Review: ‘ARROW’ – S01E01 – ‘Pilot’


Arrow – S01E01 – ‘Pilot’

Warner Bros. Television

Directed by David Nutter
Story by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim
Teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg, Marc Guggenheim
Starring: Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen/Arrow); Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlyn); Katie Cassidy (Dinah “Laurel” Lance); David Ramsey (John Diggle); Willa Holland (Thea Queen); Jamey Sheridan (Robert Queen); Susanna Thompson (Moira Queen); Paul Blackthorne (Detective Quentin Lance)

Wednesday 8pm EST/7pm CST on the CW Network

It has been 514 days since the finale of TV’s Smallville, a likely 514 of which Tom Welling spent wearing absolutely anything other than red and blue. For some fans, that’s nearly 18 months of hoping Remy Zero doesn’t pop up on shuffle in the midst of that inopportune social function when the flood of hot, violent tears could never possibly be explained. It’s 2012 and Michael Rosenbaum’s scalp is an increasingly foggy memory.

Mourning time is over.

Shrug off your veils, you castoffs of the Talon, you teeth-gnashing Smallvillian diaspora. For the aesthetic of Millar and Gough’s sudsy Superman serial is alive and well in tomorrow’s pilot for CW’s Arrow. In fact, the series seems to have latched on to the farm boy’s cape and claimed a bit of Smallville’s latter-day momentum. In several crucial ways. Arrow looks and feels like a lost episode from the Metropolis years of its predecessor’s run. Were this not a complete refresh of the Green Arrow character (Justin Hartley played Queen in Smallville’s final half), it might even function as a sequel. But is it a true spiritual successor? More yes than no. But those points of disparity are worth noting. But first, let’s set the scene.

Disgustingly wealthy and reckless wild child Oliver Queen is dead. At least, that’s what his surviving friends and relations back in Starling City think. They had a service for Oliver and his pop, that rascally vice president from Homeland Jamey Sheridan, ages ago. Their party boat The Queen’s Gambit met her doom in the Pacific. So it comes as a shock, five years later, when Oliver strolls back into their lives, newly subdued but alive and ticking. We see Oliver’s rescue by fishermen on an island in the North China Sea, a densely wooded rock where Oliver abandoned his Gillette Mach 3 for a bow and arrows. It’s evident that we’ll return to this place throughout the series one, perhaps in each episode. For now, we’ve got one tantalizing clue as to Oliver’s years in that place. A familiar mask displayed ominously on the beach. A warning? A grave marker? A trophy?

It’s not long before Oliver returns to his place on the pedestal of Starling City celebrity, though he’s hardly invested in the lavish party scene to which longtime friend Tommy Merlyn is so eager to usher him. Oliver’s true priorities are a secret. If you’ve been following this project for a while, you’ve likely seen his arduous workout routine involving escalating pull-ups up a salmon ladder and launching arrows, rapid-fire, at a cascade of bouncing tennis balls. This is the young man’s Bat Cave, a secretive base of operations where he also plots a systematic take-down of Starling City’s mustache-twirlingest tycoons, Beatrix Kiddo style. Central to this mission is a promise made in the fateful hours after the wreck of The Queen’s Gambit. In the pilot, we witness his first assured outings as a hooded vigilante. He’s green and he shoots arrows, but he’s not known as Green Arrow or even Arrow yet. Right now, he’s just a modern day Robin Hood, and he’s earned the attention of Detective Quentin Lance (the wonderful Paul Blackthorne, perhaps best known as TV’s Harry Dresden). Oliver isn’t just spurring curiosity from the Starling City PD for his colorful theatrics though.

Oliver Queen kills dudes. Therein lies the key difference between Arrow and Smallville. 

I was never much of an advocate for Welling’s Clark Kent, but I find myself pining for at least a smidgeon of that hayseed charm. Arrow isn’t exactly The Crow, but it’s a largely humorless affair. I only hope that Oliver has opportunity to mellow some, even as he ticks off the mobsters on his bucket list. Killer instinct aside, Stephen Armell registers more as a dirty-blonde Bruce Wayne circa Year One than the plucky and roguish Oliver Queen of previous celebrated incarnations. Detective Lance also promises to serve as a kind of Jim Gordon for Oliver. It’s a characterization that works, but Oliver Queen has the potential to be much more than a mere mimic of his more popular comrade in Gotham. If I have any wish for Arrow, it’s that Oliver can find and place a feather in his cap, even if it’s only a figurative one.

