By Josh Axelrod
While Marvel has the cinematic market cornered with its “Avengers” movie universe, DC has quietly dominated with its live-action TV shows. Partnering with the CW has been a shockingly smart move, considering superheroes and “Gossip Girl” don’t go together in any way, shape or form. But with “Smallville,” they established a model that has paid dividends for them: Tell origin stories that are grounded in (relative) reality with ridiculously attractive casts.
That formula must be how “Arrow” was greenlit, and it’s more effective than it has any right to be. I was skeptical going into “Arrow,” mostly because Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” had such a rocky first season that I wasn’t looking forward to picking up another superhero show. But the show had me hooked from episode one and only got better through its first two seasons.
“Arrow” is basically what would happen if Batman was an archer and still had a family. In fact, a lot of Green Arrow’s backstory is very Bruce Wayne-esque, but I would argue that Oliver Queen is a much more fascinating personality. Sure, he’s an ass-kicking machine with a mission to rid Starling City of crime and evil. But, unlike Batman, Queen has a life outside of being Batman that he, for the most part, deftly juggles with his evenings of crime-fighting.
And frankly, I think Oliver Queen could kick Bruce Wayne’s ass in a fight. Bruce relies too much on his toys. All Queen has is his arrows and his fists, and I don’t think Bats could keep up with the Arrow in a fight.
But I digress. “Arrow’s” basic conceit is simple: Oliver (Stephen Amell) was stranded on an island for five years after his family’s yacht pulled a Titanic. He, his father and his girlfriend’s sister (who playboy Oliver was messing around with) were all presumed dead, but Oliver finds his way back to Starling City with a renewed purpose and some serious archery skills.
Before Oliver’s father died, he admitted to his son that he had done some terrible things for which he wanted to atone. He gave Oliver a list of people destroying Starling City and told him to start picking them off one by one. “Arrow” starts off as a baddie of the week show (with a larger conspiracy at hand, naturally) and mixes that with flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island so we can see exactly how he became the badass of all badasses.
Amell was born to be a superhero. If Bruce Wayne was blonde, he totally could have anchored “The Dark Knight” trilogy just as well (if not better) than Christian Bale. He certainly pulls off Arrow’s physicality, as well as both the dashing playboy and tortured castaway aspects of the character. If Marvel ever wants to recast Thor, I vote for Amell.
The supporting cast is more hit or miss, with the weakest character by far being Oliver’s on-again/off-again love interest Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy of “Gossip Girl”). Her acting is…okay. But she’s a classic damsel in distress and, compared to the other female characters on the show, is pretty useless.
Speaking of which, this is a show full of fun, well-written female characters. Oliver’s mother and Sister — Moira (Susanna Thompson) and Thea (Willa Holland) — are both women with power and confidence. And Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), a computer wiz and the girl Oliver should be with, is this show’s secret weapon. She’s hilarious and keeps Oliver grounded in the real world when his head is wrapped in moral quandaries. She’s basically Luna Lovegood but more relatable.
The show doesn’t skimp on its comic book roots. In the first two seasons, we’ve already seen the likes of the League of Assassins, Brother Blood, Slade Wilson, and even Barry Allen (aka The Flash, who’s getting his own CW show). Ra’s Al Ghul is set to show up in Season 3, and based on his ties to Oliver and the people he loves, I’m certainly excited to see how he ties into the show’s mythology.
In a lot of ways, “Arrow” is similar to my favorite show of all time: “Chuck.” They both did amazing jobs of embracing both the dramatic and silly elements of their respective shows, and you always bought into whatever was going on, no matter how ludicrous the proceedings got. Comparing a show to “Chuck” is the highest compliment I can bestow, and “Arrow” has certainly earned it. If you’re a fan of superheroes, attractive people and fun in general, do yourself a favor and give “Arrow” a shot.