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Flashin’ Back!: Week 1 – “Pilot”

pilot

Starting from this week until well the end of the 22 episode run, I will be rewinding time as it were and looking at DC’s first attempts at getting a hit with The Flash as a TV series. The show first aired in 1990 and featured John Wesley Shipp as the Scarlet Speedster. The series was moved around the schedules and thus never quite found it’s feet which seen the show cancelled after 22 episodes. It featured many of the familiar aspect of the Flash mythos such as takes on various rouges and centered around Barry Allen fighting crime in Central City.

But was it any good?, Should the CW be worried by trying to get lightning to strike a second time or was the show just misjudged. Well that’s what we are going to find out and this first one is a long one. The pilot episode is a double length episode, Which I will recap below;


Initial thoughts are that well time repeats itself and in a big way, these days Arrow is often claimed to be “Dark Knight Light” and well this Flash TV series came out just after the 89′ Batman movie boom happened. This rubs off in a big way the show opens with a moody yet stirring Danny Elfman number as the main theme, on a family of two parents and a kid running from thugs and I’m don’t think I am making random connections here – the sets and even clothing scream Batman.

We see a ‘Motorcycle Gang called “The Darkriders” because ummm 90’s y’all – They blow up a car with the most cartoon looking projectile ever [Think a persil ball meets a glowstick]. Just so you know where this is taking place they vroom through the gates revealing this area is the Central City Armory. Thus we have our location for the show, The father of the family says to his wife “someone has got to do something about this” negating the idea that Central City has a competent police dept.

For some reason like Tim Burton's Batman cars and clothes are anachronistic apart from main characters.

For some reason like Tim Burton’s Batman cars and clothes are strangely anachronistic apart from main characters.

Cut to the Allen family: Barry, His mother and father oh and  perhaps the biggest departure from the canon his older brother Jay Allen (whose birthday is the reason for the family dinner). Clearly this is a take on the silver haired golden age speedster Jay Garrick just reworked as a mentor in a more familial way, And well it kind of works this way as Barry’s retired cop father shows favor to his classically heroic beat cop son over his nerdy police scientist son. It creates a nice dynamic that explains how Barry acts as he does in the show, he looks up to his brother as a hero yet seeks his fathers approval by working tirelessly. Barry has brought his girlfriend Iris West with him to the dinner to introduce to the family, The dinner is upset however as Barry is called to the scene of the motorcycle gang’s crime.

The Allen Clan

The Allen Clan

Barry warns the crew at the scene to grab as much evidence as possible as there seems the be a storm a brewing. Back at the Central City Police lab Barry and Julio his assistant who will be the light relief through the series are burning the midnight oil. When Barry send’s him home, At this point why am I even framing it as you know what happens? :  THUNDERBOLT + LAB CHEMICALS + BARRY = ZZAZZZZAAAAAPT and now our yet to be hero has acquired his powers. Being the fourth scene in the show so far this is moving at a damn fast pace, And the SFX employed in the accident hasn’t aged terribly in the 24 years since it aired. But back to the plot – given the enhanced metabolism that Barry has acquired he almost immediately signs himself out off the hospital and cue a bit of awkward couple exposition between Barry and Iris, They are hot and cold to say the least.

The Flashpoint!

The Flashpoint!

The Darkrider lair is revealed and as you would expect it is a disused industrial complex, why these places haven’t been targeted by CCPD is anyone’s guess. This gang leads an almost cult like existence under their leader Pike (Michael Nader) who gives an underwhelming first appearance. This is less Sons of Anarchy and more like those teens from the Turtles movies that work for the Footclan.

Pike: The Generic scarred gangster.

Pike: The Generic scarred gangster.

Barry is told by his doctor his results show some cell damage and he has to speak with a specialist over at STAR LABS and cue exposition between him and Julio about someone who died in an accident over there a year ago. Could this be a world where super humans exist?, Well yes because almost immediately Barry’s latent abilities express themselves as he outruns his dog whilst walking… Ending up miles away.