Among the many relationships introduced in this first hour, the strongest bond might thrive between Oliver and his little sister Thea “Speedy” Queen. Speedy was twelve when Oliver and her father disappeared. She idolized them. To see Oliver return in tact is a huge moment for the young woman. It’s a refreshing sibling friendship, free of the tired sniping and rivalry. Oliver is protective of her, and that makes the promise inherent in her nickname and the choice to cast them as brother and sister all the more compelling. That’s all I’ll say on the Queen family for now. Except to say that they have the potential to be a fine mix of the Kents and the Luthors.

A little murkier is Oliver’s relationship with former flame Laurel Lance (daughter to the detective). At this end of the series, Laurel is pretty miffed at Oliver, and for good reason. Other than her role as a junior prosecutor, there’s no real evidence toward her inevitable vocation or potential metahuman abilities as Black Canary. That said, the early seeds for a love triangle with Oliver and his pal Tommy Merlyn are pretty evident. It is the CW after all.

Tommy. While it’s probably that most viewers won’t recognize the surname as belonging to Green Arrow’s longtime nemesis Merlyn, they’re likely to pick up on his villainous future. It’s pretty obvious where this is going, whether you do the algebra and identify his role as the Lex corner of the romantic triangle or simply recognize his temperament from college flicks set in the 80s. Tommy isn’t quite the Judas Iscariot of this little saga quite yet, but he definitely represents the past Oliver is so desperate to escape. Whether or not Donnell’s far more grounded take on what Rosenbaum did for all those years on Smallville is an improvement is a hugely subjective thing.

Oh, there’s also a ex-military body man named John Diggle. He’s not terribly interesting. He could be. But right now, just a cool shoutout to Green Arrow: Year One writer Andy Diggle. While we’re on it, there’s also a name drop for artist Mike Grell.

While it’s a bit brackish with exposition and backstory, the Arrow pilot is a tantalizing tease. It may use its comics pedigree as a bit of a crutch, leaning on fans’ preconceived affections to carry it that extra mile. It certainly benefits from that visual and thematic likeness to the wildly uneven, but charmingly goofy Smallville. It might be too soon to evaluate just how addictive the series might become, but there’s enough promise in its inventive adaptation choices–its structure as a Robin Hood meets Falcon Crest adventure soap, all those relationships–make it an easy recommendation for your next guilty pleasure. It could well be a grittier and more artful Smallville. That’s one possible intention. Me, I’m kinda hoping the writers are kicking back with Revenge and Pretty Little Liars.

3 Stars

(Out of 5)


  1. I saw it at Comic-Con and thought it was a big fat turd, but that’s just my opinion. Still, good review!

  2. While the poster is misleading, (God, I hope this is true) I’ll be watching the pilot episode. Oliver being stranded on an island and honing his abilities as a hunter is taken directly from Long Bow Hunters, so that can’t be too bad a start.

    • Something I hope the CW doesn’t do is put out blocks of 4-5 episodes and then go on a 4 month hiatus. That can really kill a new show. Many a t.v. show has been done in by this move.

    • Well, yes and no. While that’s certainly an element of Long Bow Hunters, the stranded on an island origin has been GA’s origin since 1959. (In a story penned, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby.)

      Since then, several revised but not terribly different versions of the stranded on an island origins have been told. (Isolated scenes in various books, as well as Mike Grell’s slightly different take on it in “GA: The Wonder Year,” Chuck Dixon had a “Year One” annual in the late 90s, Diggle’s version.)

  3. It’s just CW Network shows. I can’t get into them. Hope this is good for DC.

  4. Paul said, “Oliver Queen kills dudes.”

    Heroes DO NOT kill. That was my biggest problem with the recent Wonder Woman pilot (well, that among other things).

    I usually avoid in-depth reviews, but I am glad I checked it out. Nice job on the breakdown of the pilot.

    • Police kill and they’re considered hero’s. I’d say that, in my opinion, super heroes do not kill but regular hero’s can if necessary.

    • Arrow = Punisher? He just whacks out the bad guys?

