Saturday, 24 May 2014

Broken Arrow

A lot of people use their blog or Facetwit account to pass judgement on TV shows and films and the like, talking all big and clever about what’s wrong with this series or that sequel as if they’re a proper grown-up critic. Like Gary Bushell or Paul Ross. Not me. I wouldn’t pretend to speak with any such authority on so lazy a topic. Not me. Oh no. No no no no no no no. Nooooo.

But just this once I feel I have to make an exception. Because the subject matter is so very close to my heart, and something that touches us all.

I am of course talking about what’s wrong with the disappointing superhero TV series Arrow and how I would fix it.

Disclaimer time: I’ve only seen the second series, or season if we’re going to be all American about it, so my impression of its disappointingness may – may – stem from having missed a load of cool stuff in the first season, which would have given the second season a lot more emotional impact. Possibly. But man, if an entire 22 episode season can’t stand on its own two feet and welcome new viewers in with a manly hug, then it has no business clogging up my Thursday nights (repeated Fridays).

To start with, the title. Arrow. Not Green Arrow, like in the comic. No, that would've been faaar too cheesy, apparently. Just Arrow, which is – in the show – Oliver Queen’s not-so secret identity (I mean, really; how many people know this guy’s secret? By the end of the season it’s practically everyone in the cast apart from his fantastically unobservant sister). And it’s not like everyone in the show uses the name Arrow when talking about ‘that guy with the bow who runs around talking with a gruff voice’ anyway. No, most of them refer to him as ‘the Vigilante’. Which I kinda get, if the intention is to play the long game here and create the classic comic character in season-long increments – season one he learns not to kill, season two he learns to be hero, season three he puts on the cute little Robin Hood hat from the comics and grows a funky chinbeard. I can but hope.

Hurrah for Neal Adams.
The reason it’s just called Arrow is because the producers are too darn embarrassed to come out of the super-closet with a dude called Green Arrow who shoots boxing glove projectiles, more’s the pity. The show is generally far too shame-faced to go the whole hog and be a balls-out supershow. I swear I’ve seen episodes where he doesn’t once don the Green Hoody of Justice, and just bimbles around in a tux whining about his mommy and his widdle pal Tommy. This isn’t a big effects-heavy character, people! He shoots arrows, in a costume. They’re not constrained by the budget for that surely? This isn’t Superman we’re talking about, or the old Incredible Hulk show, where they were limited to two meagre 5-minute segments of Lou Ferrigno in green bodypaint each episode.

But y’know, I could forgive Arrow its coyness about masks and capes if the central characters, and the actors behind them, could hold down the story without the costumed heroics. But honestly, just picture Arrow without even the existing low-rent spandexed action. What you’re left with is this: a family of rich dullards argue a lot whilst a family of cops and lawyers argue a lot, whilst a forgettable dweeb runs for mayor and two nonthreatening friends sit and worry about the unshaven rich kid. What we have here is a very standard soap from the 80s with flashbacks to the island from Lost and a bit of archery every now and again.

Honestly, it took me about 6 episodes to work out which 25-year old female character was which – Dumb Sister, Lawyer Ex or Speccy Techie. I think they have names but apart from the excellent Felicity Smoak, I truly cannot remember.

And as for the rest of the supporting cast in this season, they are little better in the making the most of their screen time. There’s Harry Dresden as concerned Cop Dad, who seems to have fractured his dentures in the last two episodes, making him sound like a dodgy Bogart impersonator. Then there’s Slade ‘You killed Shado’ Wilson – a character who’s a cool white haired killer in the comics with genuine charm and personality, but in the TV show he’s a grumpy Aussie beefcake who lacks believable menace.

Which brings us to John Diggle, a role embodying the unfortunately overused cliché of Reliable Black Buddy. The character not only reinforces an unfortunate white hero / black sidekick trend, but is just so predictable and boring, not least because the character of Diggle is so terribly correct and devoid of depth.

I do wonder who the show is aimed at. There’s death and destruction a-plenty to be sure – one series regular does indeed properly die toward the end of the second season – but there’s no blood and gore and most of the action seems strangely unthrilling. There’s drama, but it really is of the soapy variety, plucking out tried and trusted threads like ‘losing control of the family business’, ‘love triangle’ and ‘your real father is actually…’ from the Dallas bargain bin. The language is, as I recall, pretty inoffensive (though you must remember that I have a dreadfully foul vocabulary so I tend to miss all but the most DerekandClivish of cusswords), so again, it’s aiming presumably for a fairly familyish audience, even if there is the odd impaled-by-a-katana moment, but surely we’re all inured to such sights by now.

