I meant to write-up my first impressions of CW’s Arrow after the pilot episode, but with one delay and another I found that I wouldn’t finish before the second episode aired. So I decided to save it for a bit, watch the second episode, and base my first impressions on the first two rather than just the first. Fortunately I’d already declared my intention to do so from time to time in the First Impressions category so I’m not breaking my own rules right from the get-go.
Arrow is a loose adaptation of DC Comic’s Green Arrow comic. Why they dropped the “Green” from the title, I’m not sure, since Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) still wears a green costume in the series. If they did it because they think Arrow sounds less silly than Green Arrow, I’ve got bad news for them on that front. But that’s a minor issue at worst.
I’m actually glad I waited to catch the second episode before posting my thoughts, as the second episode did change my impressions a bit. The pilot was shaky in a lot of ways… most of the actors seemed like they were still feeling their way through their characters, with the exception of Paul Blackthorne (who plays Detective Lance), who I’ve liked since he was the lead in The Dresden Files (he was also on 24 for a season, and I must have seen him there, but I don’t remember it.) With the second episode, the acting isn’t necessarily great, but the actors generally seem a bit more sure of their roles, and most of the interactions feel a bit more natural. It’s not all the way there yet, but it’s improved a bit over the first episode. I particularly enjoyed the conversations between Oliver and his appointed bodyguard (played by David Ramsey).
Of course, not all of the stiffness between characters is the fault of the actors. The writing here is definitely a bit “off”. I’d say it lacks polish, but if anything, it’s that it’s that the dialogue is too overwrought to feel natural (particularly when Oliver is narrating). There’s a high level of angst and drama in the speech, and while it’s natural for those emotions to be present when somebody returns from a presumed death after five years stranded on an island, the speech here doesn’t feel natural. It feels like the lines are all calculated for maximum emotional impact, and since real people don’t talk that way, it winds up losing impact instead. And so far the series is missing the trademark witty banter of the Green Arrow comics.
But then, I don’t think this series was really meant for long-time Green Arrow fans. Oh, there are definite nods to them — Dinah Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) hints strongly at the future including Black Canary, and there are other nods with Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), and Oliver calling his younger sister (Willa Holland) “Speedy”, the nickname of a couple of his sidekicks in the comics. And if I wasn’t totally hallucinating, I thought I saw Deathstroke the Terminator’s mask on that island. But these little continuity nods, and the basic story — billionaire playboy gets stranded on island, learns to shoot arrows, becomes crime fighter — are the main part of what ties it to the nature of the comic book. After that it starts taking some sharp deviations.
The biggest thing is the age. This is set at the very beginning of Green Arrow’s career — which the actual comics have only ever really shown in flashback form (or in flashback miniseries.) Oliver Queen in the comics is in his late 30s or 40s. Oliver Queen and his friends here are young adults in their early twenties. His mother is still around, and has remarried, which causes him angst. His would-be girlfriend’s father is not only a police detective, but hates his guts. And the whole thing feels very dark and emotional. It feels in a lot of ways like instead of the personality of Green Arrow from the comics, they’re going more for Bruce Wayne, with a bit of a Spider-Man element to the relationship picture.
In truth, it’s pretty clear that they’re going after the same type of crowd that they went for with Smallville. Not exactly the same crowd, because the people who watched Smallville early on are ten years older, but the same late teens, early twenties age range. Being decidedly peripheral to that group, I can’t evaluate how well it’ll work for them, but for myself there’s a bit of a mismatch. (I do wonder if I might feel different had I watched Smallville, but it had already been running for a few seasons before I had a station that aired it.)
Even with those issues, though, I don’t dislike the show, at least not yet. The dialogue may be iffy, but the plots have been reasonably solid so far. Granted, there are a few holes here and there (just where would he get those arrows with automatic electronic devices? You can’t tell me he learned that on the island, and they’ve already stated he wasn’t a star college student.) But it’s mostly nitpicky stuff like that. The gist has been basic revenge/justice plots which are fun to watch, with some action sequences that are reasonably entertaining.
The show isn’t wowing me yet, but so far, it’s all right. For now, it looks like it could go either way, but I’m cautiously optimistic. So for now, I’ll be watching.