Have you heard the one about the orphaned millionaire playboy who dons a costume at night and goes out to fight crime in a city full of corruption? Of course you have. It’s
Batman the Green Arrow. Or just the Arrow, as he’s known on The CW’s Arrow, a Smallville replacement they’re hoping will be just as successful. But rather than spinning it off from Smallville, where the Green Arrow played an important supporting role in the last five seasons, this is a complete reboot of the concept, with a new actor donning the green hood.
The completely charisma-free Stephen Amell plays Oliver Queen, who returns to Starling City (inexplicably changed from Star City in the comics) after being shipwrecked on a mysterious island for five years. His dad and the girl he happened to be cheating on his girlfriend with died in the shipwreck. Through flashbacks and innuendo, we’re led to believe that certain terrible things occurred on the island that led to him becoming a superior archer who happens to be in top physical form, as opposed to the weak, starving survivor he would actually be in real life. What happened on the island isn’t revealed in the pilot episode, though I expect we’ll be treated to flashbacks throughout the series that will explain certain things, such as the scar tissue, burn marks, and tattoos all over his body. Hmmm, a mysterious island and a flashback-heavy narrative. Where have I seen that before?
Anyway, Amell can barely act, and seems to have only two expressions, bemused and angry. A random, shirtless exercise scene in the Arrow’s improbably wired hideout reveals the real reason Amell was hired for the role. His pectorals and abs probably have their own agents. As the Arrow, he has returned home with a hit list of corrupt individuals he intends to take out, a list ostensibly supplied by his father, which makes him more of a mercenary than a superhero. Add a completely unnecessary and way too Dexter-like voice over, and the program flirts — inadvertently, I presume — with Oliver Queen as a serial killer, hunting down bad men who have escaped justice, and killing them. Yeah, killing them. This ain’t Smallville, with its antiviolence message. This is the equivalent of a 1980s action movie, where henchmen machine-gun people to death before the hero breaks their necks. (What’s especially weird is that Oliver returns from the island with the idea to be a green-hooded archer vigilante already fully formed in his mind. I hope the genesis of this idea will be further explored, and not swept under the rug the way it appeared to be in the pilot.)
Now that Oliver’s back in Starling City, he’s reunited with his old friend Tommy, who is super annoying in that “yeah, bra, let’s freaking PARTY!” way and needs to be either toned down significantly or killed the fuck off; his ex-girlfriend Dinah Laurel Lance, who’s angry at him because the girl he cheated with and who died in the shipwreck was actually her sister, but who you know is totally going to get back together with him before the end of season one; his mother, who is super rich in that TV way where she’s always having dinner parties; his teenager sister, Thea, who has a drug addiction to speed; a new step-father who might as well be named Uncle Claudius for all the subtlety involved in his mustache-twirling; a police detective who thinks Oliver is up to his usual shenanigans, and who also happens to be the dead girl and ex-girlfriend’s father; and a new ex-Marine bodyguard who provides comic relief when Oliver isn’t choking him into unconsciousness in order to sneak off to murder someone. To say this show sometimes has a problem with tone would be an understatement.
A lot of the writing is kind of terrible, and the acting consists more of posing while reciting lines than being convincingly emotive. Except for one scene. Late in the pilot, Thea confronts her brother about not judging her for her speed habit, and lays out exactly what it was like to lose her father and her brother at the same time, and to have to bury two empty coffins. It’s the only emotionally authentic moment in the entire episode, and it’s ruined a second later when Thea, disgusted and ready to leave, turns to her friends and says, “Let’s bounce.” Jesus. Authentic moment effectively destroyed, writers. Well done.
There’s very little to recommend Arrow, and yet I have to admit the action scenes had me riveted, especially at the climax of the pilot where Oliver stages a one-man assault on a bad guy’s heavily guarded office building. A lot of henchmen die or are seriously injured, but for some reason I did not think, “Jeez, maybe they should chill with all the killing.” Instead, I was completely caught up in the action and excitement of it all. Despite its many flaws, I find myself willing to tune in to Arrow again next week to see if it can continue to keep me riveted with its action, or if the price of having to watch these ineffective, overly pretty actors play these two-dimensional characters will be just too steep.
Does Arrow deserve a second chance? Not necessarily. But it’s possible the first episode suffered from the usual case of pilotitis, where everything is magnified and intensified more than it needs to be, and things may settle down into a good groove. Even Smallville took some time to find itself after half a season of meteor-freak-of-the-week episodes. The only difference is, I have far less patience for bad TV now than I did eleven years ago. Arrow, you’re on notice not to let me down a second time.