ARROW: First Thoughts on CW’s F*ck You to Fundamentalist Fanboys

Arrow (2012) – Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 – “Pilot” and “Honor Thy Father” – Written by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim (both episodes); Directed by David Nutter and David Barrett – Starring Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Paul Blackthorne, Kelly Hu, and Jamey Sheridan.

ARROW is the latest example of the collective stupidity of fundamentalist fanboys who desperately wait for the smallest piece of information to go running to the internet to decry anything and everything as stupid. For months, seemingly every piece of information released about ARROW was met with scorn and derision.

You’re not using the dude from Smallville who played Green Arrow? This show is going to suck!

You’re calling it ARROW and not GREEN ARROW? This show is going to suck!

You keep showing that guy without his shirt on in all the ads! This show is going to suck!

You’re setting it in Starling City instead of Star City? This show is going to suck!

You’re going to keep jumping back and forth between the present and the island? This show is going to suck!

It doesn’t. Two episodes in, ARROW is a surprisingly good television program, a engaging mix of violence and justice, and private and public perception. I will say that there was not a lot of pre-launch materials released concerning ARROW that had me overly hopeful, but as we have learned (and then apparently forget) time and again, you never know how good a story is going to be until you actually see it.

The key line issued by Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) that unlocks what this series is about comes at the end of the second episode, HONOR THY FATHER, where he talks to his dad’s gravestone. “Sometimes,” he tells his dad after faking public intoxication, “to honor your wishes I have to dishonor your memory.”

Five years before the start of the PILOT, Oliver and his dad, Robert (Jamey Sheridan) were on a fancy yacht out in the deep Pacific. Something went wrong and the ship sank, claiming the life of the woman Oliver was sleeping with, who was also the sister of his girlfriend. She died, he ended up in a boat with his dad and another survivor, and then his dad ended up killing the other guy and blowing his own brains out in the hopes that Oliver would survive. He’d already come clean to his son that he wasn’t the great, upstanding man that everyone thought he was, and it’s clear that he sees Oliver as the key to his redemption. ARROW begins with Oliver being rescued and returning to Starling City five years after being declared dead.

That bit about Ollie sleeping with his girlfriend’s sister on a yacht cruise? Well, it turns out that in the five years he’s been gone, that girlfriend he was cheating on has had a semi-occasional sexual affair with Ollie’s best friend, Tommy (Colin Donnell). And the father of that girlfriend and her sister? He’s a prominent detective in the city. And his beloved little sister is every bit the party person that her brother was before he “died.” Also, his mother hired thugs to kidnap him in the first episode and revealed to a man in the shadows (of a limousine, not some dark alley) that she was complicit in having her husband’s yacht destroyed, meaning Ollie’s mom was willing to see her son die and now wants him kidnapped so they can find out whether his father told him anything about his illegal activities.

Which his father, in fact, did do. Oliver has a journal full of names and information, and this is “redemption journal” contains the people who his father ratted on while they were on the lifeboat.

All of that soap opera stuff is muted in the show. ARROW is not One Tree Hill with costumes, but rather a vigilante show with some soap sprinkled in, and it’s a genuinely good show.

The key to ARROW’s success is that it knows what it wants to be and never strays from that path. This is a dark show that’s plays for keeps, not simply to titillate you with its soap opera wickedness. Oliver has no problems running around and sinking arrows into people. His strategy, so far, is to drop in on a rich bad guy, shoot his flunkies full of arrows, and then threaten the boss to do what he wants, whether that’s to give people he’s ripped off some massive amounts of money or force a baddie to testify against himself at trial.

ARROW does play loose with reality when it comes to all of this, of course. In the second episode he gives Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) a recording of a bad guy incriminating himself. There’s no way it’s a legal confession (the baddie gave under the duress of having a vigilante in a green hood shooting arrows at him) but it works well enough inside the narrative.

