REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 5 & 6

Starring

George Reeves (Gone With The Wind)
Noel Neill (Campus Sleuth)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain Ameirca 1944)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)

George Reeves in Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Lilyan Chauvin (Predator 2)
Laurie Mitchell (Calypso Joe)
Milton Frome (Batman: The Movie)
Richard Benedict (Ocean’s 11)
Phil Tead (Sif of a Kind)
Billy Curtis (April Showers)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington)
Joi Lansing (Touch of Evil

George Reeves, Cyril Delevanti, Jack Larson, and Noel Neill in Adventures of Superman (1952)

By the time Adventures of Superman began production on its last two seasons (that aired during 1957-58), the series more or less had overcome its tight budgetary restrictions by evolving into a veritable universe unto itself. And it was a wacky universe indeed, operating under its own screwy story logic often totally disconnected from any semblance of reality. That gangsters would watch their bullets bounce off Superman’s chest then, having emptied their cartridges, throw their empty guns at the superhero, as if that would stop him, or that Superman’s pals never seemed to realize that the Man from Kypton and mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent were one and the same, mattered not one iota to its legion of young viewers.Adventures of Superman (1952)For fans of the comic books, the big-budget movies and TV shows of recent decades, Adventures of Superman rightly appears quaint and at times depressingly cheap, but if you stick with it, chances are you’ll find that it has a peculiar but very real charm all its own. Adventures of Superman is one of the most iconically ’50s/Eisenhowerian programs of its era. Superman was, after all, fighting not only for truth and justice, but also for “the American Way.” Instead of super-villains like Lex Luthor, Superman’s foes were more likely to be communist types, and ironically enough union activist Robert Shayne, the actor who played Superman’s ally Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police, was during its run subpoenaed to appear before The House Un-American Activities Committee and nearly lost his role were it not for members of the cast and crew who rushed to Shayne’s defense.Adventures of Superman (1952)A wonderful example of this very ’50s tone is “The Atomic Captive,” a Cold War masterpiece. After Russian fifth columnists fail to bring back a Russian-immigrant nuclear scientist (and loyal naturalized American citizen), Daily Planet reporters Jimmy Olson (Jack Larson) and Lois Lane (Noel Neill) drive out to the desert to interview him. However, the scientist is dying of radiation poisoning, and so “hot” his mere touch is likewise fatal. Jimmy and Lois rush in, and naturally ignore his pleas not to go near him, each pawing the man with reckless abandon.Adventures of Superman (1952)When the scientist tells them they’ve just given themselves a fatal dose of radiation, all Jimmy can do is turn to Lois and say, “Golly Miss Lane, I guess we’re done for.” Making matters worse, they then drive out into the desert, taking a short cut through “ground zero” at a nuclear test site, wrongly figuring they wouldn’t possibly reschedule that H-Bomb test they had flown out to cover in the first place. Well, they were wrong, and take the full force of a nuclear blast, just like Glenn Manning in The Amazing Colossal Man. How does Superman save the day? You’ll have to tune in for yourself.Adventures of Superman (1952)This complete lack of common sense on the part of Lois and Jimmy is used throughout these later seasons, apparently as a kind of shorthand to propel the narrative forward without the need for lengthy (and logical) character motivation. In “The Perils of Superman,” an imposing man in a lead mask (Michael Fox) shows up at the Daily Planet to grimly announce that he’s devised fiendishly imaginative means to “liquidate” Lois, Jimmy, Clark, and Planet editor Perry White (John Hamilton). Within a minute or two after he leaves, Lois and Perry are blithely off to a meeting, business as usual. It’s no surprise then that they’re kidnapped the minute they get into Lois’ car. Then again, if nothing happened to them, there’d be no show.George Reeves, Tom Dillon, Noel Neill, and Robert Shayne in Adventures of Superman (1952)The budget precluded Superman actually performing feats as grand as “changing the course of mighty rivers,” but the production values on these later shows is better than those when the show began. Seasoned B-movie directors like Lew Landers and Howard Bretherton helmed episodes, as did star George Reeves, while instantly recognizable character actors like Jack Kruschen, John Banner, Cyril Delevanti, Laurie Mitchell, Billy Curtis (as Martian Mr. Zero), Dabbs Greer, and Joi Lansing populate episodes. Serial fans will likewise delight in such familiar faces as Dale Van Sickel, Tristram Coffin, I. Stanford Jolley, usually playing villains. Though the Adventures of Superman’s scripts leave all logic at the door, stories in these last 26 episodes are pleasingly close in spirit to the light-hearted tone of that era’s comic books. Neill’s hair becomes almost phosphorescently orange and both Reeves and Larson have fleshier features, with Reeves’ hair a little grayer and thinner, and Larson no longer the 19-year-old youth he was when the show began, but the youthful excitement that still greets the show remains unabated.

REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 3 & 4

Starring

George Reaves (Gone With The Wind)
Noel Neill (Campus Sleuth)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain Ameirca 1944)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)

Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Sterling Holloway (Alice In Wonderland 1951)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Myron Healey (Hell’s Crossroads)
Chuck Connors (Soylent Green)
Phil Tead (The Fighting Blade)
Janine Perreau (M)
Claude Akins (Rio Bravo)
Gloria Talbott (The Leech Woman)
Julie Bennett (Spider-Man 90s)
Milton Frome (Batman: The Movie)
Robert Lowery (Batman & Robin 1949)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)

Adventures of Superman (1952)Season one of the Adventures of Superman television show was quite a surprise, with a different Lois Lane and a selection of often hard-nosed crime stories. A new Lois in the person of Noel Neill came with season two; she had already played the role in two Columbia serials with Kirk Alyn. The show also adopted a lighter tone: Less violence, more fantasy. With the third and fourth season (13 episodes each) the series adds an all-important extra: Color. Just as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz looked to future revenue in re-runs by filming their shows instead of simply creating low quality Kinescopes, producer Whitney Ellsworth started his third season in color, even though the episodes wouldn’t be broadcast that way for years. Adventures of Superman (1952)These Superman episodes are the ones we remember from re-runs that ran well into the late 1960s. The characters are charmingly inconsistent. Lois is sometimes given cute or revealing business to conduct, but her part is just as often limited to little more than a handful of grumpy dialogue lines. Perry White is still after Jimmy Olsen to stop calling him “Chief”, when the real head-scratcher is wondering why Olsen still has a job. Jimmy only intermittently takes photos. He seems a total dimwit incapable of holding a thought more than a few minutes, or even writing a sentence on paper. The stories vary in charm and interest with the usual juvenile ideas — silly crooks, over-eager “gee whiz” children — but for every middling plotline there’s an episode with a clever idea. One invention makes people think they’re upside down, enabling crooks to do their stuff. In the color opener for the third season, a professor’s time machine takes the principal players back to the Stone Age for some forgettable dramatics. We also see an interesting demonstration of Political Correctness from the early 1950s. When Superman finds himself in the company of an impressionable adolescent (the actor must be at least 20!) he sternly states that only Superman can fly, and that nobody should try to do something so dangerous. Shades of the old Peter Pan furor about children imitating their fantasy heroes!George Reeves and Ben Welden in Adventures of Superman (1952)The usual buzz about the color Supermans is that they’re cheap, and the style of filming bears that out to some degree. With color film rolling through the cameras every budgetary corner seems to be cut. The cave and jungle sets from the Time Travel show are recycled for the “pirate adventure” episode and another about helping an old Indian pass a qualifying test for Chief-hood. A vault door appears several times as a trap, whether to hide Lois and Jimmy (who are together so frequently they might think of taking out a marriage license) or to freeze Superman. Interestingly, nuclear bomb shelters figure in several of the stories.George Reeves, Noel Neill, and Elizabeth Patterson in Adventures of Superman (1952)The most obvious budget shortcut is the re-use of special effects sequences. Superman’s flying scenes in season one consisted of rather pitiful rear projection setups, perhaps mandated by Reeves’ insistence after an early accident that he not be suspended by wires. Seasons 3 and 4 re-use the same four or five process shots ad infinitum through the ‘magic’ of optical duplication: Get a good take of Supe flying in front of some buildings, an empty sky; up and down, and print up enough dupe negs to last the season. Whether he’s flying across town or to Alaska, it’s always the same shot. When Superman carries someone with him in flight, we’re