Monday, February 20, 2012

Why 'Arrow' has every right to be a great series (and why it probably won't be)

(This isn't an image from the new series, in case you were wondering)

For years, "Smalville" provided 'The CW', the American cable network (once called 'The WB' before it merged with CBS) reliable weekly ratings for a demographic primarily consisting of women, aged 18-25 (because apparently those are the people who like superheroes). If the show had appeared on a national network like ABC or NBC, its meagre ratings would have resulted in a very quick cancellation, but as 'The CW' is one of many hundreds of similar cable channels, it's expected that shows get lower ratings on them. Essentially, lower standards are what led to the longest-running superhero show of all time.

When the cast and crew of "Smallville" FINALLY decided to bring the show to a 'natural' end (which I've spoken about, at length, before) the Powers-that-Be predictably decided to get to work on a new series that would continue the reliably steady stream of so-so ratings. Like fools, the fanboys and girls cried out in agony, longing for a "Metropolis" series that would follow Clark in Metropolis as Superman. Luckily, this was a very silly idea that Warner Bros. would never allow, given that they were re-introducing Superman into the movies, they didn't want to overexpose one of their most money-making characters and it would also make for rather a dreadful series, given that Lex Luthor wouldn't be able to contain his bowel-movements (explained in the link).

To fill the "Smallville" void, The CW toyed with the notion of a series called 'The Graysons' featuring (you guessed it) Dick Grayson's family, before they met their doom when they swung from a trapeze wire rubbed with acid. For some reason, executives thought that a show about Robin BEFORE HE BECAME ROBIN, completely lacking in pointy-eared mentors, was WHAT AMERICA WANTED TO SEE. Honestly folks, I didn't believe this could be a more comprehensively bad idea. But then they went and called him 'D.J' instead of 'Dick'.

It's bad enough that Robin is such a target for people to not only make fun of comics in general, but also the bizarre leaps of logic within them, as well as the possibility that the writers involved are creepier S&M types (I don't buy into that, but in the 50s, people set fire to comics because they thought Batman & Robin were gay). The writers were just nailing their own coffins by not having the balls to call the character 'Dick' (heh). The fact that they felt they had to hide his name would only give rise to even more lame jokes and memes. Luckily this idea died pretty quickly.

Now, for anyone who isn't familiar with "Smallville", over the years many heroes from the DC Universe showed up (even though Superman himself never did) and the most prominent was actually Green Arrow, who became a series regular in the later seasons. Green Arrow was an obvious substitute for Batman, who the producers weren't allowed to use, as a result of Warner Bros' strict policy of only allowing Batman to appear in his own movies and not other live-action series.

Appropriately enough, Green Arrow was always just a substitute for Batman. He was originally created as a stand-in for The Dark Knight in some of the early issues of "Justice League of America", where DC Comics felt that too many appearances by Batman might negatively impact his own comics. When he first appeared in "More Fun Comics" in 1941, he had a Robin-like teenage sidekick, an 'Arrowcar', an 'Arrowplane' and even a base of operations called 'The Arrowcave'. Sound familiar? In "Smallville", Green Arrow is pretty much a looser, more wisecracky version of Batman, with a penchant for crossbows, arrows and the colour green. He wasn't a great character on the show, but he was one of the more malleable. There isn't really a massive Green Arrow fanbase who want to see his character development follow a stringent path that closely resembles the comics. He's the kind of character that's not quite popular enough to be bogged down, but that's a good thing. In "Smallville" his lesser C-list status allowed writers to do whatever they wanted with him.

This is probably the kind of thinking that's ultimately led to the in-production 'Arrow' series (they've dropped the 'Green' in the title of the series so as not to confuse people with the dismal box-office failure that was "Green Lantern"). Drawing on the fanbase of "Smallville", The CW have decided to forge a series that's in no way a spinoff (Justin Hartley who played Green Arrow in "Smallville" has not been cast; the honour goes to Stephen Amell, who is playing Oliver Queen in the Pilot episode; it doesn't look like the series is going to follow any of the continuity from "Smallville"). It's an easy assumption that The CW and the producers of this series want to have a hero they can use without having their hands tied behind their back. And the basic story of Green Arrow is great enough to make a great TV show: rich playboy with dead parents gets stuck on a desert island and becomes a master marksman to survive. When he finally returns to civilisation, he becomes a vigilante hero. Simple! Mix it up with a bit of Batman-like gadgetry, detective work and the kind of streetwise vigilante action you can't really do in a big-budget Batman movie; as well as adding or subtracting any original characters or DC characters and you've got the makings of a great show! Unlike "Smallville", no one knows what to expect with "Arrow". It's a superhero show where we kind of know the superhero (unlike say, The Cape, where we didn't know him at all), but it's not a show where that hero is tied down by certain popular personality traits.

Even though I've emphasised how faceless Ollie Queen has typically been in the comics, that's not really true. In the 1970s, Denny O'Neil wrote a wonderful run of comics where Green Arrow and Green Lantern teamed up and went all over America fighting social injustices. Here, Green Arrow became more of a social activist, a real democrat to act against the more Republican sensibilities of most other four-colour adventurers. Again, there's a lot of potential there for writers to develop Oliver Queen from a careless, money-grubbing industrialist into a crime-fighting hippy.

There are just so many benefits to making a show out of a character like Green Arrow. Here's why I'm not so sure that's going to happen.

"Arrow" is being created for the same demographic as "Smallville": the 18-25 year-old women. It's not being made for comic-book or superhero fans (which typically - but not as a rule - don't fall into that particular demographic). If I may be so bold, I think this series is just going to be another excuse for the CW to ship high-concept romance, rather than high-flying superheroics. "Smallville" was always more devoted to cheap pairings than it was to cheap thrills, and I think the series could fail on that alone. Even "Supernatural", which is the exception that proves the rule where CW shows are concerned, is often hampered by the painful amount of angsty scenes of Dean Winchester whimpering in his brother's insanely muscular shoulder. I don't mean to offend female fans, I just feel like traditionally, the CW haven't always aimed at the appropriate audience.

There's also the small issue that The CW tried their hand at a "Smallville" sort-of-spinoff before, that coincidentally starred Justin Hartley as Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman.

Only a pilot for "Mercy Reef" was produced and it was never picked up (it was eventually sold on iTunes as a TV movie entitled 'Aquaman'). It's likely that "Arrow" could suffer a similar fate.

On the other hand, if "Arrow" was to be as innovative and successful at developing, expanding and ultimately dissecting and deconstructing the superhero concept as "Supernatural" was where the horror genre was concerned, we could be in for a very interesting series indeed. I believe all the right elements are there; a wealthy, carefree character plagued by his guilty conscience to forge a bigger, better destiny for himself, but lacking the otherworldly abilities that we've seen other superheroic characters possess (once again, similar to Batman). I think while Green Arrow has possessed some distinctive personality traits in the past, and while I believe some of those should certainly be translated into this new series (I reaaally want to see Ollie driving all over America a la The Winchesters), there's so much room for development beyond anything that's been done in the pages of the comic books (unlike character such as Batman or Superman). Here's hoping that instead of simply shipping the same weekly nonsensical crap that "Smallville" did, "Arrow" delivers something really special.


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