Even for a speedster, “The Flash” chewed up so much ground in its first season that one began to wonder what showrunners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg could possibly do for an encore. The answer from the season finale is that only time, apparently, will tell, after a cliffhanger that cast a bit of a cloud over what had otherwise been one of this TV season’s most impressive accomplishments.
For all the well-deserved praise heaped on “Jane the Virgin,” “The Flash” might have been a more delicate balancing act, given the historic mistreatment and malpractice associated with super-powered costumed heroes in primetime. Yes, Jane had to conceive without having sex, but the producers of “The Flash” had to lay the sort of groundwork that allowed for introducing a super-intelligent gorilla named Grodd without eliciting unintended giggles.
Much of that success, in hindsight, can be traced back to the casting – not only the wonderfully likable Grant Gustin in the title role, but Candice Patton as what could have easily been the thankless part of his love interest Iris, Tom Cavanagh as the evil Reverse Flash, and so on. This was, moreover, a sort of “It takes a village” approach to being superhero, to the point where by the end of the season, it was sometimes hard to keep track of who still didn’t know Barry Allen’s secret identity.
The finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) got heavily caught up in time travel, the question being whether the Flash could break the time barrier and go back to save the life of his mother, without destroying the world or yielding an assortment of unforeseen consequences. Such stories are inevitably tricky, but the first part of that resolution – with his alter ego signaling him not to intervene, and the noble sacrifice by another character, Eddie (Rick Cosnett) – packed an emotional wallop, without erasing everything viewers had spent an entire season watching.
Alas, the hour couldn’t end there, yielding a conclusion in which the Flash raced headlong into a skyscraper-devouring “singularity” in an effort to stop the potential destruction he and his accomplices had unleashed. While the slightly sour taste that left behind shouldn’t dampen enthusiasm for season two, it did feel like one of those “Raise the stakes” network notes that had been taken too much to heart.
That bit of nitpicking aside, “The Flash” had so much going for it – from playful humor to surprisingly impressive special effects, given the limitations of a TV budget – that it has invigorated CW’s lineup. And while this series was born out of “Arrow,” “The Flash’s” emergence as CW’s most-watched program clearly emboldened the networks to look more favorably upon bringing such characters to the small screen, which explains not just the direct spinoff “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (still an awful title) but CBS’ gamble on “Supergirl.”
Tellingly, it’s 25 years since CBS tried “The Flash” in primetime (starring John Wesley Shipp, who plays Barry’s father), a show that was clearly ahead of its time. That said, this new version underscores how far the genre has come, and the genuine love and respect for the source material that Berlanti, Kreisberg and their collaborators harbor.
The only advice, going forward, would be to tread lightly when it comes to venturing into the time machine. After all, with “The Flash” having established such a hospitable home, perhaps it’s best to keep both feet firmly planted in 2015 for a while.