never shown the key action. George Reeves performs rather adroit trapeze landings for entrances (he never looks too out of breath) and vaults out of scenes with the aid of hidden springboards. After watching Chris Reeve gazelle out of shots like a flying Nureyev, those champion-diver launches now seem funny. We wonder why George Reeves doesn’t smash through whatever floor he’s bouncing on.Jack Larson, Noel Neill, and Phil Tead in Adventures of Superman (1952)Producer Ellsworth skimps everywhere he can. Clark Kent almost always enters the storeroom to change costumes in the same duped stock shot peeking around an office corner, and the same goes for his Daily Planet landings. It looks as though scenes for multiple episodes taking place on the same set were filmed at the same time where possible — all the Perry White office material, all the time-wasting in Clark Kent’s office. It’s possible that individual episode directors had only a limited number of show-specific scenes to shoot. We’re told that with the high cost of Eastman negative stock, take one was almost always the keeper. These two factors account for the inconsistency in performances — even Clark/Superman seems to change attitude between scenes for unspecified reasons. In the Bully of Dry Gulch episode, Clark almost goes ballistic when he hears over the phone that a bad guy is giving Lois “goo-goo eyes”: “WHAT!?” Yet most of the time George Reeves is remarkably smooth in the role. Clark and especially Superman are always ready with a good-natured grin and a pleasing smile.Adventures of Superman (1952)One last special effects observation: I distinctly remember optical shots in which bullets are seen to bounce off George Reeve’s chest. Those must be from the last two color seasons, as they don’t show up here. JImmy Olsen gets his usual three or four signature episodes, as when he wins a million dollars or gets to play a Burgonian prince in a story about baddies de-stabilizing a European monarchy. He even does the ‘evil twin’ routine, playing himself and a criminal look-alike. Some of the stories are on the weak side. Crooks try to fleece people by running a rigged jelly bean counting contest, and a wild west bully threatens to shoot Jimmy by sundown. In the freezer-threat episode, Superman takes sides with Daily Planet editor White on a local election. Kal-El insures that gangster thugs aren’t intimidating the voters, and then makes his prejudices known by asking a voter for whom he’s voting!George Reeves, Milton Frome, John Hamilton, Noel Neill, and Robert Shayne in Adventures of Superman (1952)Even John Hamilton’s Mr. White and Robert Shayne’s Inspector Henderson get spotlight episodes, although they’re not the most imaginative either. Crooks make White think he’s crazy by conjuring up Great Caesar’s Ghost, while bad guys frame Henderson. Old favorite George E. Stone is a weasely crook in a few episodes, along with Myron Healey, John Doucette and Paul Burke as more fumbling thugs. The best surprise guest actors are Gloria Talbott I Married a Monster from Outer Space as an heiress tricked into decoying Superman away from a robbery, and Chuck Conners, who makes an excellent yokel with the name Sylvester Superman. That episode, Flight to the North, is a warped conglomeration of nutty ideas, ending in an Alaskan shack where the recipient (Richard Garland) of a gift pie (lemon meringue) is besieged by a succession of crazy guests, including Superman.wedding4The wildest episode by far is The Wedding of Superman. Lois hasn’t been given much attention all season, but here she’s the center of a dream identical to the wish-fulfillment plotlines in the comic books. The whole show turns out to be a figment of her unconscious, as Lois imagines that Clark, Superman and even Inspector Henderson are gaga over her. The critical altar scene is handled very well, although there must have been many a groan as the dream gag (actually extremely transparent) was revealed. Lois tells the story directly to the camera, and it’s quite odd that she’d come to the obvious conclusion about Clark’s secret identity in the dream, only to dismiss it when she wakes up. It’s the only episode where Lois doesn’t have a sour or defeatist remark to make, somewhere. As an added fillip, in a brief bit part the show features none other than Ed Wood’s angora paramour Dolores Fuller!

