We're going to declare it now: "The Flash" is the best new show of the year. Yet even though we've been wowed by Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and his ever increasing gallery of rogues -- and allies -- during the show's freshman season, there's so much that could have gone horribly, awfully wrong.
But those weaknesses, the things that could have made the show crash faster than an out of control speedster, are also the things that have become the show's biggest strengths:
The PowersThe CW
This probably isn't anything The CW doesn't know, but they don't have the budget to play with that, say, an HBO does. So having a superpowers heavy show like "The Flash" could have been a disaster. Instead, they've kept the comic book fights focused and character-based -- and they've clearly blown out the budget once per episode.
Sure, Barry's running face is still a little silly, but nowhere was the frugal use of effects on better display than last night's (December 9) "The Man In The Yellow Suit," which had some insane speedster fights, but mostly focused on the drama of Barry finally facing down the man who killed his mother. It's JUST enough powers, and that's fine with us.
The StarThe CW
Speaking of which, Grant Gustin is a revelation. His Barry Allen is the best Peter Parker in the history of any media, and that's a near impossible line to walk. Like Spider-Man, Gustin's face constantly conveys not just the joy and freedom of his powers, but the immense responsibility that comes with them.
Let's be frank: "The Flash" can be earnest near to the point of cheesiness. But it's Gustin's complete believability in these scenes, whether it's bonding with his imprisoned father, telling his childhood friend he loves her, or trying to talk to a villain as his first -- and last -- resort, over fighting that makes this line go from cheesiness to the earnestness of hope.
The RomanceThe CW
Okay, let's talk about Barry and Iris (Candice Patton). They were raised as brother and sister after Barry's mother was killed and his father was thrown in prison. And on the mid-season finale, he finally told her he's been in love with her since "before I knew what love was."
We're skirting some real Jaime and Cersei s--t here, but even for someone who hasn't totally been into #Barris (we're #SnowBarry 'shippers here at MTV), this scene completely and totally worked as a huge emotional moment.
There's two crucial ingredients beyond the aforementioned Grant Gustin being awesome that made this work so well. The first is the writing, particularly in Barry's speech -- which did a masterful job of explaining the romance, how it started, and why he has to let it go.
The second is Patton. Her character has been hamstrung all season into obliviousness to Barry's crush, while everyone from her father to her boyfriend are well aware that Barry's intentions are less than fraternal. Her silent, crying reaction while she processed the news was heartbreaking. And check our facts, she may not have said a single word the rest of the episode, but her pained, troubled expression said more than any histrionic fit would.
The MysteriesThe CW
True to a show about the fastest man alive, "The Flash" has wasted no time opening up its mysteries. We now know the identity of the villainous Reverse Flash, the murderer of Barry's mom. We know what's going on with Caitlin's (Danielle Panabaker) fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell). And there's the (former) secret of Barry's love for Iris, of course.
These are all elements that most shows could have dragged out interminably, or revealed too quickly. But "The Flash" uses each reveal as a springboard to bigger and better mysteries at exactly the right pace: we know Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) is Reverse Flash now... But why? What's his plan? And what really happened the night Barry's mother died?
There's a confidence at play in the writing and plotting that's a complete joy to see, and makes sure we'll keep tuning in, week after week.
The NerdsThe CW
Let's talk about Cisco (Carlos Valdes) for a second. He plays the show's resident nerd, a gigantic feat given pretty much everyone is a scientist or genius cop. And the way Cisco is written with his constant geek references should be like Jar-Jar's nails on a chalkboard.
Instead, Valdes hits just the right note of geeky joy, making his hilarious line readings hit just right -- and his naming of every supervillain is the best running joke on both "The Flash" and "Arrow."
But he's not the only nerd on the show: Jesse L. Martin is the perfect nerd-dad as Joe West, making goofy jokes and endearingly shepherding his kids -- and partner -- through the difficulties of life in Central City.
And Caitlin Snow is an adorable nerd too, providing the heart of Team Flash while also providing her fair share of brains.
In fact everyone from Barry on down does a fantastic job of rewarding intelligence, logic, and scientifically approaching a problem. Plenty of shows try to provide science, and make it seem cheesy. For "Flash," look no further than the scene where Barry asked if he could save a window-washer dangling from a building, and Cisco pointed out that he doesn't have super-strength -- so he might be able to run up the building... But coming down at that speed? A whole other problem.
Too many shows reward their characters for making dumb decisions of the heart -- and while "Flash" has plenty of those, it knows to use its brains, too.
The WinksThe CW
Casting John Wesley Shipp, the guy who played Barry Allen in the 1990's version of "The Flash" as Barry Allen's Dad? Winky. Casting Mark Hamill, the guy who played the Trickster in that show -- and gave the first hint of his iconic role as the voice of the animated Joker -- as an inmate at the same prison as Shipp, an older Trickster who is inspiring a new criminal? Winks so hard your eyelid breaks.
Let's not even get into casting "Prison Break" brothers Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as Captain Cold and Heat Wave, the first two members of the villain team The Rogues -- an event teased during Miller's first episode as he addressed someone off-screen saying, "I haven't seen you since our last big job." WINKITY WINK.
Yet all this nostalgia works (or at least we assume Hamill will work, that episode hasn't aired yet), because the show grounds it all in emotion. Particularly the scenes with Shipp and Gustin, which don't fail to bring tears to our eyes. Shut up. They're sad.
SO MUCH THIS.
That you can have Robbie Amell turn into a rocket and fly out of frame as an important emotional beat, and it totally works is a testament to the whole thesis of this piece. There's so many things on "The Flash" that should, under no circumstance work... And yet they totally do.
Now let's see how badly the psychic evil gorilla who likes to eat people's brains coming up in the latter half of the season tests that theory.