When I first heard about Arrow last year, I . . . wasn’t particularly optimistic. But since then, I’ve read some pretty good things about the show, so Mek and I spent last week marathoning the first season.
I definitely have my nitpicks — and more than nitpicks, really, like there are actual problems — but I also found the show a lot of fun and highly addictive, and I’m looking forward to watching the next season in a couple of weeks.
There are mild spoilers in here — mostly love interest stuff, plus one or two things about various DC characters who pop up. I’ll try to keep that to a minimum — it shouldn’t be too hard, considering the vast majority of what I know about Green Arrow comes from Justice League: Unlimited episodes and Wikipedia entries. I will detail a couple of disastrous dates, though, because I have serious things to vent about.
Also, this review — and disclaimer — turned out considerably longer than I anticipated. Whoops.
Oliver Queen, billionaire playboy, is shipwrecked on an island for five years. When he finally gets back home, he begins secretly working as a vigilante superhero to fix his father’s mistakes and save his city from the corrupt people who run it.
1. You can say this show is about superheroes or justice or class warfare or whatever you want. I know the truth. This show is about two and only two things: Stephen Amell’s abs and Stephen Amell’s chest.
I mean, damn. If you’ve got an exercise kink, good God, watch this show. (Or, alternatively, I suppose you could just watch all the workout and training scenes, although you’re going to get into spoilers the further you go.)
2. In all honesty, though, Stephen Amell is a really good lead. His Green Arrow is considerably more tortured and broody than I think the hero normally is, but it works on him, especially with the (ongoing) origin story the show has created for him. Also, we do actually get to see quite a bit of wisecracking — it’s just that most of Oliver’s snarky witticisms comes via flashbacks.
Of which there are, shall we say, more than a few.
3. After six seasons of LOST, I kind of had flashback fatigue. (Honestly, I had flashback fatigue after the very first season of LOST.) But much to my shock, I honestly enjoy watching a lot of the island flashbacks in this show, probably because they actually feel plot relevant most of the time. (Instead of just being, you know, thematic.)
I can’t talk much about the flashbacks without getting into Spoilers, but they do tell their own, ongoing story, and it’s mostly as much fun as the story that’s happening in present time. Although watching Amell in his Flashback Hair is really pretty painful. (And the fact that Amell basically says as much in the Gag Reel kind of makes me love him.)
4. Of course, it’s not all Stephen Amell and Stephen Amell’s upper body. Arrow has a pretty decent supporting cast. My favorites:
Diggle (David Ramsey) is one of the only original characters in the whole cast, and he’s got kind of a cool, laid back way about him that contrasts nicely with Oliver’s angsty intensity. Their interactions can, on occasion, get a bit repetitive — I’m doing this/You shouldn’t that/Well, I’m doing it — but for the most part I enjoy watching the two actors work off each other.
The only thing I don’t like about Diggle is his half-assed romantic storyline that hopefully gets cut entirely from second season . . . or at least seriously revamped. (We’ll be revisiting female characters in a later note, but for now, let me just say that it’s so incredibly rare for me to actually like any character named Carly. At least they always have the decency to spell their name in a clearly inferior manner, thus fitting their annoying personalities.)
I kind of love Felicity. There are some issues with her character — for instance, her “I’m a Geek, so I Oh-So-Adorably Babble and Say Embarrassing Things” is often overplayed. And of course there’s no hiding the fact that she’s an extremely attractive woman, not that anyone on screen will seem to notice this until she puts on a dress and takes off her glasses because — as She’s All That taught us — women cannot be legitimately sexy until they put in a pair of contacts. (I guess I should consider myself lucky she didn’t have to chop off her hair or walk down a long staircase.)
Regardless, Emily Bett Rickards is pretty adorable and she brings a great sort of energy to the show. She is, thus far, the only main female character on Arrow that I haven’t wanted to slap across the face. She’s kind of awesome at various moments during the first season, and she and Stephen Amell have better chemistry than Amell and his actual love interest, Katie Cassidy, do. (I don’t always agree with people on sexual chemistry, so I was hugely happy to see that writers on Archive of Our Own — a fanfiction site — agree with me. Slash pairings dominate in almost every fandom I’ve ever read, so if the majority of fans actually ship a heterosexual pairing . . . my God, you know there’s gotta be something to it.)
