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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Arrow Season 2 Premiere

Confession time: I haven't watched Arrow regularly before.

I've said it on the podcast a few times, but I completely missed out on the first season of the series. I watched the premiere, and thought the concept of "Ollie chasing down his father's list of corrupt people" was novel enough, but the initial round of acting I saw kept giving me flashes of Smallville; a show that I am pained to say I watched all the way through, and regret most of it.

In order to spare myself some of that time, I shied away from Ollie's exploits in Star(ling) City. What's funny is, I ended up hearing a good deal of noise from my friends and the internet about what I was missing: the appearance of characters like The Huntress, Shado, Eddie Fyers, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Roy Harper and John Barrowman playing Merlyn. It also didn't hurt that I've totally fallen for Jeff Lemire's take on the character in The New 52, along with the news that Barry Allen/The Flash will be appearing on the series in this new season.

I knew I had to give it another shot, and I figured what better time than the premiere? And as it turns out, I rather enjoyed it.

The episode opens with Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) attempting to find Oliver (Stephen Amell), who has exiled himself to the remote Island from which his alter-ego was born, due to circumstances that surrounded the devastation of Starling City and led to the death of his best friend Tommy Merlyn. With Starling City in worse shape than ever due to his absence and a corporate raider (Summer Glau) ready to take over Queen Industries during his mother's imprisonment and his own self-exile, Oliver makes the decision to return to the states and redefine his mission in the process, facing the murdering copycats that he "inspired" while balancing some changes in his personal life. While in a subplot, Roy (Colton Haynes) continues to fight the bad guys in the absence of "The Hood" and another vigilante makes herself known.

That basically sums up the narrative thrust of the episode, but the way it presents its intrinsic parts is rather engaging. Superheros often have a no-killing code as a part of their vigilante activity, but the moral implications of it are never made terribly clear. We as viewers or readers understand why Batman doesn't kill, as his parents were gunned down in front of him at a young age creating an almost obsessive psychosis within him, he understands the devastating effects murder can have. Oliver, in my limited exposure to the series, was treated more like a soldier in its first year, and had no problem eliminating any targets that stood in his way. Being faced with the cold blooded reality of his actions, via the types of gun-toting, near terrorist types that he inspired, and having his dying best friend call him a murderer in his last moments puts a shock into his system and makes the "no-killing" rule that he eventually adopts in his return to the city all the more earned. It's like a long-form version of what David Goyer and Zack Snyder were aiming for in Man of Steel, but is delivered a bit better. 

The island flashbacks, where Arrow is at its most clever narratively, also help define the difference between the "accomplish the mission at all costs" Oliver and the Oliver that will eventually adopt the Green Arrow moniker. Amell does a nice job with the difference between the two. I wasn't taken with his stiffer performance in the first episode or two that I caught when the series began, but he clearly has grown into the role of Oliver on both his younger and more confident incarnations. Some of his surrounding players also help off-set any potential blandness issues that Amell may bring to light. The CW has always gone for the formula of mixing veteran, reliable actors with models, such as including John Glover, Jon Schneider and and Annette O'Toole with the easy on the eyes younger cast of Smallville, and their new series The Tomorrow People seems to be going that same route with Mark Pellegrino making an appearance in its debut episode. Arrow is fortunate to have actors like Paul Blackthorne, the aforementioned David Ramsey, and Susanna Thompson to balance out the less experienced players, but Willa Holland as Oliver's younger sister Thea has a presence that works much better than the typically dull CW player.

Its this delicate balance that the show strikes that makes it a more satisfying experience than ABC's Agents of SHIELD has been thus far. Arrow isn't afraid to embrace its more ridiculous nature in order to find its audience whereas SHIELD is desperately grasping for the "younger NCIS demographic" without really any of the personality of the CBS hit. Yes, Arrow still is mired in the Nolan Batman vein, and the copycat story feels alot like the plot point at the beginning (and running in the undercurrent) of The Dark Knight, and Roy (who while interesting enough from a plot angle, is one of the areas where the performance doesn't quite feel dynamic enough) has a very John Blake feel to him. In a way though, that familiarity works to the plot's favor. Much like Agents of SHIELD (and to a lesser extent, Man of Steel), Arrow has pretty rough dialogue and moments where eye-rolling is the only response, but there's a level of over the top nuttiness that the writers are clearly embracing and having a fairly engaging plot that gives me enough reason to want to know what happens between commercials which is more than I can say for SHIELD. Is it great television? Absolutely not. But it's fun television and doesn't rely on one-liners and movie references to cover up a lack of direction, this make Arrow a winner by comparison.

Plus Flash, Black Canary, and Amanda Waller are all coming as something bigger is brewing in Arrow's corner of the DC Universe.

I won't be reviewing it regularly and maybe not again until the finale, but for this week's premiere...

I give it a B+
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