Reviewing the “Arrow” Pilot with The Dude
An eccentric billionaire playboy makes a vow to avenge his father’s death and regrets; he disappears for several years, is declared dead, then miraculously returns from a past that he’s reluctant to talk about. One that leaves him with the skills he needs to avenge, including fluency in Russian, martial arts training, weapons manufacturing and an uncanny ability to fool other people into believing he’s still a playboy. Sound familiar? That’s because, yes, Green Arrow was borrows heavily from the Batman mythos. Right down to the Arrow Cave. At least in this version our vigilante savior-to-be, Arrow-who-wears-green, isn’t an outright orphan but his family’s not exactly what you might call functional or (if the cliffhanger’s any indication) trustworthy.
Arrow is the CW’s first attempt to follow its surprisingly enduring DC character-centric live-action series, Smallville. Except, this ain’t Smallville. Well, for the most part-good parts, in fact.
Let’s get the general plot recap out of the way: Oliver Queen is rescued from an island he was shipwrecked on for 5 years. He returns to Starling city, to his mother who’s remarried to a friend of his now dead father (dying in the sea voyage that stranded the younger Queen), and a 17 year-old sister, Mia (aka Speedy), who’s idea of surviving is by exhibiting the kind of self-destructive behavior that her big bro had left a legacy of. But this resurrected Oliver has a list, and on that list are bad people who threaten to obliterate Starling City somehow, and that list was provided in some of his father’s final words…or so it’s inferred.
The pilot gives us a sturdy main character in Oliver Queen, a good sense of his overarching mission that’ll drive this first season of the show, builds his two worlds we’ll be seeing a lot more of (the present Starling City and a bit of the past 5 years on the island), and introduces us to some of the major supporting players. And you know what, that’s most of what a pilot’s supposed to do. The pieces are there, but how was the execution?
Since it’s one of the first conventions introduced on the show, I’ll address it first: voice-over narration, you must be knocked out by a boxing glove arrow. It’s appalling. Sloppily used for exposition that we don’t need and melodramas up a series that already is going to flirt with being a superhero melodrama. I get that narration’s used in comics a lot, but it made me laugh rather than take what I was watching seriously. Mercifully, the narration wasn’t a constant burden.
The acting was all competent, with potential in fact. Katie Cassidy seemed quite game as Dinah Laurel Lance (thank you, CW, for revealing her real first name is that of her comics counterpart). And Stephen Amell was a fine Oliver. He’s making the character his own, giving a more reserved and composed portrait of a survivor. There’s no resemblance to Justin Hartley’s portrayal. He doesn’t seem to have a grasp on his Ollie persona yet, but hey, it’s the first episode. He’s got the looks, the muscles, the snarl, the “I will f*ck you up bad dudes” stare, but there’s a hint of the storm under the calm exterior. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more sides of the character as the show progresses.
I appreciated how the show IS following in Smallville’s footsteps by keeping Oliver’s enemies and allies within his inner circle. Tommy Merlyn, the boyhood best friend most likely destined to be an arch nemesis (called Merlyn), his future sidekick introduced as his sister, and his love interest introduced as, well, okay his love interest. The whole love triangle between Oliver, Dianh, and her deceased sister (who died while cheating on Dinah with Oliver on the same boat ride that also cost him his father, keep up if you can) was unquestionably the weakest part of the pilot. The first scene in which she rebuffs his overture at some form of reconciliation was nice. It gave me hope that maybe just because this show’s on CW it won’t get into a weepy teen drama-esque romance story arc. BOOM, 15 minutes later the second scene of this subplot reminded us that this show is in fact ON THE CW, where such soap opera-y subplots are required. Fortunately, Cassidy is game enough that she handled the sudden personality shift of her character about as well as I could have hoped for. Here’s hoping we get her amnesia storyline out of the way sooner than later. After all, she has fishnets to fill.
And that’s what makes this pilot a success for me more than anything else, it wasn’t great but it was good enough because there’s LOTS of room to grow into something special. The tease of a major DC villain was fantastic. The Kingpin-like Adam Hunt could be a nice recurring corporate nemesis to showcase other aspects of Oliver’s personality and skills. Dinah (I’m just not going to call her Laurel, okay? I can’t do it!) has enough moxy and smarts to grow into the hero we hope she will eventually become. The family intrigue opens up an possibilities of an expanded mythos that could lend itself to storylines for years down the line, even if it’s not the most original formula.
Let’s also not forget one thing about this show: it’s Hell bent on being grounded in reality, which is the complete 180 of Smallville. There aren’t meta-humans (so far). There are people. The potential for Arrow lies not just in its main character but in the world it can build, a world not of Supermen but of flawed and gifted human beings. It’s nice to see the gritty street-side of the DCU being given a chance to flourish. Make no mistake, the action’s already better than most anything Smallville gave us in over 200 episodes. It’s not FX driven. Arrow gets that and let’s hope they don’t get cocky about it.
The directing was handled by David Nutter, who directed pilots for Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Supernatural, among others. This guy knows how to run the first leg of the relay. 16 of his prior pilots got picked up for full series. I think he’s got number 17 under his belt.
Welcome, Arrow, you didn’t score a knockout but a split-decision’s still a win.
Your longbow hunter,