The success of superheroes in Hollywood films has not entirely translated to the small screen, which has seen a resurgence in riskier, more original programming as opposed to genre shows. Despite this, the CW's Arrow, now on its second season, has managed to do extremely well after starting out on uneasy footing. And unlike genre mainstays like Batman or Spider-Man, this show has, surprisingly, said a lot of things about corporate America that other heroes have been rather tight-lipped on.
An adaptation of DC Comics' Green Arrow comic series, Arrow follows the story of Oliver Queen, the son of a millionaire who endures a five-year traumatic experience after being shipwrecked on an island. There he learns about the corporate crimes of his father, and gains both life values and survival instincts. He also encounters both enemies and allies whilst accidentally uncovering a terrorist plot to attack China and cripple its economy (as seen in flashback sequences that are still ongoing).
After making it back to his home (the fictional Starling City), Queen witnesses firsthand the damage his family's corporation has done, and decides to turn toward more philanthropic endeavors. But it isn't enough. His own mother is found to be implicated in a plot to try and destroy an impoverished neighborhood called the Glades, after a few one-percenters deem it a blight on the city (i.e. unable to put anything into their wallets). Queen decides to make up for his father's tainted legacy by becoming a vigilante called the Arrow (or sometimes, the Hood) and pursuing the corrupt aristocrats who are "poisoning the city."
Arrow does several interesting things with this template. Firstly, it converts otherwise over-the-top comic book villains into more grounded characters - though still with memorable twists - such as theatrical drug lord Count Vertigo (Seth Gabel) or calculating psychopath Dollmaker (Michael Eklund).
Second, it gets right at the heart of just how the poor and misfortunate are targeted by the wealthy. One episode, "Legacies," focuses on a family whose jobs were outsourced to China by Queen's father's company, which also did not allow them to unionize. This is a bit atypical for any superhero series, but particularly this one. Consider the fact that it airs on the CW, a network marketed especially to young adults, some of whom have yet to be drawn into the labor movement.
According to series executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, "Since the people that Oliver is targeting are the wealthy and corrupt, there are some echoes of the one-percenters and Occupy Wall Street in the show." Kreisberg also noted that, unlike the Arrow's big-screen counterparts, the character is not typically pro-violence to the point where the end justifies any means. "Arrow gives the criminal the opportunity to do the right thing," said Kreisberg. "When he does kill, he kills for necessity. It's not random violence."
Aside from this, there are also fun episodes that give nods to classic comic book tropes, like "Dodger," which focuses on a jewel thief who has a most persuasive means of getting other people to steal for him. Then there's "Salvation," a much more emotionally charged episode that shows the points of view of the victimized poor whom a would-be Arrow imitator dismisses as "just more gangbangers."
And Arrow has a few other things going for it, including a very likable, and largely female, cast of supporting characters; and the appearance of fan-favorite characters like Black Canary (Caity Lotz), The Huntress (Jessica de Gouw), and, later this season, iconic hero The Flash (Grant Gustin), who will spin off into his own series in 2014.
Those who read my previous review of this series last year may note that this time around, I'm much more approving of Arrow. That's because it's taken steps to separate itself from the pack, proven it's more than just a contemporary Robin Hood story, and touched on controversial subjects that other series are too timid to tackle.
The sophomore season of this show is shaping up to be excellent. Arrow seems determined this year to make up for its initial flaws, and to draw viewers deeper into its rapidly expanding universe.
Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Emily Bett Rickards, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Caity Lotz
43 mins., Wednesdays at 8/7 central on the CW
Photo: Arrow at CW