TV Review: The CW’s ‘Arrow’ Misses Bullseye But Hits Target

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CHICAGO – Can The CW survive on genre product alone? They’ve given up entirely on comedy, their reality shows produce immeasurably small ratings, and most of their traditional dramas are either past their prime (“Gossip Girl”) or struggling to find an audience (“Hart of Dixie”). And yet the network had success from “Smallville” for years and “Supernatural” & “The Vampire Diaries” are the network’s two most creatively vital programs. Tonight, we can add a third in the fun “Arrow,” an imperfect show but easily the best new program on the net this year. Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

After the failure of shows like “Ringer” and “The Secret Circle,” it seems likely that one executive at The CW looked at another across the table and said, “Remember Smallville? Are there any other young superhero stories we could tell?” The result was “Arrow,” a new drama based on the DC character of The Green Arrow, who may not be as popular as Superman but has enough dramatic potential around which to build a hit show. The network is struggling more than any other as its demo audience is the first to watch more TV on their smartphone than in their living room, but this is easily their best chance at a reliable performer. It’s undeniably cheesy and cliched but it also has a charismatic leading man, strong plotting, and high production values.

The origin story of “Arrow” is that of a billionaire playboy named Oliver Queen (Stephen Arnell) who is presumed dead after his boat goes missing in the Pacific. Five years later, he returns from the dead to Starling City and most people, including his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), sister Thea (Willa Holland), and best buddy Tommy (Colin Donnell), think it’s business as usual for Oliver — beautiful women in beautiful places with expensive toys. It turns out that Oliver’s time away has changed him in the way Bruce Wayne went from a financial power figure to a physical one. He is not just the tabloid-friendly Oliver Queen. He is also Arrow, a vigilante superhero in the Batman mold — a creature of the night who rights wrongs and defeats evil.

Photo credit: The CW

Of course, “Arrow” must be more than just a “good vs. bad” morality tale. As with any good superhero fiction, there must be a love interest and the Lois Lane of this affair is, not coincidentally, named Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), an attorney for the downtrodden who hates the opulence that Queen represents but doesn’t know his true fight against injustice in his alter ego. Oliver will prove himself worthy of Laurel’s love. There’s also a serious history in the Queen family including what exactly happened on that boat, the truth about Oliver’s father, and the dark secrets hidden in the power structure at Starling City.

The plotting of “Arrow” is what makes it most effective. There’s an excellent balance of questions and answers in the premiere as we get to know these characters and watch the plot threads start to dangle. What happened on that island for five years? What is the truth about Oliver’s family? How long can Oliver keep his secret identity from those around him? The script for the premiere doesn’t exactly avoid cliche but it moves along at a captivating enough pace (unlike, say, “Beauty and the Beast,” which we’ll get to tomorrow) that one doesn’t mind the narrative pitfalls or cheesy dialogue. “Arrow” may not break any rules but it works as escapist entertainment after a long day at work. And The CW needs any reason to get people back to using it as an escape or it may not even be a network much longer. Perhaps this superhero really can save the day.

“Arrow” stars Stephen Arnell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, and Susanna Thompson. It premieres on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 7pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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