Geek Highs & Lows of 2014: Arrow series 1 & 2

DOCTOR WHO Christmas Invasion

I’ve never really considered myself a superheroes fan, but on reflection I’ve found I’ve always enjoyed characters with powers, like Jedi, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and those with psychic skills, and that’s not that far removed from superheroes. Aside from the whole lurid spandex thing. I tried the ‘Arrow’ TV series but the tennis ball archery practice scene pulled me out of it. If you haven’t seen it, Arrow has a bunch of tennis balls bouncing about at once, and in a series of quick draws and fires he nails those balls to the wall. So to speak. Now, I have problems with this. Just what is possible in that world? Arrow is not a superhero. He is fit, tough and skilled, yes. But that? If Legolas did it in ‘Lord of the Rings’ then I’d accept it–he’s a different race, they have magic, they have monsters–it’s a fantasy world. I’ll come back to this…

Also, splitting each episode between the present in Starling city, and the past on the island where Arrow spent his last 5 years, lost to his family and friends, was a turn off. The series ‘Lost’ frustrated me, as the flashbacks took me away from what interested me the most–the island. In Arrow it’s sorting out the city his father practically ran and which has now fallen to criminals and corruption. That was until I watched and loved the ‘Young Justice’ TV series. You can’t get much more superhero than that, and what with speedy/red arrow being in that show, I thought I would give Arrow another go. Cue an Arrow fest of season 1 and 2 on Netflix to catch up ready for season 3…

Arrow from series 1 to series 3, in my opinion, has suffered with most of the episodes split between the past and the present. Origins of characters and themes are interesting, but are often not that enjoyable to experience–they are usually the characters not being as we know them in environments unlike what we’re used to, often with ‘new’ characters that might not make it into the present, and we spend much of the time waiting for that transition from the past to the present too. With Arrow, nearly every episode is bogged down by this origin story and when I remember there could be 5 years of this it makes me sigh. The first season particularly seems to suffer from the split story telling, and I didn’t find any of it that engaging and rarely connected to the present story line in a meaningful way. It also served to bog down the character of Arrow in having to become emotional and reflective in the midst of the present storyline. How many times has Arrow got to become misty eyed and Diggle or Smoak have to sit through another ‘5 years ago, back on the Island…’ speeches looking concerned and sympathetic? I’d love it if one of them rolled their eyes and said ‘Not with the island again, see a shrink, talk it out’. It picked up in series 2 with the whole mirakuru soldiers plot, but it felt needlessly dragged out, and although this is one of those shows where people who die don’t stay dead it was hard to invest in characters that weren’t obviously part of the present storyline as my assumption is that aside from a few exceptions they won’t make it, for whatever reason, and Arrow wins.

Now, back to the rules of the world. In some martial arts films, if you have a sword you can fly. OK, fair enough. I think I have to apply similar rules to Arrow. If you have archery skills, you can grab arrows, take an arrow injury like a boss, and have crazy bow skills. Oh, your bow is also super strong and can smash padlocks off doors and be used to block various weapons. Oh, and also, in the Arrow universe, you can put a bit of eye make-up on, or teeny weeny mask/eye belt and a blonde wig (even if it’s the same colour as your regular hair) and you are completely altered to those that have known and loved you for your whole life. Oh, and you can have a part in leveling a city for redevelopment (while the people are in it), cry a bit. say sorry, and run for election as mayor as a credible candidate. Our MPs who get sacked for calling a policeman a pleb or think that UKIP is a respectable direction for them can only dream of such a world. And while I’m being snarky,hoods–or boobs on the verge of leaping out of a low cut top in Black Canary’s case–defy the laws of physics throughout the most aggressive fighting. I need a bit of that, because when I ‘run’ for a bus on a cold rainy day my hood takes a back seat and my scarf will flap about in my face, and my bag will do its best to leap off my shoulder and take out random pedestrians or hook me to anchoring objects. I know I’m being critical here, but this is a show that has done its best to present a gritty ‘real’ world of vigilantism with consequences–set apart from spandex good wins out of traditional superheroes–yet it still wants us to accept some fantastical leaps.