      Green Arrow killed in The Longbow Hunters only after finding Dinah tortured and about to be killed. Ollie’s a liberal, prison furlough loving leftie – not a killer.

    • Maybe that’s your character arc – he eventually adopts a code of not killing? He’s going to learn some things and go through some experiences that will change him. I’m willing to give it some time…

    • Sometimes it is necessary for heroes to use lethal force especially in the real world. I believe police officers and military servicemembers are heroic even though they have to kill people sometimes. Secondly, King Arthur, Hercules, and Samson killed on a regular basis. I would prefer that Green Arrow not use lethal force in this television series, but it won’t stop from tuning nor will it stop me from seeing him as a hero.

    • I’m a liberal, and I’m for the death penalty. Why can’t Ollie be, too/

    • I’m very much ageist the death penalty. In fact I don’t think I’d ever considering killing someone in the real world a ‘heroic deed’.
      But this is fantasy, it’s not real and as such I have no problem a hero taking a life, I think it’s part of the format too, in an action show, with fight scenes and arrows flying it can be burden for the writers to constantly come up with ways for the lead to NOT kill people.
      Also, I’ve always believed, in comics super-heroes not killing stems more from old censorship and an excuse to have the same villains returns again and again as apposed to an actual moral belief on the part of the writers. If a character does happen to have that moral belief it also seems to me to be for plot purposes more than anything else.
      I think adapting the character to this format (remember the word ‘adapt’ literally means to ‘change’) and to attract an audience looking for ‘darker’, ‘grittier’ material it makes perfect sens.

  5. Wow the Deathstroke mask is a huge reveal, and an awesome character to include in this show. I have high hopes, but I’m being cautious. Who the heck would play the part of Slade?

    • I have a bad feeling this show is gonna be just like Smallville was for the most part – a lot of allusions to DC stuff, while mostly being a bland and tiresome WB drama. So it could be a full season of hints about Deathstroke with ultimately little or no pay off. That’s just my fear.

  6. Gosh some DC characters really do have silly origins.

    • I like to think that’s part of the charm of comic characters. Marvel’s got plenty too. That’s sort of what happens when your biggest characters were created in the 1950s and ’60s.

  7. I can’t watch this because Cablevision in NYC is in a dispute with PIX. UGH.

  8. I’m a big Green Arrow fan, so I’m a bit mixed on this show. Do I want to watch a version that may take too many liberties? Or do I want to watch to make sure that they’ll make a great version? Not too sure. I haven’t been Wowed by the scenes we’ve seen, and it does seem a little too… dark for GA.

    However, I’m not too sure how I’ll be watching, as I’m in much the same position as RahUniQue.

    • Remember you’ll always have the original comics, no one is taking those away from you.
      Things have to change to fit a new format, as long as you keep an open mind you might be able to enjoy it as a cool show if it’s not the same as the comics (I don’t know I’ve not seen the series yet).
      Personally I think more liberties should be taken with adaptations, if you want it to be identical to the source materiel, just read the source material. All mediums are so different it seems silly to me to try and directly replicated something unique to one medium in another, I’d much rather see a TV or film ‘twist’ on a comic or novel than a direct translation (which is often impossible anyway).
      As long as it’s entertaining as a TV show that’s all I care about.
      But that’s just my two cents.

    • I don’t have a problem with changes being made to fit a new medium or audience, but sometimes the wisdom behind those changes don’t make much sense. Is there something un-TV about the town being called “Star City”? Or about the vigilante being referred to as “Green Arrow”? Is there something about the name “Dinah” that makes is less preferable to “Laurel” when being moved from comics to TV?
      Adaptation is fine, but if you go too far, you end up with the Catwoman movie.

    • This isn’t so much a “They’re destroying my precious comics” thing as it is… “Is this character/direction/tone so fundamentally different from the comics that it’s no longer the same property.” And while, yes, there are medium changes, that’s not really the issue. (To get really nitpicky about the medium, thing, though… comics and TV actually belong to the same classifications of media, they’re both considered cool media, requiring your mind to work to “fill in blanks.” So more-direct adaptations tend to work on TV as opposed to say movies. Look at the success of Marvel’s X-Men from the 90s, with stories lifted almost directly from the page or the slightly-altered but still there Avengers: EMH.)

