Tag: opinion

Has Arrow lost its way?

Contributed by
May 22, 2015

I started watching Arrow because Netflix had been relentless in trying to sell me on the show, every day baiting me with the image of a shirtless Stephen Amell; his toned body wrought with battle scars and a quiver strapped across his back. Truthfully, I never cared all that much about Green Arrow, but after finding his character amusing in the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us (which I later learned was voiced by Amell) and being stuck home with a flu, I succumbed to Netflix's incessant persuading. After a few episodes into my binge-watch, I decided to give this showlationship a shot.

Season 1 did a good job of introducing Oliver Queen to viewers. We got to see Oliver struggle with reacclimating to his life after being presumed dead for so long, saw him deal with reconnecting to the relationships left behind while also trying to reconcile the duplicity of not just his alter ego, but how being The Arrow truly best served his city. Throw in some impressive fight scenes, and Arrow was off to a solid start. But the honeymoon phase was short-lived. Towards the end of the second season, what I thought were freshman kinks were still very much present, and by the third season's midway point it became all but impossible to ignore them. The series is promising a new, lighter tone and direction come Season 4, but it may be too late. Arrow  may have already lost its way.

Identity Crisis

Like most comic book supers, Green Arrow has a couple of different backstories. The archer became more than just an arrow-toting Batman wannabe when he evolved into his current comic book form as the playboy billionaire-turned-socially progressive politician that champions for the underprivileged both during the day and after hours. Initially, it seemed that this was the Arrow being brought to life on the show. Oliver's shipwreck story, along with his being the spoiled, rich party boy, lined up with the Oliver from the comics. TV Oliver also lost his fortune and experienced somewhat of an epiphany about his role as protector of Starling after losing his best friend, Tommy, at the end of the first season, much as he did in the comics. 

Genre fans love a good easter egg, and Arrow did not disappoint. But what started as a name drop in Season 1 ( with Moira Queen telling R'as Al Ghul about Merlyns "Undertaking" plans) graduated from paying homage to other DC properties to straight ripping them off by Season 2 when, suddenly, the League of Assassins went from merely an easter egg to becoming completely in play in Episode 5. We had already met Malcolm Merlyn, and fans of the comics knew his affiliation with the League, but it wouldn't be long before fans would experience deja vu.

At first, it made us hopeful that this was meant to connect Arrow to Batman, eventually leading to either the Caped Crusader appearing on the show or Batman existing within DC's TV verse. But both Guggenheim and series producer Andrew Kreisberg have reiterated DC's strict "No Bat" policy, subsequently dashing fans dreams. And, as time went on, the Arrow series seemed to not just discount Green Arrow's comic book origins, but began taking on Batman's story, instead. Adding insult to injury, the show was borrowing too heavily from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy; now, Oliver was the one who had been trained by R'as Al Ghul and expected to destroy his city, a run in with Count Vertigo (Season 1, Episode 12) looked a lot like a scene with Scarecrow in Batman Begins, and then there was the shirtless fight scene between R'as and Arrow, which was pulled directly from the Batman comics as well as invoking similarities to a scene between R'as and Bruce in Begins.

It's feasible to think that Arrow has become the de facto center of DC's TV-verse since Batman and Supes are expected to stay on the big screen, which is fine; the Oliver Queen that exists in the comics has the perfect backstory for a modern-day super hero, whose life mission and ideologies fall in line with Arrow's key demographic. This progressive, political figure is the Arrow the show should have been spending more time developing, giving its prime 18-34 year old audience a relatable super hero that stood for some of the very things they believe in instead of one that is retelling Batman's story from Christopher Nolan's film series.

Too Many Moving Parts

Introducing numerous villains and heroes from within the DC Universe seemed like a good idea, at first. But what could have worked if it were done sparingly and slowly became too much, making it hard to keep track of the various plotlines. Further muddying the waters are the far-too-used flashback scenes, which, by the time we reached Season 3, weren't only no longer necessary (we should know enough about Oliver's backstory by now), but also hindered the story from moving forward. This attempt to tell two simultaneous stories about Oliver Queen at the same time felt like whiplash. The show kept interrupting itself, making it difficult to get too invested in anything that was happening in either versions of Oliver's life.

