Genre fans saw the first episode of the new Green Arrow adaptation this week. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly not Green Arrow either.
Arrow follows Oliver Queen after he is rescued from a five long years as a cast-away. While he was gone, he saw and did a lot of as yet undisclosed things to survive, and these transformed him into a man with an extraordinary skill-set, including supernaturally good hand-eye coordination, resulting in a degree of bowmanship which is off the charts.
When his ship wrecked, he witnessed the deaths of everyone he was with, but before his father died, he revealed some terrible secrets about his own life. The Queen business empire is not what it appears on the surface. It’s built on crime and lies, and many other men are in on the corruption of Starling City. Oliver returns to his beloved city with a list of all the men his father mentioned jotted down in a little book and a plan to make each of them pay for their crimes.
Oliver is not much like the Green Arrow of the comics. He is cold where the source Oliver is cynical, and he’s willing to take lives to achieve his goals, something that would never happen in the comics. Of course, the showrunners have already discussed their reluctance to use the conventions of the comics in their show, so it’s not a surprise to see that they’ve taken the kernel of the Green Arrow story and taken all the ‘super hero’ stuff out of it. It’s still a super hero story, it’s still a crime-fighting vigilante story, and it hits on a lot of the same themes as the Green Arrow books, but it completely abandons the look and style of the books.
The surprising thing is: I don’t mind so much.
When I first saw how far from the style of the books the show would be, I was upset, and expected to hate the show, and if the show was a poorly wrought story, then I would likely have strongly disliked it, and blamed it on the divergence from the source. Yet, Arrow is a well-crafted drama in its own right with interesting fantastic elements employed verisimilarly. It manages to get the audience drawn into the story and its mysteries right off the bat without even the dramatic complications one usually finds in pilot episodes.
This first episode does little more than set the stage, but it does that well. The exposition is compelling, and the characters are all well-played, especially for a cast full of mostly unknown actors. There are a dozen sub-plots set up here to be explored later, either directly or through the character development. Each character has some secret that might set off a chain of melodrama at any moment. Oliver himself is protecting his identity as the ‘green-hooded man’, his little sister has grown into a drug-abusing wild-child while he was gone, his mother is now running the company that Oliver now knows practices business unethically, and his former girlfriend and his best friend are hiding their sexual relationship for fear of hurting Oliver’s feelings.
Oliver has a big mess to clean up. His life, his city, his family, everything has deteriorated in his absence, and he’s taking it on himself to straighten it all out, with the help of his bow.
Honestly, I’m still not sure why the show runners bothered using any of the elements from Green Arrow when they didn’t want to tell Green Arrow’s story, but if you pretend that there is no connection to the source material, it’s an outstanding super heroic drama. The next few episodes will tell if they’ve hit on a good formula for a long serial.
New episodes of Arrow air on The CW on Wednesday evenings. If you missed the pilot, you can catch it on the show’s website.