Arrow – A Rant

I love Arrow. For the first time in maybe forever, Green Arrow aka Oliver Queen is relevant to a larger audience. But the CW’s hit show has its downsides. Not just in the context of the show, but in the context of the comic books that Ollie’s adventures are loosely based off of.

I have seen every episodes of Arrow, I follow star Stephen Amell on Facebook and I enjoy every one of his posts, be they Arrow, workout, wrestling or charity related or just random musings on things. I like the character of Oliver Queen that Amell plays with not just a wonderful physicality but also undeniable charm and lots of anguish, angst and self-doubt. The fact that Amell plays an Oliver who to an extent doesn’t allow himself to be happy – in stark contrast to Arrow’s sister series The Flash where the titular hero is surrounded by loving people and invites them in – does have its own charm.

Stephen Amell

Stephen Amell is not just the perpetually tortured archer on TV, but a genuinely nice human being.

Arrow currently is in its fourth season. This week, the 14th episode of that season aired and it was again high drama, sadly epitomizing everything that I feel is wrong with the show. A lot of this can be explained by the nature of the show.

Arrow Shouldn’t End

When Arrow first aired, it was obvious that nobody had all that much faith in the show. Sure, everyone was passionate about it, but there was a certain likelihood that Arrow would go away after a season or two. Because at the time of it starting, the show had nothing going for it:

  • Stephen Amell was a virtual unknown.
  • No other big names were attached to the show
  • Green Arrow was a complete unknown outside of comic books, despite having had a recurring spot on Smallville
  • Superhero TV shows were still somewhat risky. They require budget and they need to walk the fine line between pandering to the few fans there are and the broader audience.

Despite all this, Arrow turned into a ratings juggernaut and told one of the best origin stories of any hero ever. It took Oliver Queen three seasons to finally call himself the Green Arrow. In previous seasons, he went from The Vigilante to The Arrow and finally added the colour to his name.

Not only that, but the executive producers and writers around Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti have managed to craft a support cast that is just as engaging as the main hero, including the breakout part of Felicity Smoak (played by Emily Bett Rickards) who was initially supposed to be a one-off, but was engaged to Oliver Queen until very recently. The executive producers have also launched two completely different shows, spun out of ArrowThe Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. All of these shows are also doing well.

All this proves one thing: Arrow is a goldmine. From the money generated by the show, the showrunners can launch more shows that make even more money, not to mention all the merchandise! As such, it’s imperative that Arrow keeps going.

This is cool. I’ll stay tuned, because I like the show. But it does bring a lot of problems that all have precedents that needs to be dealt with in exactly the way the people on Arrow are not dealing with them.

All the Plots. Everywhere.

The biggest problem is the story. Due to the nature of the show and its excellent support cast with dedicated and passionate actors portraying them, there are a lot of interesting characters. Giving them all screen time and plots takes up time. Per episode, Arrow has 42 minutes to tell its story of the week. In this season, we had this going on:

# Plotline Character Status
1 Damien Darhk invades Star City Oliver Queen
Damien Darkh
Ongoing
2 Rise of the Green Arrow Oliver Queen Ongoing
3 Magic exists Oliver Queen
Damien Darhk
Baron Reiter
John Constantine
Mari McCabe
Concluded
4 The Island Oliver Queen
Baron Reiter
John Constantine
Ongoing
5 Bloodlust Thea Queen Concluded
6 Family Man John Diggle Ongoing
7 Thea’s Love Life Thea Queen
Alex Davis
7 Wedding Oliver Queen
Felicity Smoak
Ongoing
8 Wheelchair Felicity Smoak
Curtis Holt
Ongoing(?)
9 Head of A.R.G.U.S. Lyla Michaels Concluded(?)
10 Legends of Tomorrow Oliver Queen
Thea Queen
Barry Allen
Carter Hall
Shayara Hall
Ray Palmer
Concluded
11 Love of the Parents Quentin Lance
Donna Smoak
Ongoing
12 Merlyn’s Heir Malcolm Merlyn
Thea Queen
Ongoing
13 Leaderless League Oliver Queen
Thea Queen
Malcolm Merlyn
Nyssa Al-Ghul
Concluded(?)
14 The Son Oliver Queen
Samantha Clayton
William Clayton
Felicity Smoak
Mari McCabe
Concluded
15 The Brother Andy Diggle
John Diggle
Ongoing
16 Resurrection Quentin Lance
Laurel Lance
Sara Lance
Nyssa Al-Ghul
John Constantine
Concluded
17 The Grave Barry Allen(?)
Oliver Queen
Ongoing

And I think I’ve forgotten at least one plot. Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima) showed up as well with some kind of something to do with the League of Assassins.

The unfortunate effect of all this is that the plot – what little time per episode they get allotted – has to progress at breakneck speed. Remember the first season when Oliver Queen was shown to be working out for fifteen seconds at a time? Over the course of the first season, it made up just over seven minutes of workout scenes.

