development for multiple characters.

(Also, special shout-out to Wentworth Miller, who plays Captain Cold. I honestly can’t even describe that performance–you just have to watch it.)

Credit also goes to the effects team, which is shockingly good for a show on The CW. I am honestly amazed at how good the show looks and sounds at every level.

Obviously, speed-related effects have to be the chief concern of this particular show, and this show has them nailed. When the main character, Barry Allen, moves, he moves. He is a flash of yellow lightning. And the team knows just the right moments to flip into slow motion, showing us Barry’s movements in excruciating detail. It has just the right aura of the supernatural without crossing the line into complete absurdity.

The effects team particularly shines when it comes to the villains. One of the big villains is Reverse Flash–a name that sounds a little silly, especially when paired with his bright yellow suit. But by having him use his speed to vibrate super fast, his voice goes deeper and his image blurs, making him inhuman and granting him a frightening presence.

Another major villain, Zoom, eschews the vibrating image in favor of a much scarier costume. But he also deepens his voice to sound almost monstrous, and is constantly surrounded by crackling blue lightning, the combined effect of which makes him look positively deadly.

But the best villain effects achievement goes to Gorilla Grodd, who is just straight up terrifying. He has been used sparingly thus far, but the scenes in which he is involved are some of the most intense on the show. By hiding him in shadows, the show demonstrates his sheer size without putting him at risk of looking ridiculous by virtue of the fact that he is, you know…a giant gorilla. His voice is especially menacing, a quality that is enhanced by the reactions of Jesse L. Martin, a badass detective who goes to complete pieces around Grodd.

So that’s a bunch of the positives. When it comes to having fun, crafting interesting characters, and showing off comic book effects, this show excels.

It’s got some issues when it comes to depicting women.

There appears to be a minimum two-men-to-one-woman ratio operating at all times in the show. Those women that are shown have some difficulties.

Caitlin Snow is largely defined by her relationships with male romantic partners and by her scientific career. She can often seem like a flat character outside of these relationships, spouting the necessary science and not doing much else. When she does get a moment of autonomy, she can be quite interesting: the episode where she and Barry go drinking is a great example.

Unfortunately, her problems are compounded in the second season, with one particular scene making my suitemate and I scream in rage when we saw it.

The other main woman character, Iris West, is just a straight-up problem throughout the first season. She is awfully written. The creative team needs to have her in the show given her central role in the comics, but they clearly have no idea what to do with her. Nearly every bit of dialogue she has is terrible, and most of her plots are paper-thin comic clichés that are just annoying.

She improves in the second season, but even then, she doesn’t have a clear role. The writers have figured out how to not have her detract from the show, but not how to have her add to it. Given the high quality of almost every male character on the show, this is rather disgraceful. Much like Caitlin, she is largely defined by her relationships with men and struggles greatly to break free of this.

Generally, this is a more subtle, background sexism than an in-your-face style sexism, but it’s still a genuine problem and source of frustration. Given the creative team’s obvious skill, I have high hopes that they’ll move to more seriously address it going forward, particularly as the show becomes even more popular and backlash starts to intensify.

Broadly speaking, the show is excellent. It has its flaws, flaws that may understandably make the show unappealing to some. But what it does right, it does really right.

One final complaint: Every episode begins with an opening narration in which Barry calls himself “The Fastest Man Alive.” But the season-long arcs have both been about speedsters who were faster than Barry. He has never been the fastest man alive. Ever. Not once. No.

It just bothers me.

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