Catching The Flash
In our house appointment television is tough to come by. Other than Modern Family there is not another show that brings the four of us together and in Mofy’s case we watch via DVR a day late. Guy and I share favorite shows like Castle and Major Crimes but between the two of us full television overlap is not guaranteed. For example, my commitment to Mad Men runs so deep that it includes extra reading and a syllabus; Guy disappears the moment Don begins falling from his office window. Guy has invited me to Westeros more than once yet I just can’t get excited about all of those dragons. Mac and Guy clear their calendars to watch the zombie apocalypse on Sunday nights while Kelsey and I indulge in speed viewings of a certain long-running ABC soap. Kelsey somehow knows the names of all nineteen Duggar children. I only needed to remember David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy and Nicholas, because in my day eight was enough. Thanks to The CW we now have a show that brings all of us together in one room at the same time each week. Cue The Flash.
The Flash is a delight and a rare family-friendly treat, not family friendly in a G-rated nothing-bad-ever-happens way, rather family friendly in that everyone in the house likes it enough to watch it live and together. For those of you who have not seen The Flash the story goes something like this – cute boy’s mother (natch) dies mysteriously, father wrongfully convicted, boy raised by father’s best friend and falls for his headstrong daughter, boy grows up to become geeky scientist-type, boy struck by lightning at just the right moment, boy graced with super speed. Barry Allen, the Streak turned Flash, now fights crime in the form of metahumans gone bad, with chilly Caitlin and cheery Cisco by his side. Dr. Harrison Wells, scientific genius and father figure number three to Barry, mentors the group as a pseudo-Giles who might or might not be evil. Remember the Giles who rid Sunnydale of Ben/Glory? Well, Dr. Wells is like that version of Giles pretty much all the time.
Greg Berlanti, aided by his own heroic team including Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns, fashioned The Flash from the DC comic of the same name. One drawback to developing a show from a comic book is that comic-book types love their canon and seem to prefer slavish interpretations of such on screen. I can only suppose this is why the writers have chosen to have Barry long romantically for a woman raised with him like a sister. Typically brother/sister relationships don’t lend themselves to fiery chemistry considering that they walk that fine line between sexual tension and incest. Thus far, however, I have been surprised by the sparks between Iris West and Barry Allen. Berlanti must be counting his blessings. For an example of onscreen chemistry gone missing check out the early cringe-worthy episodes of Arrow that tried to smash Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance together per Green Arrow canon. For their part, Barry and Iris have a real Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson vibe. Fortunately Iris’s boyfriend what’s-his-name has “Expendable” stamped across his forehead; he should be out of the way soon enough making room for Iris to find her true love in the Flash.
The supremely likable Grant Gustin plays Barry Allen and the fact that “he is kinda cute” brings Kelsey to the couch each week. The Casting Directors deserve extra points for choosing the delightfully funny and charming Jesse L. Martin to play Barry’s father figure number two, police detective Joe West. He steals every scene he is in showing his affection for Barry, supporting and loving him unconditionally as only a parent could. Guy drools over Joe’s Arts and Crafts style house and I squeal every time I see the art deco-style Hall of Justice, oops, I mean Central City Police Station.
That just leaves fourteen year-old Mac. What makes a kid who loves Batman but can’t stand Arrow join his parents and sister in the living room week after week for The Flash? It all goes back to Justice League cartoons featuring a smart-alecky Flash. The Scarlet Speedster’s zippy quips spoke to five-year old Mac who dressed as the hero for Halloween. The CW’s version of Flash complete with quick-thinking and super smarts is “just cool.” The network managed to capture and repackage the character for a teenage audience without repelling parents, a significant achievement.
The Flash does have one shortcoming – a lack of “strong women characters.” For the first few episodes I could not isolate this problem until one evening after watching The Flash I switched the channel to ABC just as Melinda May was kicking the crap out of a Big Bad on Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then all of the pieces fell into place. I have no complaints about Caitlin Snow and Iris West, but they need some company. Only one episode of The Flash has passed the Bechdel Test and it took a visit from my beloved Felicity Smoak to make that happen. For a moment I almost forgave Berlanti and company for their lack of imagination when it came to developing female characters given their source material. Many comic books, including The Flash originated in the pre-feminist era. As a result today’s writers are left with girlfriends, murdered mothers and the occasional sexy villainess.
Then I considered Joss Whedon’s work in the Marvel ‘verse and saw that with a little bit of imagination and a feminist consciousness female characters can indeed live and breathe in the modern-day comic book show. In addition to Melinda May, Coulson’s SHIELD team of super agents includes Skye, Simmons, and lately Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse. This season I have delighted in subjecting my family to frantic shouts of “Agent Carter! Agent Carter alert!” even as two of them sit next to me watching the very same screen. It’s time for The Flash to take a page from Whedon and amp up the estrogen. Let’s hope Plastique survived her brush with underwater internal combustion and will soon return to kick some metahuman ass Melinda May style.
In the meantime, I would like to thank Greg Berlanti and his team for whizzing through our living room with The Flash every Tuesday night at 7:00. You have brought the whole family together however fleetingly.