The Verdict:
The Flash, Season 2

Short version? It’s great. Not as good as the first season, but great. Go watch it.

Long version comes after the picture break (there will be spoilers).

flash

Superhero summer is definitely becoming a thing in our house. It started a couple of years back, watching Season Two of Arrow to about four in the morning, and followed up with a weekend binge of The Flash last year. This year? This year we’re taking things a bit steadier. We have to. Between Arrow, The Flash, Legends of the Tomorrow and Supergirl, we’ve a lot to get through. Plus I’d like to get caught up with Agents of SHIELD, although I need to find a nice cheap way of doing so, because I’m still not sold on it. Agent Carter, though? That I want to watch.

So, Season Two of The Flash opens on Barry Allen and company faced with the small matter of a singularity threatening to destroy Central City. From there, we descend into a tale of parallel lives, parallel identities and good, old-fashioned villainy. While there are stumbles along the way, Season Two builds on the episodes that came before it, and makes for solid television, while perhaps being held back by some of its choices.

Let’s get something out of the way. This isn’t a gritty show, like Netflix’s Marvel offerings. The Flash is a series that embraces the wackiness of its premise, and does so with plenty of humour. That’s not to say it’s without darker moments. But if you’re looking for buckets of angst and the snap of breaking bones, you’re not really going to get your fix here. Does that make The Flash Season Two better than Daredevil’s second outing. Well, we’ll get into that later.

The Fastest Man Alive

Grant Gustin remains a solid Flash. Though this year’s scripts deal him far more in the way of mopiness than cheer, he remains an engaging, sympathetic lead. Can’t say I empathise with all of his decisions ­- sometimes it feels like Barry Allen is enabling the plot more than living through it – but it’s a TV show. That’ll happen.

What I worry about is Barry turning into a super-speed Spider-man, forever wittering about taking responsibility for your actions while never actually doing so. But maybe I’m worrying over nothing. The Flash has a large cast, but it’s a lead and his supporting cast, rather than an ensemble. In shows like that, your lead’s going to get pulled all over the place over the course of a series.

Viva Team Flash!

The Flash juggles a lot of supporting characters. Joe, Iris, Cisco, Caitlin and (sort-of) Harrison Wells all make the transition, and another six or seven semi-regulars are added to the line up as the series goes on.

The highest compliment I can pay the creators is that it took me a long time to notice. Why? Because, for the most part, everyone who stick around, sticks around for a reason. They contribute. Nothing stands out like a character who’s hanging around like their actor missed a stage direction. For the most part, The Flash keeps all its balls in the air. Yes, there’s one supporting character who sticks around for half the season, then vanishes having contributed very little. Yes, Caitlin is often pushed to the periphery by some of the new arrivals. But overall? It’s impressive work.

As with last year, Joe West (Jesse L Martin) and Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) are the pillars of the show, but they see a bit more competition this year. Carlos Valdes has grown into his role as Cisco. It helps that he has a bit more drama to balance out his comic relief this time, but there’s a new confidence to the performance and the writing too. It’s also nice to see Candice Patton’s Iris West be used for something more than tortured relationship fodder. Little more than a conflicted object of desire last year, Iris comes across as surprisingly supportive and tough.

Newcomers Keiynan Lonsdale (Wally West) and Teddy Sears (Jay Garrick) also do a great job, although Shantel VanSanten’s Patty Spivot does little except for absorbing the tired old relationship conflict plotline that Iris West has escaped.

Overall, Team Flash is what edges The Flash ahead of Arrow and Gotham. I really enjoy these supporting characters, pretty much all of whom seem more rounded and less idiot-ball prone than their counterparts in other series’.

Zoom Zoom Zoom

With the demise of Eobard Thawn, Barry has a new threat in the form of Zoom – a speedster from a parallel earth who wants to steal the Flash’s speed. Zoom’s definitely more out-and-out evil than the Reverse Flash, but he never quite gels as well. Perhaps it’s the fact that he lacks a proper connection to Barry. Perhaps it’s because he’s ten times as scary with his mask on than with it off (Candyman’s Tony Todd is the masked Zoom, but… another actor plays him with the mask off).

If I were feeling super critical (which I almost always am, let’s face it) Zoom’s plans are a little… Well, they’re all over the map. His objectives feel erratic and inconsistent – which is fine by itself. He’s a nutso serial killer, after all. On the other hand, the sheer amount of planning it must have taken him to get some of the pieces into place doesn’t sit so well with his inconsistent persona. A lot of this can be laid at the door of how his identity is concealed, as it makes it difficult for the showrunners to let us peek at his motivations. But even so…

Still, Zoom does everything that the series requires of him: he runs really quick, and torments our heroes. And he is scary as hell most of the time.

The Rogues

Like last year, The Flash pushes the bounds of what you can bring to life on a TV budget. Not only is Grodd back, we get a second creature feature with King Shark. Other than that, most of the baddies are parallel Earth dopplegangers of other cast members, though we do get a few returning foes from last year, including Weather Wizard and (zombie) Girder.

We also get to see Mark Hamill slide the Trickster another notch to being a live-action Joker (which is as fun as it sounds) and a couple of episodes of Wentworth Millar’s Captain Cold, who still steals every scene he’s in. We’re moving onto Legends of Tomorrow next, and as far as I’m concerned, the prospect of a whole series of Captain Cold is worth the price of admission all by itself. Which is just as well, because Hawkman and Hawkgirl (also debuting in this season of The Flash) are another swing and a miss in a long line of swings and misses with those two characters. How hard can it be? Just give us the Justice League Animated version of Hawkgirl, but live action. She was awesome.

A Labour of Love

There’s a lot to enjoy in the Flash. Most of the characters are engaging and well-acted, the tone is spot on for superhero yarns and, beyond that, it’s a really pretty show, bursting with vibrant colour and (mostly) great CGI. But the reason I love the Flash (Season 1 and Season 2) is because the creators clearly love the Flash. The comic.

Don’t misunderstand, this isn’t a slavish reproduction of the comic book, not remotely. (For one thing, Zoom in the comics is a very different kettle of fish to the one I’ve watched over the weekend.) It’s about the details – the little things that speak to a love of the source material. The nod to how Barry dies in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The tip of the hat to the Black Flash. The way that you can tell an imposter from the real deal from how he wears a hat. There’s something like that in every episode.

Daredevil vs The Flash

So, of the two red-suited superheroes returning to TV this year, who had the better outing? Sorry to ol’ hornhead, but I’m going with the Fastest Man Alive on this one.

It’s not about tone. I love well-enacted grittiness just as much as the lighter atmosphere on display in The Flash. It’s not about character. Well, not quite. I still think Matt Murdock is the least developed and least likable character in Daredevil, which is a pretty big problem. I may not agree with some of the stuff Barry pulls this year (the stuff in the last episode, especially) but at least I have a feel for him as a person.

No, I think it’s because that The Flash – for all the faults I’ve discussed today – always tells a story in each episode. It never leaves me bored. Daredevil (while better this year than last) often struggles to lay out a compelling narrative during a single running time. I know this isn’t a deal-breaker for everyone – especially as, like me, you’re probably binge-watching this stuff – but it bugs me when the credits roll and nothing of consequence has happened.

At the end of the day, I think it’s a style over substance thing. Strip away the crunching bones, the blood and the rest of it from Daredevil, and I honestly don’t know how much of a show you’d have left. Strip the same away from The Flash, and you’re left with some great, self-contained superhero stories, bound together by a wider arc. There’s a place for both, of course there is, but if I have to choose between them, I’m sticking with The Flash.

Next up? Legends of Tomorrow.

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