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‘Arrow’ fulfilling its ‘promise’ on TV

Posted: March 7, 2014 12:25 p.m.
Updated: March 10, 2014 5:00 a.m.

 

Wednesday’s episode of the CW’s Arrow is a perfect example of why I watch the show. Such shows -- based on the Green Arrow character from DC Comics -- may be fluff but, in this case, it’s intelligent fluff. The writing and acting is spot-on and the producers have paced the first two seasons in a way that doesn’t drag things out, but keeps you guessing along the way.

Wednesday’s episode, “The Promise,” had lots of danger with almost non-stop action, a few laughs along the way and some jaw-dropping plot moments to boot. Without giving anything away for those who might want to watch, let’s just say it fulfilled many of the ... well, promises such shows try to meet but usually fail to achieve.

One of the reasons for this is the way Arrow handles its episodes. Ah, but to explain that, I need to back up a bit.

First of all, I was skeptical when the CW announced it was producing Arrow -- a new version of the Green Arrow character from DC Comics -- so soon after the final season of Smallville, arguably one of the best superhero TV shows. Smallville lasted 10 seasons, many of which included a Superman ally: Green Arrow, played by Justin Hartley.

Simply called “Arrow,” the new show is a complete retelling of the hero’s origin and motivations and with a new actor playing his alter ego of Oliver Queen. I had enjoyed Hartley’s version on Smallville and wasn’t sure the CW was making a smart move in introducing a new version of an established character so soon.

With the series premiere, my doubts were blown away.

Stephen Amell was born to play Oliver Queen, playboy son of wealth turned vigilante archer. Arrow is a much darker take on the character. In the first season -- with the mission of taking down the rich and powerful who have “failed” his city -- Ollie actually kills the pariahs on his list.

He takes on that mission after spending five years marooned on an island following his father’s suicide plea to fix the awful things he had done back in Starling City where they live. The show neatly flashbacks to the island. Usually, 20 percent of the show takes place there. Wednesday night, they flipped it around to 80 percent and with excellent results.

Spoilers here for those who have never seen the show...

It’s only when Oliver’s best friend, Tommy, is killed in the first season’s finale that he realizes he has to do things differently. Instead of the being “The Hood,” as he’s first referred to, he must become Arrow, a vigilante who uses his skills to capture or incapacitate his enemies, not kill them. Oliver soon gains the trust of the police department which once tried to arrest him.

Amell is pretty much perfect in nearly every scene of every episode. On top of that, he’s just a really nice guy. He actually manages his own Facebook page -- no corporate, talent agent puppet strings -- with 1 million followers to date. He posts updates about the show, things he likes, things he doesn’t like, uses videos to answer fans’ questions and, occasionally, photos of his infant daughter (he does so judicially, trying to protect her from the paparazzi.)

He is definitely the center of the show, both in terms of the character he plays and by being the leader/cheerleader of his fellow actors.

Which plays into how Arrow works on screen. As the first season moved along, Oliver gained allies. His bodyguard, John Diggle, a former military man played by David Ramsey, becomes his lead partner and best friend. His IT specialist at Queen Consolidated, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) joins in, giving Oliver the electronic heads up any hero needs in today’s world.

As of the middle of Season 2, “Team Arrow” -- as they are affectionately called online -- includes Sara Lance (Caity Loitz), this series’ Black Canary, she of the sonic scream in the comics; and Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), he who might become Arrow’s sidekick, known by several different aliases (Speedy, Red Arrow, Arsenal).

Of course, the team can’t just be taking out ordinary, average, everyday bad guys. The show loves to make nods back to the source material, bringing us versions of the Royal Flush Gang, Clockwork King, Deadshot and even Nyssa al Ghul (daughter of Batman’s nemesis, Ra’s al Ghul).

But the two big bads are wonderfully played by John Barrowman of Dr. Who/Torchwood fame and Manu Bennett (from Starz’ Spartacus).

Barrowman plays Malcolm Merlyn, “the Dark Archer” who vows to destroy parts of the city in order to wipe it clean of the criminals he blames for his wife’s death. If you’ve ever seen Barrowman in action, you know he’s usually a genuinely funny, sometimes over-the-top actor. Here, all cool menace.

Bennett is Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator (not to be confused with the Arnold Schwarzenegger android), a one-eyed military strategist and deadly assassin.

What makes these two portrayals tragic is that Malcolm is Tommy’s father, and that Bennett practically became Oliver’s brother as they both tried to survive the island.

There’s so much more greatness, including Oliver’s interactions with his mother (Susannah Thompson) and sister (Willa Holland). This year, they even introduced Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), whose getting his own show as The Flash.

I know everyone doesn’t care for shows like this, and that it may seem silly that a nearly 49-year-old man does. But I dare you to check out “The Promise” and tell me that -- even if you don’t understand exactly what’s going on -- you can’t see Arrow’s almost big screen worthiness as a superhero show with a heck of a lot of heart.

 

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