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 2

Starring

George Reaves (Gone With The Wind)
Noel Neill (Campus Sleuth)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain Ameirca 1944)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)

reevescast

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Aline Towne (Highway 301)
Vera Marshe (The Crimson Key)
Jonathan Hale (The Saint Strikes Back)
Sterling Holloway (Alice In Wonderland 1951)
Yvette Duguay (Domino Kid)
Ruta Lee (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers)
Leonard Penn (Mysterious Island)
Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)
Judy Nugent (There’s Always Tomorrow)
Allene Roberts (The Red House)

the-adventures-of-superman-george-reevesA warm nostalgia drives the enduring popularity felt by an aging generation of Baby Boomers for Adventures of Superman, the 1952-57 series that ended only with the tragic and still-mysterious death of its star, George Reeves. Cheaply-produced and generally unambitious, the program never lived up to its full potential, even taking into account its budgetary and technical limitations. By the end of its run Adventures of Superman (there’s no “The” in the title) had further de-evolved into a silly, trivial children’s show; it ran out of steam and Reeves had aged noticeably.adventures-of-superman-five-minutes-to-doom-john-hamilton-george-reeves-noel-neill-jack-larsonBut for children growing up in the 1950s (and several generations thereafter, who caught up with the program in reruns), Adventures of Superman was a 30-minute tonic of thrills and adventure. The audio commentary supplied by Gary Grossman on the First Season DVD set is more fannish than informative, but he nails precisely the excitement children felt watching the show when it was new. (You can read DVD Savant’s first season review here.) Like the first season, episodes play like single-chapter serials, crammed with action, mystery and intrigue. Superman (Reeves) “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way” with the help of his alter-ego, “mild-mannered” reporter Clark Kent (also Reeves), who works for gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White (John Hamilton) and alongside perky Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and cub reporter Jimmy Olson (Jack Larson).the-adventures-of-superman-e2809cthe-man-who-could-read-mindse2809d-jack-larson-noel-neillAdventures of Superman – The Complete Second Season is much like the first. Compared with those that followed, Year Two is in black and white (the next season would be in color), and is slightly more adult in terms of content. The big difference from the first season is the series’ single major cast change: Noel Neill replaced Phyllis Coates in the pivotal role of Lois Lane. Neill had played Lois before, in two 15-chapter Superman serials produced by Columbia: Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Unlike Coates, Neill has remained very actively involved in Superman fandom after the show ended, appearing at comic book conventions and making cameos in the 1978 Superman movie, and again this year in Superman Returns.MV5BOWI3NDljZjUtNTQ0My00OTAwLTljNjktZTAyMjU2N2Y5NmE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcxMDczNTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Considering how little Reeves’ appearance changes from Clark Kent to Superman, why Lois and Jimmy don’t instantly recognize Clark as Superman is one of television’s great mysteries. Season two shows, however, broach this subject now and then. In one episode Clark and Lois are involved in a car accident; his suit is torn, revealing his Superman costume underneath, requiring some fast-thinking on the superhero’s part. In another good show a criminal tries to blackmail Superman with a photograph showing Clark changing into Superman in an alley. How this is resolved is cleverly handled. Season two boasts an incredible line-up of great character actors in guest parts, including Dabbs Greer, Hugh Beaumont, Lawrence Dobkin, Billy Gray, Leon Askin, Philip Van Zandt, George Chandler, Percy Helton, Sterling Holloway, Peter Brocco, Roy Barcroft, Leonard Penn, Elisha Cook, Jr., Paul Fix, Robert Wilke, Denver Pyle, Virginia Christine, and John Doucette.capture51Adventures of Superman can be a very entertaining show if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and watch it from an early-1950s perspective. It’s a show of its time, from a simpler era, but still loads of fun.

REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 1

Starring

George Reeves (Gone With The Wind)
Phyllis Coates (Invasion U.S.A.)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain America 1944)

Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Herbert Rawlinson (The Flame Fighter)
Aline Towne (Highway 301)
Frances Morris (The Rawhide Terror)
Danni Sue Nolan (Smokey Canyon)
Tom Fadden (Dragnet)
Robert Rockwell (Our Miss Brooks)
Maudie Prickett (Hazel)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)
Allene Roberts (The Red House)
Richard Benedict (Ocean’s 11)
Dan Seymour (Batman 60s)
Veda Ann Borg (Mildred Pierce)
Leonard Penn (Mysterious Island)
Gloria Saunders (Red Snow)
Jane Adams (Batman & Robin 1949)
Jeff Corey (Little Big Man)

George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, and Syd Saylor in Adventures of Superman (1952)Just the mention of the Superman television show always brings out a smile; for 1950s kids this program was nothing but good memories. Shuster and Siegel’s Superman started as a comic book character and soon developed into an icon representing everything good and noble … sort of a folk god for the 20th century. By the post-war years the world was in a real muddle, yet for little kids Superman was a reassuring beacon of light, morally decent and vigilant without being a vigilante. Just the sound of George Reeves’ voice stirs something in a 50s kid; the brassy Superman anthem brought us to our feet and running for the TV set.

