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While fans still call it the Arrowverse, there’s no doubt that The Flash is now the granddaddy of them all when it comes to The CW’s slate of DC Comics superhero shows.
After originally being introduced with a backdoor pilot during Arrow’s early run — then spinning off into a solo series that helped usher in the shared universe that fans now know and love — The Flash is now poised to outlast the show that helped spawn it in the first place. The Flash is now in the early part of its eighth season (it went on a midseason hiatus following a five-park kickoff event, but is back on the schedule with new episodes beginning March 9), and the show is expected to return for a ninth season with star Grant Gustin negotiating a new deal that will keep him around for 15 more episodes.
So to be clear, the show isn’t going anywhere — at least not anytime soon. But it begs the question, after running for close to a decade and beyond 150 episodes of television, how much Speed Force is left in the tank for what has now become the network’s longest-running active series?
On the creative side, The Flash is admittedly starting to suffer from some of the same type of fatigue that plagued Arrow during its final seasons. It’s just the simple fact that there’s only so many lessons that can be learned, Baddies of the Week defeated, and stories to be told with the same characters and same basic show format. More frequently, The Flash has found itself going back to the well, with stories driven by Barry making some of the same types of mistakes he’d already learned from in seasons past. Or episodes that hinged on Team Flash coming up with a familiar MacGuffin to save the day — or even just literally pulling the old one out of the STAR Labs vault.
It’s no real fault on the writers; and, to be clear, there are still some compelling stories and episodes along the way (the recent Apocalypse "don’t-call-it-a-crossover" event was a lot of fun!), but after 150+ episodes, you simply start hitting a wall for the types of stories a show format like this can tell. Or at least tell in a way that feels new and worthwhile.
Arrow faced the same challenge, with the mix of “good” episodes and “not-good” episodes getting a bit too close by the time the end came around.
The Flash cast shake-ups have also started to take a toll on the creative flow in recent years, with original core cast members like Carlos Valdes (Cisco) and Tom Cavanagh (Wells) either leaving the series or reducing their episode commitment, while new cast members like Brandon McKnight (Chester) and Kayla Compton (Allegra Garcia) have been brought in to fill the void. Though those losses are no doubt being felt, the series still maintains enough original stars (namely Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker and Jesse L. Martin) that it still feels like The Flash — just… a bit off.
Like most every other show on broadcast TV, the ratings for The Flash have steadily declined over the years, though it remains consistent with its Season 7 numbers and is still among the most-watched shows on The CW. The only that ranks ahead of Flash is the CW's newest hit, Superman & Lois. (The Flash also remains among the top-watched CW series overall, alongside Walker, All American and Superman & Lois).
So it’s clear why The CW wants to stay in the Barry Allen business. If folks keep tuning in, they’ll likely find a way to keep the show going, as long as Gustin remains game to stay in the super-suit. It’s the same formula that led to a mind-boggling 15 seasons of Supernatural — if the show gets ratings, it’ll usually stick around.
But despite decent ratings, it stands to reason the shortened Season 9 could be the final adventure for Team Flash. They’re reached a point where Gustin’s deal is year-to-year and he can (deservedly) command a bigger paycheck to return, and it seems clear he’s not overly keen to lock into a long-term agreement again. There’s also the the fact that nine seasons is a long time for any TV show, and puts it right in line (though a bit longer) when compared to the life cycle of Arrow. Not to mention, several other Arrowverse shows that had shorter runs than Flash have already ended, such as Black Lightning and Supergirl.
If CW was waiting until they had a proper super-successor to The Flash’s success on the schedule, it’s clear that Superman & Lois’ critical and ratings acclaim can help in that area. Plus, newer series like Naomi and Stargirl have helped flesh out the universe, and the network has superhero projects Justice U and Gotham Knights in active development — so there’s no shortage of super-shows on the way, either.
If Season 9 turns out to be The Flash’s last run, then hopefully that season can provide enough runway to serve as a victory lap/farewell tour for Barry Allen and and the rest of our favorite characters — much like how Arrow’s final season and the Crisis on Infinite Earths event was a fitting coda to Oliver Queen’s journey. Flash still has a lot of fans, and Year 9 could be the right time to wrap it up.
The Flash is still a good show, but after another season and a half it might be time finally to stop running — before it finds itself stuck in a Speed Force prison of its own making with no more tread left on the treadmill.