So we're six episodes into one of the hottest new series of American network television. Thanks to a very early release of the first episode, anticipation was relatively high for the show's first episode. The show premiered (with three minutes of extra footage) to the highest ratings of any CW show in the last few years, and has been doing well ever since. The odds are that it will be renewed unless it somehow crashes and burns Nielsen-wise, but that doesn't seem likely since it's been a solid performer so far.
But is it any good?
At its heart, 'Flash' is a pretty basic superhero story. Unlike 'Arrow', it has a super-powered main character and he fights super-powered villains. It's not a coming-of-age story like 'Smallville', and let's face it: despite a 90s TV series, to the general public the Flash is not an iconic superhero of the DC universe. Part of that is DC Comics' own fault, since they killed off the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, and then had Wally West take his place, and then Bart Allen took his place. And then they resurrected Barry Allen from the dead. And then rebooted the whole thing again with the New 52.
So Barry (Grant Gustin) is a guy--much younger than Barry Allen in the comics--who gets his superpowers from a bolt of lightning knocking electrified chemicals onto him. Since this is the 21st century and the TV networks have invented things like "season-long subplots," there's a story arc of how the lighting was caused by a dark matter explosion, and endowed other individuals with superpowers as well. This is where 'Flash' runs into 'Smallville' territory, with a "krypto mutant of the week" setup. So far the Flash has fought the comic-to-TV versions of the Weather Wizard, Multiplex, the Mist, Captain Cold, Plastique, and Girder. All but Captain Cold obtained their powers from the explosion.
Barry has a girl Iris that he pines for but she loves someone else. Her boyfriend Eddie is Iris' father Joe's partner on the police force. And Joe is also Barry's foster father. Finishing off the main cast are Caitlin, Cisco, and Harrison, three scientists who treated Barry and help him with his powers and his crimefighting activities.
A primary subplot is that Harrison is actually some kind of evil mastermind who seems dedicated to secretly protecting Barry by any means necessary, including murder. He may have deliberately created the dark matter explosion to give Barry his powers, and may be from the future. Harrison may also have murdered Barry's mother over a decade ago, leaving Barry's father to take the blame.
So Barry is in many ways your average CW Channel young adult male protagonist. He has romantic problems, and he's kind of mopey when he's not fighting crime.
Where the Flash as a unique superhero works is that he's different from either the Arrow on 'Arrow', or the Blur on 'Smallville'. Barry keeps his identity a secret but he fights crime without angst and helps people. The Arrow was more of a vigilante until the second season or so of 'Arrow'. And Clark Kent was originally a put-upon teenager whose powers made him a freak and he lived his life in constant fear of his secret being revealed.
Sure, Barry knows the comic book trope: if his identity is revealed, people will go after his loved ones. So he hides his identity. But he doesn't feel the weight of the world on him the way that Clark did in 'Smallville". He has fun with his powers, zooming around, saving a hundred people from a crashing train, running up buildings and across water.
The show's special effects also help with this. The CW has come a long way from the 'Smallville' days when it seemed like all that they could afford was one big "Clark Kent does a superpowered stunt" scene per episode. If that. The FX people on 'The Flash' effortlessly toss in scene after scene of the hero running and doing superspeed stunts.
The villains have been a mixed lot. The first three--Weather Wizard, Multiplex, the Mist--all had great special effects but were basically revenge-obsessed criminals with superpowers. They came, they went. Plastique was a good hero, but died (probably) in her first appearance. Girder was a high school jock who gained super strength and bullied people.
Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) has been the best of the villains so far. With no superpowers and only a cold gun created by Cisco and then stolen, Cold is a criminal mastermind who has a personality, a sense of humor, and walked away from his first encounter with the Flash. The ending of his first episode, "Going Rogue," had him supplying a super weapon to a friend and forming the Rogues, a group of nonpowered Flash opponents with advanced tech that have been popular in the comics.
A close second in villainy is General Wade Eiling, played by genre favorite Clancy Brown. Eiling so far has no superpowers (although he does in the comics) but is a ruthless general who wants superpowered individuals working for the military. He has a shady past with Harrison and knows about the Flash.
The show was developed by the same people working on 'Arrow', as well as comic book writer Geoff Johns. The latter is known for his work on the 'Flash', 'Green Lantern', and 'Justice Society' comic books, and has done piecemeal work for 'Smallville' and 'Arrow' in the past. He definitely captures the comic book sensibilities of the Flash and merges them with the CW dynamic. There's also lots of comic book Easter eggs, if you like that kind of thing.
The folks behind 'The Flash' are also marketing the heck out of it. Online interviews, a clever summer ad with the Arrow and the Flash engaging in some target practice, and a crossover event in a couple of weeks with the Arrow. The crossover will span both shows on consecutive nights, and feature villains Captain Boomerang and the Rainbow Raider.
So if you're not checking it out already, give it a try. Catch up on it over the Christmas/New Year holidays when the US networks avoid new programming. It's superheroics for the small screen but the developers act like they're doing a movie, and it shows.