Welcome to my second installment of “Why Does Everyone Like…X?” where I try to uncover why a certain show, movie or game has a massive fanbase. This week, I’m heading back to a show I abandoned last year, Arrow.
In an effort to replace Smallville, the CW decided to base an entirely new show around Green Arrow, though not the version from their other longrunning series. Rather, this Arrow was darker, GRITTIER! We always need more grittiness, don’t we?
I actually loved Arrow at first. I was charmed by Stephen Amell’s handsomeness, and thought the first few episodes did a lot of things well. But as time went on, it became one of those shows that just sat in my DVR, forgotten. It revealed itself to be serialized, with each new villain a random pull from the DC universe, and the “checking names off the list” plot got a bit old. There had to be more to Oliver Queen than a checklist, right?
I abandoned the show around episode eight, but I heard many, many people say that things took an upward turn around midway through the season. Past that, I’ve heard very good things about the beginning of seasons two, so I thought I’d try and return to the show. (spoilers follow)
Like many shows, Arrow is best when its binge-watched. Week to week it can feel like little happens, but when viewed in giant chunks of 4-5 episodes at a time, it’s a lot more interesting. And everyone was right about the turn midway through the season. The show became less serial, and even when it was serial, the stories became more interesting. A whole bunch of people found out about Oliver’s secret, and the formerly useless island flashbacks became infinitely more interesting with the introduction of Sparatcus’s Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson.
All of this led up to an incredible finale that was leagues better than anything I expected from the show. The last few episodes were gripping, and it’s a rarity for a show to do something as bold as let the bad guy win. Malcolm Merlyn’s plan to level the slums of Starling City actually half succeeded, and his earthquake machine (actually not as goofy as it sounds), leveled half the city and killed hundreds, even after Arrow killed him.
Arrow is a solid show because it defies conventions that you’d come to expect from this genre. I loved season one of the show because Queen wasn’t afraid to outright murder bad guys left and right. He wasn’t just trying to put the men on his list in jail, he was trying to put arrows in their hearts. More often than not, it was a hit list.
That said, this is why I’m a little hesitant about season two. Queen’s best friend Tommy Merlyn dies during the collapse of the slums. He’d previously discovered his friend’s secret and was horrified to learn that he was a “serial killer.” Now, as the show actually has put into the intro, Queen must find a “better way” to “honor the memory of his friend.” In short: no killing. Or less killing, at least.
I don’t think this was set up properly at all, and it’s a weird direction for the show to take. Oliver never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it, even by accident. He killed thugs and their murderous, thieving masterminds, but it’s not like anyone innocent ever got in the line of fire. He was essentially a superhero version of Dexter, killing the bad guys because they were simply that, bad guys. But because his friend thinks that killing anyone for any reason is wrong, he’s going to change his entire philosophy? Already we’ve seen him “capture” bad guys that are obviously going to come back later and do more damage, and now we’ve fallen into the Superman/Batman moral trap. That’s fine for those characters ,they can have their moral high ground, but Arrow was interesting in part because he was so willing to kill. Now, he’s just like every other DC hero.
Moving past this one issue, I also dig Arrow because of the way it handles superpowers, or rather, doesn’t. The show has been able to use regular man on man (or woman) fighting to great effect, and it has some of the best fight choreography on TV. Granted Arrow doesn’t have superpowers in the comics, but now when new characters like Black Canary are introduced, she doesn’t have a supersonic scream, she has a handheld device that produces the same effect. It’s a cool way to blend the real world with superheroes that we haven’t really seen before. Smallville overdosed on superpowers so much that it riddled the show full of plot holes, but Arrow has no such problems. I do have to wonder, however, how they’re about to introduce Grant Gustin as The Flash. They may end up breaking their established superhero rules with him, and the show might move in a different direction at that point.
No, the show isn’t Breaking Bad or The Wire. It’s a CW show, full of absurdly hot guys and girls, but with enough intelligence and heart to make watching worthwhile. The CW occupies an interesting space where though the acting, writing and direction is rarely Emmy worthy, the shows can still be compelling. It’s true with Arrow, and from other accounts, it’s true with shows like Supernatural, Hart of Dixie and The Vampire Diaries. They’re relatively “light” compared to the gritty cable offerings people like me normally consume, but I think there’s a place for them on TV as well, and there’s nothing wrong with liking them.
I like Arrow. It’s not without its faults and I’m a bit worried on where it’s heading, but I’m glad I gave it another chance.