Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Green Arrow has certainly gone quite dark during phases of his long comic book career. Arrow more than likely draws most of its inspiration from The Longbow Hunters era, especially in tone and in costume choice. So it’s certainly not unfamiliar water, but comparisons will inevitably be drawn between this ultra-serious adaptation and a certain trilogy of films featuring a guy who dresses up like a bat.
Arrow picks up just as Oliver Queen, thought dead in a yacht accident five years ago, returns to Starling City (Star City wasn’t cool enough for TV?) quite alive, but completely changed. His years stranded on a mysterious island forced him to become an incredible physical specimen, a world-class fighter, and an unparalleled marksman. He is the only one who knows this, however, and he intends to keep it that way as he begins hunting down a list of men, “fat cats” if you will, whose greed and criminal activities have ruined the city and may have led to the sinking of the yacht and his father’s death.
And while his family and friends are happy enough to see him, there is more tension than anything. His secretly-scheming mother has shacked up with his father’s old CFO. His sister, nicknamed “Speedy,” has gone down a bad path and is into drugs. His best friend, Tommy Merlyn, keeps looking for the party- and pussy-hound that disappeared five years ago. Ex-girlfriend and attorney Dinah Laurel Lance is justifiably pissed that Oliver whisked her sister off for an affair on that ill-fated yacht. So is her father, a police detective. Not a lot of support on Team Arrow, and Oliver doesn’t help as he not-so-subtly shoves everyone away. It is, in fact, a little angsty. And so much of the cast is so unlikable that it’s hard to see where Oliver will finally get support when he’ll undoubtedly need it. (Especially considering his “best friend” is named after one of his comic book arch-rivals…and his mother, played by Susanna Thompson, is a former Borg Queen.)
Current events are often interrupted by flashbacks to the yacht sinking or his time on the island, which yield some ominous clues to future stories. In fact, one of the first images we see is an orange-and-black mask dangling from an arrow in the ground, so we know that Slade Wilson AKA Deathstroke will be making an appearance. These sequences are gritty and grim, but it’s an interesting story angle. It’s also the only way we can find out about his time there, because he’s not talking about it with anyone.
Despite the very “grounded” feel of the show, there are plenty of comic book references for geeks out there. China White shows up in episode two, and Huntress will be popping up sometime later in the season. Obviously, Merlyn and Speedy are both shout-outs. Oliver and Dinah (though they insist on calling her Laurel for some idiotic reason) have a suitably stormy relationship even though it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing her in fishnets prowling the city as Black Canary without a very drastic change in character.
The writing is…okay. It’s not Nolan, and it certainly isn’t Whedon. There are a few clever lines – delivered by Merlyn, oddly enough – but most everyone is too busy being sullen to be quote-worthy. But the plot and the plot-behind-the-plot are mysterious enough to keep things rolling. The show has some serious potential overall, but it really needs to dial back the somber tone and give us Green Arrow instead of Batman-Lite. The action is good, and the very buff Stephen Amell makes for a credible superhero.
So, I like it well enough. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. Lifting the gloom, improving the demeanor of the main cast, and delivering the goods on hinted-at comic-style throwdowns will be the key to keeping Arrow in my sights.