Adventures of Superman (1952)This first season has an unfamiliar but good Lois Lane in Phyllis Coates and plays much more like a crime serial than the later color seasons. Warners has assembled a trim multi-disc package and included some great extras. The disc set tells the whole tale of Superman on television. According to New Wave’s making-of interview documentary, producer Robert Maxwell filmed Superman and the Mole Men with the cast and crew planned for his TV show. It was released by Lippert films and was a moderate success; Daily Variety’s review called the film “sock moppet bait.” Then Maxwell had to film the entire first season — 26 episodes — before landing a network spot. Copyrighted in 1951 and ’52, the show didn’t premiere until 1953.5aaaa7d8d32fbd1004fe40c0626c8b43As pointed out in the docu, Adventures of Superman was more crime-oriented than science fiction. Some episodes feature strange inventions, as with a mind-control device in The Mind Machine. More often than not Lois or Jimmy Olsen is held by despicable gangsters, a problem solved when the news finally reaches Clark Kent. He leaps into a ‘storeroom’ and zooms off to the rescue. That stirring anthem blasts in along with a flying sound effect that reminds us of Dorothy Gale’s tornado. Crook confrontations usually include a demonstration of Superman’s invulnerability in the form of a bent knife or “bullets have no effect” scene (no animated bullet ricochets yet). Our hero often trades blows with the bad guys, who fall as if kayoed by your average serial hero. The way Reeves throws the punches we expect to see their heads come off!George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, and John Hamilton in Adventures of Superman (1952)Phyllis Coates is a spunky Lois Lane. She takes no guff from anyone and also tries her hand at beating up on bad guys. She comes off as essentially humorless, with only a few wonderings why she’s never seen Kent and Superman together. The jokes are all reserved for Reeves and his literally closeted alter ego. The ‘mild mannered’ Clark Kent is forever smiling and seems to derive plenty of satisfaction from knowing a secret nobody else does. Capable actor Jack Larson plays Jimmy Olsen as an immature clown with a good heart. Forever clueless, he can be depended on to ask the dumb questions so that Clark Kent can dispense plot exposition. Several episodes center on Olsen’s personal adventures, which play like Hardy Boys stories featuring one rather dense Hardy Boy.DGgb2-1456844038-217-lists-adventuresofsuperman_mrmctavishProduction values are on the dire side but they were generous for Televsion in 1952. It’s not unusual to see characters throw bold shadows onto sagging theatrical backdrops.  The minimal effects range from “okay” to “so-so” to “what the heck was that?” Reeves is good on the springboard launches and gymnastic one-point landings. Some flying shots are acceptable but a lot of others simply matte a sideways image of a standing Reeves into whatever background is handy, and look like embarrassing mistakes. When one makes 26 TV episodes on spec there is no room for second tries, let alone R&D. There are some questionable plot points as well. The docu extra covers an amazing blunder in an episode in which two crooks find out Clark Kent’s secret identity. Superman parks them on a high mountain while he sorts out the rest of the plot, telling them to stay put ’til he gets back. They try to climb down instead, and fall … to their deaths! The show offers nothing more about them – they’re just forgotten!516164f6b2abc7a3a2492aad9104f2d5The first episode is called Superman On Earth and covers the familiar ground shown in the first act of the Richard Donner / Christopher Reeve 1978 effort … on 1/1000th the budget. Krypton is one throne room and Jor-El’s lab and it’s all pretty perfunctory, but the cornball drama still tugs on the heartstrings when old Mrs. Kent finds the baby in the rocket. Events are rushed through so quickly that young Clark Kent has time to grow up (“Gee, why do I have to be different from everybody else?”), come to Metropolis, get hired and rescue a man clinging to the underside of a blimp all in 25 minutes. Don’t ask. It’s all quite charming.superman-george-reeves-31The TV show reprises Superman and the Mole Men as a first season ender, breaking it into two parts.  The feature takes an interesting liberal point of view, with an anti-vigilante civics lesson. The Mole Men are midgets from the center of the Earth that show up and are immediately judged by some irate townspeople (including blacklistee-to-be Jeff Corey) as hostiles to be eradicated. Superman’s only role in the movie is to defend the American Way, which in this case includes protecting innocent aliens from paranoid, trigger-happy yahoos. With that sensitivity, it’s suprising that so little is made of the fact that Kal-El himself is an alien immigrant to the United States. He’s from another galaxy, yet he appreciates our freedoms. I guess he has to count himself lucky that he was in human form, specifically Anglo human form. Superman may be corny, but its sentiments ring true … he’s a hero championing values we still cherish, theoretical though they may be.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: THE FLASH (1990)

