Hewing closely to the template of “Smallville,” “The Flash” bursts out of the starting gate, racing through an origin story and related history that transforms baby-faced CSI Barry Allen into the red-streaked superhero. Like all pilots in the genre, the only reason to keep one foot on the brake, enthusiasm-wise, is whether the producers can sustain a high level of special effects and action once a weekly episodic schedule (and budget) kicks in. CW already has found a steadying presence in “Arrow,” and this more comicbook-y entry could be another solid anchor from sibling DC Comics.
Purists can wince, with some justification, at the casting of Grant Gustin as Barry; last seen high-stepping on “Glee,” the thesp gives the character a look that’s more suited to studying for midterms than investigating crimes. Still, the pandering to younger demos hardly stops there (witness the upcoming “Fantastic Four” reboot), so the offended can either buy into the choice or wait 25 years for another Flash series to come along.
Yep, it’s been that long since CBS took a “Batman”-inspired run at the character, and that series — while in some respects ahead of its time — quickly fizzled. The producers here nevertheless pay homage to it by casting the original’s star, John Wesley Shipp, as Barry’s father, currently serving time for the murder of the kid’s mother under, ahem, mysterious circumstances.
Fortunately, Gustin comes across as instantly likable, and even relatable, as the unlikely hero, who acquires his powers during a freak lightning storm that triggers an accident which infuses him with newfound abilities. Shades of “Smallville” and its meteor shower, the same event creates a host of other “meta-humans,” thus explaining the roster of super-villains who the Flash will be chasing in the weeks ahead.
In a move that seems popular in TV adaptations in an “It takes a village to raise a superhero” way, a lot of people almost instantly know Barry’s secret, including Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh), a physicist at STAR Labs who’s determined to help Barry harness his powers, and who provides him with the suit that can aerodynamically accommodate his fast footwork.
Barry’s extended circle also includes the girl on whom he has an unrequited crush, Iris (Candice Patton), and her father (Jesse Martin), who conveniently happens to be a police detective.
Producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg (already delivering the green with “Arrow”) have adhered pretty closely to Flash lore, while making modest adjustments that aim to cater to the uninitiated. Yet perhaps the best things this “Flash” has going for it compared with its predecessor are the current mainstreaming of superhero fare and the liberating freedom that comes with playing on a niche network, where audience demands are considerably smaller.
Those factors, coupled with a corporate determination to get more mileage out of its DC-Warner Bros. Television-CW connection (and other properties, such as the “Teen Titans” pilot for TNT), suggest this is a high priority, which should give “The Flash” the resources to have a fighting chance to succeed beyond the lavish David Nutter-directed pilot.
The disclaimer would be that the further the show has to dig into the character’s playbook, the more opportunities there are for it to trip up. As we’ve seen in the past with superhero fare, what appears destined to survive for the long run, based on a pricey premiere, can indeed be finished in a flash.