Posted on January 30, 2016
I’m a big fan of the CW’s Flash series even though I was never a fan of the comic books. For me, as a kid, getting to the bottom of the stack of the latest haul of comics and finding the Flash or Aquaman or, let’s be honest, any DC property, signaled that it was time to go outside.
I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I didn’t care for DC at the time. I was far too young to understand the concept of a tragic hero, of deep seated flaws embedded in every source of power, of how we empathize with heroes more when they’re not invulnerable. I just thought the stories were kind of pointless and the threats against the heroes seemed to be arbitrary and made up.
Red kryptonite does what? Yeah, yeah, whatever.
But the television show is completely different from what I remember the comic book to be. Mostly because it’s grounded in strong characters with real emotional issues. The complex web of interpersonal connections rarely dips into soap opera levels of melodrama and the challenges they face seem real and threatening.
Part of this comes from good scripts and excellent acting. Everyone’s good but I have to say that Tom Cavanagh is a big part of grounding the show in solid performances. In a way, he reminds me of Peter Weller. Not as an actor or in his acting choices, but in the way he brings real gravity to roles that could have been silly in another actor’s hands.
If you want to see a really good example of the Weller Effect (as scientists call it), watch a truly bad movie called Screamers. It’s a bad script for a bad movie with terrible special effects that is littered with people phoning in their performances. There is literally nothing redeeming about this steaming pile of crap except Weller. Even in a project that light weight, he still brings a truckload of heavy.
Cavanagh’s Dr. Harrison Wells has the same kind of gravitational effect on The Flash. His performance is so nuanced and multi-layered that you never really know what’s up with him. And that’s important for a character like Wells who drives a lot of the larger story arcs with his secret agendas.
He’s not the only one putting just enough spin on their role, either. Grant Gustin, like any actor taking on the role of a costumed superhero, is faced with a lot of finicky decisions, mostly about how far to go with it. He’s helped by the tone of the show which is just serious enough to keep from being laughable.
That tone is helped by the way the citizens of Central City treat the presence of The Flash and other meta-humans in their midst: They start out with shock, move on to disbelief, then to hesitant tolerance and finally acceptance of this as being the new normal.
A lot of times in superhero shows, there is a sizable contingent of actors who make it obvious they don’t really know what to do with their characters because they’re unable to buy into the reality. Not with The Flash. Everyone on the cast plays it like they’re in a standard drama, dealing with the heartache and triumph that comes from the challenges in their daily lives just like we all do, with just the slightest nod to the fact that those challenges come from a gang of meta-humans infecting their city.
The only thing I find distracting is the frank and utter disregard for physics that afflicts so many movies and TV shows of this type. Whenever there’s a fight scene, I keep thinking, “If he’s moving fast enough to cross the city in a second, he’s got so much kinetic energy built up that his punches would just go through whoever he’s fighting. The people he hits might even explode. And the people he saves by picking them and carrying them out of harm’s way would come apart like Barbie dolls fired out of a canon.”
But that’s a nit that’s common to superhero movies (think Black Widow leaping off of an alien flying machine three stories above ground and landing on her feet without shattering the bones in her legs) that is easily taken care of by a little extra heft in your willing suspension of disbelief.
I love Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but those are very heavy stories that leave you feeling a little wrung out after the last episode. Not a bad thing at all, but the lighter tone of The Flash, while still compelling, serves as a nice palate cleanser after all that darkness.