Awesomely, Rickards is being promoted to a season regular this year. I highly approve of this turn of events.
Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) actually makes for a really interesting maternal character. Family, particularly her children, are hugely important to her — but she is willing do to some pretty dark stuff you don’t always get to see moms do. (Not that there aren’t awesome TV moms. It’s just that some of them are so immensely boring — like Claire on LOST. [I keep going back to LOST today. It must be the mystery islands.] When Claire was pregnant, she was fun. But the second she actually gave birth? Ugh. All she did was scream about her baaaay-beeeee eight bazillion times.)
Thompson was a great casting choice. She does this great mix of maternal warmth, cutthroat business executive, and regal elegance that works really well.
5. Still, for all that I generally love Moira Queen, there was one scene in particular where I wanted to beat her with my bare hands. I often felt the same way about Thea Queen, Oliver’s sister, and Laurel Lance, Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, because — unfortunately — these women are often written as hormonal bitches with no sense of perspective. Oh, and that’s just the main cast. For additional rage, we can also look at recurring characters like Helena Bertinelli and the aforementioned Carly Diggle.
I should be fair here: I think (most of) these characters and their total irrationality improve a lot over the second half of the season. But man, in those first few episodes? I was kind of ready to kill, partially because their righteous indignation often seemed inconsistent with what their characters were like the episode or even the scene before. I’m not saying people don’t get moody. Hell, I get moody. My . . . emotional instability, shall we call it? Well, it’s not one of my better traits. But even I don’t flip-flop like these women — and over the most unreasonable shit too,
Take Moira, for instance — who I actually like — and the way she reacts to Oliver’s reluctance to start running his father’s company one week after he’s back from being shipwrecked. When he first turns a leadership position down, she feels the need to remind him that he’s Robert Queen’s son. (He says he doesn’t need to be reminded. She says, “Obviously, you do.” Wow.)
Then she continues to say that his irresponsibility was “somewhat charming” five years ago, but now it’s time to grow up. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I know Oliver Queen was quite a tool before he left, but the fact that he doesn’t want to run his dad’s company a week after being rescued from a supposedly deserted island where he was clearly tortured and otherwise traumatized for FIVE YEARS? Yeah, irresponsible is not the word that springs to mind.
And then there’s Thea (Willa Holland).
(It’s crazy how much she looks like Alison Brie, right? Everyone on the show looks like someone else to me. Stephen Amell has a little young Chris O’Donnell going on. Emily Bett Rickards reminds me of Alona Tal. Susanna Thompson looks a little like an older version of Ally Walker from The Profiler. It’s weird.)
Thea’s got cause for emotional damage; I’m not saying she doesn’t. But the way she freaks out at her brother because he won’t immediately open up about all the time he spent away is insane. And I don’t want to hear that, oh, she’s a teenager, or oh, she just wants her brother back the way he was — there are ways to write those things without turning Thea into a she-demon from Hell.
Laurel, too, is often incredibly frustrating.
I actually like Katie Cassidy a lot, and I think she has more talent than this role, so far, is allowing her to show. But Laurel . . . well, sometimes, she has moments of awesome, and most times, she is Rachel Dawes from Batman Beyond. She really is — she’s a
bitchy hardworking lawyer representing THE PEOPLE, not afraid of big time mobsters or corrupt businessmen. You know, she’s the voice of justice, of conscience — which, often, Diggle is too, actually. But men can just talk about justice, while women, apparently, have to whine about it and then stomp offstage to pout somewhere.
And speaking of pouting . . .
I debated writing about Helena for spoiler-reasons, but they introduce her as a vigilante almost immediately so . . . to hell with it. Helena is The Huntress — not that anyone calls her that, just like no one calls Green Arrow “Green Arrow”. (It’s mostly “the vigilante” or sometimes “the hood.”) She’s also not terribly convincing as a bloodthirsty badass. This is partially, if not mostly, due to acting . . . but there is a HUGE writing thing that comes up when she goes on a double date with Oliver. Basically, she ends up sitting at a table with Laurel, which is, of course, hugely awkward and probably why Oliver didn’t want to do it in the first place. Who’s the one who pushed for it? Helena.
