Soon after I started watching the reboot of The Flash on the CW, I felt nostalgic for the old version from the early 90s. I remember not seeing very many episodes because CBS couldn’t decide if they liked the show or hated it. Sometimes it felt as if the programmers threw darts blindfolded at a calendar to determine which dates the show would air on.
We didn’t have the Internet then, but I had a subscription to TV Guide and it was still a challenge to find out when the next episode was on. After watching the whole series on DVD, I can see now why the executives perhaps weren’t excited about the show. There certainly were some clunkers in the bunch, but overall it was entertaining escapism.
The Flash stars John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen, fastest man alive, which took me by surprise because he now plays the father of the Flash in the CW reboot. It also starred Amanda Pays as Tina McGee, on whom I had a serious crush. She reprised her role in the reboot recently (episode nine, “The Man in the Yellow Suit”). There is the guy with the hair (Julio Mendez, played by Alex Désert), and a police chief (Mike Genovese) who was more of a curmudgeon than any police chief I’ve ever seen played. The show was clearly inspired by the success of Tim Burton’s Batman incarnation based on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight graphic novel from the 80s.
The cast was well acted, with both Pays and Désert doing a good job in the supporting role, and Shipp with a good mix of stubborn nobility and humility. He also was in great shape. However, the material given to them was often weak. It’s as if the writers couldn’t decide which version of Batman they were trying to imitate. “But you told me to base it on Batman!” “Not THAT Batman! The new one!” “Oh, whoops.”
The setting was also a bit off. It felt like the late 80s crossed with the 40s. I absolutely loved the set design. There were large murals everywhere, especially indoors. However, the technology was an odd mix. When I said it felt like the 80s cross with the 40s I meant literally. You had people driving around in 1940s cars using late 80s computers. It was an odd blend.
Surprisingly, there were a full twenty-two episodes in The Flash. We certainly didn’t see them aired. “Deadly Nightshade” was a highlight. It gave Barry a chance to work with a legend from before his time—a vigilante called the Deadly Nightshade (played by Jason Bernard) who was in his 60s then, but still had nerves of steel. That episode had the best writing of all of them. Great dialogue, wonderful tension, good character development. It was everything a good comic book is supposed to have.
Compare that to “Child’s Play”, a terrible 60s themed episode. It was simply the worst. You would think that writer, Howard Chaykin, would know better than to write something of such terrible cheesiness, since he had a long career in the comics industry. Maybe he thought it was funny, but the humor failed to deliver. Watching the Flash play an electric guitar at superspeed to defeat the villain was embarrassing.
Then there was the Trickster. Some fans feel that every episode that Mark Hamill was in was a good episode. However, I felt that his Trickster was played far too over-the-top. Like Jim Carrey’s Riddler that would follow years later, it was too full of silliness. It represented some of that conflict I alluded to earlier where you weren’t quite sure if Michael Keaton or Adam West was going to walk around the corner next.
The biggest disappointment for me was the relationship of Barry and Tina. The writers never moved their relationship forward, likely due to the writing duties being split across so many teams. It was clear that Tina had a thing for Barry, but Barry was such a clueless putz, I hoped that he would never notice Tina for her sake. I also hoped that Julio, Barry’s most trusted friend, would finally learn the secret of the Flash’s identity, but perhaps they were saving that for the second season that was never ordered. Julio was an entertaining character. He added much needed levity to Barry Allen’s intense drive.
If you have a chance to catch The Flash, it is worth a stroll down memory lane. The bad episodes are easy to fast-forward through, and fortunately the majority of them are solid and entertaining. It was the best that television could produce on a shoestring budget at the time, and was certainly an interesting experiment updating the superhero genre on TV for a new decade.
Original Air Dates: September 20, 1990 – May 18, 1991 (USA)
TV Parental Guidelines Rating: Not Rated
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking)
Language: 1 (light TV swearing)
Nudity: 1 (John Wesley Shipp is sometimes topless)
Sexuality: 0 (zero chemistry and romance, no worries here)
Violence: 2 (death, car chases, explosions, fisticuffs, gang violence, gunplay)