HitFix

Why I was completely wrong about ‘The Flash’

It's easy to dismiss a TV show and never look back, at least as far as I'm concerned, because there are always other things to watch, and I feel no real obligation to try everything on TV. It's not my regular beat, and Alan Sepinwall does such a great job talking about TV in the same kind of all-inclusive context that I try to bring to film that I don't feel like you guys need me weighing in on TV in general.

But every now and then, there's something worth discussing, and in the case of “The Flash,” I feel like it's worth taking the time to say something that you rarely hear from critics: I was completely wrong.

Last year, when all the pilots for the various networks started to circulate, I remember setting aside an afternoon to watch two specific pilots. First up was “Gotham,” which I detested immediately. Everything about the show rubbed me the wrong way. It embodies this insane prequel-and-backstory oriented era we're trying to survive right now, and it tells a story I genuinely don't care to hear. I don't care about Jim Gordon's years in Gotham before Batman arrived. I don't care about watching the various iconic Batman villains show up in their pre-villain forms. It played grim and unpleasant, and I decided by the end of that first episode that I wouldn't waste another minute on “Gotham.” Ever.

That's no mind-set to carry into another show, and so I'm willing to concede that I never really gave “The Flash” a proper chance that afternoon. I half-watched the pilot, already annoyed, and didn't care for it. I wasn't really sold on Grant Gustin, and I didn't buy the tone at all, so I made some snide comments about what a terrible show it was going to be on Twitter, and then never thought about it again…

… but you know how it is with TV shows. When something starts to catch on and people start talking about it, you get curious. In particular, there's a friend of mine who was watching the show each week with his kids, and listening to him talk about their reactions (as well as his own), I started to regret my decision. There was no guarantee I'd share his enthusiasm, but I was willing to admit that I'd made that choice very quickly.

The thing about catching up with shows once they've started to pick up momentum with an audience, though, is that it can be difficult. I'm a Hulu Plus customer, and I have Netflix, and beyond that, I try not to spend any additional money on TV. That seems like it's enough for me. The CW definitely has a decent deal with Netflix, but it's always a year behind. Hulu has a deal where they can only have the last five episodes at any given time on their service. Since Netflix got season one of “The Flash” the same day the first episode of the new season aired, it felt like a challenge. Could the boys and I catch up with all of season one before the CW aired six new episodes of the show?

After all, we don't have unlimited time together these days. We have weekends. And so as soon as they came over on the first weekend after the show was made available, we sat down to try the show together. I wasn't sure they'd like it, or that I'd like it, and so I sort of crossed my fingers and held my breath and hoped for the best.

Boy, was I wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What came across as campy or silly when I watched the pilot in the wrong mood was simply something that is always difficult to pull off properly: earnestness. The thing is, though, “The Flash” earns that. It is a deeply sincere show, and it has a truly good person at the center of things. Barry Allen (played with movie-star levels of charm by the uber-skinny Grant Gustin) was defined by a childhood tragedy, but instead of using that to drive a dark and angsty take on The Flash, the creative team behind this version (developed by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg) have made a strong and conscious decision to always push this show towards the light. I take back my initial assessment of Grant Gustin. He's perfectly cast, and one of the unexpected benefits of watching the show with my kids is that Gustin serves as a new role model to my youngest son, who is super-skinny. He loves that the Flash has the same kind of long lanky build that he does, since he's used to seeing superheroes with giant gym-built physiques. The show is relentlessly good-natured, even when it's playing rough, and it did everything so right in the first season that my only hesitation now is wondering how you go about following up something so solidly built.

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