Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Pilot Review: Arrow
Arrow (Wednesdays at 8:00 on The CW)
The CW is in dire straights and needs a lifeline, ASAP. New President Mark Pedowitz took a step in the right direction with his schedule overhaul in May, and Arrow is the crown jewel of that schedule. It's a return to the CW of yore, when Smallville garnered some of the network's highest ratings (on Friday nights, no less), and not every show was geared toward teenage girls. And it's debuting without much real competition (opposite reality and sitcoms, no other dramas) in front of Supernatural, one of the only reliable performers left on the network. Based on the strength of the pilot, it deserves to succeed and help lead the CW out of the darkness.
Billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Steven Amell) went missing five years ago when his father's ship sank, and he was presumed dead, along with all the other passengers. But he is discovered by a fishing boat and returned home to Starling City, a town his father practically built. Oliver has changed over the years, surviving savagely on a deserted island. Now that he's home, he's determined to right the wrongs he committed as a carefree and spoiled brat, beginning with an overdue apology to former girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy, Melrose Place). Laurel isn't in the mood to forgive Oliver, however, since when the boat went down he was sleeping with Laurel's sister, and she didn't survive the wreck. Soon after his return, however, Oliver is targeted by one of his father's enemies. Using the survival skills he picked up on the island, Oliver escapes and vows to right the injustice in his city as the Green Arrow.
Right off the bat, the parallels between Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, are obvious. Neither has superpowers, both have tons of money; then there's the aspects of vengeance for the death of a parent, the urban decay, etc. Keeping all that in mind, it makes sense that Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern), Marc Guggenheim (Eli Stone), and Andrew Kreisberg (Fringe) would then develop the character into a television presence similar to the film version of Batman in the recent Christoper Nolan Dark Knight trilogy; the tone of Arrow is the same as those films, and it borrows many elements of the first chapter, Batman Begins, for its pilot. It never feels like a copycat or anything like that, and it's actually a decent attempt to serialize and adapt that type of storytelling for the small screen. The script is standard superhero fare, not exactly subtle in its delivery and impact, but then again that's not exactly what a comic book audience expects. So for what it is, Arrow is about as well done as one would anticipate.
On other levels, it's just not up to snuff. The performances are pretty weak all around. Amell is a great presence, and he has an incredible physique, but there's no depth to his portrayal of Oliver Queen. Right now, he's just a quiet guy with an anger problem; there's no hint of what's bubbling underneath in his performance. Katie Cassidy is fine as Laurel, if a bit one-dimensional in a role which doesn't yet have many angles. Her chemistry with Amell is the weakest part of the pilot. She has been waiting five years to rip into Oliver, yet she addresses him like all he did was forget to call her before bed the night before. The rest of the supporting actors are getting the job done without much effort. But then again, a show like this isn't always about depth or making good choices as an actor... it's about the action.
And the action is great. Anytime Oliver is flipping through the air, sending arrows sailing, or beating the hell out of someone, Arrow is amazing entertainment. The fight choreography is animalistic and savage, wholly appropriate for Oliver's character, and always spectacular. The montage of Oliver training himself to become the Green Arrow, though pretty cliche for superhero stories, is just as awesome as it is in every comic book adaptation you've ever seen; it's been done to death, but we all love it. Director David Nutter (Smallville) keeps things moving at a smooth, brisk pace until the pilot's final shocking reveal, setting some high stakes for the remainder of the season. It's dark and aesthetically beautiful, an attractive but still entertaining hour.
There's something here for everyone: politics, romance, action, mystery. There's a whole lot of potential in Arrow, proving the CW is still capable of developing mature shows with a sense of direction, rather than just showcases for good-looking guys and girls... though the show certainly has that going for it as well.