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"My name is Oliver Queen."
After their super run with Smallville, The CW has gone back to the DC Comics well for a new action-adventure series called Arrow. Based on the character of Oliver Queen, the hero formerly known as Green Arrow, the network and creators are shaking off some of the more fantastical elements of the source material to not scare away viewers. Just like its predecessor's 'no tights, no flights' policy, Arrow seems to have adopted its own motto in WWTDKD? That's 'What Would The Dark Knight Do?' for those who hadn't already guessed. Yep, you can thank Christopher Nolan for the gritty and realistic approach to adapting comic books being the blueprint for just about every property because they think striking that tone will magically make their attempt as successful. The question is, does it work for Arrow?
"For five years I've had only one thought. One goal. Survive. Survive and one day return home."
Oh, the answer? Well, it's early and despite a lot of kinks, the "Pilot" certainly has a lot going for it including, and perhaps most importantly, great action sequences. It's also worth stating at the beginning that it's not really my concern how closely the show sticks to the comic book mythology, only how successful Arrow is as a show week to week. You won't hear me complain about the story being set in Starling City instead of Star City, even though it's an arbitrary and stupid change, because that doesn't really affect the quality of the program. And forget the city, we open on Oliver Queen on the island shooting his rescue arrow (title! I yelled this a lot while watching) after a cool bit of POV lost boy parkour. It was also nice to see Queen looking shaggy in the green hood (okay, so I care about the comic) even though the voiceover comes across as over written and a bit stiff. Other than that, Stephen Amell delivers a pretty good performance as the lead and, again perhaps most importantly, he more than sells the physical stuff.
"We both believed that Robert, like you, was, uh, gone."
Five years on 'Purgatory Island' has turned Oliver Queen into a weapon and in case you didn't get that he used to lead a lascivious lifestyle before being marooned, the newscast will fill you in on the playboy turned vigilante's past. In fact, every time you need a bit of exposition, there's usually a TV nearby detailing the main characters public and personal business. And if not, the writers provide us with people like the Doctor to tell us, sorry, his Mother (Susanna Thompson) about his severely damaged body and how he's a changed man. Soon after we're introduced to Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), one of is father's former friends who Oliver completely ignores, his 17 year old sister Thea (Willa Holland) and Raisa (Kathleen Gati), the maid who appears to have had a hand in raising our hero. And if you hadn't been slammed with enough new characters in the span of five minutes, we soon meet the some of the major players, like Katie Cassidy's single female lawyer Laurel Lance.
"We don't need to go outside the law to find justice."
There's a bit of banter between the two ladies that introduces us to Laurel and lets us know that she's Arrow version of Rachel Dawes, fighting the good fight at a legal aid office and taking on dubious (actually stuck on one of the cork-boards) characters like this week's baddie, big time businessman Adam Hunt (Brian Markinson). Any holes in her story are again filled in by the trusty news show, with the nearby television sharing that her sister happened to die in the accident that made Oliver a cast away. Yep. Cue the flashback (and voiceover) where we meet Mr. Queen (Jamey Sheridan) as he tries to warn his son of the perils of screwing your girlfriend's sister but Oliver is brought back to reality by the arrival of his old best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) also known as the comic relief (you don't mention LOST to your cast awayed companion). You can tell how front heavy the "Pilot" episode was by looking at, well, how front heavy this recap is but don't worry, after Tommy there's only like, two or three more characters to meet.
"Yes, I do. Nobody can know my secret."
Let the awkward extended family dinner ensue! Oliver makes it clear that he's not stupid, he's well aware of the relationship between Walter and his mother even though they've yet to tell him about their marriage. In the five years since his father's death the two have gotten together but nothing improper happened. Oliver spends the first night at Queen Mansion on the floor and his dreams offer a nice segue to another flashback, this time to the actual wreck. The Ivy League dropout is about to get down with Sarah Lance when suddenly the ship splits and she's sucked out. The camera swirls out after her but instead surfaces with Oliver. Sarah's no where to be found. The shot was suitably disorientating and an inventive way for frequent Game of Thrones director David Nutter to capture the capsizing ship. His mother's the one who gets a wake up call when she tries to stop his nightmare and the next day he stumbles into his sister's room in an attempt to reconnect only to discover drugs. Things with the family aren't exactly ship shape.
"What happened to you on that island?"
So things have been a bit of a slog so far but they start to pick up when Tommy picks Oliver up for a ride around town. They visit the now desolate neighborhood where his family's factory used to be (a good hideout perhaps?) before stopping by Laurel's for a quick chat about Hunt and an overdue apology. Of course, sorry doesn't quite cut it when you cheat with the sister and get her killed so Laurel promptly sends Oliver packing after a few pretty solid jabs. The boys are grabbed by some masked men and while knocked out, we travel back to the lifeboat for an "I failed the city" pep-talk from dad. Oliver wakes up in another abandoned warehouse and finds himself questioned about whether his father also survived the ordeal before he goes all James Bond, making quick work of his handcuffs and then each of the henchmen. Like, straight-up murders them which, to be honest, you would probably have to do in real life. Take that Batman!
"Dinah Laurel Lance. Always trying to save the world."
Thankfully, there's been a bit of time since our last character was introduced because we're about to be hit with three more starting with Detectives Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) and his partner Detective Hilton (Roger Cross) while they question Oliver and Tommy. Lance, who we don't yet know is a Lance, doesn't buy what they are selling but that could be based on his personal feelings towards our hero since, you know, his daughter died at sea. Mom is worried so she hires a bodyguard named John Diggle (David Ramsay) to be constantly embarrassed by an inability to stay with his client who quickly ditches out to set up his green-lit Batcave in the Queen Industrial Inc. factory and murder some tennis balls with his bow and arrows. And, guess what, newscast to bring us up to speed on the bad guy right before Arrow takes down several of his henchmen in a parking garage. Hunt reports the 'Hood' to the Detectives but the corroboration of Oliver's story is met with sarcasm. I think that's their M.O.
"The man in the green hood was there in that warehouse. And he's just beginning."
The big set piece of the episode is the welcome back party and Tommy fittingly has the band play "We Are The Champions" when Oliver arrives. Amell sells the playboy dick very well and still manages to foil his disappointment of a sister's drug plans. She's got some issues and isn't afraid to take them out on her recently returned brother. Oliver also manages to hash things out with Laurel but just when things were looking friendly, he intentionally flashes some douchery to scare her away. He also keeps checking his super cool superhero app on his phone (I couldn't help but be reminded of Dr. Horrible) because that $40 million better show up by ten. It doesn't and Oliver is forced to embarrass Diggle again before taking on Hunt's Head of Security ('head' is right) in an intense fight. Arrow's killing streak continues and the cops almost arrive in time to catch him but he not only slips out but also makes it back to the party before the law. Zip-lines help.
Tommy's the last to learn that his friend isn't exactly the man, or boy, they lost as sea but instead the kind of guy that watched his father commit suicide so he could live. And Oliver learns that his friend is exactly the man he left behind, a playboy who made sure to hookup with his girl after he 'died.' The drama doesn't stop there, after a short flashback shows Oliver's arrival at the island, the tag reveals that it was Mommy who set up the kidnapping. She's pretty concerned about what her late husband might have told their son and knows many ways to get the information out of him. Information. There's a little too much of that in the "Pilot" but once you get passed the first half loaded with introductions, exposition, and clunky dialogue the viewing experience greatly improved. Once Arrow found some momentum and a story in the second half, the action series started to show some (why so) serious potential. Arrow returns with Episode 2, "Honor Thy Father," next Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.