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THE FLASH
The Complete Series

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays, Alex Desert
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features: None
Length:  1088 Minutes
Release Date:  January 10, 2006

"If you ever need me...I'll be there in a flash."

Show ***1/2

I wasn't much of a comic book reader as a kid, but one I used to frequent was The Flash.  I don't really know what it was about DC Comics' red-clad speedster that appealed to me...maybe it was just because I was the slowest kid in school and always lost every race.

In 1990, on the heels of the super-successful Batman film, Warner brought The Flash to life on the small screen.  It only lasted one season, and that's too bad...it was actually a good show.  The characters were solid, the storylines entertaining, and there was enough chemistry and spirit to make up for a couple of flaws (the effects weren't always convincing, and The Flash boasted a costume so bad he looks like he was kicked out of Studio 54 for being TOO flamboyant).

The two hour pilot gave us the origin:  Barry Allen (Shipp), a mild mannered forensic analyst for the Central City police, suffers a jolt from a bolt of lightning while in the lab.  He gets zapped and sprayed with chemicals at the same time.  Soon, he begins to notice strange things about himself.  Like, for example, how he can run 30 miles in a matter of seconds.  He can even skim across water so quickly he doesn't break the surface tension!

Barry attracts the attention of a beautiful scientist from Star Labs, Tina McGee (Pays).  She befriends Barry, maintains his secret, and keeps an eye on him for possible danger signs from his new high metabolism.  The only side effect seems to be an amusing one:  he has to eat constantly.  I thought I could put away food, but not even I can do three large pizzas in one setting!

We learn that Barry comes from a family of cops.  His father, played by M. Emmett Walsh, never could see what Barry does for a living as "real" police work.  His brother Jay, a street cop, understands him more.  But when a renegade motorcycle gang wreaks havoc on Central City and kills Jay, Barry learns what he must do with his newfound power.  He becomes The Flash, a supersonic superhero faster than bullets and a terrifying blur to all who would commit evil.

This six disc set contains all 22 original episodes from what would be its first and only season.  I remembered the show from its run, but I was still surprised and delighted to remember how much fun the show actually was.  The chemistry between Barry and Tina was a seminal glue, and a frustrating one.  The audience could see how much they needed to be together, but dammit, they never figured it out for themselves.  When the plug was pulled after one year, the chance was forever gone.

Oh, well.  There are still plenty of gems to be had here...in fact, The Flash was more solid and consistent than a lot of shows in their first years that went on to long and productive broadcast lives.  Four of my favorites involved recurring characters.  One was a good guy; a masked hero from the 50s known as Nightshade, who comes out of retirement when an old nemesis unfreezes himself in 1990 in "Ghost in the Machine".  He comes back in "Deadly Nightshade", when a new vigilante with a taste for death follows in his footsteps.  Nightshade was a terrific character, and made a good mentor for Barry when he needed one most.  "Just because you put on the mask," he tells The Flash, "doesn't mean you become a different man."

The other character was a villain, the brash and eccentric Trickster (played delightfully by Mark Hamill).  His arsenal of deadly jokes terrorizes Central City and The Flash in "The Trickster", and he returns for more mayhem in the finale "The Trial of The Trickster". 

Perhaps the year's best episode was "Beat the Clock"...long before 24, this episode offered a plot that unfolded in real time, as The Flash and friends have one hour to save an innocent jazz musician from execution.  This one is truly tight and suspenseful, and even features appearances by Angela Bassett and Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree!

But there are other memorable episodes as well.  In "Fast Forward", a missile blast sends The Flash into the future, where Central City has become a slum of crime under the vicious rule of an old nemesis.  And the explosion also robs Barry of his powers.  Can he get back in time, find his speed again, and prevent the crime wave that would destroy his town?  With a little help from his friends, anything is possible!

"Tina, Is That You?" sends our pretty female scientist into a nightmare of split personality, as a brain wave transfer gone wrong turns her into The Flash's new enemy.  And speaking of duality, how about "Twin Streaks", where a misguided scientist clones Barry and creates a child-like, uncontrollable version of The Flash?

"Captain Cold" gives us a creepy villain that could give Mr. Freeze a run for his money, while "Honor Among Thieves" features a plot to capture a rare artifact from a museum.  In it, the bad guys time crimes to go off all over town at the same time...just how fast is The Flash?

John Wesley Shipp makes for an amiable and handsome presence as both Barry and The Flash.  There's a Peter Parker-like quality to him in that just because he becomes super, it doesn't mean the end of his problems.  In fact, for the most part, it's just the beginning of them.  Thank goodness he lost the poofy hair after the pilot.  I guess the 80s called and said they wanted their hairstyle back.

Amanda Pays, with her sweet face and charming British accent, was the perfect Tina McGee.  Behind every good man is a woman, and it's hard to imagine how The Flash could have made it without her devotion and dutiful support.

Some shows meet unmerited and untimely early demises.  The Flash didn't run for long, and that's a shame.  It had a lot going for it.  Watching these 22 episodes was a blast.  In fact, I never reached for my fast-forward once.

Video **1/2

Kind of a tough call in this department.  The pilot episode looked quite good, with very striking colors and solid detail levels throughout.  But many of the subsequent episodes were hit and miss.  There were moments that looked almost as good, but just as many moments where images were a little murky and grainy.  There were more than a few shots that looked artificially blown up, greatly enhancing the grain, and some shows exhibited some spots and scars here and there from age.  Overall, it works, but definitely a wide-swinging pendulum here.

Audio **

The audio has the reverse problem...the pilot has music beds that are quite loud, and the dialogue is mixed low and flat in comparison.  But this gets corrected as the shows progress so that everything flows together more naturally and with fewer flaws.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing...too bad.  

Summary:

The Flash made for a good season's worth of television, but the show came and went almost as fast as our hero himself.  I'm grateful this made DVD...and if you're like me, you should speed to the nearest store and pick this six disc set up and enjoy the adventures of Barry, Tina and company all over again.

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