A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’
ARROW: Wednesday 8PM on CW
Previously… on ARROW: A whole lot of backstory. Five years ago, spoiled rich kid Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was off on an ocean voyage with his industrialist dad Robert (Jamey Sheridan) and his current girlfriend, who happened to be the sister of his previous girlfriend, crusading attorney Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). The boat mysteriously sank, killing Laurel’s sister and the crew, and dad shot himself so that Oliver would be able to survive. And he did, on a tropical and supposedly deserted island from which he emerged with strange scars all over his body, remarkable skill at archery, and a mission left to him by his father to clean up Starling City (seriously) by eliminating the bad guys listed in his notebook. When Oliver is finally rescued, he goes into full Batman/Bruce Wayne mode, acting the dissolute playboy when he’s not donning a mask (well, actually a hoodie) and roaming the darkened streets, bow and mega-powered arrows in hand. What Oliver doesn’t know: Laurel, although claiming to blame Oliver for her sister’s death, may still be partly in love with him, but she’s secretly involved with his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). Oh, and the villain who isn’t listed in his father’s book is his own mother Moira (Susanna Thompson).
Episode 2: Not much time has elapsed from the pilot, and there’s a new bad-guy-of-the-week for Oliver/Arrow to go after. This time it’s a corrupt docks boss, responsible for the murder of an innocent longshoreman. As it happens, Laurel is representing the longshoreman’s daughter in a lawsuit against the boss, and Oliver decides to “convince” the guy to confess. The triads who are really in charge, though (in the person of Kelly Hu), tell him they’ll take care of the Arrow, with predictable results: by the end of the episode, Oliver has provided Laurel’s cop father (Paul Blackthorne) with a digital recorder arrow (as Jack Nicholson’s Joker once said of Michael Keaton’s Batman, “Where does he get those toys?) that contains a confession. On the personal side, Oliver and Laurel are back to being ice cream-sharing buddies, even if Oliver continues to Bruce Wayne it up as a callow trust fund kid too drunk to run the family business, and bodyguard Diggle (David Ramsey) is already on his way to figuring out that Oliver has something to hide. Also, we officially learn what anyone who’d ever seen an origin story had guessed: the sinking of the Queen yacht was no accident.
Arrow‘s second episode, written by co-creators Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim (from a story by the other co-creator, Greg Berlanti, and Guggenheim), and directed by David Barrett, benefited from not requiring the load of exposition that piled up in the pilot, and was altogether sleeker and faster-moving. (There were just fragmentary flashback glimpses of Oliver’s island.) There was also, mercifully, far less of the awful narration that marred the pilot.
That doesn’t make the show any less of a knock-off. There’s almost no originality to the concept at all–one would call it almost litigiously close to Batman if both properties weren’t owned by DC Comics. Except for the fact that Oliver has a living mother and sister (Willa Holland), and that his gadgets are all arrow-based, he might as well be summoned by the police with an arrow-signal in the air. (Even Diggle is an ersatz Alfred.) It goes without saying that Arrow doesn’t compare to either the Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton versions of the Caped Crusader. Even on its own terms, though, it’s pretty thin. Amell appears to be a fairly limited actor (the show would be well advised to bring Cassidy and Ramsey more to the forefront, since they have the only appealing characters), and the scripts thus far have little sense of humor. In addition, now that it’s in series mode, the budget doesn’t exist for major action set-pieces that might make the nonsensical plotting less annoying.
Whatever its flaws, Arrow got off to a superb start in the ratings last week, CW’s biggest hit since Vampire Diaries. It lacks that show’s wit and cleverness, though, so it may not remain at that level. For now, it’s simplistic if moderately entertaining, an hour that can be watched with about one-third of an active brain.
ORIGINAL VERDICT: If Nothing Else Is On
PILOT + 1: At 8PM on Wednesdays, Nothing Else IS On