Why We Needed The TV Show "Arrow" And How It Changed Superhero Television Forever
Eight years ago the announcement of Arrow inspired me to plea why we needed the show. Eight years later, I revisit that very argument and ultimately prove I was correct... we did need Arrow.
Eight years ago, I published the article “Why We Need the TV show ‘Arrow’?” as an enthusiastic, albeit premature fanboy reaction to the announcement of The CW developing a Green Arrow television series. Following the popularization of Justin Hartley’s Arrow on the incredibly well-received and long running Smallville, my confidence in the show was grounded on the hope that a Batman-esque show in a superhero exempt television market was what we needed. Fast forward eight years later…. and Arrow has more than exceeded my wildest expectations. Let’s take a deeper dive exploring what has made Arrow such a ground-breaking show and highlight the colossal footprint it has left on superhero shows for decades to come.
Arrow could never have reached this level of success without the foundation of its core characters. Beginning with Stephen Amell as the titular Green Arrow, Amell has excelled in the role by achieving an impeccable balance of grit, anger and soft-spoken compassion. Amell has nailed the character since day one and has completely embodied the role of a reckless, troubled playboy turned matured, revenge driven vigilante. Sound like Batman much? Throughout his tenure as the Green Arrow viewers have grown along with Oliver and have experienced all his triumphs and failures. Whether that be dealing with the death of his best friend Tommy Merlyn, dying at the hands of Rah’s Ah Guhl or developing a relationship with his son William, we have experienced it all. Oliver is the Bruce Wayne of this universe and the creator of it all. Watching his bad-assery week in and week out has made the character the biggest draw of the show. The different layers of Oliver Queen that unfolded throughout the course of these eight seasons has ultimately set an incredibly high benchmarks for superhero characters to follow.
Behind a hero is not far behind an important supporting cast. Now there’s a fair argument that the clichés and roles of “the team” have been butchered and repetitive in the subsequent CW shows but, in the end, Arrow was the originator. Felicity Smoke, John Diggle, Thea Queen, Tommy Merlyn, Laurel Lance, Roy Harper, Moira Queen, Slade Wilson (we’ll touch more on him later) all played an important role in not only defining our main character but evolving the plot as the story continuously threw us twists and turns. Each supporting characters’ stories eventually took on a life of their own, something not many shows can proudly accomplish. We could go on for pages talking about each characters role and impact on the show, but what I want to emphasize is how Arrow was not only able to succeed with its core supporting characters but how it was able to add so many more without losing its integrity.
In Arrow’s first four seasons, Arrow fully fleshed out its full team: Spartan (Diggle), Felicity (Overwatch), Arsenal (Roy Harper) and even Speedy (Thea). However, as the show progressed into its fourth season things grew stagnant. In need of a transformation, Arrow made the brash decision for a complete roster overhaul and added a new Canary (Dinah), Mad Dog (Rene) and Mr. Terrific (Curtis). In the end this change not only set a new, refreshing tone that Arrow desperately needed but spawned several major storylines that changed the show to culminate its long run on a positive note. While I’ve managed to list the key characters there are still a dozen more that could be named. The focus here is how successful the show has been juggling so many supporting characters. This is a testament to the writers as they set a new standard for superhero shows as Arrow’s successors will be forced to follow suite and break status-quo themselves.
While single season villains are nowhere near a new concept for live-action superhero shows, none of had such an impactful group of villains like Arrow. Taking off with Malcom Merlyn’s Dark Archer, the villain had a presence on Arrow for years between destroying the glades, revealing he was the father of Oliver’s sister and even taking over the League of Shadows before facing off against The Legends. Merlyn alone ripping off Oliver’s mask and eventually squaring off in the season finale will go down as one of the most epic superhero television fights ever. Quickly moving past Malcom, let’s switch gears to Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke. Our first live action take on the fan-favorite Deathstroke could very well be the best television superhero villain ever. Arrow’s mentor turned arch nemesis was brutal in every sense. A distinct bad ass in nature, season 2 will ultimately go down as Arrow’s best season in large part to him. Arrow reached its pinacol as must-watch TV as over the course of the season Slade turned on Oliver in the flashbacks and went on to kill his mother in the present. Oliver may be the main character of the series, but fans will always clamor for Deathstroke. It’ll be difficult for any live action incarnation to top this Deathstroke (as the DC Universe’s Titans knows). But before we sign off here, Adrian Chase’s mysterious Prometheus deserves an honorable mention. As discussed earlier, season 5 embarked quite the surprise transformation in large part due to Adrian Chase who demonstrated a new type of evil in the cataclysmic season finale “Lian Yu,” which is Often hailed as one of the best Arrow episodes ever. Merlyn, Deathstroke, Prometheus and the villains who have yet to be mentioned all played a critical part in defining each season of Arrow.
Saving the best for last, let’s switch gears to Arrow’s largest accomplishment that every reader should know was coming… the origin of THE ARROWVERSE. The name speaks for itself as Arrow created the extended universe of characters to establish spin-offs, team-ups, crossovers, and intertwined plots. To put it bluntly: Arrow took superhero shows to the next level. Arrow after all directly introduced us The Flash, White Canary & The Atom (Legends of Tomorrow) and Green Arrow & The Canaries. Supergirl, Batwoman, Black Lightning and the Superman & Lois show would also not have been possible without Arrow. And yes… in that season finale John Diggle just confirmed Green Lantern.
The Arrowverse is a comic books fan dream. Obviously, Marvel took that concept to astronomical heights in cinema with the MCU, but the Arrowverse is the quintessential to that on TV with DC characters. To come and think eight years ago we would come to see Superman, Green Arrow, the Flash, Martin Manhunter, Batwoman, The Atom, and Supergirl all on screen together hopping the multiverse is mind-blowing. Throw in the Ezra Miller’s cinematic Flash encounter with Grant Gustin’s Flash during the Crisis scene, along with the other past films/televisions characters in crisis, and Arrow has officially made the impossible seem possible. In the end, none of this would have been possible without Arrow. And now with the Earth Prime established by Crisis, the Arrowverse will flourish even more as these shows continue to thrive and more characters enter the fold.
What once started as a reboot/spin-off to Smallville became an extended multi-verse of the most popular DC characters. Ripped off the comic book pages and adapted for live action, Arrow has defined itself as the standard for superhero television. Balancing such a large quantity of layered characters is no easy task. Yet Arrow, for the most part, succeeded in delivering us some of the most memorable television live action comic book characters and moments. It’s largest and most meaningful ripple effect was the birth of the Arrowverse, an extended universe of shows and characters that brought together over a dozen of DC comics most notable characters. As Arrow concludes and we all gear ourselves for the next set of series, I would like to say thank you Arrow for everything you’ve done for superhero television. We needed you to transform the genre and your success will be felt forever.
Oh, and p.s. I’m not going to say I told you so back in 2012 BUT…. I told you so. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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