The problem, then, is that these two dramas are too often getting swallowed up by the darkness (and by this awkward clinging to the source material that results not in a faithful adaptation but in too much obnoxious winking at the comic books’ audience), so much so that it can suck the actual entertainment out of watching a television program. Enter The Flash, The CW’s fun and flighty take on Barry Allen: The Fastest Man Alive. Much like your average costumed crusader, Allen’s past is characterized by dark tragedy: He witnessed his mother’s death; his father was wrongfully convicted of the murder and remains in jail. Allen is obsessed with the crime, as you would expect, but it doesn’t totally derail his life.
What does derail his life is a bolt of lightning and a nine-month coma. When he wakes up, he has become a “metahuman” with the ability to run really, really fast. Allen, played by the adorable Grant Gustin, is positively endearing. He treats his superpowers the way that any kid would upon discovery: He thinks they’re pretty freakin’ cool. He takes them on a test drive, he’s eager to see just how fast he can run, he sheepishly burns through his sneakers, and he shows off for women (well, one woman, Felicity Smoak, borrowed from Arrow, who shows up in the fourth episode, “Going Rogue,” which is easily the best of the series so far).
When Allen becomes The Flash, he reminds me of the difference between professional baseball players and Little Leaguers. The pros (and therefore the older, more seasoned superheroes) will catch a ball or hit a home run with a shrug — after all, they’ve been doing this forever and it’s all second nature — whereas a kid will always celebrate a good play or a solid hit, remaining enthusiastic throughout the entire season. Six episodes into the season, Allen’s enthusiasm is still there and he’s still finding new ways to play around with his powers (the cool: vibrating his vocal chords to achieve creepy voice-changing effects; and the not-so-cool: the inability to get drunk with his friends).
Allen/The Flash is nice. He’s optimistic. He’s a bright flame, and not just when he zooms off and leaves a trail of sparks behind him. The Flash’s weakness, as pointed out by villain Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller!), is that he is more concerned with saving the lives of innocents than with catching whatever bad guy Allen has originally set his sights on.
The Flash places an emphasis on camaraderie throughout the series. Allen has a tight-knit group of (diverse) friends, some of whom know about his powers (Cisco and Caitlin at S.T.A.R. Labs) and some of whom don’t (his best friend/lifelong crush Iris West, who also happens to be the daughter of Allen’s surrogate father, Detective Joe West, brilliantly played by Jesse L. Martin).
Of course, The Flash also follows the typical comic book schtick and has Allen battle new supervillians every week, but, with the exception of last night’s damsel-in-distress misstep, even these battles are relatively lighthearted in comparison with what we’re used to. When Allen wins, he doesn’t hesitate to triumphantly proclaim “I win!” appealingly childishly, reacting more like the young kid reading a Flash comic than the Flash himself — which just works to make the series endlessly entertaining to watch. There’s room on television for these serious but lighthearted stories, these tragic but ultimately optimistic characters, and these compelling but fun plots — and The Flash proves it.