Judge David Gutierrez has a flashback—err, a Flash back—in this new DVD set.
"How can I miss you if you won't go away?"—The Trickster
The Flash jumps out of the pages of his Silver Age comic book onto the small screen—and it works.
Facts of the Case
When Central City police scientist Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, Dawson's Creek) is struck by a bolt of lightning and bathed in chemicals, he gains the ability to run faster than the speed of sound. With the help of Dr. Tina McGee (Amanda Pays, Max Headroom), Allen dons a crimson suit and fights crime as the Flash. Pitted against a Rogues Gallery of colorful villains, corruption, and street gangs, the Flash becomes Central City's costumed protector.
Despite his swiftness, The Flash couldn't outrun the competition when it debuted on CBS in 1991. Pitted against Thursday-night lineups that included NBC's The Cosby Show and Fox's The Simpsons, The Flash kept wandering on CBS's schedule, with pre-emptions for coverage of Operation Desert Storm dampening his not-so-super ratings further.
Adapting a comic book is no easy task. The adaptation has to tell a good story while retaining the spirit of the original text. Series creators Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo had already shown their clear understanding of comics with their script for The Rocketeer, one of the greatest comic-to-film adaptations to date. Their understanding also comes through in The Flash.
From the show's use of the Flash's Central City home to the inclusion of the comic's Rogues Gallery to its handling of the Flash's classic origin story, the show hits all the right notes. Central City becomes a character in its own right, mixing the modern looks of the 1990s with art deco and industrial styles. Almost timeless, the city's look is betrayed only by a few characters with early-1990s hairstyles and loud shirts. Watch for some of the most creative and strong production design done for any television series. Simply put, there is nothing like Central City on television.
As for writing, Bilson and DeMeo were backed up by Gail Morgan Hickman and the writing team of Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore. Once the series introduced the Rogues Gallery and moved away from more formulaic stories, The Flash came into its own. Had the series continued, it could only have gotten better. Watch the pilot, "Ghost in the Machine," "The Deadly Nightshade," "Captain Cold," "Watching the Detectives," and "Trial of the Trickster" for the best treatment of the Scarlet Speedster. These episodes feel as though they were pages filmed directly from The Flash comic book. I guarantee you'll feel like you're a six-year-old in TV Heaven.
The Flash benefits from strong casting. John Wesley Shipp (Dawson's Creek) is every bit Barry Allen and the Flash. From the chiseled jaw to his smirk, Shipp fits the character perfectly and anchors the more fantastic elements of the series, making it all the more believable. The additional cast around him, starting with Amanda Pays as love interest Tina McGee, works extremely well with Shipp. Their classic never-acted-upon feelings for one another creates an interesting dynamic and allows room for strong story opportunities, particularly when other women enter Barry Allen's world. Joyce Hyser (Just One of the Guys) quickly became my favorite guest star in one of the better-written roles on the series. For fans of Howard Chaykin's writing, she's his archetypal female, the type of woman that could have walked straight out a movie from the '30s. Mark Hamill's (Star Wars) twin appearances as the Trickster makes for a terrific villainous turn and strong prototype for what he would later bring as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Here, he's madcap and far more interesting and entertaining than his all-too-celebrated portrayal as a whiny farm boy with magical powers. Finally, Jason Bernard (While You Were Sleeping) delivers a fine performance as the seasoned and wise Golden Age vigilante, the Deadly Nightshade. It's a shame we will never see more of the mentor/student relationship that began developing between the Nightshade and the Flash.
The painful aspect of this DVD set is how this series was treated by Warner Brothers. Even the fuzzy, washed-out menu makes it clear that absolutely no care was given the show. Episodes suffer from scratches and dirt. It's as though Warner reached into its video vault and made a straight transfer to DVD. The show's sound is not as lackluster as its picture, but is merely adequate. The less said about the show's disc treatment, the better.
Worse yet is the lack of special features. Warner missed the boat on this one. At least the packaging is good. Spread out over six discs, all 22 episodes of The Flash are collected in a nifty foldout case.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When watching a man in a sculpted red suit fight a middle-aged man in polychromatic spandex, it's important to suspend one's disbelief. NYPD Blue, this ain't.
For those disappointed the show lacked any special features, check out Bilson's and DeMeo's podcast for the "Trial of the Trickster" episode.
The Flash: The Complete Series is free to go. C'mon. It's the Flash.
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