Right, I’ve got most of my nitpicking out of the way–apart from Laurel, I’ll get to her. Reading this so far, you may not think this, but I’m really glad I gave Arrow another chance. Even if it meant I was two years late to the party. With all its faults, the plot in season 1 around why the yacht that Arrow and his father were on sank and who was responsible for it and why, was intriguing, as was the politics within Arrow’s family and the family business. Arrow has one messed up family. It’s a testament to the present world that was built in Starling city that it was compelling enough to balance out the not so interesting drip-feed filling in of Arrow’s 5 years of being missing with a story time reduced by the island.

What has impressed me about the story telling is just what it achieves with its 45 minutes. You’ll have the island bit, with the main plot set in Starling city, you have a wealth of characters, Arrow, his superhero sidekicks, his family, and the actual story of the week to be set up and resolved, and don’t forget the time needed for the story arc for the season. Impressive. It’s the traditional 20+ episode structure, but there’s never an episode that feels like padding and the quality is consistent which is an achievement. I normally find a dud or two in seasons like of that length.

What really got me through the first season was the relationships between Arrow, Diggle and Smoak. A great team. Arrow and Diggle was my bromance of 2014 (sorry Dean and Sam Winchester of ‘Supernatural’), and I just wanted them to hug it out, and shower down together. Oh, sorry, that’s not bromance, it’s something else… Smoak is a nice balance between ditsy and genius. And her doe-eyed studies of Arrow are completely relatable. How she gets any work done when Arrow works out is total fiction. I’m presuming Stephen Amell actually does the whole salmon ladder thing–wow. Just wow. Amell isn’t some muscled aesthetic. The weakest character of season 1 and 2 has to be Laurel. How many times did I find myself saying ‘Oh, Laurel’. Seriously, the casting call for her must have been ‘Must be able to cry for at least a season’. The actress is great, but I feel like with Arrow all pent up that emotion had to be channeled somewhere through the show, and Laurel got ALL THE EMOTIONS.

I do think female characters get a bit of a raw deal in season 1. Granted, women like Moira and Lauren have powerful positions, but it feels like a very man heavy show in the action department. Shado on the island is the exception, but that was a supporting role. The Huntress was a great character, but she needed a man to set her straight, so not the best example. This is all rectified in season 2 with the arrival of Sarah, however I began to call her tits because that did seem to be the characteristic they pushed in my face. Would have preferred her costume to be a little more practical for fighting and less exploitative. Although this show does its fair share of exploiting the physiques of the men, so I guess this balances it out–and please don’t stop doing that. If anyone of influence on the show happens to read this, if Red Arrow’s costume lost its sleeves, and front and back, and maybe he wore chaps, or really short shorts I think I could live with that… Just a creative suggestion. I guess, though, this isn’t a show for balanced role-model characters, male or female as everyone, perhaps with the exception of Smoak and Diggle have ‘issues’.

The other thing that Arrow does well is season finales. Season 1 and 2 had great build-ups and impressive deliveries. There was a real sense that their world was being shaken-up or torn down. It’s not often you get an epic feel in tight format shows, but this was delivered.

I’ve learnt that Arrow is a show worth sticking with once you have made allowances for some of my picky gripes. It’s a show that has given us a great bunch of heroes to get behind and root for, and a comfy core family of characters too. There are perhaps a little too many for the show to do much with, but knowing this is part of the DC universe I want more, perhaps cycling them in and out a bit more depending on the story. The Huntress, Deadshot, Deathstroke, The Count, Merlyn, and Sebastian Blood have been decent villains–it would be nice to have a few more two-parters to give the villains more to do as they are often beaten and dispatched in the 30 minutes an episode has to play with, but it’s pretty impressive how Arrow has established its superhero world, and with season 3 and ‘The Flash’ building on this things can only get better.

So, have I been a bit harsh? What are your thoughts on the first two seasons?

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