“The Flash” certainly lived up to its name in season one, racing through story and major plot points, from divulging the title character’s secret identity to key supporting players to killing off others. By the end of the season, with time traveling and vortexes and the preternaturally intelligent Gorilla Grodd (oh my!), the show had embraced its origins in a way that was perhaps more inherently comic book-y than any primetime series preceding it, and managed to become a major hit by CW standards. If the season-two premiere is any guide, for comic geeks, it looks like full speed ahead.
Fans might recall that season one ended with a rather chaotic cliffhanger. Wisely, the producers actually leap past the resolution of that to open the show in its Oct. 6 return, partly hitting the reset button. Yes, they do go back and reassure the audience by explaining how the world was spared, not without consequences, but the less time spent on that giant sucking vortex, the better.
For the Flash, a.k.a. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), last season’s revelations came at a cost, both personally and in terms of the way he approaches the superhero biz. Having pursued what amounted to an “It takes a village” mentality – with a whole lot of people helping him and in on his secret – he’s newly determined to go it alone, hoping to spare those close to him from being put in harm’s way.
Fortunately (for the series, if not the Flash), a new threat emerges in the form of the Atom Smasher, a nuclear-powered menace who can actually grow to about twice his size. Yet that’s the appetizer, really, to what appears to be setting up an arc that includes the eagerly anticipated arrival of the comics’ Golden Age Flash (that is, the version dreamt up during the 1940s), Jay Garrick, played by “Masters of Sex” alum Teddy Sears.
In the past, television has often kept one foot on the floor, as it were, when it comes to fully embracing comics. That’s true even in the last 15 years or so since the genre became big and serious business at the box-office (thanks, “X-Men”) and the WB scored with “Smallville.”
By contrast, “The Flash” – more unabashedly than “Arrow,” its DC-related predecessor – has plunged pretty deeply into comic-book lore and simply asked the audience that isn’t steeped in its minutia to follow along. That’s a strategy, incidentally, that the creative brain trust for all three shows, headed by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, looks to be applying to the upcoming “Supergirl.”
Although these series can’t compete with feature budgets, “The Flash” delivers enough action to effectively work on that level, and has developed a strong array of characters to function as a drama, peppered with humor that happily avoids the trap of camp. All told, it’s a pretty major accomplishment, and one with a nice sense of symmetry, inasmuch as an earlier stab at the character starring John Wesley Shipp (cast here as the Flash’s dad) was clearly ahead of its time when CBS tried it a quarter-century ago.
The good news is that the pop-culture universe has caught up with “The Flash.” And the even better news is that this CW series – seemingly emboldened by its success – isn’t hitting the brakes at all as it races into the future, or the past, or wherever its two-dimensional roots might lead it.