'Arrow' Is Silly, Shirtless, and Intriguing

Hey did you guys watch the premiere of Arrow last night? What's that? You don't know what Arrow is? Oh, ha, sorry, let me call it by its street name: Shirtless Man Show.

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Hey did you guys watch the premiere of Arrow last night? What's that? You don't know what Arrow is? Oh, ha, sorry, let me call it by its street name: Shirtless Man Show. That's basically all the ubiquitous ads for this show have indicated that it's about; a serious shirtless man who may or may not have something to do with a bow and arrow. And that's not exactly inaccurate, there is a good deal of shirtlessness, but there's also so much more!

Perhaps one of the funniest things about this thoroughly funny show is that some time, oh, let's say last spring maybe, someone on staff was clearly watching a lot of American Ninja Warrior. Because the way that Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (based on the DC Comics character) moves around while doin' battle with baddies, jumping from platform to platform, leaping like a bug, is exactly like they do on that mind-blowing competition show. He even has one of those salmon ladder things to exercise with (shirtlessly, of course). It's a very direct crib, and the thievery, er, homagery, doesn't stop there. There's a heavy Lost element to the series, with an ominous island at the center of all the mystery, coupled with a whole Batman Begins-style playboy billionaire reforms with Eastern philosophy/fight training kind of a thing. I realize that Green Arrow is a longstanding comic book character and that he's got a rich mythology that obviously isn't based on pop culture business from the past 10 years, but for the untrained TV viewer? This is pretty derivative stuff.

There's also an element of Revenge to this, as former jerky rich kid Oliver returns to troubled Starling City, after five years of supposedly being stranded on a remote island in the China Sea, with a list of names in hand. Turns out it's a list of people whom he's determined to take down in one fashion or another, just like Emily Thorne. So this whole show is a mishmash of various borrowed tropes and plotlines, all smushed into an action series with romantic drama and flashback-y mystery holding on for dear life. Phew! Luckily the series is anchored by actor Stephen Amell, whose deadpan delivery and lifeless blue eyes lend the show an air of meta sardonic wit. I mean, that's what he's doing, right? It's not possible that so wooden an actor would actually be cast as the lead on a big show? Surely The CW would never do that! No, it must be a self-aware performance. Especially in the lethally flat voice-overs, which, as it turns out, mimic both Revenge and Dexter in their telegraphing and faux profundity. Whatever the intent behind the performance, Amell certainly lives up to the hype of those shirtless posters. We'll say that for him.

He's joined by a rogues gallery of familiar actors, from 90210 and Gossip Girl's Katie Cassidy, playing a former flame whose sister died in the wreck that stranded Oliver, to The O.C. and Gossip Girl's Willa Holland, playing Oliver's troubled druggie sister. The great, under-employed Susanna Thompson plays the Queen family's icy imperious matriarch, just as she did on the frustratingly short-lived Kings, and a promising end-of-episode twist suggests that she may again get to do some actual acting here. All told, the cast is pretty solid in that generic, inoffensive CW way, though I'm not sure they really have the spark needed to create a cult phenomenon. Though, the same could be said of half of the Vampire Diaries cast, and look how well that show is doing.

I'm not exactly sure what demographic Arrow is aimed at. The typical quadrant thinking is that young men will like all the action and that slightly older women will like all the pecs 'n' abs, but of course those demographic distinctions have become slightly blurred in the era of Hunger Games boy/girl action/romance crossover. Whoever was watching last night, they came in relative droves. The premiere episode nabbed four million viewers, making it The CW's best debut since Diaries first lurked onto the scene back in old 2009. Do those numbers indicate a steady hit? Eh, I'm not so sure. I'd imagine there was a lot of first-episode curiosity — I mean what did happen to his shirt?? — that will fizzle now that the show's convoluted landscape has been revealed. Already cluttering the show are a mystery island where Oliver learned ninja and Russian, Oliver's not-who-he-seemed dead dad, Oliver's not-who-she-seems alive mom, that list of names, a suspicious best friend, and of course the still-missing shirt. There's a lot filling up those Vancouver sound stages, and I'm not sure the show, based on the writing and acting on display last night, can bear up under the weight.

That said, I must admit that I'm a little intrigued. The show is corny as all get-out and suffers from a way less than magnetic leading man, but the central mystery was set up grandly and ambitiously enough last night that I'm curious to see how it's satisfied. Of course we may never know, depending on the life of the show, but I'll stick around for a little while, at least, to find out what I can. But, hey, whatever happens, nobody tell Arrow if you find his shirt, OK? I think we can all agree that things are fine the way they are right now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.