REVIEW: THE FLASH – SEASON 3

The-Flash-Season-3-Poster-e1497470774907

Starring

Grant Gustin (Glee)
Candice Patton (The Guest)
Danielle Panabaker (The Crazies)
Carlos Valdes (Vixen)
Keiynan Lonsdale (THe Turning)
Tom Cavanagh (Scrubs)
Jesse L. Martin (Injustice)
Tom Felton (Harry Potter)

Matt Letscher and Grant Gustin in The Flash (2014)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Alex Désert (Swingers)
Michelle Harrison (Tru Calling)
Matt Letscher (Her)
Todd Lasance (The Vampire Diaries)
John Wesley Shipp (Dawson’s Creek)
Tobin Bell (Saw)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Joey King (Slender Man)
Violett Beane (God Friended Me)
Peter Flemming (Staragte SG.1)
Wentworth Miller (Underworld)
Danielle Nicolet (Central Intelligence)
Grey Damon (Aquarius)
Ashley Rickards (Pretty Little Stalker)
Patrick Sabongui (Power Rangers)
Susan Walters (The Vampire Diaries)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Victor Garber (The Orville)
Franz Drameh (See)
Stephen Amell (Arrow)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Caity Lotz (The Pact)
Dominic Purcell (Prison Break)
David Ramsey (Dexter)
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
Melissa Benoist (Whiplash)
Audrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Christina Brucato (The Intern)
Donnelly Rhodes (Battlestar Galactica)
Jerry Wasserman (I, Robot)
Robin Atkin Downes (Babylon 5)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Nicholas Gonzalez (Sleepy Hollow)
Jessica Camacho (Watchmen: The Series)
Stephen Huszar (Faces In The Crowd)
Andrea Brooks (When Calls The Heart)
Keith David (Pitch Black)
Vanessa Williams (Candyman)
Robbie Amell (The Duff)
Rick Cosnett (The Vampire Diaries)
John Barrowman (Torchwood)
David Harewood (Homeland)
Jeremy Jordan (The Last Five Years)
Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries)
Darren Criss (Glee)
David Dastmalchian (Reprisal)
Anne Dudek (White Chicks)

 

John Wesley Shipp and Grant Gustin in The Flash (2014)Season 3 appears to be the real test for The CW’s Arrowverse shows. Arrow followed up its first two seasons with a much rockier third season, leaving that series in a hole of which it’s only just now managed to climb out. The Flash went through a similar series of hurdles this year. The Flash: Season 3 was noticeably more uneven than its predecessors, suggesting that maybe Barry Allen’s best days are behind him. Luckily, the show was able to recapture its footing where Arrow continued to struggle. The strong last couple months of the season went a long way towards making up for the mistakes that came before.Grant Gustin and Violett Beane in The Flash (2014)It was clear right away that Season 3 faced a long, uphill battle. Season 2 ended with an exciting cliffhanger, as Barry (Grant Gustin) traveled back in time, undid his parents’ deaths and created the alternate timeline known as Flashpoint. Anyone who’s read the Flashpoint comic or watched the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox was surely salivating at the thought of seeing a twisted, dystopian vision of the Arrowverse. What the premiere episode, “Flashpoint,” actually delivered was slightly less exciting. Aside from a few key differences, this world wasn’t a particularly dramatic change from the norm. There was still a definite appeal in seeing Barry briefly granted the happy, quiet life he’s always dreamed of.Tobin Bell in The Flash (2014)
Looking back at  the first half of Season 3, it wasn’t until the midseason finale that any episode scored above the low 8 range. That pretty much encapsulates the problems with the season right there. The show was often perfectly fine on a week-to-week basis, but it was rare for any episode to really stand out from the pack. The general status quo in the first half of the season too often struggled to measure up to the Reverse-Flash and Zoom conflicts from seasons past. The end result of Barry’s three months spent living in Flashpoint was a handful of changes to the Team Flash dynamic, many of which became all but irrelevant after a week or two. Flashpoint also resulted in the rise of two new villains – Doctor Alchemy and Savitar (both voiced by Tobin Bell). Alchemy never amounted to much more than a shadowy, mysterious string-puller, while it wasn’t until the final few episodes of the season that Savitar truly came into his own.Danielle Panabaker in The Flash (2014)There was plenty of character drama to work through early on, much of it the direct result of Barry’s time-meddling. Iris (Candice Patton) and Joe (Jesse L. Martin) dealt with a mutual estrangement. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) mourned the death of someone close to him. Both Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) dealt with the spontaneous appearance of metahuman powers (with the former dreading her transformations into Killer Frost and the latter relishing his opportunity to follow in Barry’s footsteps). That’s to say nothing of the complications created by Barry’s new co-worker/frenemy, Julian Desmond (Tom Felton). When all else failed, the Team Flash family drama could usually be relied upon to keep the show humming along.Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin in The Flash (2014)Julian proved an entertaining and somewhat unpredictable addition to the recurring cast, adding a unique voice and temperament to the Team Flash dynamic. But the best addition this year was H.R. (Tom Cavanagh), the latest alternate universe incarnation of Harrison Wells. It’s part of The Flash’s charm that there must always be a Wells in the picture, even if Cisco and friends have to go on a recruitment drive to find one. Cavanagh again proved to be one of the show’s MVP’s, playing H.R. as a wholly distinct character compared to Season 1’s Dr. Wells and Season 2’s Harry. There were even a few opportunities to see Cavanagh play multiple Wellses in the same scene, just for kicks.Grant Gustin and Keiynan Lonsdale in The Flash (2014)

