ARROW: Wednesday 8PM on CW – If Nothing Else Is On
It’s Comic-Con week in San Diego, and while we here don’t participate in that particular hullabaloo (waiting for hours just to see a trailer that’s instantly put on the web? No, thanks), there’s some good coverage here. What does seem appropriate is to take a look over the next few days at some of the Fall’s more prominent fantasy pilots. To start: CW’s ARROW.
Superhero stories have a tough time on television, for a very simple reason: they can never, ever compete with the feature films in that genre that take up whole multiplexes these days. The budget of a single Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight or The Avengers is–this is not hyperbole–what it costs to produce 3 or 4 entire seasons of a TV series (on CW, it’s probably more like 5). So spectacle just isn’t going to cut it. In order for a genre show to work, skilled writing and an original take is needed, as we saw this season with ABC’s Once Upon A Time, which cost a fraction of Universal’s Snow White & The Huntsman budget but was more dramatically satisfying. More often, the result is The Cape.
The Arrow pilot was written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, and while all of them have done good work (Berlanti’s specialty is soaps like Brothers & Sisters; Kreisberg worked on Fringe and The Vampire Diaries), the key prior credit here is that Berlanti and Guggenheim were among the writers of the misbegotten The Green Lantern. (That’s last year’s terrible superhero movie with Ryan Reynolds, as opposed to Green Hornet, last year’s terrible superhero movie with Seth Rogen–it was probably a good idea that they shortened the original name of the source comic here, which was Green Arrow.) Whatever else they’re right for, these aren’t the guys you want writing your superhero story, and true to form, Arrow is pretty deadly.
Superhero pilots are almost always origin stories, and Arrow is no exception. Our hero is essentially a very low-rent Batman: Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), the dissolute playboy son of billionaire Robert (Jamey Sheridan). Like Bruce Wayne, Oliver is scarred by his father’s death, although he’s an adult when it happens and his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) is nowhere near. Oliver and dad had been among the passengers on their yacht when they were shipwrecked; Oliver ended up the only survivor, marooned for 5 years on a mysterious island until he was just recently rescued. When he returns to Starling City (no, really), he’s a changed man, determined to clean the place up under his secret identity, serving as a Robin Hood figure who steals from evil rich people to compensate the poor. Like Batman, Arrow isn’t really a superhero, but instead of having cool gadgets like a Batmobile, Arrow is just skilled at parkour and really good with a bow and arrow, although how 5 years on a deserted island taught him how to create electronic arrows that can hack computerized bank accounts is unclear.
The Berlanti influence can be seen in the show’s soapy character stories. Oliver had been involved with idealistic attorney Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy)–by the way, note to Berlanti & Co: a legal aid lawyer who files suit on behalf of her clients isn’t a “prosecuting attorney”–before he broke her heart by taking up with her sister. That’s who was on the yacht with him at the time of the accident, and Laurel has never forgiven Oliver for the break-up and her sister’s death (except of course that she’s still hopelessly in love with him). Laurel is now involved with Oliver’s best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). Also, Laurel’s (and her dead sister’s) father is Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), a remarkably terrible cop. Meanwhile, mom Moira has re-married dad’s business associate Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), and Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland) is a 17-year old party girl who snorts bad substances.
There isn’t much in Arrow that hits the target. Even with an expanded pilot budget, director David Nutter’s shipwreck flashbacks are cheesy (they recall the awful scenes in Ringer that were set on green-screen water), and while the parkour bits are fun, there’s only so much visual appeal to Oliver shooting arrows. With the exception of Katie Cassidy, who’s an old hand at CW soap style from her time on Melrose Place and Gossip Girl, the actors are either over-the-top (Blackthorne) or wooden (Amell). The dialogue is loaded with groaners: someone literally says “It seems like Starling City has a guardian angel!” toward the end, and Oliver has been supplied with awful voice-over narration of the “The face I see in the mirror… is a stranger” variety.
The good news for Arrow is that it has a clear field in its Wednesday 8PM timeslot, the only drama in its hour facing comedies on NBC and ABC and reality shows on CBS and FOX. It’s been intelligently paired with the network’s Supernatural, so viewers in the mood for an action show may give it a shot. Once they see how far from the bullseye Arrow is, though, they may not return.