Do ‘The Flash’s recent struggles mean Team Berlanti is over-worked?

05.04.16 1 year ago 58 Comments

Some thoughts on last night's The Flash – and the Berlanti-verse in general – coming up just as soon as I cast the Patronus charm…

Perhaps the most striking part of Grant Gustin's recent guest appearance on Supergirl was the realization that Barry now had to go to someone else's show in order to smile again. Once upon a time, The Flash had been a beacon of light among the various DC Comics shows, where the Arrow characters could visit to crack jokes, have fun, and brood less than they tended to do on their own series. But this season of The Flash, particularly in recent months, has been considerably darker, even as the Zoom storyline has largely turned out to be a rehash of the first season's Reverse-Flash arc, with the gang at STAR Labs once again horrified to realize that one of their friends had been the big bad all along. It's as if, while struggling to come up with a follow-up to a beloved first year, the creative team ultimately settled on “the same, but now with more angst!”

It doesn't help that Teddy Sears (an actor I enjoy in a more humorous vein, like his role on Masters of Sex) isn't giving as charismatic or nuanced a performance as Tom Cavanagh did last year as Wells/Thawne. But the revelations about Jay/Zolomon's true identity and motivation seem to make less and less sense the more we learn about him – even Caitlyn seems baffled about what his goals are – and too many of the Zoom scenes feel grim, gritty, and serial killer-y in a way that really doesn't fit what The Flash does well. The show's always had room for darkness, but works best when it's balanced with lighter ones. Even before Zoom stole Barry's speed, it seemed like the darkness had won an unfortunate victory for tonal supremacy.

I have to wonder if four different shows isn't too many for this creative team to run at once. Each series has its own showrunner, but there's enough overlap among the top producers to worry about them being spread too thin. Arrow is having one of its less memorable years, particularly with a flashback story that's there only because it's been part of the show's formula since day one. Supergirl went through the usual growing pains of a first-year show, though it definitely had its moments (Barry bringing Kara ice cream, in particular). Legends of Tomorrow is still struggling to juggle that big cast, and seems increasingly eager to tell stories with little or nothing to do with the hunt for Vandal Savage. (Phil Klemmer, who runs Legends, has already talked about a hard reset for the show for season 2, which it very much needs.)

Flash was the one show in the bunch that came into being more or less fully-formed. The first season needed tweaking here and there (Iris should have been brought into the loop much more quickly than she was, for instance), but Berlanti, Kreisberg, and company seemed to understand the series' strengths and weaknesses from the jump, suggesting that the early days of Arrow had taught them how best to set up new series. Instead, this year's newbies have both been up and down, and both of the veteran shows are off from their respective peaks.

Four shows is a lot for any group to make, even if not everyone involved is working on all four at once. Assuming Supergirl comes back next season (which seems likely, but not a certainty), I hope all involved are better able to move from one series to the next and recognize what makes each of them tick.

How's everybody feeling about this season of The Flash, and about the rest of the Berlanti/DC shows?

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