Episode Title: "Pilot"
Story by: Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim
Teleplay by: Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim
Director: David Nutter
If “Arrow” strikes you as “Dark Knight” knockoff, there’s a reason for that. Even the original Green Arrow comic book character spent decades as little more than a Batman analog complete with his own version of Robin (named Speedy), an Arrow Cave and an Arrow Signal that could be used to summon him.
“Arrow” also lives in the shadow of “Smallville,” in which Green Arrow’s most notable appearance to date in live action was during five seasons spent as Clark Kent’s sidekick. Officially, Justin Hartley played Oliver Queen. But everyone knew that he was just a substitute Batman in that series.
The CW has opted to break “Arrow” completely free from “Smallville” continuity for this reboot, but it still can’t quite get away from the Batman connection even as the network made some very “CW” changes to the source material. For example, Oliver Queen doesn’t have a sister in the comics nor does he have a best friend named Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). Merlyn exists, but he’s definitely not a friend to Oliver.
Stephen Amell turns out to be an apt choice to play Oliver Queen in this series. Physically, Amell is in ridiculous shape and he’s very convincing when it comes to showing off what Oliver can do in costume. Amell is also able to play up Oliver’s playboy persona without seeming like too much of a jerk. There’s only so much Amell can do with the badly written voice-overs from Oliver, but this could really work. And for a few moments on the island, a bearded and disheveled Oliver looks more like his comic book incarnation than at any other point in the show.
The story starts out as Oliver is rescued after spending five years on a deserted island following his presumed death at sea. And over the course of the hour, we learn that Oliver was cheating on his girlfriend, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) with her sister, Sarah… who quickly became the first victim when their boat sank.
Oliver’s dad (Jamey Sheridan) has a few secrets of his own which he passes on to Oliver before the end of the hour. It’s this information that seems to drive Oliver forward once he gets back home to presumably right a few wrongs. Before we move on, I just want to point out how strange it is that Star City is now Starling City, or that Dinah Lance is “Laurel” and Green Arrow can’t even be called by his full name on his own show. I can live with some changes in any comic book adaptation, but these changes seemed so random and pointless that it’s puzzling as to why they where made.
It’s less of a mystery to see why Oliver now has a sister named Thea (Willa Holland) and Tommy as his best friend. Both Thea and Tommy are such CW stock characters that you have to wonder if they just accidentally walked off the set of “Gossip Girl” or “90210.” There are hints that Thea and Tommy may eventually become more important characters that would be familiar to comic book fans. But those turns may be seasons away and they are largely dead weight in the meantime.
If comic book history is any indication, Katie Cassidy’s Laurel may eventually be wearing fishnets as Black Canary. But in the meantime, Laurel is stuck as the former love interest of Oliver who has a pretty good reason to dislike him. Laurel is also shoehorned into a role very much like the Rachel Dawes character from Batman Begins. And that doesn’t seem like a good fit for her.
The “Arrow” pilot has some solid moments of scripting, but it also suffers from a tendency to spell everything out in the most contrived way possible. From newscasters explaining the backstory to Oliver’s voice-overs, those narrative tricks get old very quickly. And I physically cringed when Laurel’s legal sidekick mentioned that there was a “guardian angel” in Starling City.
“Arrow” is largely saved by the action sequences and by Amell’s intense persona in the title role. Despite Arrow’s willingness to kill his enemies, the show still lacks the gravitas of the most recent Batman movies. However, “Arrow” is miles beyond “The Cape” in terms of quality and it may actually live up to the lofty goal of being a successor series for “Smallville.”
It’s far too soon to call “Arrow” a success or a failure. But I’m enjoying the ride so far.