When it comes to following up the status of The CW's "Arrow" as a breakout hit of the 2012 season, executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg know exactly what they want to do to build up Season 2 of the drama inspired by DC Comics' Green Arrow: study other successful sequels.
"We love sequels -- this whole season is designed as a sequel to Season 1," Guggenheim told press at Comic-Con International in San Diego. "We spent a lot of time in the room talking about 'What are the best sequels and what makes them great?' And I think the universal answer is that the good ones always feel like an evolution. They've taken a step forward and not just retold the same story. That's what's cool for us."
"There's a joke in the first episode about it being '2.0,' and I think that's the thing that's really exciting for us," Kreisberg said. "All the stories we're doing and where every character is in their storyline really is the sequel to last year. Something we say in the writer's room a lot is, 'What's the Season 2 of this?' So many of the things that we're doing -- the way characters interact or how characters who didn't even speak to each other last season are now speaking to each other -- is really exciting. We're still writing the same show, but it feels like a completely new show in a lot of ways."
"It's very much a continuation of the events you saw in the finale of last year," Berlanti said of the October 9 season premier. "I think of that very much as a pilot for this year. It's a reaction to that. The other thing I always say is that as Oliver goes, so goes the show. His journey is the spine of the show, and our hope always was to introduce a character who had some elements of but was very different from the Green Arrow we know and love in the comic book. This is the second leg of that journey -- of him making his way. This year it's all about turning him from the vigilante to something that's more hopeful. Oliver won a lot of battles last year, but the Glades still blew up. I think what the city needs in the wake of that is to be brought back. Oliver wants to lift them up, and that takes a different kind of masked hero."
But aside from a changed man leading the charge of the year, "Arrow's" second year will include two big villain arcs, a status quo shifting moment early on and wave after wave of guest stars playing DC characters and villains, both well known and totally obscure.
Asked whether the strong response to Season 1 made it harder to nail "Arrow's" process of reinventing pieces of the DC Universe, Berlanti answered with a laugh, "Absolutely it does! The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that what we try to do on the show is entertain ourselves. If we can surprise ourselves, people will be entertained. So we do that, and then people guess as we go. And people guess earlier now and care earlier now. There's an evolution to any of these things we might do. Hopefully after what we did last year, we'll be a little bit more rewarded with people's patients. We can go, 'We're starting the story here, and it may not be the character you love. But trust us, we're going to get there in time. That's our job as storytellers.'"
And while smaller villains may thread in and out of the show on an episode-by-episode basis, the producers say they haven't lost sight of the big picture. "We sort of have two [primary arcs] this year," Berlanti said of the big villains driving the action. "In a way, we sort of had two last year as well, if you think about Malcolm and Merlyn [AKA The Dark Archer] in terms of who he was on each side of that divide. We have a similar but different thing that we do this year."
Meanwhile, the show runners are building an early twist into the proceedings to keep viewers on their tows. "We have a bunch of really cool surprises coming. There's one you'll get in episode 4 that will make everyone's jaws drop. And I don't think I'm overhyping this," Guggenheim teased. "Apart from the way we're telling the stories, that's the idea that excites us the most. It really does change all of the characters, and it's really fun in the life of a show where you have a game-changing moment in the series like that. It'll surprise people."
"That's an idea we had after the pilot," Kreisberg added. "It's crazy that just after that pilot we were theorizing, 'It would be cool if we could do this and that,' and now we're actually getting to do it. That's thrilling. We love this show and love this characters, and like Marc said, this season is our 'Dark Knight.' It's our 'Empire.' It's the point where we can really take what has been working and deepen it."
Another area the producers will be digging deep into this year is the DC Comics bench of characters. Berlanti was cautious about saying too much on that front, joking "There's DC police that come and arrest you and throw you in the clink!" But some key names and teases were thrown out along the way -- although it wasn't until after Comic-Con that details about The Flash came to light. "We have Sebastian Blood coming on for those who know him as Brother Blood," the producer said. "He'll be played by Kevin Alejandro, who I just worked with on 'Golden Boy' last year."
