If you’ve ever said to yourself “you know, I really love Batman, I just wish the character had just a liiiiiiittle less motivation, wasn’t as good at his job, and they made a TV show about his adventures that was less like Christopher Nolan’s movie series and more like Gossip Girl,” have I got some fan-freaking-tastic news for you: Arrow is about to premiere on the CW this fall, and it’s all of your mediocre dreams come true!
I had the opportunity (misfortune? ironic punishment?) of sitting down to watch the pilot for the show, and let me tell you – if you’re not already a drinker, now’s a perfect time to start, because playing the “take a shot every time I couldn’t care less about Arrow” drinking game is going to be all the rage during the 2012-13 television season and you’re going to need quite the alcohol tolerance if you plan on, y’know, surviving 30-some shots an episode. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. To truly understand what’s going on with Arrow, let me start at the beginning.
The show opens in, believe it or not, one of the cooler series openings I’ve seen in a while. We’re shown a hooded figure, running through the jungle, using some sweet parkour moves to weave in and out of the foliage. He ends up on a beachside cliff, and we see why he was in such a hurry: a Mandarin fishing boat is sailing by, and it’s made apparent that Mr. Hood is looking to be rescued. He pulls out a bow and arrow, and shoots an ARROW THAT’S ON FIRE into a big pile of sticks that he had set up (showing Batman-esque planning, no?) to serve as a flare to the ship. He’s rescued, and ta-da! Our patience is rewarded by showing us the Arrow title card, just in case we forgot what we were watching.
That was Oliver Queen (Steven Amell) running through the jungle, by the way, and he’s the hero of our story. We’re introduced to his uber-rich family, including his shifty-looking mother and his mother’s even shiftier boyfriend. Oh, wait, let me back up: Ollie was stranded on that island for FIVE YEARS, and things are a little different now. You see, half a decade ago, Oliver went out on his yacht (The Queen’s Gambit — very clever, CW, very clever) with his father Robert Queen and his hook-up buddy Sarah Lance (who is actually the sister of his girlfriend, don’t ask, it’s a whole thing), and the ship capsized, leaving Oliver the sole survivor marooned on that island. Much like the Waynes of Batman or the Starks of the Iron Man variety, the Queens are a megarich family, and mommy dearest has been acting as the figurehead in Robert’s absence. Without spoiling too much, because I just KNOW you’re going to want the surprise factor when you watch the pilot this fall, I’ll tell you that not all is as happy and wonderful in the Queen household as the world thinks.
But we’re not watching a show about a superhero for the family drama, right? No way, we want to see some action! And we’re treated to it, 20 excruciating minutes later, as Ollie and his bestest-best buddy Tommy Merlin are kidnapped by some thugs demanding to know about Ollie’s return-from-the-presumed-dead and more importantly, Ollie’s father. While Tommy is conveniently unconscious, Oliver busts out some self-taught island justice on the thugs, easily subduing them with some parkour and ninja stuff that I guess you have no choice but to learn when you have nothing to do on an island for five years. And later, we’re treated (again, punished?) to a training montage of Oliver setting up his “secret base” complete with practice archery range.
Hey, remember when I said that no audience expecting a superhero TV show would want to sit through a character drama that makes Dawson’s Creek look like it’s Emmy material? Too bad. The rest of the episode is lots and lots of long looks and subtext, complete with comic-book easter eggs and a love interest in the form of Laurel Lance. Comic readers will notice little things like this, like Laurel being the middle name of Dinah Lance (a.k.a. the Black Canary) comic-book Green Arrow’s long-time love interest and sometimes wife, and Tommy Merlin (hopefully) being a reference to Merlyn, one of Green Arrow’s supervillains and a master archer in his own right. And THOSE are the subtle bits. Other kitschy references (like Ollie’s arrows being literally green) are groan-inducing, eye-roll-worthy shtickfests, making me long for the days of Smallville and Birds of Prey.
Without the allure of EVENTUALLY getting to see some Superman action in Smallville or HOPEFULLY running into Batman in Birds, Arrow has a hard time justifying all the set-up time it’s going to take to make this show interesting. The characters are flat, the action isn’t enough, and the acting isn’t strong (although it’s the CW, so I guess they’re playing on what, like, a six-stroke handicap here?) to make me want to sit through an entire season of this garbage.
It’s not without its merits. I keep telling myself that the series wouldn’t have been greenlit if the producers didn’t see some redeeming qualities in the pilot, but then again, this is the same industry that fired Dan Harmon from the show he created and promoted Jay Leno for being bad at his job. It’ll be very, very interesting to see if this show picks up the steam it’s going to need to survive.
I will say this, though: for a Wednesday night show on a network with a reputation for being mediocre featuring a superhero that most people don’t even know about, it’s exactly what I expected. Take it or leave it, but when the best thing I have to say about this show is that I’m glad they’re going with Ollie’s “hooded” look instead of that stupid looking feather-in-the-cap look he had during the ’70s, Arrow is in some serious trouble.