October 14, 2012

TV: Arrow (CW, Wed 8)

With the departure of Smallville, the CW attempts to fill its superhero gap with Arrow, based on DC's Green Arrow character.

We're introduced to Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) with a quick backstory: After a shipwreck that killed his father and several others, Oliver somehow survived for five years on an isolated island before being rescued and going home to Starling City. Oliver has returned with a purpose. He transforms the basement of one of his father's old warehouses into his laboratory/training center/Arrow-Cave, designs himself a sharp green hoodie, and sets out to bring down the corrupt men of Starling City with his trusty bow and arrow.

(And that "Arrow-Cave" reference, though not explicity made in the show, is very much in keeping with the character's roots. The Green Arrow was meant to be an updated take on Batman -- non-superpowered billionaire hero fighting corruption, teenage sidekick, and in the original comic books, there actually was an Arrow-Cave and an Arrow-Car.)

No one suspects that Oliver is the Arrow, largely because the pre-shipwreck Oliver was a callow playboy; his best friend, Tommy (Colin Donnell), still is, which makes it easy for Oliver to slip back into the old role. Teenage sister Thea (Willa Holland) is a bit more suspicious (in another homage to the original comics, her nickname is Speedy, which was the name of the Green Arrow's teenage Robin analogue).

The other principal character is Oliver's ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy); turns out that one of the girls who died in the shipwreck, and with whom Oliver was cheating on Laurel, was her sister. Awk-ward! And of course, the head cop in town (Paul Blackthorne) just happens be to the Lances' father.

Throughout the pilot, we get teasing hints that the shipwreck may not have been entirely accidental, and it seems unlikely that Stephen really was alone on that island; both mommy (Susanna Thompson) and dead daddy (Jamey Sheridan) may have been in on whatever was really going on. It seems likely that we will eventually get around to island-year flashbacks. (Just in case we aren't picking up on those hints, there's a Lost reference in the early going to remind us what mysterious places TV islands can be.)

The cast is likable, and particular attention must be paid to the spectacularly well-conditioned torso of Stephen Amell; there is a certain entertainment value just in watching those abs as he goes through his workout routine, which includes the most challenging set of pullups I've ever seen. But he's not just a pretty body; he's got the right tone of slightly absurd sincerity, which is often where superhero projects fall apart.

As is always true whenever a show sets up this much potential mythology-building in the first episode, I worry about how well that story will be dished out. But it's an entertaining first hour, and I'm intrigued enough to give the show another week or two.

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