Spoilers for season 1 – although light, are present in this review.
Back in the 1990’s, anti-heroes were a somewhat new craze and could be interesting. In 2019, I’m heartily sick of anti-heroes, which is part of the reason I love the Flash so much.
Barry Allen is a hero, an altruistic one, and it is so much fun to watch. As The Flash/Barry Allen, Grant Gustin is amazingly likable. Barry Allen’s mother was murdered when he was a kid and his father wrongfully went to jail for the crime. Barry works as a CSI for the police department with his foster father Joe West, and he does it out of a desire to help the world. Much of season 1 explores him trying to clear his father’s name and figure out who murdered his mother.
One of the things The Flash does well is it establishes an ensemble cast right off the bat. Barry gets superpowers and he goes to the scientists at Star Labs for help. These people become Team Flash and having an established ensemble cast makes the show fun immediately. Unlike the slow build of season one of The Arrow, the support staff for The Flash is present almost from day one.
Cisco, an amazing Carlos Valdes, is one of the most likable characters in season one because of his sheer enthusiasm. Cisco and Barry are both really excited and happy about Barry’s abilities, and they tend to nerd out together in adorable ways. Cisco is also a techno-mage, although the show says he’s a genius. However, the things he creates are pretty impossible (a gold gun that turns everything into gold?? Really?) and so I justify this bit of outlandishness by just assuming he has superpowers, too, and those superpowers allow him to make things like a gun that can turn anything to absolute zero. So, he is a genius, but they really mean techno-mage.
After so many shows where the main character wants to be normal (I’m looking at you, Buffy. What’s wrong with you?) I’ve found myself enjoying the heroes who embrace it and really enjoy it. The Flash loves being the Flash. He loves his speed. At one point a mugger attempts to mug him and he just starts laughing, “Oh, you’re going to kick yourself,” he tells the mugger before stealing the mugger’s weapons and clothes and then stealing a cop to put right in front of the man.
It’s hilarious and awesome.
The one problem with season one is Iris West, played by the delightful and charismatic Candice Patton. They don’t seem to know what to do with Iris in season one, so for the first several episodes, she is the damsel in distress, although she does show her badassery by punching bad guys a few times, and even shooting another that tried to take her hostage. Mostly, though, season one is just every single character in the show lying to Iris and gaslighting the fuck out of her to keep Barry’s identity as the Flash a secret. Her father, Joe West, played by the always watchable Jesse Martin (loved you since Ally McBeal!) tells Barry and the rest of Team Flash to keep Iris in the dark “for her safety.”
When Iris finds out she tells him, “Did you ever think that telling me what was going on would keep me safe?” Excellent point, Iris. Knowing IS half the battle.
I know television shows can’t just have a couple that is together and happy. I don’t know why – other than maybe television show writers have miserable relationships so they don’t know how to write that kind of thing – but much of season 1 is simply Barry pining for Iris unbeknownst to her. Or hiding his fun superhero life from her.
When you make a character the killer of fun, fans are going to hate that character, and I’ve seen a ton of Iris-hate online. As I am a watcher of fan videos and fan theories on YouTube, I’ve seen more than a few that call Iris a “cunt” for what I think is basically no reason.
In season one, she finds out her best friend is in love with her about the same time her boyfriend asks her to move in with him. She is lied to by every main character multiple times. She knows something is up – this is her best friend and foster brother who she knows better than anyone, but when even though she knows something is going on, they all just gaslight, gaslight, gaslight. How Iris didn’t murder them all at the end of the season when she found out is mystifying to me.
I actually feels bad for Iris sometimes. Iris wanted to be a cop, too, but her father stopped speaking to her until she withdrew her application. This is a woman who longs to be a hero herself, but she is put in a safety box by the men in her life, even though she proves consistently that she can take care of herself.
Anyway, her character is certainly problematic, but Candice Patton is so likable, so charming, and in a cast of gorgeous people she is the stand out beauty in the bunch – all of these things help to offset the fact that the writers make her the assassin of fun in most of the first season. Luckily, once Iris knows about Barry, she’s incredibly likable, fun, and good addition to Team Flash – within 24 hours of finding out she saves Caitlin Snow’s life by hitting a bad guy over the head with a fire extinguisher. If kept in the loop, Iris is a badass and a hell of a team player, which she illustrates in later seasons.
Dr. Harry Wells is played by a long time favorite actor of mine, Tom Cavanaugh. Dr. Wells is an enigmatic figure in season one and Cavanaugh portrays him – his good side and his bad side – with humor and aplomb. As a mentor and hero to Barry Allen, he helps Barry with his speed and becoming a superhero. I don’t want to say too much about his character, but he is a fun addition to the show. I think if you made a drinking game of when he tells Barry to run, you’d die of alcohol poisoning, but it’s always very fun.
Season 1 solves the mystery of who killed Barry’s mom, establishes him as a superhero, and introduces a lot of other characters that will be important in the Arrowverse. It’s a really enjoyable season, with the gaslighting of Iris West being the only exception. It seems like a small thing, but it’s bad enough there are times you almost hate the main characters for doing it to her. Even her boyfriend Eddie says, “So literally everyone but Iris knows,” when he finds out Felicity knew about Barry being the Flash.
Grant Gustin does a great job of making the Flash come to life – much like Joel Grey, Gustin has a dancing background so his physicality as the Flash is fluid and believable. Other people have played speedsters on the show, but Gustin has a comfort and physicality that comes off more natural than a lot of the others.
The special effects are also just amazing. With the Flash moving too fast for people to see, most of the time when he’s running it is a red streak of electricity and it’s fantastic. In almost every episode there are special effects that look like panels from a comic book. With a character that moves as fast as the Flash fighting giant telepathic gorillas (Grodd), special effects are important, and this show would be enjoyable simply on a “ooh, shiny” level alone. When the plot isn’t my cup of tea, I can be content watching how amazingly cool the visuals are.
Overall, I’d give The Flash season 1 an A. It’s not only watchable, but rewatchable. Likable characters, altruistic heroes, and old school comic book mentality about being a superhero. Some of the best fun is when Oliver Queen shows up and you get to see happy Barry dealing with anti-hero and grump, the Arrow. The banter in the beginning of the below clip never fails to crack me up – Barry is quick witted and while he has some hero worship for Oliver, he also has no problem gently making fun of Oliver, either. Huntress and Deathstroke are characters on The Arrow, btw.
The above scene is one of my favorites and anytime Oliver Queen and Barry Allen are on screen together is gold. That’s part of why I love the yearly crossover episodes.
Overall, this is a good show, one that I highly recommend.
**For those, like me, who can find their anxiety going through the roof during certain shows, this one is anxiety producing, but mainly because the pace is somewhat breathless. First time viewing for me I had to pause after -3 episodes and do something calming. Now that I’ve already seen it once, the anxiety is less, but even the music for the show is fast and almost frantic. Watch with some chamomile tea or something else that soothes you if shows cause you anxiety.