TV Report Card | 'Arrow' Season 1 Review

Overview: After escaping from an island he has been stranded on for 5 years, Oliver Queen returns home to clean up Starling City as a masked vigilante, not yet christened “The Green Arrow”, he sports heavy eye make-up and a hood that doesn’t obscure his entire face, his mission entails becoming “something else”.

Storyline Direction: “Arrow” had a very ambitious freshman season. Executive Producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Marc Guggenheim finally gave the network a worthy show to fill the gap left after the amazing “Smallville” signed off in 2011.”Smallville” was one of the greatest and deservedly one of the longest-running comic book TV series in television history (is there a longer one?). It left impossible shoes to fill and after an appropriate mourning period, CW chose the right time for another comic-book show. 

“Arrow” is decidedly darker and grittier. The thing the show has struggled with is finding that community feeling that the small-town centered “Smallville” found so easily with its homey setting. “Arrow” seems to be gaining most of its influence from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and the city he created with his vision of Gotham. 

Anytime, you tell a story set in a city there is a struggle to establish the plight of the people the hero is fighting for because we don’t know them on a personal level, for the audience, it can feel distant. 

As Queen marvels down at the city he feels so much compassion for, it feels unclear as to if he genuinely cares about the people within the city personally sympathizing with their plight or he only knows about them through his imagination. He sometimes behaves as if he owns them and it’s not compassion motivating him rather, they are chest pieces to play with as he pleases.

As the show demonstrated the parallels between Queen’s uber life and that of the Glades, it also drew us in between the worlds of the island, where Queen paid penance for his man-whoredom and the present, where he is putting what he learned to good use. Or is he? 

On the surface it would seem that he is. However, Queen is a vigilante to the bitter end; he is jury, judge and executioner. He takes the words of a glorified address book that his father has written without any detailed explanation as to its contents and used it as a bible to punish whoever is on it.  It is this blind mentality that makes his character unappealing. The show doesn’t seem to shy from his not always being likable. They aren’t writing a pure hero and that is perfectly fine. 

If one is writing a character, perfection is not something that can be attainable and if he were, the show would be markedly more boring. Similar, to Bruce Wayne he is a self-loathing rich dude who is trying to make it up to the world. 

The source of his self-loathing seems to be motivated by the fact his family and people like them crushed the little guy on their way to the top. However, in his quest to do right by his father, he crushes whoever stands in his way without much thought to them at all. Not even caring to investigate in great depth whether they are truly guilty. 

He is repeating the same mistakes, only on a different stage. It does serve to make his character more rounded that he acknowledges his short-comings; he is more human than most characterizations of super-dom. He is not someone whose had a great alien gift thrust upon him.

Something that has slowed down the show is the island flashbacks. Jolting us from one world to another is simply jarring. Running it for the first season was understandable only if it had led to some huge revelation that would’ve affected the world we are currently in. 

For instance, after developing the character of Slade (Manu Bennett) on the island they could have left it in a cliff-hanger type situation and revealed that Slade had escaped the island without Oliver and they reunite in Starling City. 

An undercurrent of anger from Oliver for being left behind and Slade trying to make it up to him could’ve been one direction. Another being, Oliver thinks Slade has died and in actuality he has survived and afterwards, he becomes involved in a sort of intrigue and needs Oliver’s help so he outs himself still being alive to save someone. 

These are just ideas (not great ones) that would’ve given “the island” a purpose. Otherwise, just knock out Oliver’s origin story in a 3 episode bow and be done with it. 

It feels as if there is no correlation between the two storylines and it’s time to either converge or purge. When you have such a wonderful cast and they are struggling to get the time they deserve, it is time to cut back on some things and the first thing to go should be the sub-story of the island.

Production Caliber: The production was sleek and effective. The aerial shots of the city were beautiful and the return of the Luther Mansion from “Smallville” tied in nicely. The island was filmed in a grey quality as to feel the bleak surroundings. 

We get that it is a really dire situation so the lack of color in those scenes isn’t necessary to reinforce it. It was probably also utilized to differentiate between time periods and that makes sense, it could’ve still been pulled back a bit.