      While there have been Darker periods for GA, he still has the humor and recklessness that are a part of the character since Denny O’Neill workshopped him in Brave & the Bold. The counterpoint between GA and Batman has always been that Batman has the direct motivation to fight crime. Crime “ruined” his life, he now makes crime pay. He’s dark because he needs to constantly remind himself of his pain. Green Arrow is a guy who (depending on the origin) either just gets left for dead on the ocean or loses his dad during the process. His motivation is less focused. So now he’s a guy who has very little actual training (Except for Bear Grylls-ing it) who just flings himself into the action. He’s just a guy with a bow and arrow fighting crime. Often, he’s fighting people who are outclassing him in the powers/skills set. One of the best directions they took with GA in the last few years was making Deathstroke one of his major villains, because it’s about the absurdity of a man whose main skill is firing Arrows and making glib remarks fighting the most well trained assassin in the world. It shouldn’t work. He’s just a man. He’s not the “myth” that Batman is. Making GA into a Batman surrogate is a direction you could take it. But I hate dark, broody Batman. And dark, Broody GA doesn’t work unless its countered by a light, fun loving side that – from what Paul and others have said – we don’t really see. It could develop. Not saying it won’t. But right now, I’m seeing Batman in Green Arrows clothing. and that’s not something I’m terribly interested in. Though I’m willing to be proved wrong.

      Finally, on the topic of taking Liberties, I have no issue with changing things around. Reading the review I chuckled at Speedy, Merlyn, Laurel, Lance, etc. That’s fine, telling it in a new way. But there are times when the liberties can be taken a bit too far, to the point that there’s no point in really doing it and calling it Character X or Location Y. Just make a new character. And I do think they’re splitting a difference with calling it Arrow. It’s not exactly GA and it’s not exactly 100% its own thing. And that might be the best thing for it.

  9. I like that they are taking inspiration from Andy Diggle and Jock Green Arrow: Year One and Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. I loved Smallville as a guilty pleasure type show and if thats all Arrow is, I’m fine with that, it’s not a comic and each representation has to be its own entity. If they include many characters from the DCU canon as I already know of at least 5 and have guest writers like Geoff John’s and do stuff like the infamous Absolute Justice two part episode that really brings the comic book feel as a treat, I think this will be fun and get better as it gains momentum and finds its rhythm.

  10. I’m unsure about this. I couldn’t stand Smallville, so the idea of this as it’s spiritual successor is a bit disheartening, but I’ll give the first episode a chance at the least.

  11. I’m not getting my hopes up high… but you’ve got a tv series with an Oliver Queen, a ‘Speedy’, a ‘Lance’, Tommy Merlyn, Deadshot and Deathstroke? If they can develop the show where these names become the character we want them to be, its pretty great.

    I’m no fan of Smalliville… but how many seasons did it take for it to finally start ‘geeking out’? Sure as heck not in the first season. Or the 2nd. Or 3rd, or…

    • I only watched the first season of Smallville and never came back. I herd that it got good after the 3rd Season. This show looks good, I’ll give it a shot. I think there was a female Speedy in the comics? I hope that they do have Deathstroke and Black Canary then I will be sold. XD

  12. “Pilot” was an unexpected, nice surprise. I am very excited with this new show. I hope it helps the comic book side of the character.

    Please check my mini-review of ARROW here:

    Comments and feedback are always welcome!

  13. Soooooooo cheesy. Will keep watching

    • I agree. I was leery about the show–esp. since so much Green Arrow ground had been covered in Smallville, but Arrow is an entirely new take and a nice surprise. I just added the season pass to my Tivo.

      I like the way they gave him a real mission–the notebook with a list of people to take out. It gives him a definite reason to be a hero (avenge his father) as opposed to the generic “I’m going to clean up my town.” I was also pleased that they didn’t make him whiny or all wishy-washy. He’s got a purpose and he’s all about taking care of business.

      As for the mythology, I like the way they added in the Lance family, Speedy (with a looming drug problem), and kept the mom around as a foil. I also hope they continue to move us around in time.

  14. I loved this episode and will be in it for the long haul. So little good comic book tv and I was not the biggest fan of the character on Smallville, I was pleasantly surprised by the first episode. Digging the dark tone of it so far and hearing that other DC characters will show up is making foam at the mouth with excitement. At least I hope it is that and not something I should be seen by a doctor for. Can’t wait for the next episode.