There’s a promotional poster for Arrow, The CW’s new sleek and broody reimagining of DC’s Green Arrow comic, that looks a lot like the one for the first season of Smallville. Naturally, emblazoned across both posters, there are dramatic, single-word show titles that allude to a superhero universe. More importantly (and more prominently), though, both feature a lone, shirtless, young man with chiseled, next-level ab muscles—something that is clearly supposed to hint at the pathos underpinning these shows.
Dubious (aka brilliant) marketing strategies aside, Arrow is a lucidly composed action-adventure series that, in its premiere, never comes off cheesy despite the fact that it’s ostensibly about a guy who skulks around a dark city with a bow and arrow—which, somehow seems stranger than wearing a bat costume.
If its first episode and promotional poster are any indication, the show has the potential to be as big of a success for the increasingly teen soap opera driven CW as ten-season wonder Smallville.
So obviously, Arrow is a comic book adaptation but it’s also a revenge drama, meaning that it’s palatable to fans of the source material; anyone who seeks out taut mysteries; and The Vampire Diaries set. Stephen Amell stars as wealthy vigilante Oliver Queen—first presented to us as the scruffy, sole survivor of a shipwreck who has been stranded on a remote island for five years. Spurred on by the memory of a conversation that he had with his deceased father about corruption back home, Oliver returns to his massive mansion totally changed, dropping his spoiled rich kid persona and determined to “bring justice to those who’ve poisoned [his] city.”
Sadly, he doesn’t keep the sweet, mountain man beard that he cultivated while on the island but he does come home with a particular set of skills that he hides from his double-dealing mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), sister Thea (Willa Holland), and fratty best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), as people with particular skill sets are wont to do.
During his five-year stay out in the wilds of the South China Sea, Oliver “forged himself into a weapon” and, for the show, that translates into action sequences that are actually quite magnificent. The future (Green) Arrow isn’t back in Starling City a day before he’s turning the tables on a couple of would-be kidnappers, pursuing them through old warehouses by parkour-ing off of walls and leaping across buildings. Amell apparently does many of his own stunts and there’s a training scene in the pilot that finds him amazingly propelling himself up a Ninja Warrior inspired salmon ladder, which leads me to believe that, like Chris Hemsworth, he secretly is a real-life superhero.
But Amell brings more to the table than his preternatural strength (and sweaty abs). Though there isn’t much oomph in the delivery of his lines, he does seem well suited for this role. He has an understated charisma—something that comes across in subtle moments (flashing a sly grin to the bodyguard he’d easily snuck away from earlier)—and when he’s in superhero mode, he fires off arrows with captivating intensity. Basically, he’s believable, and that’s one aspect of the show that stops it from being goofy.
The challenge of this or any comic book adaptation is maintaining the essence of the original work and appeasing fanboys while also distinguishing the show from the comic and making it clear that this story has its own unique, interesting trajectory. This season we’ll see how well Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg—the show’s development team—manages that balancing act but right now Arrow is pretty close to a bullseye.