While Arrow and The Flash are both superhero shows set in the same universe, there is no denying that they have strikingly different tones. Arrow is a very dark show, where The Flash is far lighter. The different tones between two connected shows are very reminiscent of two other shows that went off the air around ten years ago. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
The main character on Arrow, Oliver Queen, became a hero after five years of hell. We’ve only seen two years so far, and in that time he has been shipwrecked, watched his father kill himself, faced starvation, been repeatedly kidnapped and tortured, watched several friends die, and been taken advantage of by some of the most powerful and shady people ever.
On Angel, the title character is an en-souled vampire who is forced to care about the fact he slaughtered hundreds of people and suffered in hell for hundreds of years. Is it any surprise that both of their shows look into the darkest parts of humanity? The character that the audience is the most focused on is someone who suffered greatly and has become dark, brooding and contemplative.
On The Flash, our hero is Barry Allen. Barry is sweet and earnest, if a bit of a mess. There is darkness in his past, but it is balanced out by a normal life, a career, and his friendships. When he is suddenly given super speed, Barry chooses to become a hero because he is a good person. Likewise, Buffy became a hero after suddenly gaining super powers. And she was otherwise a normal person with a normal life, one which she struggled to maintain no matter what. While both these shows have life or death stakes and serious elements to them, they are balanced by the normalcy of school, jobs, and social lives which are actively pursued, rather than part of an elaborate cover.
This analogy is far from perfect. Arrow is the parent show to The Flash, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer came before Angel. Both Buffy and Angel are deeply rooted in fantasy, as is The Flash, but Arrow it grittily realistic, if implausible. Also, there are episodes of both Buffy and Angel which seem to defy their normal tones. (The Body on Buffy was one of the darkest and saddest hours in television history, where Smile Time on Angel was incredibly light and hilarious.) Arrow might have some funny moments, but it never leaves the darkness behind. As for The Flash, it is too soon to tell. One thing is for sure. The upcoming crossover, where we see Team Arrow in Barry’s upbeat world, and then Barry and company in the dredges of Sterling City, will be a thing to remember.
While it does seem to be typical for spin-off to take on different tones (Doctor Who and Torchwood is another strong example) the similarities between Buffy and The Flash, as well as Angel and Arrow are certainly compelling. As Ollie and Barry’s journeys continue, it will be fascinating to see how their stories continue to overlap Buffy and Angel’s. And even more fascinating to see how they differ.