When it shockingly doesn’t go well, Helena blames Oliver for forcing them all together and then decides that Oliver’s supposed lack of sensitivity in these matters means one, he doesn’t really care about her, and two, she has to go back to killing bad guys outright. Because that’s how logic works. If I can’t date you, then I’m going to start murdering people again! That’ll show you!
And finally, let’s not forget Carly. Oh, Carly. See, she used to be married to Diggle’s now-dead brother, and sure, maybe accidentally bringing him up on their date wasn’t his smoothest move, but come ON. I think any reasonable person might realize why the subject would come up. And for Godsake, it’s not like he spends the whole time talking about Dead Andy. Diggle mentions his brother’s name one time and almost immediately realizes that it’s a little awkward. To which Carly’s basically all, “Look, if you’re not SERIOUS about me, let’s not do this because my heart’s been broken too much already, okay?”
I didn’t throw things at my television screen, but only because my mama raised me to be financially responsible — and while feminist outrage combined with props is fun, a broken television screen is decidedly not.
6. Again, I do feel like the female characters on this show have improved over time, and I have hope they will continue to improve. Unfortunately, writing is not really one of this show’s core strengths, mostly because it’s often just so damn obvious.
For example — look, it’s hard to tell a serialized superhero story without at least once getting into the revenge vs justice argument. And that’s fine — honestly, it is — but you have to understand that this argument has been had many a time by many other characters. As such, the argument in your show needs to be more complex than this:
“This is revenge! Revenge, I say!”
“No, this is justice!”
And so on and so forth.
I generally like the ideas and the stories that Arrow presents — I just find a lot of the actual dialogue clunky as hell. (This is a problem I’ve had with other shows, most notably The Walking Dead.) But who knows — maybe this, too, will improve. You want to know the best improvement this show has made over the course of the first season? Getting rid of that terrible voiceover.
As we all know, VO’s are hard to do convincingly — especially when the script isn’t a core strength — and Stephen Amell just wasn’t pulling it at all. Although nothing beats how terrible the Vampire Diaries VO’s were. (Is that like a CW thing? We’ll start a show with a VO and only realize five episodes in that it was a horrible idea?)
7. To the show’s credit, I was surprised by a number of things that happened in this show — not that I can talk about any of them without creating a Spoiler Section, which I don’t really feel like doing. But certain things happened much faster than I was anticipating, and the show didn’t end up doing something I was predicting from the first episode. (Seriously, I can’t even describe how glad I am that this thing didn’t happen because Jesus. I was bored by that potential plot twist during the pilot.)
Somewhat related to that: the season finale was really pretty good. Things happened! There were emotional moments! I’m pretty excited to see all the fallout in the second season premiere.
8. I mentioned this in the disclaimer, but this show has a ton of minor DC characters and villains, not to mention nods to other heroes and even cities in the DC universe. (For instance, Coast City and Bludhaven come up a couple of times. I didn’t know Coast City offhand — turns out, it’s Green Lantern’s hometown — but Bludhaven, I knew. Thank you, Nightwing fanfiction.)
It looks like they’l be expanding the DC universe even more in season two — with a possible spin-off series for the Flash, assuming the episode does well. I know it won’t ever happen in a million years, but I can’t help but kind of hope Nightwing would pop up. (And then be awesome because if I got a really annoying live-action Nightwing, I might have to break that television after all. Also, I’m . . . curious to see how they’ll portray the Flash because, thus far, the show hasn’t had any actual powers. I don’t know if you can really just make Flash a track star, you know?)
Here’s a curious adaptation change: in the comics, Green Arrow’s hometown is Star City. In the show, it’s Starling City. I . . . can’t really come up with a good explanation for that, at present.
9. Of course, you don’t have to watch this show for nods to the graphic novels. (Or even for the 20% of Oliver’s body covered in scars . . . which basically his chest, stomach, and back.) You can also watch it for the bizarre hilarity that comes whenever a character asks the IT department for something the IT department has nothing to do with.
Like, when I am forced to call IT at work — and trust me, I desperately try not to, despite the fact that I’m pretty much lost if I can’t just make the computer work by rebooting it — I don’t get to ask someone to help me do any kind of spectral analysis on mysterious substances. So far as I know, no one at IT can help me analyze drug compounds — and I’m pretty sure they’d call the cops if I asked them to, no matter what terrible cover story I tried to spin.
