Review: In a ‘Flash,’ there’s more fun in TV’s comic-book land

Grant Gustin portrays The Flash in a scene from "The Flash."

Grant Gustin portrays The Flash in a scene from “The Flash.”

(Jack Rowand / The CW)
Los Angeles Television Critic

Let Fox go noir (“Gotham”) and ABC get tense (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) with their prequels and superhero-adjacency; the CW is sticking with more straightforward costumed heroics. Having found success with their brooding “Arrow,” creators Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns are experimenting with that powerful yet increasingly rare TV commodity: fun.

Enter (andexitandenteragain) “The Flash,” an effervescent and super-engaging addition to television’s increasingly grim comic-book wars in which Our Hero is both smart and loved, before and after his transformation, providing further proof that the geek has inherited the earth. The series premieres Tuesday.

A DC Comics hero, the Flash has had several incarnations, each with his own origin story. This telling features Barry Allen, here portrayed by “Glee’s” Grant Gustin as a fresh-faced forensics scientist with a troubled past. Introduced in the second season of “Arrow,” Barry is always running from something. First, it was bullies, then his past. As a child, he witnessed a strange, gravity-defying incident in which his mother died; his father was wrongly convicted of murdering her.

As an adult, Barry is often running late, forcing his boss, Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), to cover for him. He is also increasingly in flight from the romantic feelings he has for his best friend, and West’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton).


Romance may continue to elude him, but tardiness will not be Barry’s problem for long. On the night that S.T.A.R. lab’s super-groovy, physics-changing particle accelerator is being turned on for the first time, a freak lightning storm hits Central City (wouldn’t you know?), causing high-power electricity to zap select members of the citizenry.

Barry, hit just as he recognized events similar to the night his mother died, comes out of a nine-month coma to discover that not only is he pretty ripped for a coma survivor, he can also run at superhuman speeds.

Good thing too, since speed is not the only power that malfunctioning particle accelerator bestowed: The event that produced at least one superhero created at least one supervillain too.

Having made “The Flash” a discovery tale as much as a crime-fighting saga, its creators grant Barry a much more emotionally supportive environment than most masked men. This includes “Arrow’s” rich-kid-turned-vigilante, which allows him to be flip but not sardonic, a refreshing change in itself.

Many superheroes follow some version of the Nerd’s Revenge, in which a smart but often overlooked nobody can suddenly save the world. (See also, Charles Atlas ads.) Most of these newly minted superhumans must hide their identity, even from their friends, creating the popular myth of the Lonely Hero.

Some may have an informed companion, or become part of a similarly afflicted team like “The Avengers,” but that central irony — the hero is someone everyone loves and no one really knows — fuels the sadness of Batman, the frustration of Superman, the isolation of the Doctor in “Dr. Who.”

Barry, on the other hand, awakens as part of a team: The particle accelerator’s inventor, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), and his associates — Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker, terrific in both “Sky High” and “Justified,” a rare accomplishment) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) — have not only saved Barry’s life, they give him his mission: to right wrongs while discovering the full extent of the event’s impact.

This team may, of course, include some traitors. But Barry also has a big-brother figure in Arrow; crossover episodes will occur later in the season.

All of which lends “The Flash,” with its nifty graphics and compelling cast, an optimism too long denied the genre. There are villains to be fought, some Central Citians may view the Flash as a freak, and dad is still in the slam, but Barry Allen is not alone; he’s just really, really fast.

Twitter: @marymacTV


‘The Flash’

Where: KTLA

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)