Stephen Amell is really good at playing the haunted vigilante who’s pretending to still be a semi-empty party boy. He’s willing to let the world think he hasn’t changed in five years, while in private he demonstrates that he’s a very different guy. This public vs. private battle for who Oliver Queen is cannot last, of course. Already, his mom-hired bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsey), knows he’s not the public version of himself, and his best friend Tommy asks the obvious question of how it’s odd that Oliver’s return and Arrow’s arrival (not that anyone calls him Arrow; they just call him the green-hooded vigilante) happen at the same time. The biggest breakdown between public and private comes with the two most important women in his life, his ex-girlfriend Dinah “Laurel” Lance (Katie Cassidy) and his sister, Thea (Willa Holland). Oliver waffles between being a projection of who he used to be and who he is with Laurel. One night he tells her to stay away from him, the next day he’s showing up at her door so they can make nice and eat ice cream, and the day after that he’s invited her to a dedication so she can see him make a fool of himself.

Even though Oliver – just so we’re clear – took Laurel’s sister with him on a yacht cruise so he could have sex with her, a cruise that ended up with said sister dying, Laurel just can’t stay mad at him. It’s clear that part of Oliver’s personal redemption will be consistently given or not given through Laurel, which is a bit of a shame since she’s the weakest link in the show, so far. It’s not that she’s a horrible character, as much as the show has conceived and cast this character by stretching everything a bit thin. She’s a lawyer, taking on the biggest criminals in the city in civil court, but she looks like she’s a junior at Stanford. Willa Holland is a solid actress when she keeps things under control, but when the show requires her to let off emotional fireworks, she struggles. She’s clearly her own woman given her job, but she’s also still part little girl, the way her dad steps in to protect her and the way she clearly still loves Oliver. The show even makes a big deal about the paparazzi constantly shoving cameras in Oliver’s face, but never sticks one in Laurel’s face, even though she was the cheated-on sister of the girl who died on the Queen yacht.

Most importantly to the show, however, when Laurel is with Oliver and Tommy, however, Holland delivers.

I hope all those ridiculous malcontents who’ve been shredding this show for months based on clips and advertisements can watch ARROW with open eyes and give it a chance. It’s a good show, even if it’s not a literal interpretation of, say, Mike Grell’s fabled Green Arrow run. It’s clearly a show aimed at the teen-to-early-twentysomething demographic (it is on the CW, after all), but it’s mix of violence and soap works for me. This really isn’t a superhero show, given that Oliver has no qualms about killing, but it does work as a contemporary western, with the masked man seeking revenge and redemption by righting not only his wrongs, but those of his father.

I like ARROW, and I’ll be tuning in each week until I don’t.

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14 thoughts on “ARROW: First Thoughts on CW’s F*ck You to Fundamentalist Fanboys

  1. I was cautious about it at first from the previews. I do have some problems with it, but they’re mostly nitpicks — facepaint instead of an actual mask (not only would it be a pain to apply and take off, but it affords less of a disguise than an actual mask would), the voice-overs, and the weird naming conventions (Arrow is the name of the show, Green Arrow is called “the green-hooded vigilante” [in a world where the media nicknames EVERYTHING you mean to tell me they wouldn't pick a better name for this guy?], Dinah goes by her middle name, Star City becomes Starling City, etc. just seem like really weird changes to me).

    Like I said, though, these are pretty minor and overall I’ve enjoyed the first two episodes and I’m looking forward to seeing Deadshot in the next one.

    • Yeah, I meant to mention that the voice over work is really bad. I’ve got many of the same issues that you have because I’m not sure why they were made. Did someone at the CW or WB decided that “Star City” just wasn’t a good enough name? Or that calling a character “Dinah” was too outdated? Or that painting his face was okay but wearing a mask was too superhero?

      Weird decisions, but they don’t take me out of the show.

      Clearly, though, Ollie has one superpower: the ability to get paint on and off his face in record time.

  2. I originally wasn’t going to watch ARROW solely because of my rampant prejudice against the CW aka The Pretty White People With No Problems Network but Tom Deja and I agreed to watch at least the first episode so that we could responsibly discuss the show on BiTD. And I’m glad I did. This incarnation of Oliver Queen is a lot closer to the pulp heroes of the 1930′s than he is the DC superhero. Somebody working on that show knows their pulp and knows how to mix it up with the soap opera elements you point out to keep things moving. I hope the fanboys don’t watch the show so us adults can enjoy it in peace. Great review, Mark.

    • Thanks. It’s one thing to look at an ad and say, “Not for me,” and another to set the internet on fire. Too many sci-fi fans like to see everything as a declaration of war against them personally instead of just moving on to find something else to watch.

