With The Flash halfway through its premiere season, it seemed like a good time to check in on the series and reflect on the first nine episodes as a whole. There’s no denying that the series has done gangbusters for The CW, scoring the network some of its highest ratings in recent memory. Commercial triumphs don't automatically translate into critical successes, however. While The Flash has mostly pleased us thus far, there are still some improvements that the series should make. Hey, nobody's perfect. As the Flash rests its legs for the midseason break, we file the report card for DC’s breakaway series.
We’ve been having a lot of fun with these guys so far. Grant Gustin, who leads the cast as The Flash and Barry Allen, is a joy to watch as he plays the earnest, aw-shucks role to a T. Gustin manage to blend the endearing optimism of Barry Allen and youthful energy of Wally West for a Scarlett Speedster that no audience has seen before. It’s a refreshing, and eye opening look at how fun the Flash character can be when pulled off correctly. He's the affable nerd that you still want to hang out with. When Barry howls with pure joy as he rushes through Central City, we feel that excitement, too. Gustin makes it clear that he enjoys playing the character just as much as we enjoy watching him. Keep it up, Grant.
The rest of the Central City gang does an admirable job, too, showing a lot more comfort in the shamelessly comic book world than we would have expected. Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon is the true standout amongst his peers. The STAR Labs mainstay just as much fun to watch as Barry is, bringing every scene to life with unabashed nerdiness and charisma. Yeah, he’s a bit corny from time to time, but that’s half of his appeal. His goofy reactions are like a kid tearing through a toy store, bringing much of the show's good natured humor. And honestly, wouldn’t you want to designate super codenames to every villainous metahuman you met?
If only Candice Patton’s Iris West and Rick Cosnett's Eddie Thawne joined in on some of the fun. The two remain fairly one dimensional, giving us nothing more than the words on their scripts ask for. We wish West had more to do than just deliver doe-eyed stares the fantastical world unfolding around her. And, for now at least, Thawne’s cop character could exist just as easily in any other television show with crime. There’s nothing special about him, other than his name. But that's the kicker. Given his ties to The Reverse Flash, it could be the show’s writers don’t want to show their hand just yet by exposing Thawne’s true—and devious nature. But if Eddie is going to get down with his bad self, he'll need to do it sooner rather than later. The last thing any superhero show needs is another cop to follow the "I don't trust the masked vigilante" routine.
Unfortunately, The Flash’s antagonists are the series’ achilles heel right now. Content to stick with the “monster of the week” routine, the series simply shuffles from one disgruntled metahuman to the next, never investing enough into the featured antagonist. Arrow had the same problem in its first season as well, using throwaway DC characters as plot devices to move the series’ main characters around the chess board. While Green Arrow could kinda get away with it by lacking a memorable rogues gallery, The Flash can’t make the same excuse. Flash has one of the best cast of villains in comics, with each Rogue carrying enough emotional baggage to make you give a hoot about them. Instead of killing off characters just as quickly as introducing them, like Farooq and Plastique, the Flash should nurture them into compelling foils that have just as much to say about themselves as they do Barry Allen.
Of course, the yellow suited-gorilla in the room is the Reverse Flash, who’s been the Rogues’ saving grace so far. While he was simply a boogeyman for the first eight episodes, Reverse Flash became a true threat during the midseason finale, giving The Flash and viewers alike a villain with motivations deeper than “Get rich and/or revenge or die trying.” We’re hopeful that the Rogues will step their game up in the season’s second half, as The Reverse Flash becomes the show’s main crux and Captain Cold returns for his sophomore appearance.
The Flash has unfolded just as we hoped it would, delivering a faithful, but not indentured, adaptation of The Flash’s 75-year (come January 1st.) library of comic book stories. Whereas most other superhero shows try to dance around their comic book roots, The Flash runs straight towards them. The series’ greatest strength is its ability to be proud of the inherent wackiness of a guy who runs a mach one in a red jumpsuit. We love how much fun this show is having with itself.
And while the formulaic approach to weekly villains slows the series down from time to time, the The Flash’s deeper story arc has been extremely rewarding thus far. For that, we have to thank the series’ resident creep, Dr. Harrison Wells. Wells has been The Flash’s narrative engine, pushing Barry on his path towards becoming the superhero the world will love, offering tantalizing bits of news from the future, and making us wonder who’s side he’s really on week in and week out. Even though the show has outed Wells as The Reverse Flash (to viewers), the revelation only opens up more questions to keep us hooked for the rest of the season
The only major gripe is the amount of time spent on Barry’s romantic feelings for Iris West. We get it: The Flash is network television, and CW Network television at that. Romantic subplots are a necessary evil to getting comic shows like The Flash on television, since they—supposedly—help keep the non-Wednesday Warriors invested. But it sometimes feels like the Hero’s Journey takes back to Barry’s melodrama with Iris and Eddie, or Caitlin Snow’s incessant mourning over Ronnie Raymond.
But like Barry himself, the show gives us nothing but hope that it can turn this problem around. Now that Barry’s revealed his feelings for Iris, the series can finally move past all those puppy-dog moments. It's a wish that we'll unlikely see, but who knows. And now that Ronnie has returned as Firestorm, we’re hopeful that all future dealings to the character will be as concerned with the "Nuclear" as they will with the "Man." As the Flash continues to make strides as a hero and character, we’re confidant the series will do the same as well.