The CW just released a new fall show, “Arrow,” that crept onto screens with very little publicity. One practically has to stumble over it to know it exists, yet with only three episodes aired, it’s apparent that this is a show with solid writing and acting that is worth more than the minor attention it is getting.
“Arrow” is the television adaptation of the “Green Arrow” superhero comic book series. The story focuses on Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), a young man fully engrossed in the fast-paced life of hedonism.
He goes missing after the boat his father and him are traveling on sinks. The show begins with him being found after living five years on an island. He comes back understanding more about the real man his father was and about what is really happening in his city. Now he is going down a list his father gave him, finding each of the men who have committed crimes against the city without getting caught, and he gives out his justice.
You do not have to be familiar with the comics to enjoy this series. It is fully integrative to newcomers. In fact, new viewers can enjoy more of the surprises as Oliver’s backstory unfolds, while comic fans can appreciate the familiar unfolding story—and the appearances of some familiar faces, like Deadshot in the latest episode.
The most compelling part of the series really is the dynamic of good and evil. To begin with, Oliver is the kind of man who does not care who he hurts as long as he gets his way. Then comes the typical hero’s conversion. The tragedy of losing his father and spending five years on the island changes him. Oliver is a better man when he returns home, but from here the story is less typical. He is not instantly the valiant hero. In many ways he has improved. He no longer finds meaning in the crazy parties, drunken tirades, and meaningless one-night-stands. But his change in that regard comes less from maturity than from apathy toward pleasure. He is a character driven by an oath to his father and at the beginning of the show that is his motivator, not a strong moral compass. He parties only when it contributes a cover for his mission. In the same way, seeking justice is more from duty than compassion to begin with. Oliver is steeped in morally grey. My prediction is that the show will give the writers a chance to evolve the character and the viewers a chance to watch him move from stage to stage, letting the promise his father gave him transform into a code of his own. Though this potential has only been implied so far, it is an undercurrent in the show, and the preview for episode four, “Innocent Man,” looks to offer more in the way of this moral evolution.
The show is primarily a character drama, somewhat in the vein of “Heroes.” The superhero crime fighting takes second priority to the developing character, so if you come merely for the action most likely you will be disappointed. However, if you are here for an interesting character focused drama with an unfolding mystery behind it, this show will be of interest. The main focus is on the Queen family. The father’s death unlocks the fact that not everything is what it seems. The father was involved in something
bad and there is more to the mother (Susanna Thompson) than meets the eye too. Then there is the new step-father, Walter (Colin Salmon). It is not apparently whether he knows anything of what has been going on or not. All of this leaves the two kids with Oliver trying to complete his duty and his sister, Thea (Willa Holland) trying to just survive and neither of them doing very well at it.
The Queens are not the only characters that enjoy a complicated archs. Lauriel Lance and her father, Detective Quientin Lance both have their fair share of flaws. Lauriel is played by Katie Cassidy who is not afraid to portray complex characters such as her previous rule as the demon, Ruby, on “Supernatural.” She is a lawyer out to save the world in her own way. Though she comes in seeming like the classic superhero love interest, it is quickly clear that this is not what the writers have in mind. Their love is in the past, ending when she discovered that her sister and Oliver were both missing—presumed dead—after sleeping together. It is interesting to watch her savior syndrome and her anger come into conflict over Oliver, as she struggles between wanting to punch him and wanting to rescue him from himself. It makes her character compelling that even though she is in some ways the angel of the city, she does not always do the perfect thing. Sometimes she does the absolute wrong thing, and she is more interesting for it. Now, will the writers never put her and Oliver together? That is hard to say. With television shows it is fairly common to do the back and forth between potential romance and repulsion (think “Castle,” “The O.C.,” “Psych” and most any other show with opposite gender leads). But for now, Oliver seems more than willing to let her go, at least romantically. It breaks the mold and has a lot of potential to go in so many different directions.
Then there is her father. Detective Lance straddles the line between being bound by his duty and driven by his emotions. It is honestly sort of amazing that the only person to call conflict of interest was a criminal, considering how often he badgers the Queen family because of blaming Oliver for his daughter’s death. Still, he is an officer that believes in doing the right thing. This conflict becomes most apparent in the third episode when he is forced to protect the Queen family against his will. The Detective is a loving and overbearing father, a good cop and a loose canon. The contrasts drive his character and with Paul Blackthorne (previously as another smart-mouth detective in “The Dresden Files”) playing the role, he is one to watch.
The only character that does not show this moral ambiguity is Diggs (played by David Ramsey who has lent his powerful process to a handful of different TV shows). Diggs is the body guard hired by Oliver’s mother to protect him, and acts as a stable presence in the show. As a soldier and as a body guard, he has a strong code of ethics and uses it to be a voice of reason in Oliver’s life. His developing friendship with Oliver will likely help to facility the development of Oliver’s arch to becoming a hero. Even though the ambiguity is the most compelling part of the show, that is possible because of Diggs consistency that works as a counter balance in the midst of so much grey.
The newest character is Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), another familiar name to comic fans. So far her scene was a brief introduction, but it was definitely effective in creating a desire for more. Her exchange with Oliver was pricelessly funny. I am definitely curious to see where this goes.
Fans of the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” series may find this show similar in certain ways. This criticism is true. Oliver is a playboy by day, avenging angel by night. His love is the bleeding heart lawyer out to save the city and him with her fierce eyes of judgment. Even the fact that neither Batman or Arrow are superheroes by divine right or genetic mutation, but by sheer kick-butt training is a notable similarity. This is; however, a critic of the comics not the movies and show. The storyline of the heroes was always similar and so those similarities are apparent here. It should be noted that both the Green Arrow and Batman are DC comic creations and have actually interacted in superhero canon. They are even both members of the Justice League. So, far from being rip-offs, they are more like kindred spirits in the same family. As far as the show goes, the differences make “Arrow” more than interesting in its own right and the similarities are not overwhelming.
It should be noted that the tone of the show can at times be quite dark. Sensitive viewers may want to take caution before beginning it. Tone wise it is probably closer to “The Dark Knight” series or “Heroes” than to “The Avengers” or “The Amazing Spider-Man.” This is especially true with the unfolding flashbacks to the island. However, if this is factored in the tone is well balanced and never feels overwhelmingly dark. Ultimately, the show is fascinating, with a great deal of potential. Fans of superheroes and fans of drama will both appreciate “Arrow.”