The CW is feeling the need for speed this fall, and “The Flash” aims to deliver on Tuesday night, introducing a new generation of fans to one of DC Comics’ most enduring superheroes in a premiere that “bursts out of the starting gate” according to Variety‘s Brian Lowry.
The ambitious “Arrow” spinoff sees Grant Gustin donning the Scarlet Speedster’s red and gold ensemble after a freak accident imbues him (and a number of other unwitting bystanders) with superhuman abilities in the fleet-footed pilot. While Gustin’s Barry Allen was introduced in “Arrow” last season, the show’s producers — including “Arrow” EPs Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, and DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns — promise that viewers who aren’t familiar with the source material will still find plenty to enjoy: “Even though it is a spinoff, you don’t need to have watched a minute of ‘Arrow’ to enjoy ‘The Flash,'” Kreisberg insisted during a press roundtable on Monday morning. “Or to have ever watched a superhero show, period,” Johns agreed. “It really gets you in through the characters… it’s a character drama that happens to be a superhero show.”
Although “Arrow” and “Flash” sprang from the same creative well, the two shows are vastly different in tone — and not just because “The Flash” will utilize superpowers while “Arrow” remains more grounded. “When Arrow started, Oliver was as much Green Arrow as he was ever going to be, skill-wise, and that show is really an exploration of somebody getting back their humanity,” Kreisberg explained. “But for Flash, it’s day one of being a hero. We experience the show through Grant and through Barry. Who people are and what they seem, we’re learning that just as he’s learning that, and that’s his evolution as a hero.”
Berlanti agreed, comparing “The Flash” to anthology series such as “X-Files” and “The Twilight Zone” in the way the writers will introduce and explore other characters through the lens of Barry’s journey. “Every show’s different, and one way [‘Flash’] is different from ‘Arrow’ is that there’s an element that we’ve discovered in the first half of the year that’s a little bit of an anthology show; introducing these characters that have been affected by the collider and them having their own [lives] and things that we’re getting to dramatize and bring to the show… Those things play out over multiple episodes, so they’re not so case of the week-y.”
Still, while the producers acknowledge that the two series need to stand alone, there are already a number of crossovers planned; episode eight of both shows will feature a major tie-in with multiple characters crossing over to their sibling series. “When you do episodes — and I don’t say this pejoratively — with a gimmick like that, the best thing you can do is [make sure] that it’s not just the gimmick, it’s also advancing the storylines that we’ve been telling and [ensuring] that your characters really grow,” Kreisberg said. “When you look at this episode, both of these crossovers, these aren’t just about the crossovers of the cast, they’re very important episodes for what Barry’s going through, for what Oliver’s going through. We have one of the biggest surprises on ‘Arrow’ of all time on the ‘Flash’ episode, and both episodes are really important for Barry’s growth.”
While the crossover will feature plenty of plot development, the writers have also left room for a little humor, according to Gustin: “David Ramsey (John Diggle) in our ‘Flash’ episode is funnier than he’s ever been, which is really funny, because what he’s seeing is blowing his mind. It’s cool to see those two worlds meet like that.” Gustin also enjoyed revisiting Barry’s relationship with Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen, recalling their first introduction on “Arrow” a year ago. “It was so fun and awkward, and we got to recreate that. But it’s evolved, it’s really different than anything else on the show.”
“The best version of the ‘Flash’ part of the episode was almost this meta commentary on how serious everyone is in ‘Arrow,’ and so there’s a lot of jokes at Oliver’s expense on the ‘Flash’ side of it,” Kreisberg admitted of the crossover. “But when we went to do the ‘Arrow’ side of it, it became the reverse, where Barry and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes), for all the Sturm und Drang they’re going through, they really like each other and they’re having a lot of fun, and then suddenly they’re thrust into a very dark, twisted episode of ‘Arrow’ where they have to face ‘oh, what you guys do really is serious and you guys are playing at a different level than we are.'”
Unlike offshoots of ’70s shows — where Kreisberg joked that the star from the original series would appear in a spinoff pilot and then never be mentioned again — fans can rest assured that the two series will firmly inhabit the same universe. “There’s moments in episodes where they’re referencing what’s going on in the other city, just like the comics. It served us really well in season two of ‘Arrow’ where literally every episode had a mention of the particle accelerator being built or the protests or even mentioning Harrison Wells’ (Tom Cavanagh) name early on — there’s little moments like that in ‘Flash,'” Kreisberg said. “These people are all friends and all helping each other grow, and to deny that connection would be a disservice to the audience.”
“Arrow” has already delivered some memorable casting coups in its first two seasons, utilizing cult stars from shows like “Spartacus” and “Doctor Who” to fill out its roster of supporting characters, and “Flash” looks set to continue that trend, reuniting “Prison Break” stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave in episode ten, as well as bringing over fellow “Prison Break” alum Robert Knepper to reprise his “Arrow” role as The Clock King in episode seven.
Fans can thank Miller for the unexpected reunion, Johns revealed: “That was actually from Wentworth, we were talking to him about [casting]. I said, ‘hey, if we were going to bring you back and have you team up with somebody, is there someone you’d like to work with?’ and we talked about the character and he said ‘Dominic’ without missing a beat. And he said, ‘I think he’d do it, we’d have fun.’ He was really excited about getting to work with him again.”
Captain Cold is one of The Flash’s most iconic villains, and Johns compared the character to Robert De Niro in “Heat.” “He’s just this guy who pulls jobs very carefully and suddenly there’s something else in the city and he has to change his game up; he has to figure out how to deal with this new threat in Central City to his way of life. So it’s all about him evolving and surviving in this new world order, and guns aren’t gonna do it, so he’s got to have something a little stronger.”
Despite the show’s ambitious rogues’ gallery and impressive effects, “Flash” ultimately hinges on the relationships between the characters, according to Berlanti: “The most affecting part of the show is just two, three people on the screen, having a great scene together — as long as the show succeeds and keeps succeeding, I think it’s fun to offset that with the other stuff. We do try and up our game and push everybody to the limits … we’re trying really hard to maintain that level of everything, emotion and heart and spectacle.”
And Gustin’s performance is the cornerstone of that strategy. The actor admitted that “it’s hard to tell the difference between me and Barry as we go, because I’m Barry more often now than I’m Grant. I carry him with me a lot when I leave, I think about him all the time.” While being number one on the call sheet is a tremendous responsibility, Kreisberg is certain that Gustin is up to the task. “Barry, at heart, is a happy person and does things with a smile and is the positivity in all these people’s lives on the show as a character, and I think Grant is that for the cast,” the producer noted. “He does work harder than anybody, and being inside that red suit is not always comfortable, and whenever I’m there he always has a smile on his face and is ready to go and do another take and he’s always giving it 100 percent. That is where the [two] are very closely aligned.”
“And that’s despite Barry having such tragedy in his past,” Johns observed. “One of the inspiring things about Flash is that… like Batman chose to be Batman, Barry Allen chose to try and help people and solve crimes and do what he could, and he does it with a smile. I think that’s incredibly inspiring.”
“The Flash” premieres Tues., Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. on The CW.