Arrow still missing the mark

The convenient mid-season break format that most shows have adopted leaves us all a nice way to fill the ridiculous amount of time we now have because all of our favorite shows are on hiatus. I choose to spend my time ripping new shows down to their atoms and molecules and pretty much show their guts to the world.

My biggest love/hate relationship this fall season has been with the CW’s “Arrow”.  As evidenced by a recent conversation with a friend as we discussed TV shows we were watching- “Yeah, so, “Arrow”…” And it’s a good enough friend that I immediately knew everything he meant by that one incomplete sentence. It reflected our ambivalence towards some of the radical and ridiculous choices the production team had made. It showed a respect for some of the writing, and bemoaned the “behind before they started” moments.

The first issue that must be addressed is the fact that rather than continue the adventures of Ollie Queen from “Smallville”, the CW chose to reboot the character in a new series with a completely different actor. When I first heard that CW was debuting a series based on the Green Arrow, I assumed, as I imagine many did, that they were going to build on Justin Hartley’s popularity on “Smallville”. For once, it seemed like the Bow To The Ever Loving Buck logic of a television network was finally going to work in the fans’ favor, as we would get continuing stories of a character (and actor) we liked. But no. For inexplicable reasons, the CW chose to reboot the series, and story, with a brand new actor. Yet again, a network took something that wasn’t broke and broke it.

While we’re ripping off the band-aid of bad, it’s also necessary to discuss the elephant in the room, or rather, the abs in the room. So far, I would argue that the biggest problem the series has is Stephen Amell. Or rather, the seeming goal of the writing room that each episode needs to focus not on an actual plot, but how many shots of shirtless Amell they can fit in. There are two problems with this- the first is that Amell is way too bulky to fit the image of Ollie Queen, so it’s rather than these scenes reinforcing the character of the Green Arrow, they detract from it. The second is that it’s hard to take him seriously. We get it- being the Green Arrow requires a lot of training, but that’s no reason to have 75% of every episode taken up by set up shots of Amell working out in little to no clothes. It seems a shameless grab for a young, female demographic, which I frankly find insulting.  What, girls won’t watch unless a guy is half naked most of the time? How about a good story with great characters? You don’t think that would win you an audience?

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The internet is the kingdom of the geek, so it’s not surprising that soon after the character list of “Arrow” was released that rumors also began circulating about what role Dinah ‘Laurel’ Lance would have as the  Black Canary. And here’s the problem with that- you can’t have such a major name character in a show AND THEN NOT USE HER. So far, Laurel has done little to add to the stories. It seems as though the writers aren’t sure what to do with her- is she the true childhood friend that grounds Ollie to the real world? Is she the girlfriend of his best friend? Is she the betrayed girlfriend? Is she the do-gooder lawyer who comes to see Green Arrow’s justice as the only way? Every episode she’s been in has portrayed her in a different light, so it’s hard to know who she is. The other problem is because we KNOW she becomes Black Canary, we kind of wish the writers would just get to it. Dragging it out doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than to frustrate fans.

Another epic fail with storytelling has been the Huntress story arc. First of all, she’s confusing. The story arc seems to suggest she’s based on the Modern Age Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, the daughter of a Gotham mob boss who becomes who she is once her entire family is wiped out (of course that idea is complicated by the new 52 reboot, where Helena Bertinelli is revealed to be Helena Wayne, but I digress). She’s confusing because the writers have presented her as a cliche- she rebels against her father’s evil ways and vows to take revenge. We’re meant to see her as the other side of Ollie, and therefore a possibly love interest, as they both know each other’s secrets and therefore “truly” know each other. But because she’s not fully developed, she appears to just be a plot device. Whether or not the character lives up to her name depends solely on how she’s written in the second half of the season.

One of the things that the writers and production team have done right is the character of John Diggle. It’s hard, with some of the darker comic characters, to connect to the audience, or grab a large fan base. Dig fills the perfect role- he grounds Ollie to the real world, and serves as an “in” for the audience. He first gets to know the playboy billionaire that Ollie puts on, and then through a serious turn of events, learns about the true Ollie, and decides for Ollie’s own good, that he better help him accomplish his goals. He’s a smart, no-nonsense character that serves as a healthy dose of reality in contrast to Ollie’s weekly insanity. Davis Ramsey also manages to play him with an understated attitude, which further grounds the character. So far this season, there have been hints that Dig will play a larger role, and I look forward to it.

Another strength is the use of flashbacks in the storytelling. Almost every episode ties a current trouble or villain that Ollie is having in Starling City to a lesson learned or knowledge gained while he was marooned on the island. The dark filter used in the filming serves to point out the contrast between the clean cut, playboy Ollie of Starling City, and the whining loser who can’t kill for food on the island. Each flashback reveals enough information on the greater mystery of how Ollie Queen became the Arrow that the audience doesn’t feel cheated, but doesn’t reveal so much that we feel shortchanged. If anything, the writers could work more of this into the series. Perhaps they can cut some of those ab scenes.

Of course, I’ve left the worst for last. I need to preface this by stating that I am not a comic purist. Over the years, I’ve easily accepted the twists, turns, reboots, and reinventions of classic characters and stories. As long as they are true to the original character, and don’t venture into the absurd, I’ve been happy just to get new stories. But “Arrow” makes a clear mistake with their storyline- they gave Ollie a family. And this is not a new look, or an interesting take, this is a betrayal of the character. A great part of what makes Ollie who he is is the tragic death of his parents (whichever form of death you choose to go with).  Their deaths cause Ollie to become the careless playboy who cares for nothing and no one. It is this attitude that causes him to initially become Green Arrow- for the adventure, the daring. The growth of a conscience comes later. But at the core of Ollie’s character is their death. The CW, perhaps wanting to appeal to a greater audience, has burdened their Oliver Queen with an overabundance of family-  a sister, a stepfather, and a mother.We’re told (repeatedly) how distanced Ollie is from his family once he returns from the island, and how this distance is necessary in order for him to be Green Arrow. I guess the audience is meant to see these family interactions as Ollie’s weekly struggle between the two sides of himself. But that’s never been necessary with the character of Ollie Queen- the important struggle between his two sides is internal, it’s not meant to be external.

His father is the only family member I don’t mind, as he is seen only as part of the flashback storytelling, and is the only family member so far that adds to the story. His sister Thea seems to just be there to annoy fanboys/girls, as Ollie calls her Speedy, a reference to the Green Arrow’s sidekick. But she’s not his sidekick, and given her annoying attitude, doesn’t seem like she’ll be ready for the job…ever. Instead, she seems to be a placeholder for the young, teenage demographic that CW felt they had to fill. I find myself hoping the writers are setting her up to die, so Ollie can get back to his character-forming tragic angst. I can only assume that Colin Salmon, playing the stepfather, Walter Steele, lost a bet. So far, he appears to serve no purpose plot-wise, except to serve as Moira Queen’s hapless husband. Which is a shame, because Salmon is an excellent actor, and has the acting chops that could add to the show. The mother seems to serve no purpose, other than to set up the “greater mystery” that involves John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn. Barrowman, by the way, seems hopelessly underused in this role. We don’t see him enough to know who he’s supposed to be, or what his agenda is, so we’re not sure how to take him (personally, I keep waiting for him to turn to a character and give them a Captain Jack Harkness wink). Either start giving him some scenery to chew up, or write him off. The drive-by storylines, and screen time doesn’t do anything except frustrate the audience, and long time Green Arrow fans.

Actually, the drive-by seems like a pretty good metaphor for the weaknesses of the show- the barely mentioned (by obviously important!) sister-in-law of Dig, the role of Detective Quentin Lance (played by another underused actor- Paul Blackthorne), the setting of Queen’s lair, and the greater mystery alluded to by Merlyn. It seems in some ways as though the writers are throwing a lot of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. But here’s the problem with that approach on a comic-based TV show- we already know what sticks. We have 70 years of fans, and storylines that prove what has worked and what hasn’t storywise. I understand that the writers want to do something new, but there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Having said all that, I have to confess that I haven’t missed a single episode. While I take issue with a lot of the choices they’ve made, I’m intrigued enough by the interesting ones they’ve made to keep watching.

At least for now.

 

 

 

About Karra Shimabukuro

I am a PhD student at University of New Mexico, my research focuses on medieval literature, folklore, and popular culture. My writing tends to focus on television and movies, but usually with a focus on how things are all connected. I'm a reference snob. I often consider myself a Geek by Proxy- the coolest people I ever met were geeks, and at a young age found myself devouring all the cool things they knew/saw/did. In my days off I can be found on the Interweb spreading joy and enlightenment. And I can always be found in the company of my bebe puppy Nehi. @khkshimabukuro http://scholarlymedievalmadness.blogspot.com/
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