This is the most cringey part of the show, the running effects have aged terribly looking at it you are aware it is a mixture of the Front Projection Effect like that scene from Megaforce where the bike flies with the screen rolling in the background overlaid with sped up footage. Which just looks bad and as artificial as a relationship with a blowup doll.

Front Projection Effect, Good Riddance.

Front Projection Effect, Good Riddance.

So Barry goes to STAR Labs to find out what is happening from Tina McGee (Amanda Pays) who almost instantly has a wide-on for Barry if you will pardon the parlance, She tells Barry “Something something science exposition“. This is followed by Iris and Barry splitting up thus placing Tina firmly in both the love interest/tech support roles for the series.

STAR LAB's Tina McGee

STAR LAB’s Tina McGee

Pike is then revealed to have been on CCPD’s Motorcycle division, Hmmmm could it be he will have a bone to pick with the Allen family, Whose eldest son Jay is a commander of CCPD’s Motorcycle division?

Jay Allen is revealed alongside his Darkrider task force at CCPD’s precinct in front of the news and it should be noted the security for a such an unveiling is incredibly lax as there is predictably a drive by. Jay is assessing the scene when he is approached by a news reporter “Linda Park” which is cute reference for fans of the comics.

As expected Pike is revealed to have had a past with Jay, with him blaming Jay for his scarred visage and vowing revenge from his Motor gang’s lair. It’s all very MWHAHAHAHA and if he had a mustache you can bet he would be twirling it.

He wrote the book on policing btw!

He wrote the damn book on policing.

Barry next meets Tina to test his limits and is given a red frictionless bodysuit, he is given it to wear under his clothing to stop his clothes from spontaneously combusting. It is clear to see where the were going with this and I actually like this evolution of the Flash costume as opposed to super compressed fabrics and rings which always seemed silly in the comic book to me.

Do my boobs look too big in this?

Do my boobs look too big in this?

Jay and his strike force set a trap for Pike driving a convoy with bikes to draw him out, only to be counter trapped when Pike uses a girl called Lilah to block the road and the convoy stops. Which is just dumb, I mean it reminded me of those soldiers in Superman that get hoodwinked by Miss Tesmaucher.

Essentially she pretends her car has broken down only to scram because it has a bomb which seemingly wipes out everyone on the task force excluding Jay. Who is met with a more direct end at the hands of Pike who quickly disappears on his hog. Jay draws his last breath just as Barry having deduced the plan zooms in to be with his brother and he yells “NOOOOOOOOOO” as Jay dies in his arms.

So at this point you have all the cliches in the pot: accident causing powers, death of a mentor and a villain on the loose. This is when shizz gets real, Barry goes to Tina and ask’s for modifications to the bodysuit and thus suited and booted takes out some of the gang raiding a factory. I’m not going to lie as aged as the suit may be the reveal did excite me.

The Stan Winstone made suit, Revealed.

The Stan Winstone Studio’s made suit, Revealed.

After this he makes his way home with Tina who wants to “something something science” but Iris is there which causes tension until Tina say’s she is a crime scene investigator and they were going over the case then leaves.

Barry and Iris have a couples talk and decide to give things another go and cement this with a session. where **SIGHS** at only 1hour 7 minutes & 20 seconds into The Flash TV series **SIGHS AGAIN**… they made a … **SIGHS AGAIN**…. they made a joke about how long it takes The Flash to ejaculate. Yes they did it, the most obvious possible joke and they bust it out on the first episode, I can’t begin to imagine the sense of smugness that the scriptwriter who added that in must have felt.

Too soon?

…Too soon?

As the police had rounded up the gang members the Flash stopped including Lilah, Barry begs his boss to enter the interrogation room with Pike’s second in command and things get interesting in this scene since he basically creates his alias. He tell’s Lilah that unlike the guys in the office who think the bikers are on crack he believes her about this red ghost she seen, he tells her to spill all she knows before “The Flash” gets a hold of the gang. It was actually kinda intimidating but begs the question how he came by that name?

