"Awesome," says the Flash (aka Barry Allen, an adork-able CSI lab nerd), catching his breath after his first mad dash through Central City in fast-forward motion, giving new meaning to happy feet. "Woo-hoo!" he screams during his first supervised test run. "Cool," he reflects later upon his gift of speed, a sentiment echoed by his crime-fighting mentor Arrow, from whose show he is triumphantly spinning off. Couldn't agree more.
The CW's The Flash (Tuesday, 8/7c) is one of the most enjoyable, agreeable and infectiously exuberant new shows of the fall, a welcome respite from the angst-heavy gloom that burdens so many comics-inspired superhero action shows these days (including Arrow and Fox's Gotham). While there are significant storm clouds in this lavishly produced pilot — a lightning bolt, after all, helps transform perpetually tardy Barry (the charming Grant Gustin) into The Flash — the overall mood is one of gee-whiz heroism and optimism. There's a reason Arrow (Stephen Amell) tells Barry, "You can inspire people in a way I never could."
Which is very cool. The Flash instantly beguiles from its opening sequence, in which a "Red Streak" (as the media will soon dub him) is barely visible blurring through city streets as Barry urges us in voice-over "to believe in the impossible." His "That's me!" enthusiasm as he describes himself as "the fastest man alive" is not so much bragging as expressing the sense of wonder and delight many of us desire in our fantasy series.
The Flash pilot, breezily directed by the renowned David Nutter, teems with spectacular special effects, starting with the devastating explosion of S.T.A.R. Labs' particle accelerator (and concurrent lightning strike) that transforms science-geek Barry — along with an unknown quantity of other, potentially more sinister "meta humans" who could use their new powers for evil. The first Big Bad has a way with manipulating weather, setting up a fantastic twister climax which subsequent episodes may find difficult to match or top. No matter. The Flash won't need to overpower you to wow you. The show has so much heart and so many appealing characters: Jesse L. Martin as Barry's surrogate dad, Detective West; Candice Patton as West's daughter, and Barry's BFF, Iris; Ed's Tom Cavanagh as S.T.A.R. Labs' visionary scientist Harrison Wells, who takes responsibility for Barry's maintenance, alongside gung-ho Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and all-business Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker).
In a nice meta (as opposed to "meta-human") touch, Barry's imprisoned dad — convicted of a murder that forms the basis for much of the show's mythology — is played by John Wesley Shipp, who played the superhero in a CBS adaptation that ran for only one season in 1990-91. That was then, this is now. And this is The CW, not CBS. As Barry concludes, dashing off once again to save the day, "Something tells me this is gonna catch on." I most eagerly agree.
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ZOMBIE JAMBOREE: Making a zombie movie is no picnic. At least not in Jasper, Alabama, which has been trying to make a homegrown, low-budget zombie thriller (unpromisingly titled Thr33 Days Dead) for six long years. Syfy's amusing docu-reality series Town of the Living Dead (with back-to-back episodes at 10/9c, following my beloved Face Off) goes behind the hand-held cameras to record every mishap in a production that has had to shut down multiple times over the years for myriad financial and personal reasons. While I'm not usually a fan of this sort of show, and there are moments of supposedly "real" life in Jasper that are obviously staged, the series doesn't so much mock these yokels' ineptitude as admire their stubborn, proud tenacity.
Especially when it comes to Tina, the producer, who's invested a perilous amount of money and time in this community project, and continually has to cajole a dismissive city council to keep giving them permits to blow things up; John, the "completely broke" director, who works at Radio Shack in between disastrous takes; and Bryan, the lead actor, who tries to keep morale up despite his own history of panic attacks. Honestly, if it weren't for bad luck, there would be no show. And from the rushes we see, it's almost a blessing when they don't get the shot, because what they come up with looks like a total train wreck. But Syfy's presence clearly had an effect. When the series wraps in late November, the channel promises to show the finished product right after the finale. Or would that be a threat?
SONS OF GUNS: As I noted recently in the pages of TV Guide Magazine, this final season of FX's Sons of Anarchy, which has often been likened to Shakespeare (as if it were Hamlet with handlebars), is feeling more like a lurid Jacobean revenge tragedy these days. The ludicrously high body count continues to rise, peaking with the massacre at the whorehouse-turned-slaughterhouse, which is where this week's episode (10/9c) picks up, with a shaken Nero and a furious Sheriff Jarry demanding answers about how this bloody war got started, while Jax spoils for yet more payback with the murderous Chinese. Because you wouldn't want to lay low after an event that epic, would you? Meanwhile, exiled club member-in-hiding Juice's paranoia gets the best of him when his secret exodus from Charming is delayed yet again by current events. This week's cliffhanger? A doozy.
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: Nickelodeon's Nick News With Linda Ellerbee has a remarkable 23-year track record of opening young (and presumably not-so-young) minds and hearts by presenting hot-button issues with a focus on tolerance and inclusion. The latest special, "Coming Out" (8/7c), encourages openly gay teens to talk about the challenges of being accepted by family and peers in a climate of bullying and fear. ... A Ducky-centric episode of CBS's NCIS (8/7c) sends the quirky medical examiner (David McCallum) back to London, where he meets up with a childhood friend (Alice Krige) and reflects on paths not taken. Adam Campbell (Mixology) guests as the young Ducky. ... Looking for Fox's Utopia tonight? Nope? Don't blame you. Conceding failure, the network has reduced this reality flop's footprint to a single night, Friday, starting immediately. In its place (8/7c), Fox is repeating the Family Guy crossover with The Simpsons. ... "G"-whiz: Comedy Central's Tosh.0 is offering what it calls its first-ever "family friendly" episode (10/9c), with no off-color sexual situations or gross-outs unsuitable for the kids who might be watching (and who might end up being very disappointed).See why The Flash is the next great hero: