Very few recent TV seasons have inspired such a wide range of reactions as Season 4 of Arrow. While some thought it was a fantastic season filled with everything they wanted, others cited the weird flashbacks, magic totems, bee puns, instant paralysis cures, and the death of an important mythos character as the ruining of a great show. Thankfully for The CW, the ratings have remained consistent, but could there be a way to bring back some of the viewers who may have given up?
Of course. All they’d have to do is look back to the beginning.
When Arrow premiered on The CW in 2012, it accomplished some important tasks for then-new President Mark Pedowitz. The show improved the network’s Wednesdays, which was helped by pairing it with Supernatural (which was moved from its Friday night exile). The series filled the Smallville-sized void on the schedule, which hadn’t had a DC Comics show since the end of that Tom Welling series the year before. Best of all, Arrow brought an action sensibility to the channel seen only on a show like Nikita, and that helped bring male viewers back to the network.
Very quickly, fans who knew Green Arrow from the comic books found a lot to enjoy. The series was exciting; the lead actor, Stephen Amell, clearly trained hard for the role, with parkour sequences being a highlight. Hints of a larger mythology were seen in the form of a Deathstroke mask on the island, and the inclusion of characters from the comics like Constantine Drakon. A revelation about Oliver Queen’s mother, Moira, in the pilot’s final moments allowed the series to also dabble in mystery. As a longtime admirer of Green Arrow comics — from the iconic Denny O’Neil / Neal Adams Green Lantern / Green Arrow on through to runs by Mike Grell and Kevin Smith, as well as Andy Diggle‘s excellent Green Arrow: Year One — this show hit a lot of sweet spots. In fact, so much of early Arrow was inspired by Year One that a major character (Diggle) was named after one of the Year One creators. It also helped that the show’s executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg both came from a background in comics that included some well-liked issues, and DC Entertainment’s Geoff Johns even came on board to write a few episodes.
Was the show perfect in the beginning? Of course not. There was a voiceover, which was surely necessary at the time, because Oliver had no one on his team to talk to, but was still a bit grating. The show also seemed to lack a sense of humor, which is something the arrival of Emily Bett Rickards‘ Felicity Smoak brought in with the show’s third installment. Once “Team Arrow” came together — first with David Ramsey’s John Diggle and eventually with Felicity joining the team — the show became even better than when it started.
Eventually, though, Arrow seemed to veer away from its core identity, adding superhuman elements to a series that had formerly taken so much pride in being grounded. Sure, something like an earthquake machine was on the science fiction side, but it still had its roots in technology. One could even argue that the “Mirakuru serum” of the excellent Season 2 is something that could be grounded in reality. Compare that to this most recent season, where characters come back from the dead, happy magic prevails, and the Big Bad of the season basically uses The Force. Stephen Amell himself seems aware of this, as he has voiced hopes that Season 5 of the show, premiering October 5th on The CW, will go back to doing what the show does best:
“When we started Arrow, we were the superpower-less superhero show,” Amell told EW during the press tour for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. “Because of our success and because of opportunities that The CW has had, we’ve had to break away from that original modus operandi a little bit, because we were introducing Barry Allen, and in subsequent seasons, we’ve shepherded some of the Legends of Tomorrow onto their own show,” he said.
“Even though Supergirl is joining the ranks, there’s no new person or new show to introduce this year, and I think as a result of that, we need to get back to focusing more on some of the core elements that used to define Arrow,” he continued. “To me, that’s hand-to-hand combat, no superpowers, and dealing with the job of cleaning up Star City.”
Sadly, Oliver Queen’s vigilante journey in Season 5 will be missing an ally. While fans anticipated Katie Cassidy‘s donning of the fishnets to play the Black Canary ever since her casting was first announced, the character was killed off late in Season 4. Reaction on the internet has been one of frustration, highlighting the missed opportunity of not being able to explore the full journey of a character that audiences expected to see from the very moment that character was announced. As a fan of the comic books, I had high hopes that we’d someday see the iconic Green Arrow/Black Canary crimefighting team in action – not as romantic partners, necessarily, but as the longtime friends that they had become – despite any missteps in their history.
For some, the frustration over Laurel Lance’s death was deepened by the notion that her final words were to prop up the “Olicity” (Oliver and Felicity) relationship, another controversial part of the fandom.
Olicity is the most dividing part of the show’s fanbase, and it has brought out the worst in both sides. If one praises Black Canary or Katie Cassidy’s performance on social media, attacks from Olicity fans quickly follow. Conversely, fans who aren’t feeling Olicity and the show’s relationship drama (for taking away from the show’s superhero action) have put an unfair blame on Felicity Smoak and the actress who plays her, Emily Bett Rickards. Both Rickards and Cassidy have received harassment and even threats online… all over a TV show. The whole thing has made the Arrow fandom a toxic minefield where it is hard to voice an opinion without personal insults coming into play. It is fine to disagree with others; sadly, rational discourse has flown out the door and has been replaced by anger coming from both sides.
Felicity Smoak was, and still is, one of the best revelations of Arrow, as is Rickards. Whenever Felicity would show up on Arrow in the early days, she brought with her a jolt of energy. Beyond Stephen Amell and the show’s action, it was her character that really made a lot of people take notice — that is a great thing. But sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. The show has become too reliant on Felicity and that Olicity relationship. Even the Legends of Tomorrow set up a 2-parter that had large diversions of “Olicity” drama instead of sticking to the awesomeness of seeing The Flash and Arrow characters together.
Felicity and Olicity have taken over the show to such a degree that the show felt a need (or demand) to bring Felicity’s parents into the series. And yet, I can guarantee if we ever meet Diggle’s parents, we won’t see one dating Quentin Lance and the other being a supervillain. The producers claim they are not pandering to that segment of the audience, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that; however, this pairing has taken over the show in such a way that if Oliver or Felicity were to ever have another love interest on the series, I’d fear for the level of harassment that the production team will get over it. I’d love it if Oliver and Felicity could be non-romantic friends fighting crime in the future, as I hoped for him and Laurel, too; sadly, I don’t think the fanbase would allow it. The show feels like it’s gone too far in giving out this Olicity “candy” to set up anything else as endgame expectation from fans — for better or worse.
Despite that, it seems that Arrow is indeed set to return to some of its roots in for Season 5. Stunt coordinator James Bamford, who directed two episodes last year and has received awards for his team’s work, is directing the first two installments of the new season. New characters in Season 5 don’t seem to have powers of magic or metahuman abilities – they’re regular people. There still needs to be more women added to the cast, but hopefully announcements to that effect are coming soon. Best of all, Oliver Queen as Mayor is a personal story that will absolutely have an effect on how he fights crime as the Green Arrow, and it is said that one of the villains will have a personal connection to Oliver, just like the best villains of the show’s past: Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson.
So will I be watching? Of course. I still love Arrow, and almost all of the people who created the show that I first came to enjoy are a part of it. The show has some talented people behind and in front of the cameras, and at its best, it has brought in aspects of the DC Comics universe that have been so well-realized. Leave the science fiction stuff to The Flash, Supergirl, or Legends of Tomorrow, and remember what a great, grounded street-level vigilante show Arrow once was and could be again. Hopefully, the fan base can collectively step back and realize we all want the same thing — a great show.
Remember when Arrow gave us something like this?
I do. And I hope that’s the show Arrow becomes again. Arrow may be one of four DC Comics shows on The CW now, but there’s nothing to say that it can’t be the best one.
Arrow Season 5 premieres October 5 on The CW.