Kreisberg spoke to the overall plans of the opening episodes, saying, "Isabel Rochev is played by Summer Glau. She's a Green Arrow supporting character, but we also have a very well known villain from the DCU coming along in Episode 2 and then a not so well known villain coming in Episode 3. The truth of the matter is that we always approach these things going, 'What's the best story we can tell?' We never go 'We want to do a story about the Riddler' as a starting point. Blackhawk showing up in Season 1 is a great example. We wanted to do a story that put Oliver and Diggle at odds, so we decided to center it around Dig's military past. Once we got there, it was, 'What if we made it Blackhawk?' I think our best episodes always start with a strong story idea, and then we 'Arrowfy' it -- which is actually a verb we use -- after the fact. That keeps the show grounded in the realistic as opposed to starting with some hyper giant comic villain and trying to wrestle him or her into our world.
"Summer is so amazing and talented, and we've been fans of hers for years," the producer continued. "It's amazing to see her in dailies telling Oliver Queen off. That's a lot of fun. We also have a couple more big guest stars coming. For us, that feels like a continuation from last year -- the kinds of guest stars we have, the kinds of stories we're telling, the pace and scope of which we're telling the stories. This really isn't a reset to go back down to zero for us to ramp up again. It truly is the continuation."
"The other good fortune of the show this year is that we have more characters to service," Berlanti said of the core cast. "Sometimes you start off the year with plans, and they change. If I sat here with you last year, I'm not sure I could have told you how far we ended up taking certain things [in Season 1] or how not far we wouldn't have made it with certain things we intended that are still going into this year."
Those intentions include complications for Oliver and Laurel's relationship, but not the kind fans may expect. "It won't be strained so much between them," Berlanti said. "There will be some strains between her and the Hood as it were, but Oliver and Laurel will be close as the season starts. I mean, they did have sex right before her former boyfriend/his best friend died. And that can be complicated. So our hope is to deal with that."
Meanwhile, the question of who is Speedy looms over Season 2 with both Thea and Roy making claim to the mantle. "Will we pick between the two Speedy's we've introduced on the show? They'll both take steps in that direction," Berlanti said while Kreisberg noted, "I think the Speedy debate will get settled this season, and we're doing the beginning of the Black Canary story this year, which will twist and turn in ways people both expect and don't expect at all."
Overall, that playing with expectations has become a cornerstone of how the producers approach "Arrow," but the particulars of how they'll hit those notes will come fast. Guggenheim noted, "Part of the fun of the show is playing against expectations and playing with expectations. We've had a certain amount of success doing that, and the fans seems to like it too."
"You're going to get a lot of those answers this season," said Kreisberg "We've never been shy about the fact that we can't burn through story fast enough. We always think of something else. Sometimes if a slow burn story is too slow, you lose the audience's interest. We even do that in an episode where we'll go 'The end of this episode is a really cool reveal. Let's move it to the beginning of the episode and then try and figure out where we can go from there.'"
Berlanti agreed. "You have a plan, but it modifies as you watch dailies and see things and go 'That's cool. We should speed that up' or 'That's not working as well. Let's take some more time on that.' And as the season goes along, the gap between when we see stuff and when you see it gets shorter and shorter, so we have to be quicker," he said, adding that twists like the surprise character death at the end of Season 1 are now part of the TV landscape. "I think the nature of television today is that it's almost expected to kill someone off. I'm trying to remember the first time I worked on a show where we did that, and people were like 'Oh my gosh! You did that?' Now TV takes all sorts of risks. Now you get 'The Red Wedding' episode [of 'Game of Thrones']."
But all their big plans can be supplanted and changed up with the right scenario, and Guggenheim has one in particular in mind. "I don't rule out the possibility that some day we'll get to do an 'X-Files' and shoot a movie version of the show even while the show is still on the air," he said. "There's a point at which we'll work Stephen Amell to death, and maybe that will come before we hit that point."
Stay tuned for more on Season 2 of "Arrow" all year long on CBR!