As we watch DC Comics desperately playing catch-up with arch-rival Marvel in the feature film department, it’s interesting to remember that they pretty much own the field as far as prime-time TV shows go. Their record stretches back to the George Reeves Superman show, and includes Adam West, Lynda Carter, the Smallville gang and Lois and Clark among others. Marvel, on the other hand, basically just has the 70s Incredible Hulk and a few pilots, TV movies and one-season-and-out losers. (We’ve yet to see whether Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will change that, but no matter.) To their list of winners, you can add Arrow, which proved another hit for the CW and now comes to us on Blu-ray. Hit the jump for my full review of the show’s first season on Blu-ray.
Naturally, it contains more than its share of soapy moments, while simultaneously hoping to emulate the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy by presenting a dark, gritty version of DC’s swashbuckling Robin Hood clone. The character definitely has a dark side – drug-addicted prostitutes anyone? – and the show manages to find that darkness without compromising the more teen-friendly vibes that made Smallville such a hit.
Granted, it’s not a groundbreaking trendsetter, sticking as close as possible to previously established models without the bold steps that might really help it. And it takes its time getting going (I actually gave up on it after a few episodes the first time it ran, though I’m glad the Blu-ray helped me realize the error of my ways). It gets stronger as the season goes on, with the actors finding their rhythm and the show developing its own sense of identity. Shirtless hunks abound, starting with Stephen Amell as bad-boy billionaire Oliver Queen, but they’re married to a fine sense of action and a real appreciation for the characters.
Queen arrives back in Starling City after five years on that desert island, learning survival skills with Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson (Manu Bennett) and growing a conscience in the process. When he returns home, he sets out to right his family’s considerable wrongs as the city’s new vigilante, the green-clad Arrow. The premise is solid: local-boy-makes-good tempered with plenty of regrets and mistakes to correct. While the tone clings a bit too close to Nolan (no super-powered figures here) the show runners hit their own stride fairly quickly. Arrow’s nemesis Merlyn shows up in altered form, as does the aforementioned Deathstroke, but it’s more mobsters and assassins than maniacal masterminds with death rays. The grim dynamic is starting to get a little old – do we really need another brooding loner superhero? – but Arrow keeps it from getting too far out of hand with the careful addition of quiet humor.
In addition, the showrunners respond to the sudsy subplots with a remarkable amount of thoughtfulness, eschewing blow-you-away revelations in favor of a subtler and more mature story arc. To that, they and a terrific sense of action, capturing the four-color thrills of comic books without falling into unnecessary pastiche. That allows it to find the sweet spot between satisfying long-time fans and earning new ones at the same time. If you have that with a superhero show,. You’re pretty much set for the long haul.
For DC watchers, it comes as a big relief after Birds of Prey crashed and burned over a decade ago (to say nothing of the stillborn Aquaman and Wonder Woman pilots). Frankly, the company really needed a winner here – we’re not even going to touch on their recent blunders with the comics themselves – and despite some growing pains, Arrow comes through with flying colors. It re-establishes their television presence after Smallville finally ended, drawing a distinct line between its predecessor with a much different interpretation of the character. That should make for a terrific rivalry with S.H.I.E.L.D., assuming Marvel’s newest effort is up to the task. Arrow sets an admirable bar for Joss Whedon and company to follow, and the Blu-ray makes a great opportunity to give it another look.
Speaking of which, the set delivers a predictable but decent results. Strong audio-visual quality and plenty of deleted scenes are married to trio of behind-the-scenes docs: one covering the stunts, one covering the development of the characters, and one covering the cast and crew at the 2013 Paleyfest. None of them are exceptional, but the show itself is good enough to sell us regardless of the bells and whistles.