Welcome to A Random Episode, where we at Pop Cults check out whatever episode of a TV series happens to be playing on our cable package and see whether it grabs us. Will we be adding this series to our regular viewing schedule or will it be thrown back onto the scrap heap? Read on to find out…
When the CW‘s Arrow debuted a few months ago it didn’t seem very promising to me. The network that brought us Smallville trying to do an overly serious Dark Knight imitation, except instead of Batman it has a young, hunky version of Green Arrow? I couldn’t pass fast enough. But the show was a hit and plenty of sources I normally find trustworthy came out with various versions of “you know, it’s actually decent.” So for the first installment of A Random Episode, I decided to check out last week’s episode of Arrow, Year’s End, and see if it lived up to my slightly raised expectations.
The first thing I noticed was that this series was much higher quality just from an acting and production values standpoint than I was expecting. In a one-on-one, act-off the cast of Arrow would wipe the floor with the cast of Smallville. Yes, Stephen Amell was cast in the role of Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow at least partly for his youthful good looks, but he makes Oliver feel like a real person. The main cast also includes several strong actors you may recognize from other roles, including Susanna Thompson as Oliver’s mother, who seems to have her own secrets, Willa Holland as his spunky younger sister, Katie Cassidy as a character that I didn’t realize was named Dinah Lance until I looked the show up on imdb, and Paul Blackthorne (Harry Dresden himself) as a police detective looking for the new vigilante in town. This episode also had John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood) playing what seemed to be some kind of recurring role as a bad guy business dude in some kind of cahoots with Oliver’s mom. An interesting aspect of the series seems to be that underneath the hook of the superhero business the show seems to basically be a rich people soap somewhere on the same level as, say, Revenge.
In this particular episode, another hooded guy with arrows shows up in town, killing people that I’m assuming were in previous episodes (one of them was the detective guy from Caprica). Oliver immediately deduces from the arrow placement that it’s a professional archer and makes a voice-altered call to Detective Dresden to see if they can work together to catch this guy because he’s totally ruining his rep. Detective guy says, “I hate you forever, but we can work together this time.” Eventually Oliver tracks down the guy, and a pretty good action sequence ensues. Somewhat to my surprise, Oliver gets the crap beaten out of him by the impostor He wounds the baddie and escapes just in the nick of time. Later, we see the bad guy take off his mask and it’s… John Barrowman! He then has a conversation with Oliver’s mom about some horrible thing he’s going to do that will “make this city realize it’s true potential” but also will apparently kill thousands of people. So… there’s that to look forward to.
A lot of other random things were going on, too. This one British guy, who I’m sure I’ve seen on Doctor Who before, got hypo’d in the neck and dragged into an elevator. Oliver’s kid sister yelled at him for throwing a Christmas Party (this was apparently the Christmas episode). Also there were a bunch of flashbacks to Oliver’s past, where he was stranded on an island with a Chinese guy who dressed like Green Arrow, too (I guess he gave Oliver the idea). Only then Deathstroke (!) showed up and stabbed the Chinese guy…so that happened.
On one level, this series is very comic book-y. Unlike Smallville, which didn’t put Clark in costume until the very last episode, Arrow put its hero in a recognizable costume in its very first episode. At one point our hero actually got out of a sticky situation by blowing a hole in a wall with an exploding arrow. On the other hand, there’s a certain reality grounding the material that the series probably gets from its biggest influence (I’ll give you a hint…it involves bats). Nobody on display here had actual superpowers, though I don’t know if that’s happened elsewhere. In fact, it stubbornly refuses to refer to its hero as Green Arrow, though this leads to a scene where Oliver suggests to John Barrowman’s character that the vigilante needs to think up a better name than “Hood Guy” or “That Guy In A Hood.” Barrowman suggests “Green Arrow,” which Oliver immediately shoots down as “lame.” And while there wasn’t a lot of out and out humor, there were several bits like the one I just described where at least the characters seemed to have smiles on their faces.
So… why didn’t I come away from all this with a more ringing endorsement? I’m not sure. All of the parts are pretty good, but there wasn’t anything (other than the sheer out-of-context randomness of Deathstroke killing Chinese Green Arrow on the island from Far Cry) that really took me by the lapels. Yes, all of these characters seem relatively well-written and acted, but none of them really struck me as a character that was about to be mine or anyone’s particular favorite. Even the spunky little sister came off as whiny in this episode. There’s also a lot going on. Sometimes this can be a good thing but in this episode the series seemed akin to some HBO dramas in that a lot of disparate story lines can mean that none of them develop a real sense of momentum or move forward very fast.
Arrow is a fairly solid superhero drama and far more solid than some previous efforts on networks like the CW. It’s certainly strong enough to be one of the best things the CW’s got going right now. It has actors you probably already know and like, its lead is more than just a pretty face and it can do action when it wants to. There are both exploding arrows and random Deathstroke cameos. But, for this random episode at least, it just lacked “oomph” for me. If you’re watching Arrow, please let us know your thoughts on the series so far in the comments.