After having brought us a show that detailed Superman's journey from humble farm boy to superhero, the question that everyone was pointing at the producers was what do they do for an encore? Surely something along the lines of Batman chronicling the journey of Bruce Wayne as he grows up or something to do with the police department? But the producers at CW did something different, they went for a superhero that wasn't as famous as Superman or Batman, and gave us a show which chronicled Oliver Queen and his heroism in Starling City and showed us what happened to him when he was stuck on an island for five years. When it first announced it seemed like an odd choice no matter how popular the Green Arrow had been on Smallville and it wasn't the choice that many comic book fans had wanted. But, there is no denying that it was the choice that really paid off.
Very rare is it to find a show that doesn't stumble in its first few episodes. And Arrow was no different, it felt a little too close to the recent Batman movie trilogy and Oliver's origins were a lot like those held by Bruce Wayne. Not only were the origins slightly similar, the aerial shots of Starling City are very Nolan-esc. But its not only the Batman movies this series seemed to borrow heavily from, the villainous father of my best friend dynamic is something straight out of the Spiderman movies. To be honest, I was wondering if the producers were ever going to give this series a unique voice of its own or if it were destined to repeat things from the superhero genre we have seen before!
And, to my surprise, somehow the producers managed to pull it off while giving the show a twist on the comic book character. While usually a loner in the comics, here Oliver has a full family and a group of friends. Most of these characters were taken from the Green Arrow comic books while some were made up for the series. I always like it when a show makes up a new character, much like Chloe Sullivan from Smallville, Diggle was created specifically for the show. Now note how both Chloe and Diggle have turned up in the Superman and Green Arrow comic books. I think the reason these characters are often so popular is because its someone the comic book fans have never come across before and often give the familiar characters an interesting twist. Diggle is particularly important to the series, not only as Oliver's friend, but the man who puts him straight and helps him see that there is more that Ollie needs to do than just crossing names off a list. But he also gives the audience a glimpse into what the show might look like should something happen to Oliver at some point. In one episode, it is Diggle who dresses up as the Arrow and not Oliver, this could give the series a neat little twist at some point in the future.
It was the acting quality that the show suffered somewhat from at the beginning. While most of the performances matured as the actors got more comfortable in their roles, while for some characters, the scripts didn't give them much of a chance. Stephen Amell is now Oliver Queen but to begin with he was a little unsteady, not sure how to play the Arrow and his billionaire playboy persona and make them different. Sure, he had the physique for the role, something which the producers didn't miss from the looks of all the ab shots but in those early episodes he came across a little wooden. What didn't help was those awkward voice overs that split the action in the first few stories but I was glad to see that the producers noticed these weren't popular and quickly dropped them. But in general, Amell's performance grew and grew until he was rock solid in the role becoming Green Arrow, a role which I'm sure will now follow his career.
It was the other characters whose performances could falter sometimes. I don't think this was the actor's fault though, they were just trying to make the best of the material they were given but gradually, like Amell, they grew into their roles as they found their feet. A character which would be a good example of this is Moira Queen, someone who was hard to believe as a loving mother until she came into her own towards the end of the series and we realised that everything she had had been done to protect her children. Tommy Merlyn was another character who suffered in the beginning, coming across as a real dud, but he became one of the most important characters towards the end and gradually, actor Colin Donnell dominated every scene he was in.
But other characters were more hit and miss. In those early episodes, Felicity was rather annoying but Emily Bett Rickards became one of the best people in the series once the writers realised what she could do and integrated her into the series in an interesting way. Katie Cassidy seemed to fluctuate as Laurel sometimes managing to sell the emotions she was trying to convey in her scenes and sometimes not. But it was her reaction in the series finale when her offices collapse on her boyfriend in the earthquake that made me believe in her and when she came back for season 2, I was completely invested in her character. Both Paul Blackthorne and Willa Holland got some good things to do but really were more notable in this series for some of their extraordinary facial ticks! The only character who didn't win me over was the Huntress, played by Jessica De Gouw, who really didn't understand the character she was playing.
Narratively, the series was extremely solid. It started off strong and finished even stronger, with the writers managing to achieve their story arc while displaying the truth about the mysterious undertaking, something which becomes a major threat at the end of the series. What was unfortunate was that some of the villains were not used well and utterly forgettable. They really began to fall apart when the series began to focus more on Oliver and Malcom Merlyn as the Dark Archer. What seemed like an odd choice at the time was the early mistake in killing of the character of Deadshot but the producers managed to dodge that bullet as they brought him back later in the season with little to no explanation.
Slotted into the series were a series of flashbacks which detailed his experiences on the island. What was particularly striking was that we saw the Deathstroke mask. There were various plot twists including giving us Slade Wilson before he became Deathstroke and the inclusion of the evil Edward Fyers. Once Slade appeared and a friendship developed between the two characters the flashback sequences became one of the strongest elements of the show. While the flashback sequences became few and far between in the later episodes, to make way for the main story but they did become less important as the stories went on.
The season culminates in two climatic episodes as Oliver and his friends fight for the survival of Starling City and in the past stopping Edward Fyers from sparking an international incident. Both these episodes featured a mixture of action sequences and emotional showdowns. The final scene of the series between Oliver and his dying friend Tommy was one of the strongest of the first series and possibly one of the strongest television scenes of that year.
The first series of Arrow started the series in the direction of becoming a competent superhero drama and became something fantastic over the course of the 23 episodes. But despite that there were still some things I wished to see fixed in the second season. I feel that more attention needed to be paid to the minor characters like Count Vertigo, Deadshot and Queen's friend McKenna Hall. The action also needs to be more consistent, some episodes have strong choreography while many are all fast motion and quick camera cuts. And the show could do a better job in representing Starling City as the wasteland that the characters seem to think it is. It is better represented here than it was in the later seasons of Smallville!
It would also be nice if the writers could make up their mind as to what the Green Arrow was to be called. It flits about between The Vigilante, the Arrow or the Hood. Obviously he isn't going to be called The Green Arrow until later on but if Malcom Merlyn can be called the Dark Archer, then surely Oliver can be sorted out.
If the rough points of the show that could be seen at the beginning of the series hadn't been ironed out by the end of the series, it certainly pushed them to the back. But the series manages to reinvigorate a character that hardly anyone knew about. Obviously everyone saw the potential in the show though as it has now lasted for four seasons and has been renewed for a fifth!