It's not just Oliver's storyline that's all over the place. Arrow's congested with so many characters at once that they've all but hijacked the show. Instead of this being Oliver Queen's story, Starling City has become little more than the most popular stopover for DC characters who may be on their way to their own spin-off. Both CW's president Mark Pedowitz and show runner Marc Guggenheim have admitted as much, themselves; Pedowitz boasted about being able to "test out" characters on both Arrow and The Flash, while Guggenheim isn't shy about admitting his willingness to develop a character's story in its own spin-off.

Considering the popularity of shared universes on the big screen, it's understandable that DC would hope to emulate that same formula on the TV landscape. It's not news to anyone that Marvel has dominated over DC in theaters. But as Warner Bros. moves to quickly expand its TV-verse by interjecting so many characters into the Arrow series, it starts to feel rushed and desperate, almost as if they're trying to make up for ground lost to Marvel's cinematic 'verse.

Underdeveloped Characters

Perhaps the most detrimental impact of the over-bloated roster on Arrow is how it's affecting the development of the show's core characters, who spend most of their time reacting to stuff that happens on a whim. There's little build-up to how any of the events came to be, or why the characters are reacting the way that they are. Two characters that have fast-forwarded to take on semi-super roles, Thea and Laurel, have also been somewhat flat. Thea went from hating her biological father, Malcolm Merlyn, a plot twist that still serves little purpose, to becoming a highly-skilled fighter under his brief tutelage. Laurel's clumsy transition to taking over the Black Canary mantle has left unsatisfied fans clamoring for Sara's return. 

I've already gone on the record as being anti-Olicity (still not a fan); the pairing came out of nowhere with minimal backing to justify their feelings for each other. Almost as quickly as that started and ended, Felicity was thrown into another unnecessary pairing that served as little more than a reason for Oliver to act unconvincingly jealous. That was also short lived, as writers found a very sloppy way to give Olicity shippers the very thing they demanded via an unlikely "relationship expert," R'as Al Ghul, who wouldn't have any reason to take time out of his precious villainy monologue in  Season 3's episode "The Fallen" to encourage Felicity to declare her love for Oliver. On the list of things that matter to a super villain, playing matchmaker isn't likely to be one of them. This led to a tacky love scene that was cut off by another trademark, poorly timed flashback scene.

It's this continued disservice to its characters that has resulted in a very messy third season for the series. Instead of focusing on developing the best possible storyline for its main characters, the show has been bogged down by trying to be all things at once, resting way too large of a responsibility on a less popular DC super that hasn't been well established to fans. Green Arrow is a lesser known comic book hero who's preexisting fanbase and following isn't large enough to make him the center of DC's television universe just yet.

Arrow has barely established itself, yet already has two spin-offs (The Flash, and the recently announced Legends of Tomorrow). Now, the show seems to be completely shedding its skin as Oliver Queen goes from Arrow to Green Arrow, only adding even more confusion. It's unclear why the show spent a scattered three seasons developing an "Arrow" persona, only to pull a bait and switch at the end of a flawed season. It'll take more than a new costume and monicker to get this show back on track.

There may still be a way to salvage the show, winning back the affections of those that are ready to jump ship, and create an impressive genre show that may even attract new fans, and it's as easy as staying closer to the source material. DC has always managed to successfully adapt their comic books both as animated shows and in video games, whereas their results in live action vary, almost unnecessarily. All Arrow, and any future DC live action shows, need do is bring these classic supers to life without completely deviating from the character's essence in the comics. Focus on one villain at a time, developing the core charcters, and only add/introduce more supers and villains if the story needs it, versus just for the hell of it. They've so far managed to do this with The Flash, which in its first go-round managed to nab bigger ratings than the more-established Arrow did this whole season. It's strange to say a show can learn a lesson from its own spin-off but, in this case, it might be just what the doctor ordered for Oliver Queen and company.

What do you think? Has Arrow lost you, or is it stil going strong? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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