Sunday, May 11, 2014

Straight Netflix'ing: Arrow

It all started at WonderCon during a panel on writers and showrunners.  One of them worked on Arrow and during the sizzle reel I spotted action hero/martial artist/bodybuilder/Black Dynamite  Michael Jai White as a member of the Suicide Squad.  I know Smallville ended up doing a TV version of Justice League but I hadn't kept up with it's 10 year run and just felt it was too late to jump back in.  But Arrow had only been on the air a couple years I thought and I kept seeing it on Netflix.  Byron Mann, an actor I've tried to keep up with since seeing him Van Damme's Street Fighter, The Corruptor and Michael Biehn's American Dragons, had a recurring role on the show so that was a plus.  I was unfamiliar with Manu Bennet's work or existence until seeing him at Calgary Expo where he seemed like a cool yet macho kind of guy, a rarity in today's era of skinny leads and lady boys.  I haven't seen him in Spartacus but found out he plays Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke on Arrow so it seemed like I had enough reasons to check out the show between the three action actors.

One thing I really didn't realize was that Arrow has full seasons.  I figured CW only did short, 13 episode arcs a la cable to save money but nope, Arrow is full on with 23 frigging chapters.  That gave me pause because I think that's one of TV's problems, the seasons are too long so you just get filler.  I still haven't checked out an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because it looked so boring and lackluster.  Who gives a shit about that smirking bland-ass Agent Coulson?  Where's the actually interesting men of action like Dum Dum Dugan, Jimmy Woo, Clay Quartermain or Gabe Jones?  I don't want to see a bunch of boring, unknown actors solving Podunk mysteries on a weekly basis.  I want to see interesting characters working for a super secret para-military/international police force using fancy toys and kicking ass!  Maybe I'll go back and check out the Bill Paxton episodes because, bro, Bill Paxton...  Dude, Bill Paxton.

Luckily, Arrow has been pretty interesting through the first half of the season and is only getting better.  The story of Oliver Queen; a rich, vain, thoughtless playboy who is cheating on his girlfriend with her own sister.  On a leisure cruise somewhere in China, the yacht sinks and Oliver is left on a life raft with his father Robert, a powerful businessman who admits to his son that he's failed their city and helped destroy it.  Father Queen gives his spoiled son a list of all the names of people who helped poison Starling City and instructs him to survive.  Washing ashore on an unknown island, Oliver is taken in by the mysterious Yao Fei (Mann) and later comic based character Slade Wilson (Bennett) who teach him to fight and survive.  Turns out the island is actually a former prison and through flashbacks we see Oliver adapting and escaping. 

5 years after the sinking of the family yacht, Oliver is rescued and returns to Starling City where he's reunited with his mother, sister, former girlfriend and best friend.  The show does a good job of mixing in the family and former lover drama like any CW show should with Oliver's vigilante antics as he dons a hood and uses a bow and arrow to fight those who have helped destroy his city.  At first, it all smacks deeply of Batman.  The rich kid, big house, unlimited resources, inspired by his dead father to take revenge, etc.  But slowly, Arrow differentiates itself as he deals with his affluent family, his sister's despondent fall into drugs and trouble and the fact his mother had something to do with the sinking of the yacht.  More tinges of Batman come out as Oliver taps resources from his father's vast business empire and of course, the "Applied Science" department helps him out a la Morgan Freeman's Lucious Fox in Batman Begins.  The pinches aren't blatant enough to make your eyes roll, they just help keep you in the right frame of mind of the show's story and world.  The show's action is pretty solid with lots of hand to hand, parkour infused mayhem happening each episode.  Production values are high as Vancouver looks great with locales for the 1% style luxurious, woodsy natural and seedy urban aspects of the show.

I had seen Stephen Amell on the last season of Hung, where he played a nice yet shallow rival gigolo to Mr. WeirdCool Thomas Jane's.  On Arrow, his Abercrombie & Finch handsomeness and action figure physique are put to good use as the rich kid façade and for the shirtless training scenes.  In the first half dozen episodes, Amell's lack of a dignified hero voice a la Michael Keaton or straight Christian Bale growl was really jarring in the Arrow scenes but now seem to be modulated to give him a kind of monotone, ominous motif instead of the gee whiz, nice guy quality his voice naturally has.  Since superheroes and villains are all the rage right now, Arrow hasn't shied away from using colorful characters like revenge seeking The Huntress, assassin China White, eye patched super gunman Deadshot and so on.  A drug dealer known as The Count gets a syringe full of his own supply and is carted off at the hospital so you know he's gonna come back looking all freaky and cray cray in the head.  I'm unfamiliar with the comic book version of Oliver Queen beyond knowing The Green Arrow shared a title with The Green Lantern at one point and was praised when sidekick Speedy was depicted as a drug addict so I have no idea if this is paying homage to the panels.  That's not a bad thing because there are no preconceived notions and if anything will inspire me to pick up a few issues to expand my comic knowledge since I've always been a Marvel guy.

Apparently the show is doing quite well, being CW's highest rated new show in 5 years and receiving positive critical reception along with garnering award nominations from The Saturn Awards, IGN, The Leo Awards and more.  I wonder if interest in bow and arrow shooting has risen in the last 10 years what thanks to Legolas in Lord of the Rings, Thomas Jane's throwback to Rambo in The Punisher, Arrow, Hawkeye in The Avengers and of course, Katniss in The Hunger Games.  Season 2 has just wrapped up while a 3rd year was green lit.  Spin-off The Flash was picked up recently along with Fox's young Commissioner Gordon series, Gotham and Constantine on NBC so while Marvel is winning the cinematic battle, DC can claim victory on the small screen.

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