Did they add to the story other than showing that not just Oliver Queen is a badass, but also that Stephen Amell can actually do what you see The Vigilante do on screen? No, they didn’t. But they gave the show depth. We viewers saw what Team Arrow did while the plot wasn’t rushing along. We saw what it takes to be a hero other than putting on a green hood and some face paint. And it made a lot of women swoon and a lot of guys go “I want to be able to do that too”. Let’s be honest here: Stephen Amell is a very attractive and physically capable man who deserves our admiration and envy. Or what about a scene where Diggle and Ollie are hanging out as friends and talk about something other than fighting for a better tomorrow? It’s the little things that made Arrow and its cast so great.

Arrow

Since the first season aired, Arrow’s success was at least in part due to the strong and sympathetic support cast.

If you have more plotlines than episodes, then you might want to slow it down a bit. I don’t think that at this point anyone would be mad if a few plot points are not resolved immediately in favour of having other plotlines advanced.

Let’s say the meandering subplot about the island is dropped in favour of Green Arrow growing into his role as a hero. Suddenly Damien Darhk could actually be the villain a season deserves. Because as it stands right now, he hasn’t really done anything evil in a number of episodes. I have actually forgotten what his ultimate evil goal is and we’re at the point where he’s doing evil in the best 1980s cartoon fashion: He does evil things to Team Arrow because he is mildly annoyed by their existence. He doesn’t influence anything else. If the plot on the island was suspended for a season, we could have Darhk be an actual threat to Star City. Some looming presence in the shadows. And Green Arrow going up against him. Right now, Damien Darhk is evil because the show tells us he is.

The Stakes Have Never Been Lower

We viewers like all the characters on the show, with maybe the exception of Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola) and Conklin (Ryan Robbins) because they seem to be plot devices and archetypes rather than fleshed out characters. Because there’s so much potential in every character – evident by the fact that all the plots above are going on and manage to maintain our interest –, nobody wants to see that potential wasted. So killing off people like Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) is off the table because there might be yet another great story in his character. He’s come quite some way, from rich industrialist but barely present father to elite ninja leader of an international secret organization of assassins to crippled man who is utterly defeated and betraying everything and everyone in order to regain only an inkling of his former power.

Basically, the characters are all caught in some kind of weird limbo. They can’t progress because of the potential they have. They can’t not progress because the show might get boring. So the recipe we have now is that something happens that promises change and progress only to then have it aborted.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow could not have happened if one of the characters had been killed off early… except for that one of them has been dead for a bit.

A good and recent example of this is the marriage of Felicity and Oliver. It’s on again, off again, changing on what feels like a bi-weekly series. The problem is this: If Oliver is married, all future romance is off the table if Oliver wants to preserve his image as the good guy of the series. Because good guys don’t cheat on their wives. So Oliver needs to be unmarried so that he can be romanced and maybe even seduced by a woman later on in the series. A returning Helena Bertinelli aka. Huntress (Jessica de Gouw), maybe?

This is far from the only example on this show where something seems to go round and round. Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) seems to be there only running at half steam so that he can be doing greater things in the future, because his character has undeniable potential that he is not living up to at all. So this just might his one shot at villainous fame. But there just might something there, no?

Stop Listening to the Internet

With a lot of these shows that attempt to go on indefinitely, that have no fixed endpoint and no fixed ending to the story, there’s a problem: Writers have to come up with new and imaginative ways to keep the show interesting, exciting and full of drama.

A constant source for drama and viewers alike is the Internet. Five seconds after an episode has aired, the social networks are abuzz with the latest spoilers, screencaps and fan theories. Some of these fan theories sound pretty good. Others don’t. Sometimes, fans like to ship certain characters, which means that they basically collectively decide that these two characters must now have a relationship. Usually, these ships – as in relationships – are little more than fans expressing how well these two characters go together and they get a cutesy moniker. Like Olicity, a portemanteau of Oliver and Felicity.

Olicity

The one true pairing according to the Internet

But the problem is this: Shows suffer when the showrunners listen too much to the fandom. Of course, the raging hordes of usually hormonal teenagers and lonely people who are older who do ship characters are placated as they can see their wish-fulfillment character get together with their favourite character of sexual desire, but for showrunners to do this, it has the potential to catastrophically derail a storyline.

Because, you see, before the shippers took to social media with the quirkiest GIFs of their favourite characters, the showrunners were making a show that had a plot. It had a starting point and an end point. Along comes a character like Felicity Smoak who was never planned to be a series regular. Of course, the addition of Felicity Smoak proved to be one of the best things that the show’s ever done as she provides a wonderful cerebral counterpart to the otherwise all-brawns team of Arrow and Spartan.

Because these shows are written season by season, it’s fairly easy to incorporate the occasional plotline or change the odd thing here and there. But it’s a slippery slope.

Arrow Olicity

Not even romance is safe from silly memes that make no sense.

But the Internet-fandom doesn’t stop there. It’s not just the part where their One True Pairing – OTP in Internetspeak – must come true or the social media sphere will explode. It can be the tiniest things. Sentences like “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Malcolm Merlyn wasn’t dead?” with enough likes or plus ones or retweets can lead to a writer changing an entire plotline and thus massive derailment of characters.

