I watched the first season of Arrow on Netflix over the last couple of weeks. I had been told it was quite good, but forgive me if I didn’t believe. People also told me that Smallville was good, and that show, while occasionally enjoyable, was never actually any good. Plus, the team behind it was also the team behind the Green Lantern movie, which was at best a disappointment. On top of that, Green Arrow is generally a tough sell for me. It’s not that I don’t like him, but often comes off as an off-brand Batman. Finally, a genuinely trusted source, my brother, told that the show was excellent, so I gave it a shot. He and that anonymous “they” were right.
It does take a couple of episodes to really get up to speed. Part of that has to do with Oliver’s struggle with what his mask is going to be. He doesn’t know whether to be the disapproving older brother, to be tortured and brooding over his years lost on the island or to be the carefree party boy. From episode to episode he vacillates though these various personas while getting his act together as a bow-toting vigilante. The rest of the cast also takes a while to find their place. That is not unusual for a TV show. The pilot is generally shot apart from the rest of the show, often resulting in a slightly different tone than the rest. And I’m sure there is feedback that is taken into account with subsequent adjustments.
By the fifth episode, most of the show has fallen into place and Arrow starts to be a lot of fun. One big change that keeps complaints about Green Arrow being a Batman clone is the prominence of his family. Batman is famously an orphan. In Arrow, Oliver Queen has a mother, sister and a step-father. It makes it more difficult for him to keep his secret identity secret. Not that he is very good at that, though his failures in that area make the show all the more believable. Outside of his family, he has a handful of other allies. There is Diggle, hired to be his bodyguard and eventually becomes Ollie’s partner in his quest to clean up Starling City. Eventually they are joined by Felicity, a computer expert that works at Oliver’s family’s company. He also has is former girlfriend Laurel Lance and best friend Tom Merlyn, who have started a relationship in his absence.
Honestly, there is a good show here without Ollie’s actions as a vigilante. His struggle to find his place after five years away is a good enough hook to keep things interesting. How does he tell his sister to stop her partying when she is acting no different than he did before he was lost? And she actually has the excuse of suddenly losing her father and brother to a tragic accident. By the middle of the season, the Green Arrow stuff does come to the fore. At that point, the show starts to bring in more elements from the comics. The villains stop being generic corrupt business men; they start to become comic villains. His flashbacks back to the island stop being about just survival and start to be about adventures there with Shado and Deathstroke.
What the show does effectively is show that while Ollie may have matured on the island, that he had been fundamentally changed by his experiences, he is still not a hero when the series starts. He undoubtedly does good, but he kills a lot of people doing it. This turns Detective Lance, Laurel’s father, against him. It keeps Diggle from wanting to work with him and distances him from Tom when he finds out. It also adds a layer of hypocrisy to the whole endeavor. When he meets up with Helena Bertinelli, Huntress from the comics, he tries to teach her that she doesn’t have to kill. While he is right that her goal is vengeance, not justice, it also shows that his quest isn’t quite right. Later, Det. Lance tells Roy Harper, another comic expat, that no one man has the right to mete out lethal justice, he is right. What gives Oliver the right to just kill whoever he determines is a bad guy? Getting that lesson across to Oliver is a journey that lasts all season.
Arrow is pretty much exactly a superhero TV show should hope to be. Yes, it is some low level soap opera, but that is a big part of the superhero formula. And a powerless guy like Green Arrow is a perfect fit for TV because he doesn’t need extensive special effects to do his thing. Every episode has a villain of the week “A” story, but that is augmented by long running subplots. Just like comics, when they are working right. It is often cheesy, occasionally dumb but largely an enjoyable hour. Those same people that told me the first season was good also told me that the 2nd season was better, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to see for myself soon.
One more thing of note, I would guess that whoever is responsible for casting this show is a fan of Dr. Who. Casting John Barrowman is simply a smart move; the man is always entertaining. But while he is around for most of the season, later on Alex Kingston, best known (by me at least) for playing River Song, shows up as Laurel’s Mom it starts to look like it’s not just a coincidence. Again, I can’t fault the casting choices. I, too, like Dr. Who.