Destiny leaves its mark.
Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell, Hung) is spoiled billionaire playboy dinkus. As the son of one of Starling City’s most powerful families, he has lived a life of privilege and entitlement, wanting for nothing and unafraid to go where his id takes him.
Then, one night at sea, cruising around the ocean on the family yacht with his dad and girl-toy, it all comes crashing down. The boat gets crunched and sinks, leaving Oliver to fend for himself on a strange island, where his only allies are an enigmatic Chinese archer and, well, another dude, but I won’t say anything about him.
We see Oliver’s island exploits in flashback, but the true meat of Arrow is who this man is when he returns to his stinking, corrupt hometown. Armed with a bow and a mission to take down the city’s worst scoundrels, he reinvents himself as the Green Arrow, leaving a trail of pierced corpses in his wake.
Arrow was sort of on my radar last fall when it premiered, but I assumed it was going to be similar to Smallville — a show I liked, but were it not for my adoration of all things Superman, the cheeky dialogue and overwrought Dawson’s Creek shenanigans would have left me cold. I opted to pass, but should have done my due diligence, because Arrow is borderline awesome, and utterly different from its soapy predecessor.
Let’s start with tone. This is NOT a light-hearted show. Any comic relief is sparse and essentially reduced to Oliver dropping an anachronistic observation (“What’s a Twilight?”). Arrow is dark, brooding, and serious, a comic book production more in line with something Chris Nolan would give us, rather than Joel Schumacher.
Nothing is more evident of this shift than the body count. Forget Batman or Superman’s code: Green Arrow lays people out. I don’t know much about his comic persona (aside from the fact he’s solidly left on the political spectrum, a fact not ignored in this show), but his kill streak jarred me a bit. I can’t remember the last superhero-based anything I watched where the hero was a taker of lives. To be fair, these aren’t all throwaway kills. The writers do address Arrow’s slay-a-thon with characters challenging Oliver on his code, but his lethality is copious and there’s more that can be done to show the fallout of his bow’s inclination to release men from this mortal coil. Maybe in Season Two grieving families of dead thugs will get an episode where they band together and go after Green Arrow with an Abrams tank.
Arrow: The Complete First Season is largely made up of one-offs, featuring various White Men of Privilege put into the crosshairs for reliably crunchy sins of toxic waste dumping and pyramid scheming. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the series to shift more towards one big story arc, as Oliver attempts to unravel what exactly the malcontents have been working towards.
As for the politics, Arrow sometimes comes across as a Rachel Maddow cosplay and the overuse of the term “one-percenters” is grating. Still, as a committed New Hampshire Live free or Die Federalist, I found this stuff at worst mildly amusing, and borderline negligible (the targets tend to be rich, but they’re douchebag criminals more than anything and deserve their comeuppance). If your politics tend more towards the blue region, you’ll probably get a bigger kick out of our hero’s quest for social justice.
There are some pain points in the show, however. Aside from everything involving Oliver, be it his present-day rooftop hopping or the island flashbacks, the side stories are bland and uninteresting. Other main characters include Oliver’s little sister (Willa Holland, Straw Dogs), his mother (Susanna Thompson, Star Trek: Voyager), his hotshot best friend (Colin Donnell), and his ex-girlfriend-gotta-be-future-live-interest, Laurel (Katie Cassidy, Taken). Mom’s arc is decent, because she’s involved somehow in the Starling City malevolence, but the rest of them are drags on the action. Here are their storylines: the sister pouts, the best friend realizes he’s a jerk and gets a job, and Laurel spends most of her time furrowing her brow and monologuing about the under-privileged.
Unsurprisingly, Warner Bros. delivers a sleek Blu-ray set. Starling City and its denizens all pop in the 1.78:1/1080p transfers, buttressed by aggressive DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mixes. Extras include: “Arrow Comes Alive,” a featurette looking at the re-imagining of the character; a segment on the fight choreography and stunts; footage from Paleyfest; deleted scenes; a gag reel; and the now obligatory digital copies in DVD, Digital, and UltraViolet format.
On balance, Arrow is good fun. It’s surprisingly gritty, well-choreographed in the action department, and stocked with more than a few DC Easter Eggs, not the least of which is that mysterious other ally on the island. Recommended.
Not Guilty. No angst here; just death!