Catching Up With Arrow

Comic Books Geek Culture Television
tephen Amell as Arrow Photo: Kharen Hill/The CW © 2012 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved
Stephen Amell as Arrow Photo: Kharen Hill/The CW © 2012 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved

I’m always watching one show or another via Netflix while I do the dishes or some other household shores, and I have fun digging into older series that I missed just to see if they were any good. This is how I discovered Supernatural, for example, which my whole family is now hooked on. Most recently, over the last couple weeks, I’ve been binge-watching season 1 of Arrow, the CW network’s take on Green Arrow from DC comics.

And I have to say I’m quite enjoying it.

What I like about the show is that, while it’s certainly an adaptation of the comic and is not slavishly faithful to it, there’s a lot of affection for the source material, and the writers are doing their best to use the existing settings and characters. After the long-term success of Smallville, the CW network is doing with DC what the movies haven’t been able to: create a robust and ongoing world inhabited by these characters, and telling interesting stories about people driven by pain and a sense of duty to try and make a difference.

Arrow is set in fictional Starling City — what was Star City in the comics, but oddly changed for creative reasons — where billionaire playboy Oliver Queen has returned after having been lost (and presumed dead) after his father’s yacht went down in a storm in the China Sea. The public story is that he was marooned alone on an island, but the reality is much more interesting. We learn through somewhat Lost-like flashbacks, that, far from being alone, Oliver had to deal with all kinds of troubles and lots of nasty people on the island. We slowly see how he lost his spoiled and pampered rich-boy baggage, and became the hardened and highly-trained fighting machine who decides to turn vigilante upon his return home, driven by his father’s last wish that his son right his wrongs.

And the nods to Green Arrow continuity are all over the place. His little sister Thea’s nickname is Speedy. His former girlfriend’s family name is Lance, a la the Black Canary from the comic books. And all sorts of baddies whom sharp DC readers will know keep showing up. I won’t spoil them for you, but it’s a lot of fun watching the show and having these little Easter eggs show up, and many of them go on to pay off in unexpected ways.

As for the acting, it’s solid to very good. The lead, Stephen Amell, does a good job bouncing between the snarky and whiney rich boy coming to terms with a dangerous life on the island in the flashbacks, to the tightly-controlled and slightly damaged warrior reconnecting with his former life and trying to balance his new mission with family responsibility.

David Ramsey plays John Diggle (another Easter egg, but this time to the IRL comics business), hired to be Oliver’s bodyguard, but who ends up as his crime-fighting parter and moral compass. Ramsey is excellent as the sidekick-plus with his own issues, who has to set Ollie back on course more than once.

Possibly the most enjoyable, though, is Paul Blackthorne as Detective Quentin Lance, father to Ollie’s former love Laurel, and thorn (pun intended) in the side of “The Hood,” as the vigilante is called all first season (no easy jump to the superhero name for this show). Blackthorne has been all over cable TV the last couple years, from Monk and Burn Notice, to Warehouse 13 and Leverage. But he was very well-liked for his turn as magician/detective Harry Dresden in the short-lived The Dresden Files on SyFy. Blackthorne’s Detective Lance is a gruff, hard-working, hard-drinking detective who still believes in the law and blames Oliver for the death of his younger daughter (Laural’s sister, who was on the boat with Ollie when it went down), and the subsequent failure of his marriage. That’s the setup, of course, but the character grows and adapts over the first season, makes mistakes, and learns from them. Of everyone on the show, Blackthorne seems to be having the most outright fun.

Susanna Thompson as Ollie’s mom is fantastic, knowing she’s made a deal with the devil to protect her family. And of course John Barrowman, Captain Jack Harkness himself, having a grand time as the big bad Malcolm Merlyn.

So, is it a great show? No, certainly not. But it’s good, and it’s fun, and I could even argue it’s the best superhero show on TV right now (this includes Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., whose current major weakness is that it doesn’t have any superheroes). If you’ve ever spent significant time enjoying the DC universe, you’ll have fun catching all the little and big references. And sometimes there’s fun to be had seeing what they do different with the classic characters, settings, and stories. Of course, you’ll still have to be able to suspend your disbelief about someone with a bow being a faster shot and always more accurate than people with guns, but that’s not too huge a leap. And at least the creators give a nod to this by letting Ollie get hurt quite a bit more often than some shows do with their leads. Indeed, at the current pace of injuries, if Arrow makes it to season 5, its hero will likely be one big mass of scar tissue. But it will have been fun watching him get there.

Arrow is just a couple episodes into its second season now, so catching up won’t be too hard. Give it a shot.

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