Arrow is a weird one. It is the creation of Greg Berlanti, a specialist in family melodramas such as Everwood and Brothers and Sisters, but it is a superhero story with some really dark, horrorish elements. It also seems to be part of a larger shift for Berlanti, who has gone into superheroes big time with No Ordinary Family (with which I can see the connection back to his earlier work) but also the Green Lantern film and its follow up, and reports of a new series with DC’s The Flash.
In Arrow, Oliver Queen has been stuck on an island for the last five years, after his ship went down in those uncharted waters in which the super-rich like to hang out. But before his discovery of the island, when he and his father are fighting for existence in their life-raft, the old man has persuaded Oliver to right his wrongs back at home and has then committed suicide. Which all leaves Oliver rather traumatized. Oh, and did I mention that Dad was also a super-rich industrialist who seems to be mixed up in some super conspiracy and has left a list of the people involved in his evil plan… Well, actually, it turns out to be the evil plan of John Barrrowman, but more of that later.
Once back in the bosom of his family, Oliver quickly sets about punishing the evil doers using athletic and archery skills that he has picked up on the island. So what we basically have is a lot of family dynamics and vigilante violence, which makes for a very odd, but hugely enjoyable, series that tries, unconvincingly, for a post credit-crunch social conscience.
In addition, the backstory of Oliver’s hellish time on the island, which is called purgatory or something, is told in flashback, so that the series feel a bit like Lost in reverse – everyday life punctuated by flashbacks to a weird island where God-knows-what is going on.
And then there is the fourth unlikely ingredient – a cast that seems to have been collected from BBC’s early Saturday night schedule. The evil super-villain (and closet archer) is played by John Barrowman, who may have been Captain Jack on Torchwood but also appeared on seemingly endless Saturday night talent shows with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Graham Norton. Also, Oliver’s new Dad, or rather the man who is now married to his mother, is Colin Salmon, who was previously a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing (that’s the original BBC series that Dancing with the Stars was based on).
I know I should think the whole thing doesn’t hang together but I find it strangely compelling and not just because of Willa Holland, who plays Oliver’s teenage sister, Thea – she was also Mini Cooper in The OC a while ago – and she is clearly the most intelligent and perceptive character in the entire series. She has a sharpness and a spikiness that is hugely welcome in the show, and I simply can’t wait for the point at which she gets her own superhero identity. In fact, I am surprised that it is taking them so long, the whole series feels ripe for her to replace Oliver and carry the show on her own!