So taking all that into consideration, my perception is that Arrow is aimed at a younger, familier, possibly femaler audience than one may have expected from a show about a bow-wielding vigilante. I’m just surprised it wasn’t on at 6:30 on a Saturday afternoon.

Insert sound effect of arrow hitting tree here.
Okay enough rambling. Let’s pick on just a specific few elements of Arrow that contribute to make it the mediocre experience it is:

Main guy. DULL. I don’t know his name. It’s probably Josh Something. I suppose he got the role of Oliver Queen because of his impressive physique and that cool thing he does with the gym equipment and the climbing bar. But really, you need more personality from the show’s lead than what Josh Something can offer. Oliver Queen in the comics has been portrayed as an outraged anti-establishment radical, a sassy derring-doer and a world-weary middle-aged loner. A youthful fuzzface with one expression – grim-jawed determination - appeals not to me.

It's called a salmon ladder. Who knew?
Island Flashbacks. BORING. Long-haired Oliver and Canarygirl sit in a wrecked aircraft in the dark or a big ship in the dark or a submarine in the dark. A lot of scruffy people get picked off one by one. We all know he’s going to get off the island. We all know he’s going to stick an arrow in Slade’s eye. The only thing we don’t know is why every bloody episode is padded out with 10-15 minutes of this wheel-spinning tedium.

Every Single Character. FAR TOO EARNEST. Where’s the lightness? The dead-pan snarker? The sexiness, even? Every character in it is so darned dour. Maybe it’s the dialogue. I think there was a hint of a giggling Harley Quinn in one episode, but they clearly got too scared to put a proper balls-out psycho in the show and decided to stick with a bunch of conflicted I’m-A-Killer-But-I-Have-Issues characters instead.

Skinny attractive young Amanda Walker. WRONG. Amanda Walker is a well-stuffed middle-aged woman in the comics, which at the time of her introduction made her stand out amongst all the forgettably fit characters. Roll on twenty years to the TV show and… it’s supermodel Amanda! Gaaah. She should have been played by CCH Pounder as all right thinking people know. She could even reuse her outfits from Warehouse 13.
Hurrah for John Byrne.
Oliver Queen, master archer. REALLY? Let’s see some cool arrow skills, for Hood’s sake. Some one in a million shots and really impressive camerawork. Sure, he does the archery thing a lot, but you get the impression he’s no better than anyone else who can afford a funky recurve. In fact by the end of the season there are several hooded dudes and ninjas running round with bows who seem no better or worse than Ollie himself. Show that he’s the World’s Greatest Archer or just give him a pugil stick from Gladiators and have done with it.

So here, eventually, is my recipe for improving Arrow in the future.

Recast everyone. Fast forward five years to justify the recast. Or hell, I dunno, move it all to Earth-2. Grab a bunch of decent actors from one of the sweary HBO series or just admit defeat and only use British actors. Get people who are going to chew the scenery a little, like the evil queen in Once Upon A Time or indeed Robert Carlyle from the same. Anyone that is, apart from Mark (A.) Sheppard, the one-note character actor who infests the green lawn of my viewing habits like a mole with an Equity card. I swear if he pops up in one more sci-fi show doing exactly the same character, why I’ll…

Flash Fact: Sheppard's real-live dad Morgan played the older version of this character in Dr Who.
Crowley in Supernatural
Forgettable Asshole in Warehouse 13
Romo Lampkin - Battlestar's Oirish shyster 
Badger. Firefly's shameful future for the British
Drop the flashbacks for flashbacks’ sake. They make me yawn. We know Ollie survives all the flashbacks, so apart from introducing new characters and subplots that he’s conveniently forgotten up until now, they serve no purpose.

Less soap, more drama. Lose the family crap and the business rubbish. This guy’s supposed to be a hero – a superhero – not Bobby Ewing with a stubble. There are decades of comic plot to plunder before you should have to re-imagine Dynasty with arrows.

No-one ever says ‘You let Shado die’ ever again. So done with that.

This. Is. Acting.

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