While watching the latest episode of The Flash, I found myself distracted by just how good this show is. Seriously. I arguably enjoyed it less than I should have precisely because I enjoyed it so much, as I couldn’t stop wondering how they manage to pull this off every week.
Now, I haven’t gone off the deep end here. I know that The Flash is a light-hearted affair. It isn’t The Sopranos, and I get that. It is, however, the absolute best in a crowded field of superhero television, most of which have a much harder time pulling together all of the components that are required for success in that genre: exciting superhero action; campy, but menacing, super villain; a believable world in which costumed freaks don’t seem too out of place; a cast of characters deep enough to make us care, but light enough to pull off the requisite cheesy dialogue; and movement, a story that is going somewhere combined with characters that learn and grow without losing their essence.
The Flash does all of this effortlessly.
So, while Barry (Grant Gustin) and the gang were busy trying to get the Flash up to speed for his upcoming battle with Zoom (Tony Todd) and his present battle with new speedster villain, Trajectory (Allison Paige), I was distracted by precisely how much fun I was having right from the very start.
The episode opens with Barry and Team Flash attempting to increase his speed by having the hero run/fly across a ravine. It’s serious business, but they’re all having a good time. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) is making jokes about Evil Knievel. Barry gives it a try and is doing just fine, but then he looks down. Everybody knows that you should never look down.
Everything that makes this show work, everything that every superhero show needs, is right there in that opening scene. The Flash, the Scarlet Speedster, with his friends at his side, risks his life in a spectacular gamble, lightning streaming from his speeding form, as he pushes himself beyond his limits to prepare to face the mask menaced that threatens not one Earth but two.
That scene is a metaphor for the episode as a whole, for the series as a whole. Everything here moves at breakneck speed. Earths bleed into earths. Doppelgangers and doubles keep everyone guessing. Simple threats, like a petty thief with super speed, race along beside big threats, a man in a black mask that covers the face of a friend. And throughout, the Flash and The Flash just keep on moving.
What this show possesses, in way that few other superhero series can claim, is trajectory. It is always moving, at Mach 3 and beyond, and moving along a carefully calculated line. Arrow‘s tone and trajectory were reset after The Flash showed how much fun that a fun superhero show could be. Legends of Tomorrow is still be trying to figure out what it wants to be. Supergirl sometimes gives the impression that they’re making things up as they go along. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t decide what kind of story it wants to tell. And Gotham? The less said about Gotham, the better.
The Flash, however, throws a million things at you each episode, and every single one of them has a pay-off. It really feels as if someone is in control here. It’s almost as if someone had a plan for this from the very beginning, and is confident and sure enough to see it through. (This may, of course, be a false impression. If it is, I don’t want to know.)
Every episode is jam packed with action sequences. (Barry runs across water! Barry runs through the air!) Every episode gives us villains worthy of our hero. (Mark Hamil as the Trickster, anyone?) Every member of the big cast of regulars can carry their weight, stand the glare of the spotlight when it’s their time to take center stage, make us believe that they care about one another, and make the nonsense about multiverses and the speed force seem almost real. (Tom Cavanagh, as Harrison Wells, is my current favorite.) On top of all that, the story keeps on moving, speeding into the future and into the past and across worlds. Always on a trajectory. Always going somewhere. Always with a purpose in mind.
Okay. I’ve said too much. The comic book fan has overwhelmed the TV critic. I get it. I really do.
But, The Flash is good. It’s the superhero show that I’ve wanted my whole life, since I was too young to get that Adam West’s Batman was being played for laughs, since Linda Carter was Wonder Woman and Bill Bixby was the Hulk (and since Nicholas Hammond was Spider-Man.) It’s better than all of those and so many more, not because it’s darker and more mature (which, thankfully, it isn’t) and not because the special effects are better (which, thankfully, they are) but because it’s on a trajectory, it’s going somewhere, and it’s taking me along.