So I decided to indulge in a little self-flagellation. Nothing too masochistic of course — no bloggers were actually harmed in the writing of this post — but I do find myself mildly aching and queerly disappointed after subjecting myself to the first four episodes of “Arrow”‘s third season. In metaphorical pain because some of the show’s worst elements, in my opinion, are still lingering in plenty of scenes, like a clingy ex-boyfriend who just can’t figure out he’s not welcome any more, and deflated because a tiny, optimistic sliver of me wanted to like this show again.
Anyone who followed my sporadic reviews of a number of last season’s episodes — there are piteously few of you, I know, but I have had some friends tell me they enjoyed my analyses — should remember that I became rather disenchanted with “Arrow.” The light, to contradict Rust Cohle, wasn’t winning. Most of the flashes of quality I observed, and to a lesser extent documented, turned out to be just that — flashes, momentary glimpses of an intriguing, potentially gripping show that were swallowed up and almost entirely snuffed out by the myriad failures which are apparently a prerequisite for most popular television.
I’m not delighted to tell you that the dialog remains exposition heavy, that plenty of characters remain laughable imitations of humanity and that the episodes still progress like a mash-up of several half-baked ideas instead of as the steady development of one or two (or maybe even three) fully-formed ones. I have it on good authority that the creative team grabs their bucketful of tricks, slightly overflowing with “interesting” concepts, flings its sopping load at the blank canvas of an episode and hopes everything sticks.
“You have a hit TV show until you don’t,” said Stephen Amell, the star of “Arrow,” in a recent interview with BuzzFeed, apparently parroting producer Greg Berlanti. “So why are we saving something? We just press on. Press on, press on, press on, press on.”
Who can deny him? That strategy probably does make for “hit TV”; it just doesn’t make for good TV, or at least not stimulating TV. Look, I don’t want to seem like that pretentious snob at a dinner party who sucks on a pipe and fingers his monocle and snickers derisively at what “less evolved” people enjoy, but if a network’s template for crafting an appealing show is quick-cut action sequences, broad (and surprisingly gender-neutral) sex appeal and preposterous melodrama — I’m sorry, that’s just not riveting television; that’s an AXE commercial (minus the gender-neutral sex appeal, naturally). And I’d rather not be counted among the people who lap it up.
A close friend recently pointed out to me that it should impossible to write badly or superficially about comic book characters who have reams upon reams of back story that existed before a show (or movie) did. But the only thing “Arrow”‘s showrunners appear to care about is leaving their no longer insubstantial viewer base howling in manufactured awe or disbelief at their flat screens (or on Twitter) at narrative twists or reveals doubtlessly designed to compel them to tune in the next week for another foaming-at-the-brain experience. Hear me: if every moment is a climactic moment, then there is no climax — there’s not even a build up. There’s just a deluge of “big” emotions drowning out any gasp of nuance or subtlety or ambiguity in a scene, and that feels maddening to me, like every line is written in capitol letters. Like everybody’s screaming all the time.
What’s more, character “development” (or choices or motivation) is often explained in one line of dialog, usually defiantly, by the character in question before he or she storms out of a room to punctuate the end of the conversation. And I get it. Watching a person ruminate over a tough decision for 35 minutes wouldn’t be any better, but I’d like watch to an episode, or a few strung together, that doesn’t begin with characters feeling one way then 20 minutes later — like magic! — undergoing a complete change of heart. The bottom line is this: what’s happening is not nearly as important as the people it’s happening to, whatever it may be, and people rarely if ever renounce their worldviews in the span of a few hours.
“It’s a superhero show, sourpuss, lighten up!” objectors might say, and I know well it’s unfair to criticize a series (or anything) for not being something it’s not trying to be. But any serious fan of “Arrow” is going to tell you he or she loves the show because it reaches for those capital-“t” themes all the time. I just happen to think and am now convinced it can’t hit those beats; and, moreover, that one, if not the only, thing that makes superhero characters so appealing and empathetic is their fallibility, morally or otherwise, their irrepressible humanity. I don’t detect much of that on “Arrow” either. Obviously sad things make characters sad, but there are no lessons to be gleaned about grief, or even any character-specific grieving. Nope. We get “once you let the darkness inside, it never comes out” instead. Bleh. I can’t find the power button fast enough.
Now I’m sure I’ve tested your patience long enough, generous reader, and I do apologize if my screed has grown tiresome. I’m selfish enough to think my opinion matters to you, so I’ll compress it here once more to reward your perseverance:
I’m going back to “Twin Peaks.”