Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #11 - Arrow


Fresh off of the ending to the long-running DC Comic show Smallville, it was announced that they were going to be doing a show about Green Arrow.  Like Iron Man before the Robert Downey Jr. film, Green Arrow had always been a second tier character, kind of a Batman-lite.  So I was dubious about basing an entire show around him.

But boy was I wrong.

As the show developed, it not only had fantastic action, heart-breaking melodrama, and witty humor, but it also had tons of Easter eggs for comic fanboys like me.

At first I was very concerned about all the strange liberties they were taking with the character, chief of which was that our main character Oliver Queen/The Arrow (Stephen Amell), was killing bad guys.  I also had trouble connecting to all of the supporting characters and their storylines.  But after sticking with the producers' vision, I saw the slow unfolding and evolution of the characters, showing me that this creative team really knew how to use the medium of television to tell long form stories.  And this is key to understanding the brilliance of the show.  A lot of series are afraid to change things up and simply give you the same thing each week.  And while there is a generally same mixture of action/drama/humor in each episode, the producers are able to take the characters on a real journey so that even our main character is not the man we met 4 years ago, for good or ill.

I have also come to love how they've slowly brought in the more fantastical elements of the DC Universe instead of thrusting Oliver into a world of super-powers.  This not only helps ground the show into some kind of believability, but it slowly ups the stakes as Oliver gets better and better at being a hero.

What set this episode apart and what made this the threshold was how it dealt with the seemingly unavoidable suspicion that Oliver was the Arrow.  Like in Batman Begins, the long lost billionaire returns home and suddenly there is also a masked vigilante around.  Who couldn't put 2 and 2 together.  The fact that the producers look at this possibility and meet it head on shows a bit more respect for the audience that other producers have shown in the past.  But this show was also revelatory in terms of how broken Oliver is from his experiences on the island and how he really hasn't healed.  He is not a hero yet, but you can still root for him to overcome his pain.


"Draw Back Your Bow"
They often say that a hero is only as good as his villain.  And the villain in this episode, Cupid (Amy Gumenick) is a lovesick stalker that is way too over-the-top.  For the most part, Arrow has done of a good job of not going too silly with its villains, but Cupid just rubbed me the wrong way.  Although I have to say that the producers do something pretty cool in the episodes leading up to this by placing the actress in the background of a number of scenes so that when you go back you can see how she was stalking him.

This is not only the best episode of the series thus far, but it is one of the best single episodes of television I have seen in a long time.  This season finale is the culmination of the season-long build up between Oliver and Deathstroke.  The stakes are so high because the villain is not only stronger than our hero, but also much smarter with an army of superpowered soldiers.  So Oliver has to raise his own army and the confrontation is fantastic.  But that wasn't what blew me away.  It was a quiet moment back at Ollie's mansion.  SPOILERS BELOW:
For those familiar with the comics, Oliver Queen and Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) are the central couple of their comic, like Superman and Lois Lane.  And throughout the series, the two danced around this love/hate relationship involving lies, betrayal, and love triangles.  One of the things to lift the tension was the introduction of the character Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), a high-tech nerd who is so incredibly awkward, says things that fans of the show are thinking, and has the worst kind of out-of-her-league crush on Oliver.  As Oliver keeps trying to connect to his old love, it was funny and heartbreaking to watch Felicity pine away hopelessly for our hero.  And then this:

My jaw dropped.  I never expected them to do this and it made the mushy romantic in me squeal.  But the show wasn't done with me and did not make it that simple.  Another twist lay around the corner that was so well played that I forgave the show for toying with my emotions.  It was a fantastic piece of writing, directing, and acting.  And this episode raised this show above the numerous other shows I have watched in my life.


Each week Arrow brings new challenges and new drama.  It is a show that allows its characters to grow and change and evolve in ways that brings something new, fresh, and exciting as the series rolls on.  That is why it is the #11 Drama of all time and it is the greatest comic book superhero show of them all thus far.

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