She declines his offer out of fear of what Pike will do to her if caught. So Barry orders the female guard to have her stripped and the clothes sent for analysis, Kinda creepy though since he will be doing the analysis. For all the CCPD know Barry could be a panty collector but I digress.

Barry does some detecting.

Barry does some detecting.

Whilst Pike and the Gang decide for their latest plan: To rush this prison and free all the inmates, Barry analyses the clothes where he finds a plot contrivance evidence in the form of flora that only grows in one place in Central City – Near the disused damn and with that has the gangs location. Rather than report this news to his superiors as he is paid to do, instead the suited speedster zooms over there to find it largely empty save for two thugs on guard patrol who he pranks before knocking out. This allows him to further explore the lair where he finds his brothers lucky (in hindsight not so much) running medal which was taken from him by Pike. This was another nice little touch that hinted that Jay Allen’s role in the show is that of Jay Garrick since he was a runner but may but a step too far for some. With this evidence he takes it to the chief who is initially skeptical thus Barry reveals Pike’s plan to do the jailbreak having seen the map at the hideout.

At this point I wondered what would happen when those two hoods are picked up and say the Flash knocked them out, At a time the chief would know Barry was there. But I didn’t dwell too much on that since well the comics haven’t particularly had a problem with that issue, It is only a problem if you are picky like me.

Jay: silver haired and a runner, Got the hint yet?

Jay: silver haired and a runner, Got the hint yet?

So the police take Barry at his word and send over the SWAT and beat cops in force to the local jail. Barry decides to go suit up when he experiences powerless and faintness, So Tina patches him up and says she’ll need his help to pull through this and he essentially says “thanks for nothing” by removing the spark leads from her van and zooming to the prison. There he finds the cops pinned under a hail of fire. So grabs the SWAT’s tear gas and disables the shooters on the jails roof. This was pretty much classic Flash right here as we see him take on multiple fighters followed by a red trail, He ends the riot by placing the tear gas in the prisons ventilation thus saving the day as the prison inmates succumb to it’s effect with the exception of Pike who grabs a gas mask and makes a run for in in the sewers.

"Sorry boys shooting gallery is over!"

“Sorry boys shooting gallery is over!”

At this point they don’t even try to hide the fact they are tearing up Batman plot points and reusing them as Pike and The Flash exchange dialogue when the Flash says “You made me” and further adds that the death of his brother made him the masked vigilante in front of the thug. Which well was pretty much word for word in Batman a year earlier, But hey it makes sense for DC to cash in on the boom – Wonder Woman had fizzled out years earlier, Superman was a rights nightmare, Green Lantern would be pretty unfilmable with the state of effects and Aquaman well he was as fishy as ever. The Flash the perfect candidate to bounce of the back of Batman even if it was blatant.

Barry’s weakness kicks in which makes the climactic fight less of a given, Pike beats him up pretty bad with a led pipe and stomp a proverbial mudhole in him then leaves him for dead. Making a break for it and getting to the Central City power works. Where Barry gets a second wind and sparks fly literally as a missile misses the Speedster and hits a capacitor making me cringe again as the following flashes across the screen;

Symbolism yo!

Symbolism yo!

I mean really… REALLY?

**BANGS HEAD ON DESK**

Talk about lacking subtlety but enough of my symbol based rage. Speaking of rage, Barry finally unleashes his on Pike and it seems he has become fully adept at using the speed force as he creates a vortex around Pike sending him into some power lines where he is fried and tied for CCPD’s finest to clean up. Being nitpicky well one could say since Pike wasn’t grounded the charge of the cables shouldn’t have zapped him but whatever it works and wraps up the first episodes villain.