CAST

John Wesley Shipp (Dawsons Creek)
Amanda Pays (The Knife)
Alex Desert (Swingers)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST
Paula Marshall (Veronica Mars)
Michael Nader (All My Children)
Tim Thomerson (Trancers)
Priscilla Pointer (Carrie)
Lycia Naff (Total Recall)
Richard Belzer (Law & Order)
M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner)
Vito D’Ambrosio (Arrow)
Biff Manard (Zone Troopers)
Mike Genovese (Point Break)
Sven-Ole throsen (Mallrats)
Joyce Hyser (This Is Spinal Tap)
Dick Miller (Gremlins)
Elizabeth Gracen (Highlander: The Series)
Ian Buchanan (Panic Room)
Jonathan Brandis (Seaquest)
Remy Ryan (Robocop 3)
Adam West (60s Batman)
Mark Dacascos (Crying Freeman)
Ian Abercrombie (Birds of Prey)
Clifton Collins Jr (Westworld)
Gloria Reuben (Timecop)
Robert Shayne (Adventures of Superman)
Angela Bassett (Green Lantern)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Timothy Stack (My Name is Earl)
Yvette Nipar (Robocop: The Series)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop)
Robert O’Reilly (Star Trek: DS9)
Richard Burgi (Firefly)
Michael Champion (Toy Soldiers)
Jeffrey Combs (Gotham)
Francois Chau (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2)
David Cassidy (Instant Karma)
Carolyn Seymour (Congo)
Claire Stansfield (Xena)
 The series is a mash-up of the Barry Allen and Wally West eras of the comics. The show’s producers, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, wisely chose to use the Barry Allen version of the character (played by John Wesley Shipp). This was probably due to the greater story possibilities that Allen’s job as a police forensic scientist could offer. It didn’t matter that Barry had been killed off in the comics five years prior to the show. The character of Dr. Tina McGee (played by the savoury Amanda Pays) comes from the Wally West comics. She is a scientist who helps Barry understand and cope with his new powers of super speed.  The solid performances of the core cast make this show work despite its cartoony conventions. Barry Allen is an easy character to like because we can appreciate and empathize with his underdog-makes-good nature. Barry has always been inferior to his Dad and his overachieving older brother Jay. When he gains his extraordinary powers we can’t help but think that it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.

Also noteworthy is the impish chemistry between Shipp and Pays. Their characters have an intimate, yet platonic relationship that is almost as charming as Pays’ accent. Alex Désert is underused as Barry’s friend and coworker, Julio Mendez. Désert’s easy-going, friendly presence provides a necessary counterpoint to Barry’s no-nonsense ‘get-the-job-done’ attitude. It’s too bad that he didn’t have more to do than set Barry up on blind dates and make wisecracks. The show was produced in the wake of the massive success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. The mood and tone of that movie is a huge influence on the first few episodes of The Flash, especially the Pilot episode, “The Origin of a Super Hero.” That episode begins with an establishing shot of Central City that is a blatant copy of the opening scene in Batman where we first see Gotham. We also see the same ‘evil steam’ shooting up from the sewers and citizens scurrying to get indoors, away from all the immoral activity that abounds on the mean streets of Gotham . . .er. . . Central City. Later on, the confrontation between Flash and the bad guy is also an obvious lift from Batman, complete with the “You made me!” line.As the series progresses, it stops trying to ape the manner and feel of Batman and takes on more of a 1940s film-noir motif – only a lot more colourful. The ‘Tim Burton Effect’ still lingers though. One such pastiche, which ironically is not in the Pilot episode, is the use of period props such as 1950s automobiles. Burton can get away with such an aesthetic because his films often take place in an ambiguous timeline where stylistically, anything goes. In The Flash, the out-of-time props are an unnecessary distraction. They’re especially irrelevant during the episode titled “Ghost in the Machine” where The Ghost, a villain from the 1950s, comes out of a deep freeze to again wreak havoc on Central City in 1990. It’s hard to buy into The Ghost’s future shock when people are still wearing trilbies and driving around in Ford Fairlanes.
The show didn’t have great villains but like most genre entertainment, thinking is the real enemy. The Trickster, played by Mark Hamill, is definitely the show’s greatest and most memorable antagonist, even if he is just a check-in-the-box inclusion of a Joker-like homicidal clown. Hamill is great, playing the character as an obsessed, erotomaniacal master-of-disguise while the script, unfortunately, wants him to be a poor man’s Joker. Ironically, he would later go on to recycle his Trickster performance as the voice of the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series. Even Captain Cold works reasonably well within the context of the series, reinvented here as an albino mercenary with an ice gun. Actor Michael Champion plays the role relatively straight and plausible, as if shooting people up with frost is an everyday occurrence. He even gets to deliver the line, ‘The Iceman Cometh,’ six years before Arnold Schwarzenegger would as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin.

