What started of as one of the most promising takes on a major comic book character on television has slowly slid into a lesser show with limited prospects. When Arrow started, it was the only show of its kind about and I drank it up, now it has a lot of competiion, made even worse by the fact that It has told almost the same story four times in a row.
In an interview last year, Director Steven Spielberg spoke about how viewers are going to give themselves a “superhero fatigue” with the sheer amount of comic book inspires movies and shows in front of us right now. I’ll admit, it’s a thought I also had when I saw the amount of shows and movies coming out in 2016 being even more than the year before. Like the westerns genre burnout that we experienced in the past, we’re going to get to a point where there are so many of them in the wild that even the decent ones won’t measure up.
Back in the early 2000s, we lapped up any comic book inspired movie we could, because that’s all we had. We suffered through X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man because that’s all there was. Then Iron Man came out, and everything changed. Superheroes became mainstream, they were highly marketable and they had a vast pool of stories and characters to pull from.
The first series of Arrow felt like a testing of the waters to me. It was very loosely based on the comic book character that shared the name. The first season of Arrow was dark, gritty and full of righteous murder. It felt like it owed much more to Batman than it did the original comic book source. Hell, it even renamed the location the show was based in because “Star City” was, what, too cheesy?
Despite its use of the source material, it was well loved and opened gates for even more shows cut from the same cloth. “You have failed this city” became a catch phase. As Oliver worked to cleanse the city of the corruption that riddled it thanks to people like his father and Malcom Merlyn. It was good, then Season 2 was even better, furthering the plot of the flashback segments and having them tie into Slade Wilson being the best villain the series has produced.
As Arrow became successful, (The Flash become a reality and Marvel and Netflix got their own T.V. shows off the ground too) Arrow’s shortcomings became much more apparent, not helped by the limbo Arrow found itself in; caught between wanting to embrace its source material more closely, but also having to continue from the precedence set from when it seemed to shy away from it. Metahumans became a thing, established comic book characters started showing up and Arrow had a much more comic book feeling show to co-exist with in the Flash. And yet, Oliver continued to be the same broody character that was very much not in line with the Ollie Queen of the books.
Season 3 wasn’t great and the first sign of fatigue. While it started well it lost itself in the middle and started to feel like it was just going through the motions to make up a 20+ episode season, one which only really had 12 episode of story to tell. I feel its something all of the CW universe shows suffer from, maybe all syndicated American television really. Which shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones and even non-comic programming like Game of Thrones can tell a tight, compact and impactful story in a fraction the time, viewers like myself started becoming impatient with week after week of Oliver learning the same lesson about not lying, before forgetting it so he can learn it again the very next week.
Not only that, the story arcs turn out to be far less imaginative when you boil them down to their base elements. While each season has had a very different villain, they all have almost the same goals, just on different scales. They all basically want to “cleanse” something to rebuild it in their own image. Every villain has done the same thing; Merlyn wanted to earthquake the Glades to kill off the poor and improve the city, Deathstroke wanted to destroy Starling City to spite Oliver, Ra’s al Ghul’s plan has always been to cleanse the filth to rebuild on the ruins and in the most recent series, Damien Darhk also wanted to destroy the world’s population so he could rebuild in his/Hive’s image.
Flash went in two very different directions with both of their series and were great rides the entire time. Arrow feels like a lumbering behemoth, stuck with the cast of used up characters whose arcs have all been exhausted. Season four’s most damning fault was not giving any of its longtime cast anything interesting to do, learn, change or reveal, because they had pretty much used up all of their plans laid down from the first series. Only Diggle had a new arc with the re-emergence of his brother, but that purely feels like something that didn’t exist until the writers sat down to figure out what to do with the character for the season.
The relationship between Oliver and Felicity was tedious, it always was in my opinion. And having them end it the way they did felt lame, considering the crap the two have been through. The show made it cry clear that Oliver had a very good reason to lie about his son, coupled with being sworn to secrecy. So Felicity dumping him over it felt petty, in fact her character flip-flopped multiple times in so many ways that it made me dizzy.
They even managed to make a major character death lame. As much as I’d become so bored with Laurel as a character, and really didn’t buy her as a vigilante at all, her death didn’t feel impactful at all. Her death in a hospital bed, suddenly and conveniently after giving Oliver an ‘I’ve always loved you speech’ felt a bit much, having none of the impact of Moira’s death in season 2.
The show desperately needs a major shakeup for its fifth season if it wants to continue beyond it. The flashbacks have become unnecessary now and there are no loose ends with any characters as they’re all stretched so thin that there is nothing to do with them aside from just writing them out. It needs to have a totally different dynamic if it wants to keep its head above the ever increasing number of comic book movies and T.V. shows that continue to raise the bar.