Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'Arrow' Season Two (2013)

Starring Stephen Amell, David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards
Developed by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg

In the wake of the Undertaking that nearly destroyed Starling City, causing many deaths including that of his best friend, billionaire playboy and secret vigilante Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has retreated from the public eye. When his company is threatened with a takeover, his friends and allies John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) convince him to return. He soon finds that Starling City has changed, and not perhaps for the better, even with two new vigilantes on the scene: Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), a young street tough who also happens to be dating Oliver's sister, Thea (Willa Holland); and the mysterious Canary that Oliver is surprised to learn is Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz), who was marooned years earlier with Oliver on the island that forged him into a warrior.

But Sarah has taken a darker path than Oliver, having fallen in with the League of Assassins. Slowly, Oliver attempts to convince her that killing isn't the only way to fight crime in Starling. At the same time, Sarah attempts to reintegrate with her family, the family that was torn apart by her supposed 'death' years earlier. Her sister, Laurel (Katie Cassidy), has lost her job as an attorney and is spiraling into alcoholism, and her father Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) has been demoted from detective back to patrol officer.

Oliver's family life is just as complicated, with his mother (Susanna Thompson) imprisoned for her role in the Undertaking, and Thea struggles with the revelation of the identity of her true biological father.

All the while, a new danger is brewing in Starling City: Another refugee from the island, long thought dead, has returned seeking vengeance on Oliver and Sarah. Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), the man who trained Oliver to fight, believes Oliver to be responsible for the death of the woman he loved, and he'll stop at nothing to make sure Oliver pays for that. And he's got an army of super-strong psychopaths ready to do anything he orders.

The city is falling once more into chaos, and only Oliver, Sarah, Diggle and the others stand in the way.
I was pleasantly surprised by the first season of CW's "Arrow." After years of disappointment in the network's godawful "Smallville" series, I was hesitant to try out this live-action adaptation of one of DC's Batman-wannabe, C-list heroes. The show started off a bit rough, but by the end of the season I was hooked.

Season two starts off strong and stays that way, mining deep into the DC Universe for characters to throw into the show, from references to Ra's al Ghul to Clock King (Robert Knepper) to Dr. Ivo (Dylan Neal) and Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and the Suicide Squad, and returning favorites like Huntress (Jessica De Gouw). Even better, a two-part episode this season served as an introduction to DC's new "The Flash" spinoff series by bringing aboard a young CSI named Barry Allen (Grant Gustin). The show isn't afraid to expand its reach or universe, and coupled with its penchant for throwing its own status quo out the window, it helps make "Arrow" one of the more satisfying superhero romps to hit the small screen.

This is, of course, not to say that the show is any great classic. It's firmly mired in CW soap opera trappings, full of will-the-or-won't-they romantic triangles of overly-pretty people. These storylines can occasionally become tiresome, especially when the dialogue mostly just involves characters describing their feelings to each other in detail. Subtlety is not one of this show's strong-suits, but then, it rarely seems to strive for it. No, this is a big, brassy superhero affair - one that pretty shamelessly embraces its Batman-wannabe status.

In fact, the show at this point is basically just a Batman show with the names changed around a bit. And, as engrossing as it is, the overarching plot of this second season retreads familiar ground from "The Dark Knight Rises," right on down to the 'twist' involving the true identity of the woman who usurps control of Oliver's company, Queen Consolidated.

But for all that, "Arrow" is still surprisingly engrossing. As with Season One, the action sequences are impressive for a television series, especially one on a lower-tier network like the CW. Computer-generated effects are also quite good - witness the city in flames in the season finale, any number of shots of the rusted-out ship 'Amazo' throughout the season's many flashbacks.

Speaking of the flashbacks, yes, that aspect of the show continues this season as well, digging deeper into the five years Oliver supposedly spent on the island. While these segments are ultimately critical in explaining Slade's hatred for Oliver and Sarah, they're also starting to strain credibility a bit. But, the writers are generally good at making sure that the flashbacks aren't pointless - it does seem like there's a plan at work here. If Oliver spent five years in exile, hopefully that means the writers have five years of ideas to make sure these flashbacks don't outstay their welcome.

The flashbacks do serve more than just the plot at least once. The climax of the season finale features a fight between Oliver and Slade in the past and in the present, and it's handled quite well.

It'll never be amongst the best shows on television, but it remains solidly entertaining for fans of superhero fare. It's also the closest thing to a real Batman show we're going to get for the time being (Fox will debut its "Gotham" prequel in the fall, but that's a "Smallville"-style prequel). Season Two of "Arrow" will serve you well if you're looking for a long-form companion piece to Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" films.