The Flash: Complete Series
As a kid I collected comic books, nothing new there millions of my peers did the dame thing. One of my favorites in the DC universal, the one that included Batman and Superman, was the Flash. Here was a man that could run faster than the speed of sound. This tapped in to every boy’s fantasy of racing the wind, of being faster than the others. In 1990, well into my adult years, CBS aired a live action version of this classic comic. While the series lasted a mere single season I do retain found memories of it. Now, Warner Brothers has released the entire series on DVD. For the most part the show stuck fairly well to the comic. While there have been about a half dozen or so incarnations of the Flash in the comics the one featured in this television series was the golden age Flash, thankfully the one that people of my age group grew up with. Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) worked as a scientist for the Central City police force. On a day that started as every other day did a freak lightening storm was in progress and a bold of lightening burst through the widow striking a shelf full of various chemicals. The poured over Barry and he lost consciousness. When he came to he started to realize that he was able to move far faster than a normal person. Barry was part of a police family. Both his Brother Jay (Tim Thomerson) and his Father Henry (M. Emmet Walsh) where patrol offices in Central City. When a rouge cop turned gang leader, Nicholas Pike (Michael Nader) vows revenge against Jay, Barry turns to his new found abilities to save the day. He realizes that he needs help to control his powers and seeks assistance from Star Labs scientist Tina McGee (Amanda Pays). She runs Barry, literally, through his paces and supplies him with a special suit that can withstand the pressure of his incredible speed. As Barry turns crime fighter he adds a mask and the famous lightening insignia well known to all of us fans.
The story lines ranged a bit too widely here, perhaps adding to the demise of the series. Some where on the serious side, for example when homeless people are disappearing, being used for experiments, the Flash must step in to save them. Others are comical but I found them fun. The best example is when the Flash fights a costumed villain, The Trickster (Mark Hamill) the results are funny and very camp. The Flash also finds himself teamed with a former superhero of Central City, Nightshade (Jason Bernard). Several of the ancillary heroes and villains did make multiple appearances adding to a more cohesive feel to the series. This added continuity, moving a bit away from the villain of the week scenario most action series go for.
What did set this series above most attempts at bringing comic books to television was the use of emotional interaction between the characters. Barry was estranged from his father. Jay never did understand how an Allen would not want to be a patrol officer. To work as a scientist behind the scenes was a slap in the face of family pride. Barry also had relationship problems. He was on the outs with his girlfriend Megan Lockhart (Joyce Hyser) and his constant association with the beautiful Tina did not help matters. Naturally, you have to have someone who is suspicious of the Flash’s secret identity. In that role there was Julio Mendez (Alex Désert) Barry’s lab assistant who begins to notice how fast things are getting done around the lab. There are also two beat cops that are constantly running into the Flash, Murphy (Biff Manard) and Bellows (Vito D'Ambrosio). The pair offers some great comic relief in almost every episode. There was also the growing romantic tension between Tina and Barry. While the series did not last long enough to fully explore this the thread did add to the emotional connection.
John Wesley Shipp may be best known to many for his numerous roles in various soap operas. Before the Flash he was a fixture in several such shows. After the end of the series he returned to his roots with a gig in All My Children and even became a regular on the soap like Dawson’s Creek. As the Flash he was a great choice. He has the rugged good looks to attract a female audience while being able to convince the guys that he is a superhero. His acting roots allowed him to display a more emotional side to his character keeping the show from becoming too much of a self parody. Amanda Pays was not new to television science fiction. She was a central character in the quirky cult classic Max Headroom. Her portrayal of Tina more than rose to the occasion, she sold being a research scientist while never losing her femininity. Even though he was only a guest star Mark Hamill was great here. He played against type as the Trickster, the best over the top villain television as seen in a long time. Alex Désert has made a career playing sidekicks and here is at his best. He is the typical faithful friend and co-worker, just what was needed to balance the heroics of his boss.
Warner Brothers did a good job of bringing this series to DVD. It’s great that so many studios are coming out with the little one season cult classics like this one. I had the pilot and a few episodes on tape so I was glad to be able to have a DVD version in my collection. The full screen video did well albeit with a few flaws. There were the occasional fleck to deal with and at times the color palette was a bit muted. Over all the video was better than I remember it. The two channel Dolby mono audio was not exceptional. There was some clipping of the higher frequencies resulting in a little tinny sound at times. The stereo separation was almost non-existent. Still, with all this said if you remember the comic book fondly this is a most have for your collection.