At the very least, the Compliance Hotline would totally be getting a call.
10. Finally — and I know you have to take superhero’s outfits with a grain of salt — doesn’t that hood of Green Arrow’s seriously get in the way of his peripheral vision?
I have to push my hood back when I cross a street in the rain, much less when twenty hired goons are trying to kill me. And as much as I like the makeup mask . . . you know . . . it just doesn’t appear to be very effective.
I know Green Arrow’s disguise is a bazillion times better than Superman’s, but I’m just throwing this out there: he could probably do a little better.
(I Kept Major Spoilers Out, But Be Warned: There Are Some Minor Revelations, Mostly Concerning Who Finds Out Arrow’s Secret Identity.)
Tommy: “Can I talk to you about something?”
Oliver: “Tommy, every time you want to talk to me about something and that something is Laurel, you look like you’re about to tell me you have a terminal disease.”
Oliver: “Roy, we haven’t met. I’m Thea’s disapproving older brother.”
Oliver: “You want me to kill her?”
Diggle: “I think you would have a long time ago if she looked like me, not the T-Mobile Girl.”
Oliver (about a broken laptop): “I was at my coffee shop surfing the web, and I spilled a latte on it.”
Felicity: “Cause these look like bullet holes.”
Felicity: “Look, I don’t want to get in the middle of some Shakespearian family drama thing.”
Felicity: “Mr. Steele marrying your mom . . . Claudius, Gertrude . . . Hamlet . . .”
Oliver: “I didn’t study Shakespeare at any of the four schools I dropped out of.”
Oliver: “What sort of business has a Lost & Found that’s just filled with women’s underwear?”
Tommy: “Best business ever.”
Diggle: “Please don’t tell me you’re going where I think you’re going.”
Oliver: “Diggle, why do you even ask?”
Oliver: “Where’s Diggle?”
Felicity: “I asked him to leave me alone . . . in my loud voice.”
Somebody: “Thousands of innocent people will be dead, and you’ll feel nothing.”
Somebody Else: “That’s not true. I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Diggle: “The person of color has successfully purchased your drugs.”
(Oliver’s trying to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together.)
Somebody: “Obviously, you were never a Boy Scout.”
Oliver: “Yeah? What tipped you off?”
Somebody: “You’d better hurry. The wolves come out at night.”
Oliver: “There are wolves here? Right, of course there are, because what would the worst place on Earth be without wolves?”
Somebody: “The only thing that’ll keep them out is fire.”
Oliver: “Well, you know, you’re welcome to help.”
(Somebody pulls out a lighter and starts a fire.)
Oliver: “Seriously? I’ve been working on this for two hours!”
Somebody: “I know. I was watching you. Thanks for the entertainment.”
Oliver: “That’s not how I typically get my information.”
Felicity: “How do you typically get it?”
Oliver: “I find the person, and then I put the fear of God in them until they talk. But we can try it your way.”
Oliver: “I’m trapped on an island, and my only friend is named Wilson.”
Felicity: “It’s just — you went over there to get all, ‘Grrr. Stop being bad, or I’ll arrow you.’ And now you want to rescue him?”
Oliver: “I don’t like the idea that somebody dangerous is out there . . . somebody else. Because, typically, they don’t show my level of restraint.”
Felicity: “My only encounter with drugs was with a pot brownie my freshman year. By mistake! Which could have been fun, except I’m allergic to nuts.”
Felicity: “I really don’t see myself fitting in at Guantanamo Bay.”
Oliver: “Don’t worry, Felicity. They don’t send blondes there.”
Felicity: “I dye it, actually.”
Felicity: “I keep your secrets.”
Oliver: “Felicity, you’re remarkable.”
Felicity: “Thank you for remarking on it.”
Enjoyable and decently plotted — particularly considering the sheer number of flashbacks — but weak writing, especially in regards to female characters, is keeping this show from being great. And Colin Salmon has the best voice ever — cause, sure, that counts as a conclusion.
Stephen Amell’s abs. Okay, fine. The rest of Stephen Amell, too.
Killing is wrong, except when it’s not.
Revenge is wrong, except when it’s not.
Women are too emotional to be rational, especially when it comes to love.
The IT department can do anything.