After the success of Tim Burton’s version of Batman, there was a new market for live-action super hero stories, albeit with a darker theme. I remember shows like Super Force, MANTIS (I hope to find that one), and tonight’s offering, courtesy of Joost. The Flash first aired in 1990, and only went one season, but boy what a season.
[Update: 8/21/2010> This video is no longer carried at Joost.com. Fancast does have it (and I don’t know what their source is), but it can’t be embedded with WordPress or Vodpod. Instead, click here to see this episode.]
[UPDATE: 3/9/2021: Here’s a fan upload. There are options to see the full series officially and I would prefer you do so. This is just to introduce you to the series.]
Visually, the series resembled the Burton films. Central City looks like a Gotham City suburb, there’s a darker tone than the comics of the time, and the music was also very dramatic. I should also mention that the music was by Danny Elfman, whose work included the Burton Batman movies. It’s an excellent score, and the music compliments the scene beautifully every time.
An odd choice for executive producers Danny Bilson (who wrote this pilot) and Paul DeMeo was the use of Barry Allen, as he had already expired in the comics during Crisis on Infinite Earths years ago. When I picked up a Flash comic, I didn’t know who Wally West was, or why people knew he was the Flash (Wally didn’t really maintain a secret identity, at least by this time). I recall little use of Barry, or usually any secret identity, during the Superfriends cartoon, so I knew nothing about that life. Still, John Wesley Shipp, who previously starred in soap operas, did a fair job as Barry, if not a bit stiff at times (I’m sure you noticed in Jay’s death scene). Then again, comics Barry isn’t exactly boiling with personality himself.
An odder choice was in pretty much bypassing most of the comic supporting cast, certainly not a first for comic-to-live-action-TV translation. (The Spider-Man series dropped Aunt May after the pilot and only used Peter/Spidey and Jameson.) Tina McGee was actually a character from the Wally era, and Iris West (portrayed as a sort of new age artist) is out of the picture within a couple episodes. (In the comics, Iris marries Barry, and in the pilot Barry wants to get married and Iris doesn’t. Also in the comics, Wally is Iris’s nephew and a huge Flash fan before he himself becomes Kid Flash and later takes over for Barry when he dies in the Crisis.) Amanda Pays (formerly of another of my favorite shows, Max Headroom) plays Dr McGee of STAR Labs, and her combination of smart and sexy transfers over to this show as well. Interesting to see STAR Labs, a major lab chain in the DC Universe, not only show up here, but featuring so prominently on the show. That’s rather rare for the period, although it also shows up in Smallville and numerous animated versions of the DCU. Barry’s parents are recurring characters in the show, but nephew Sean is new, and I don’t recall Barry having siblings in the comics. However, a quick check proves me wrong.
The rest of the supporting cast, to my knowledge, is rather new. Murphy and Bellows are two officers who stand in for the comic relief on the series, sort of a bright spot (along with the…pardon the expression…running gag involving Barry’s new hyperactive metabolism) in the series. Earl the dog is also introduced and part of the light moments trying to get used to having a speedster for a master. My favorite of the original characters is, of course, Barry’s “sidekick” in the lab, Julio Mendez. Sure, Alex Désert looks more Jamaican than Latino, but he’s a fun guy and is a help to Barry’s crime lab gig. (Doing CSI before doing CSI was cool.) It’s too bad he never learns the Flash’s identity. (Usually only Barry and Tina know his identity, but one guest star does uncover it in a later episode.) Rounding out the introed is Joe Klein, the loudmouth talk show host who also shows up either not believing in the Flash, or trying to make him look bad. One of Richard Beltzer’s first roles, being mostly known for his stand-up career prior.
Easter eggs show up quite a bit in the series, mostly from street signs or character names, that reference past comic writers and artists, or other guest star and cameo characters. (Linda Park, the pushy reporter in the pilot is another Wally supporting cast member, and the show’s version is far different that the future Mrs. West.) STAR Labs is on Garrick Street, and Barry’s brother in the show is named Jay, both references to the original Flash character, Jay Garrick.
While I’ve noted not usually into the whole dark thing, some shows can make it work, and The Flash was one of those shows. Later episodes did tap some of the comic’s famous “rouges gallery”, such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and the Trickster. The latter was portrayed by Mark Hamil, and was just so wonderfully over the top as to easily see the Joker’s influence. (Another Batman connection, not only in the Trickster’s personality, but Hamil’s other famous not-Star Wars character is the Clown Prince of Crime.)
I can’t end the article without discussing the costume. Used to be live-action super hero costumes were just your basic spandex, as we all assumed the comics versions wore. They never seem all that bulky or padded. However, once Michael Keaton was adorned with the foam rubber suit in the Batman movies, every live action super hero series since (not counting the Power Rangers franchise, which has to match the Japanese series, where the foam rubber is saved for aliens and monsters) has used this, from Lois and Clark to Spider-Man. (Iron Man couldn’t do this, since they needed it to look like armor.) My opinion of it varies from hero to hero, but here it’s supposed to be a suit that can resist the high-speeds subjected to it. In the comics, there’s supposed to be an aura that protects Barry’s outfits, but that’s later introduced when the nitpickers kept noting that his clothes should be all shredded off at the speeds he and the other speedsters run at.
The series is out on DVD, and I highly recommend it.