Performance Quality: First of all, without question this is a phenomenal cast. Everyone is really well cast and that is a rarity, given there are so many cast members. It is because they are so great that we want to see all of them featured and given the time they deserve. In the confines of the show this season that goal fell frustratingly short. 

The writers were between a rock and hard place. On the one hand with a big cast you cannot give each member the screen time they deserve. On the flip side, if you have a smaller cast you cheat the audience out of some really great performances from actors you would not have otherwise been able to experience.

 As for the actual performances, Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen) leads the show with great diligence. His performance is the making of CW dreams, fitting the bill as a brooding, sensitive and tortured soul, with that ever so gentle touch of smart-ass wit that gives him a lovable edge. It was a strong performance and he anchored the show with seasoned skill.

Colin Donnell (Tommy) worked well in contrast to Amell’s dark energy as his portrayal of Tommy evolved from affable friend to a possible disenchanted member of society. His transition was subtle and natural. 

It was an interesting evolution because at first you couldn’t imagine the bubbly Tommy taking a turn towards the dark side and yet his move towards it felt organic as Donnell gradually took him deeper. At his heart Tommy was a good guy and it was nice to see them stick to that in the end. 

Katie Cassidy (Laurel) played the woman in the middle of the love triangle that would threaten to tear Oliver and Tommy’s bromance apart. First of all there is no question that Cassidy is an amazing actress with screen presence to spare. Before “Arrow” she gave a memorable turn on “Harper’s Island”, solely carried the short-lived “Melrose Place” remake and dominated every scene in her “Gossip Girl” arc. 

There was something always so exciting about Cassidy, her spunk and radiant magnetism was undeniable. Now, for some reason on “Arrow” she seems the ghost of the actress I just described. I can't describe it other than to say there is a marked difference. Whether it’s an acting choice specifically for this character is unclear.

As for the members of the Queen family, Susanna Thompson was terrific as the Queen family matriarch Moira. She was steely and intense with enough maternal warmth to be compassionate without feeling like a pushover and carried herself with a class more than believable to be the head of a billion dollar fortune. 

Willa Holland gave her best teen angst riddled performance as Oliver’s little sister, Thea, who whined for most of the season. It is kind of a thankless role to be the poor little rich girl who is angry all of the time and Holland did her best to bring more dimension to the part. Colin Salmon was dignified as Walter who was left severely underdeveloped. 

As for Arrow’s tactical team, David Ramsey did well as Diggle. He was almost a little too intense at the beginning of the season and after he lightened-up a little during the second-half of the season, his chemistry with Amell improved greatly. 

Their buddy repartee was more cohesive and Diggle even had some humorous moments. It’s difficult being the heavy and because the show is filled with such serious characters it can verge on depressing so it was a good move to give him some levity. 

Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity) rounded out the team very nicely with a feminine edge and comedic elements that served to compliment her oft gloomy counterparts.

Recurring cast members Paul Blackthorne as Laurel’s father, Detective Lance was gritty, adding some everyman swagger and paternal guidance. Manu Bennett gave the island some much needed enthusiasm and charm as the slickly named Slade Wilson. The age defying John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn was mesmerizing as the season’s villain, he didn’t get the volume of material he deserved though.

Musical Score: The music was more Top 40 than the typical CW show. It added a nice atmosphere, there were some moments where the sound mixing was disturbed and the song overpowered the actor’s vocals. The standout music moment belonged to Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” as it played during Laurel and Oliver’s season long sexual tension was finally realized.

Overall Grade: A-, a fine freshman season that saw itself exceed the previous episodes standard. They are headed in the right direction and the most promising thing of all; they realized the things that needed tweaking during the season and didn’t wait to fix it for the next. 

Television is a genre where there has to be constant evolution and to do that there has to be an acknowledgement that there is always a chance to improve. Listening and responding to the fans on the level the producers did was very wise of the series and it will no doubt reward them in fan base loyalty for some time to come.

[Image by The CW]