When the first promos for Arrow appeared, it wasn’t clear whether it was going to work. It looked a little po-faced and yet a tad silly, which wasn’t helped by the fact it’s based on a DC Comics character who few people know anything about. However once it started airing it revealed itself to be a surprisingly entertaining show.
After the sinking of his billionaire family’s luxury yacht, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was presumed dead. However, five years after his disappearance he re-emerges, having been trapped on a remote island all that time. Everyone is amazed to see him, although some still haven’t forgiven him for being the arrogant prig he was before he disappeared.
Oliver is a changed man though. He’s brought back a list his father gave him of the people in Starling City who are destroying society. He’s also returned with some major fighting skills and agility. Oliver becomes a bow-toting vigilante dedicated to bringing down these villains by shooting them with arrows (throughout the series he tends to be referred to as ‘The Vigilante’ rather than ‘Arrow’). Initially he plans to do this all alone, but soon allows his bodyguard, John (David Ramsey), in on his secret.
The cops don’t take kindly to the vigilante taking the law into his own hands and are soon on his trail. However, as Oliver gets deeper into the criminal underworld that is tearing Starling City apart, he discovers things may be far more serious than a few individual bad guys, and not only that, but his own mother may be involved.
DC obviously learned a lot from the Dark Knight movies, as Arrow follows the same pattern of creating a world that feels ‘real’ and grounded, even if the events happening in it aren’t exactly realistic. Indeed particularly in the early episodes, Arrow can get very silly (not least that, like Batman, the moment he puts something on his head, he also magically has dark make-up around his eyes), but it never stops being fun and entertaining. Even then it continues to build its world as something closer to real life than in many earlier superhero shows.
Stephen Amell is great in the lead role. It certainly helps that he’s good-looking and has the sort of ridiculously muscular yet not too bulky build where you can just about accept Arrows’ exceptional agility. He also manages to balance the fact that a lot of daft things are happening with trying to keep things on the right side of believability. Amell gives everything a wry smile mixed with earnestness, as well as being convincingly damaged – but not so damaged it becomes tedious.
Arrow’s not all great, not least that the show’s big mysteries become rather convoluted and less interesting than they’re obviously meant to be. For example, across the 23 episodes we’re drip fed what happened to Oliver on the island. The first parts, where he meets a man who teaches him archery skills, are interesting. Unfortunately though, as more and more people are revealed to be on the island – including a ridiculously villainous military outfit – I couldn’t help but wish the show had kept things simpler and didn’t keep pulling us back to the island’s increasingly over the top events.
Likewise, the conspiracy that threatens the whole of Starling City is good to start with when it’s percolating in the background, but as it becomes more central it begins to tie itself in knots over who’s a good guy and who’s bad. Some of it works well, such as the difficult situation Oliver’s mother is in, as well as the emergence the duplicitous Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), but taken together it stretches credulity to breaking point. Indeed, the last couple episodes are disappointingly over the top.
There will also be many who notice that the show didn’t just try to learn lessons from The Dark Knight films about superheroes who are also billionaires, but also stole much of the plot of Batman Begins. I wouldn’t be shocked it Season 2’s big bad is an anarchist wearing clown make-up.
Overall though it’s a lot of fun, with good characters, plenty of action and plots that will keep you watching, even if occasionally they do get a bit daft. There’s also plenty in Season 1 that offers a lot of promise for the upcoming second outing for the show. For example, Teen Wolf’s Colton Haynes turns up towards the end as Roy Harper. In these episodes he’s mainly a down on his luck petty thief looking for Arrow, while not realising he’s befriended the vigilante’s sister, but in the comics he eventually become Oliver’s sidekick – so we’ll have to wait and see if that happens in the show.
There are also plenty of intriguing villains who Arrow hasn’t shot (and boy does this show have a high body count – Oliver and those around him spend a lot of time talking about the rights and wrongs of summarily executing each week’s main villain, while seemingly not caring if you murder 30 of his henchmen in the process, who might have just been doing their job).
It’s impressive really as the show has a very tricky tightrope to walk between providing plenty of exciting comic book action, while also satisfying those simply looking for a fun TV show. The fact it manages to please both geeks and general audiences isn’t a bad achievement. It’s also undoubtedly keen on satisfying those who like buff bodies, as I’m certain the writing staff must spend half their time thinking of reasons why Stephen Amell would have his shirt off without it seeming gratuitous (okay, they’re not that bothered whether it seems gratuitous or not, as long as his shirt is off).
As well as the 23 episodes, the five DVD set also includes some decent features. ‘Arrow at Paley Fest 2013’ is a fairly lengthy look at the show’s panel at the event, featuring the cast and crew talking about the show and answering questions. ‘Arrow: Fight School/Stunt School’ is, as the name suggests, 20 minutes focussing on the action. The show spends a lot of time getting people to fight in ridiculously athletic ways, and this shows off the skills of both the cast and the stunt people.
‘Arrow Comes Alive!’ is a half-hour overview documentary about the creation of the show and the impetus behind it for all involved. The deleted scenes, some of which are actually quite interesting, add up to about 25 minutes, while there’s also an amusing gag reel, which certainly suggest the cast enjoy making the show. It’s not a massive list, but the Arrow – Season 1 extras favour quality over quantity, as most of what’s included will be of interest to fans.
Overall Verdict: It may get a bit too silly at times, but mostly Arrow is an entertaining, action-packed show that successfully brings one of DC’s less famous characters to the small screen. Taking the lessons of The Dark Knight (sometimes a little too far) while being a little less po-faced, it’s a fun show that promises a lot for its second season.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac