Confidently paced with solid production values, the second TV series about Barry Allen retains some of the cheese factor of the 1990s CBS original, but trades in the dour and “super serious” tone of recent live-action comic adaptations of Grant Gustin, who is insanely likable in the titular role. He has more range and charm than previous DC TV show leads, and carries enough presence that we, for the most part, buy him when the action scenes kick in. And there is a lot of action, especially when Barry finds himself on the trail of a super-powered criminal after the show’s first two acts quickly and efficiently set up the hero’s origin.
After S.T.A.R. Labs’ particle accelerator malfunctions, sending a shockwave of physics-breaking energy across Central City that strikes Barry’s crime lab, the smart CSI tech is sent crashing into racks of chemicals. Barry wakes up from a nine month coma to find that in addition to well-defined abs, the accident gave him super speed and accelerated healing abilities — which will come in handy as he battles “meta-humans” week-to-week, starting with a low budget Weather Wizard, whose power set is sadly confined to manifesting really angry, swirly clouds.
Helping Barry discover and control his powers are three S.T.A.R. Lab scientists. CEO Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) guides the Scarlet Speedster from the confines of a wheelchair; Carlos Valdes’ Cisco turns a next-gen fire fighter uniform into a superhero suit while techie Caitlin (the one-note Danielle Panabaker) mostly works computers while holding a grudge against Barry’s newfound abilities.
Like “Smallville” before it, “The Flash” uses that which forged its hero as a means to create villains for him to fight. Also like “Smallville,” we’re introduced to a less-than-compelling love triangle. Barry is caught between his best friend and unrequited love, Iris (played by the charming Candice Patton) and hot shot hunk detective played by Rick Cosnett. This take on the Barry-Iris relationship — with her being the daughter of Barry’s surrogate father, Detective West (Jesse L. Martin) — is a welcome change from the comics, but at times it feels forced. Hopefully, it will feel less so as the series progresses.
TV veteran and “Pilot Whisperer” David Nutter (another “Smallville” connection) directs from a script co-written by Geoff Johns, and for the most part, he does an admirable job, but one too many set pieces suffer from a lack of connective tissue explaining how characters get from A to B. This is most evident in the hour’s big chase scene, where one minute Barry is running after a suspect in a speeding vehicle, and the next, he somehow manages to slip inside the passenger seat.
The script also has its share of rough edges, with characters reacting to such extraordinary events like the one described above without so much as a double-take. Worse, supporting players are prone to speaking mostly in exposition without motivation — especially Iris and Barry’s collection of techies.
A tragic backstory plagues Barry — his mother was seemingly killed by the Reverse Flash — and dad (John Wesley Shipp) is wrongfully imprisoned for the crime. Who killed Barry’s mom, and how that ties into Barry’s recent exposure to the Speed Force, will fuel the show’s mythology in between “Freak of the Week” threats. (And look out for a big swerve of a twist ending that will ripple effect the series as well.)
If there’s a potential limitation to the series it’s that which plagued CBS’ effort: The climatic fight hinges on the Flash running fast to thwart the bad guy. That plot device will quickly (no pun intended) run out its welcome, and it will be interesting to see how the series sustains itself with that challenge in place.
But right now, “The Flash” plays like that rare superhero series, with actors more compelling than the special effects, all but ensuring that audiences will invest for the long haul.
“The Flash” debuts Tuesday, October 7 at 8 p.m. on The CW.