Michael Nader’s stone-faced overacting as outlaw motorcycle gang leader, Nicholas Pike is way too over-the-top to be taken seriously. Casting soap opera or sitcom actors as villains is always a bad idea. The difference between Hamill and Nader’s performances is that Hamill is trying to be humourous, Nader isn’t. David Cassidy and his widow’s peak are unfortunately a non-presence as Mirror Master in “Done with Mirrors.” He comes off as more of a Bizarro-Keith Partridge than a threatening adversary. One of the highlights of the series is “Fast Forward” where Flash is accidentally propelled 10 years into a bleak future where his powers are unstable. He’s got to find a way to get back to his own time and set things right. Every super hero / sci-fi show has to have its ‘evil parallel universe’ or ‘undesirable future’ story and The Flash is no exception. This episode reminds me of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon where Spidey would be sucked into some twisted alternate dimension that he would have to fight his way out of. The scene where Flash is “falling” into the psychedelic void is a direct homage to that show. It really is an entertaining story if you can plow through the painful first act of Nader’s scenery chewing and hamming it up.One episode that is way more endearing than it probably has any right to be is “Twin Streaks” where an obligatory mad scientist type tries to clone Flash and ends up creating a sort of Bizarro-Flash in a story that vaguely resembles Bride of Frankenstein. The laughs, intentional or not, are effortless. Bizarro-Flash or Pollux as he’s called, wears a blue Flash costume. It would have been a nice wink-nudge to the fans if they had given him a yellow suit as a reference to Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash. Zoom was mentioned in another episode, after all. One of the show’s major clunkers is “Be My Baby” where Barry has to care for an infant that was left on his doorstep. It’s nothing but recycled humour from 3 Men and a Baby and countless sitcoms. This episode reads like an attempt to inject some feel-good, warm fuzzy moments into the show. I actually felt sorry for the then-unknown Bryan Cranston, who had the thankless job of playing the bad guy on this one. If the show’s producers truly wanted to feature more heartwarming stories they could have done an episode or episodes that focused on the heroic endeavors that Flash has performed for the medical community. There was one story from Mike Baron’s run on the comic where Wally West was charged with transporting a human heart across the US to a transplant patient. Story lines such as these could have been an untapped goldmine of drama and suspense as long as they didn’t get too sappy with it. It also would have been a welcome break from the hit-or-miss villain of the week.

Shirley Walker’s score music is tailor made to suit the flavour of each individual episode. “Beat the Clock”, a story about a jazz musician falsely accused of killing his wife, appropriately has a lonely sounding Chicago jazz score while “Watching the Detectives” features music that evokes old private-eye films of the 1940s to compliment that episode’s subject matter. The Flash’s opening theme song is composed by Danny Elfman and sounds like a recycled version of his Batman theme. The Flash is a keen show that had the potential to be much greater than it was. Its adherence to the original source material and the earnest portrayal of the characters by the core cast give the series its irresistible allure. This is essential viewing for comic book and sci-fi fans and it definitely deserves a spot on your DVD shelf.