And sure, the odd thing here and there doesn’t seem so big and bad, right? After all, sometimes it’s just a throwaway sentence or a joke made here or a preference expressed there. But over time, let’s say three and a half seasons, this stuff accumulates. The prime example of this would currently be another show, though. That show, sadly, is Doctor Who in which the stellar performance by Peter Capaldi is muddled by the apparent lack of direction and progress for his character. The moments where The Doctor is made to say an awesome one-liner or strike a pose or make a joke are plenty, but did anything of substance happen.

Another unfortunate side-effect of this is that the supporting cast is delegated to being the people to give the main hero the chances to shine and forgo their own character development.

Now, this isn’t an immediate concern of Arrow but there are traces of this. Currently, the show struggles more with the fact that there’s too much going on, no resolution of anything and the fact that nobody can die in case the character is needed again in the future.

Stop Messing With the Comics

Of course, having a ratings juggernaut on your hands will make a company that publishes the same character across several media re-think the way they handle the character in media that isn’t as successful as the big hit.

In case of the comic book titled Green Arrow, it was struggling. After publisher DC Comics had relaunched their entire comic book line in 2011, they decided to give their characters unique spins and try out new concepts with the character. This was a year before the TV show Arrow took off. From the first issue on, it was clear that this book is not going to be a hit.

Green Arrow.

Green Arrow was among the launch titles in the 2011 reimagining of the DC Comics line.

In his first story arc sees Oliver Queen face off against a gang of metahumans whose only goal is to get hits on YouTube. Because, you see, Green Arrow was designated to be the technologically savvy hero. He had a great many trick arrows, including a WiFi arrow. And while he was firing arrows that shoot discs that shoot handcuffs at people, the titular hero mused about social values with his super high tech crew backing him up remotely.

Green Arrow

Superhero fights because of Youtube? Really? How did this get past editors?

Despite being a first issue after a much debated relaunch, comic book analysts at Comichron list the book at the #96 spot of the months sales, having sold 23883 issues. To compare, Justice League #1 sold 171344 copies the same month. Things didn’t pick up. Until #17 in 2013. Because Green Arrow found itself in a rather interesting situation. The comic book sucked really bad, but the show had a TV show counterpart that was doing really well. So executives at DC Comics must have thought that they could take a risk with the book. So they hired writer Jeff Lemire who writes awesome stories that just don’t really fit into any kind of mold and any kind of superhero trope most of the time. His writing was illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino whose art style is similarly unorthodox. In the poorly received I, Vampire – another title that was new after the relaunch – he drew a lot of characters with no eyes and lots of shadow.

Green Arrow

A new run, a newly reimagined hero. A surprise hit

This combination turned out to be the absolute best Green Arrow in many, many years, maybe since the character of Oliver Queen first took up bow and arrow to fight crime. Not only did Jeff Lemire craft a story that is just edging on mysticism and fantasy, it just may or may not be magic, but he also introduced a number of spectacular ideas that would be brilliant to explore. Not only did he re-invent Green Arrow’s arch enemy, up until then Merlyn, to be Komodo, an unstoppable dark archer who holds Oliver Queen’s half sister Emiko hostage and trains her to be a kid assassin.

Then there’s The Outsiders. Before the re-launch, they were a bunch of heroes who operated outside of the public spotlight in order to have maximum efficiency and minimum interference by having to do public relations things. Lemire did away with all this and re-imagined The Outsiders to be a group of clans who wield artifacts they believe have power. And these clans are not holed up somewhere, but they interact with the world in a variety of ways.

And then there’s Andrea Sorrentino. Just look at it.

Green Arrow

Andrea Sorrentino illustrates a fight scene on Lian Yu

Now, due to the nature of comic books, a story usually lasts six issues so that it can be collected into a trade paperback. So a new run of a comic book starting at #17, just one issue before the magic “divisible by six” number comes along, is at least indicative of desperate measures on part of the publishers. Or incredible editorial mandating.

The latter is what ended the run by Lemire and Sorrentino. After seventeen issues of amazing awesomeness, DC Comics decided that the time has come to bring Green Arrow closer to the TV show Arrow, because it had turned into the incredible rating beast that we know and love. They even got the show’s executive producer Andrew Kreisberg to write it.

And it immediately went back to low-tier mediocrity.

This lasted all of six issues before the creative team and the direction changed again. At issue #41, Benjamin Percy takes over writing duties and Patrick Zircher draws stories in which Green Arrow now fighting supernatural threats such as werewolves, or immortal Mexican drug dealers who do things with moths… or something.

Meanwhile, Lemire and Sorrentino have moved to DC Comics’ big competitor Marvel Comics and are now knocking it out of the park with Old Man Logan.

Conclusion: For six issues of headscratchingly weird story by one of the show’s producers, some of the best Green Arrow ever was aborted. What a shame.

All this said, I still like Arrow, I’ll continue watching it, but I have enjoyed the show more. I’ll continue to follow Stephen Amell on social media because even if he isn’t Green Arrow anymore, he does a lot of amazing charity work and generally does and says entertaining things.

About Dom

Possessing nigh-encyclopaedic knowledge when it comes to comic books and movies, Dom is one of the co-founders of the Uncanny Book-Club. He also enjoys movies, and going to the cinema.

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