After this Barry and Tina discuss his inconsistent powers, Barry tells her she needs to help him with it as he plans to continue doing as he has done as The Flash. The following scene takes place at the Allen household as Julio, Barry’s Father and Iris discuss this Flash rumor and outside Barry tells his nephew what a hero his father Jay was and says that although he can never be the hero the boy’s father was, if he ever needs him he will be there in a flash, But the scene is kinda touching so the line comes across well and the show ends on the Flash insignia and the booming Danny Elfman score.

What worked in the pilot episode?

  • John Wesley Shipp performed the role of Barry very well admittedly there was a little bit too much broody superhero in costume posing but that is to be expected, More so the shame that to quote wikipedia he “is an American actor best known as Mitch Leery, the title character’s father on the television drama Dawson’s Creek from 1998 to 2001”. There should have been more of a springboard off of this I feel, Sadly there wasn’t. Another fine performance was from M. Emmet Walsh in the role of the Allen family patriarch, He really gave the role grit and gravitas. Who else will crop in the show?
  • The approach to the source material: They get a lot of the main points in there for example Iris, STAR Labs and CCPD but also sythesised Jay Garrick into a family member rather than a Flash. I liked this because from the standpoint of the show, it is about The Flash not The Flash’s but it also gives him a figure to look up to. How will these characters be developed eg Will Iris become integral to the show?
  • The pace: The show sets you up with everything for the series at breakneck speed, We get introduced to him, His family and workmates whom give him his character, his field of work and of course the origin all in the one episode. In today’s TV where character development is eked out over full season arcs in contrast this gives you what you need to know not just hints. Will this continue over the series?
  • The score: Danny Elfman is pretty synonymous with memorable superhero scores, The Flash’s scoring definitely get’s this rub adding a big screen feel to otherwise small screen scenes.
  • The Costume, OK it is red rubber and clearly the muscles are sprayed on… But it looks about on par with other costumes of the time like Batman’s. Plus it looks pretty much unaltered from the comic, Which for fans is a big deal. Will all the costumes and practical effect throughout the series remain so good?

 

What didn’t?

  • The Generic Biker Gang: It zapped out any drama, although I get visually needing characters who can move fast to play foils for the Flash they were just sooooo generic even the name of the gang.
  • Pike: Similarly this is the villain whose very action necessitate Barry becoming the Flash even with the connections made to Jay Allen in exposition this was a really poorly used opportunity to craft a nemesis that will always try to ruin Barry’s life that can be developed further throughout the series’ but that route wasn’t chosen. Instead we get this Diagnosis Murder level performance of a bland villain to kick off the series. More Rogues or metahumans will be needed to keep the show exciting, Will any show up?
  • The effects: Some points they work well but others like the Megaforce comparison I made are soooooo aged by today’s standards. Will the visual effects continue to be a mixed bag throughout the series?
  • The jokes both visual and in dialogue, They crammed a lot of them in this first show. How many jokes can you make over the series before it gets too much?
  • Batmanisms: It tries too hard to be Tim Burton’s Batman from a year earlier. Will the show manage to find it’s own feet or continue to borrow elements?

Overall I liked the pilot, Although it is someone let down by a lackluster antagonist and has succumbed to aging here and there, for a pilot it delivers on his origin and sets up the supporting cast for further episodes. I also felt there was enough of who The Flash is for anyone who hasn’t caught the show but is a fan to get into and on the other hand as someone who has seen the show in past [The gameboy game is ace may I add] It does give some good nostalgic feels without looking terribly aged like say Linda Carter wrestling a guy in a ape costume.

A Solid 3.5/5.

And that is about it for this week, Join me next week where I recap the second episode in the series “Out of Control” where “Tina’s former colleague is the main suspect when the bodies of murdered homeless people mysteriously disappear from crime scenes. He needs subjects for genetic-engineering research“. In the meantime you can find The Flash: The Complete Series on Amazon if you want to see it firsthand or to get all nostalgic, There may even be episodes on a certain popular video sharing site but I wouldn’t **cough** suggest such clandestine acts of piracy.


The writer of this piece was:
GARYavGary Kane aka (GK)
GK tweets from @Kanoclassic

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