      I agree on the pulp angle, too. The producers have managed to merge the two genres rather nicely, so far.

      • “Too many sci-fi fans like to see everything as a declaration of war against them personally instead of just moving on to find something else to watch.”

        Glad to see I’m not the only one who’s come to this conclusion. At this point, I’m really starting to think that fanboys only remain fans so they have something to bitch and moan about.

  3. It would be wrong to say ARROW has completely hooked me thus far. However, I am certainly interested enough to want to stick around a while longer. I can’t say what it is that makes me want to keep watching; Its almost like the show does just enough to keep me around.

    No idea how long that will last, but I’m willing to stick around and find out. At least for a while.

  4. I was skeptical. The ads I’d seen hadn’t impressed me, but I gave the show a shot and was so glad I did. Aside from talking about it on the podcast I co-host (Earth Station One for those curious) I didn’t say much about the show until I saw it. I’m along for the ride. I hope it continues to deliver.

    Bobby
    http://www.bobbynash.com

  5. Never even heard of this series… hell, I’ve never even read a single Green Arrow comic. The premise sounds like a bad rip-off of Batman. Having said that, maybe I’ll check it sometime… if I’m really bored.

  6. I cannot wait for this show to air on Australian TV. Everything I read about this makes me more and more excited. The fact that they are going to introduce the Helena Bertinelli Huntress to the series has me very excited.

    I read a suggestion that Laurel was called that so that it wouldn’t be confusing if they introduced her mother in a later episode.

  7. I’ve really enjoyed this show thus far, and it seems to have real promise moving forward. Like you, I had some little nits to pick with it (for instance, I wish they hadn’t gone the Nolan route and said ‘no supers’ if only because a fully powered, badass Black Canary would have been awesome, effects budget be damned). Overall it gets far more right than the little things that are only ‘wrong’ because it’s not original material, but based on a character that’s been around since we were still fighting WWII.

    Some of the changes seem to have been budget related (superpower CGI is expensive if you don’t want it to look stupid), and others, like making Merlyn Ollie’s douchy best friend instead of a relatively random bad guy, look like they were driven more by the writers wanting a little extra narrative meat on the bones to hang side plots from or something.

    After seeing essentially the same primary story unfold in the first two episodes I do sort of hope they spice things up a little. I know the writers don’t want to make Ollie out to be a stone-cold murderer and all, but the whole ‘Arrow threatens bad guy, tells him to turn himself in/confess, bad guy doesn’t, Arrow returns to bad guy, fights goons, beats bad guy’ thing could go from fun to Scoobie-Doo formulaic real fast. In a world where seemingly every reasonably well-connected person has ready access to a stable of master assassins, you would think Ollie would figure out that these guys are never going to turn themselves in just because somebody else’s master assassin asks them to do so.

    All told though it’s a really solid show so far and well worth the time. Should be interesting to see where it goes (I’m sort of hoping The Question makes an appearance, just seems like he’d be a good fit with the world they’re crafting and good for a bit of snarky comic relief to boot).

  8. Wow really? bad writing and bad acting doesn’t turn you off?
    Hey I’m not a purist, take the story as far from DC comics as you want, whatever, as long as its done well. The first 2 episodes were just bad, badly written, badly acted and badly produced. hoping it turns around, but I sincerely doubt it.

  9. Arrow is a liberal piece of junk. When I found all his evil villains were just the evil rich man I knew something was awry…. It makes me sick! I’m not rich, but I’m not a disgruntled employee either. Gotta politics and social issues out of these shows….. It’s bullsh1t!

    • Green Arrow has a long history of having very strong, left-wing politics and dealing with social issues. It’s been part of his character for decades. Complaining about that is like complaining about Batman using fear and intimidation.

  10. Yeah, besmirch the “fanboys” who are the only real reason the show exists. Without us, the character would have been shelved decades ago. That being said, Arrow is a terrible show. It’s a conceptually mixed up soap opera filled with poor dialogue, awkward pacing, and weak acting. It’s the NOT Green Arrow we have come to know and love. It’s like my burnout cousin is redrawing a bizarre recollection of the comic he read while watching Days of Our Lives.

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