Fans of the comic know the backstory, although it takes on new immediacy seeing it on TV. Young billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has been shipwrecked on a deserted island for five years. After he’s rescued, with the skills he learned to survive, he’s determined to bring justice to Starling City to make up for his father’s corruption. He roams the streets as a mysterious hooded vigilante, taking down criminals among the rich 1% (making for a timely undercurrent, that of the privileged receiving overdue punishment).
In the comics, his experience was just a way to explain how he got so good with a bow and arrow. On TV, he’s more of a tortured hero: early on, his doctor says 20% of his body is covered in scar tissue and he had 12 fractures that didn’t properly heal. The scars are often visible, since the show isn’t shy about showing off its hero’s good looks and body. (OMG those training scenes!) He’s also been affected mentally, as one would expect from surviving such desperate circumstances and returning to a family who thought he was dead.
Speedy is now Oliver’s younger sister Thea (Willa Holland), while Laurel Drake (Katie Cassidy) is an enemy, a legal aid attorney who hates Oliver because her sister died in the shipwreck (plus, they used to date). Oliver’s accompanied by John Diggle (David Ramsey), bodyguard; the two men come to grudging respect as the show progresses. Diggle is a very necessary (and original) character in grounding the hero and providing support, assistance, and a voice of reason. Later, they’re joined by Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), a techie whose mouth often runs away with her.
I hadn’t tried the series before, but I wish I had, since I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I was going by Smallville, the other CW young superhero show, which I never cared much about. This has more depth, although there are plenty of action scenes. Unlike Smallville‘s “monster of the week”, this show tends to have “bad businessman of the week”, livened up by various costumed guest appearances, whether Deathstroke or the Huntress. Or John Barrowman playing another corrupt businessman dad!
As the series progresses, we learn more about what happened to Oliver on the island (which is much more complex than one might imagine) and the conspiracies affecting his family. It took a while for the island scenes to grow on me — at first, I feared we were in for a Lost situation. (I liked the crack about it made in the first episode.) I also didn’t like the “outrunning bullets” scenes in the pilot, since there’s heroic, and there’s unbelievable.
Watching this series in giant lumps emphasizes the ways the character interactions change as events progress. Things get particularly tricky when Laurel’s father, a police detective, arrests Oliver for being a vigilante, and Laurel agrees to defend him (episode 5). I do wish the producers didn’t buy into the idea that heroes have to have no personal connections, from fear that the people he cares about might be used against him. (The producers have noted how much they’re inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which has a similar approach.) I fear that’s going to continue to be used for soap opera-style complications (a staple of pretty people CW shows), although I admit, I enjoy the twists, particularly when his little sister hits on his friend.
Arrow: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray comes with both DVDs and Blu-ray copies of the show (nine discs total, making for a chunky package), plus access to the 23 episodes on UltraViolet. I’ve only watched six so far, so I have a lot to go, and I’m looking forward to diving into them.
The special features are mostly deleted scenes, with almost half the episodes having at least one. There’s also a half-hour “Arrow Comes Alive!”, a self-congratulatory talking-heads piece where the producers describe their character choices and talk about why they were good ones. “Arrow: Fight School/Stunt School” is 19 minutes about filming the action scenes. The 28-minute “Arrow at PaleyFest 2013″ introduces the show, its cast, and the producers, moderated by Geoff Johns. There’s also a 2 1/2-minute gag reel.
I would have liked to have seen a piece about the comic history, but I suppose it’s not particularly relevant to what they’re doing here, which is reinventing the character in a way that makes sense to today’s viewers and what they want from a superhero series. At that, they’re successful. (The studio provided a review copy.)