This season also got a lot of mileage out of John Wesley Shipp’s new role as the real Jay Garrick. Like Cavanagh, Shipp successfully managed to set his new character apart from the old, casting Jay as a grizzled veteran not entirely comfortable with his status as mentor to Barry and his fellow speedsters. The only complaint here is that the season never used Jay as often as it could. That was especially true with the midseason finale, “The Present,” which offered a tantalizingly brief glimpse of Jay’s rivalry with Earth-3’s Trickster (Mark Hamill).Grant Gustin, Keiynan Lonsdale, and Violett Beane in The Flash (2014)Looking back, the one character who felt oddly underutilized this year was Wally. On paper, it was a big year for Wally, as he gained his speed powers and took his place alongside Barry. That paved the way for several memorable speedster team-ups (including one with Violett Beane’s Jesse Quick thrown in for good measure). But there was a specific point in the season where it seemed like the writers completely lost interest in Wally. He all but completely faded to the background and never recovered as a result. Andre Tricoteux in The Flash (2014)The character drama gave the early episodes weight where villains like Alchemy faltered, but that drama brought about its own set of problems. Not only was the scope of Flashpoint itself disappointingly limited, the fallout often felt small and perfunctory. Some subplots, particularly the Joe/Iris rift, were quickly resolved and forgotten, almost like they never happened at all. And at some point, the series simply felt too mired in darkness. Character drama is great, but this series has always thrived on its ability to balance that drama with lighthearted adventure and that ever-important sense of hope. But Barry Allen became more morose than ever this year, and his misery seemed to envelop everyone around him. It didn’t help that The Flash was airing new episodes at the same time as fellow Arrow-verse/CW series Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, two shows that did a much better job of balancing character drama with lighthearted fun this year.Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin in The Flash (2014)Once the reveal came and Savitar’s true endgame became apparent. The final five episodes went a long way towards reviving the Savitar conflict and building the character into someone worthy of Reverse-Flash and Zoom. That doesn’t necessarily excuse the writers for keeping their cards close to the vest for so long, nor their decision to focus on a third speedster villain when there are so many other worthy Flash villains who haven’t gotten their due yet.. But at the same time, the reveal did make it apparent why that prolonged secrecy was necessary. Moreover, the reveal wound up tying the season together, forcing Barry to confront his mistakes and his habit of being the architect of much of his own misery. For a villain who remained so aloof for much of the season, Savitar wound up becoming a surprisingly personal villain in the end.Grant Gustin in The Flash (2014)It also didn’t hurt that the later episodes placed so much emphasis on Caitlin’s fall from grace. I still maintain that Killer Frost should have been the central villain of Season 3. But even as a supporting player in the Savitar conflict, Caitlin added a great deal of dramatic weight to the series, with the writers banking heavily on the strong bond linking Barry, Cisco and Caitlin and the tragedy that arose when those bonds were shattered. This was also a valuable chance for Panabaker to play Killer Frost not as an overt villain, but someone torn between her twisted metahuman side and the good, loyal friend that still remained within.
As for the dark tone, it’s no coincidence that some of the best episodes this season were those that diverged from the Savitar conflict and focused on the lighter side of Barry’s world. The two-part Gorilla Grodd storyline was very entertaining, offering fans their first real glimpse of Earth-2’s Gorilla City and suggesting that Grodd would make for an excellent recurring villain if not for the sheer expense involved in bringing the character to life. The series even took the opportunity to throw in a little levity right before the end, as “Infantino Street” offered a wonderfully entertaining Flash/Captain Cold team-up before moving into the dramatic fallout of Savitar’s final attack.But nowhere did the series shine brighter this season than in the long-awaited musical episode/Supergirl crossover “Duet.” For one glorious hour, all the darkness fell away and Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist were given free reign to sing, dance and just have fun playing superheroes. It certainly didn’t hurt that so many actors involved, including Victor Garber, John Barrowman and Jesse L. Martin have serious musical theater chops of their own. Not only did that episode strongly suggest that the musical crossover needs to become an annual tradition, it served as a crucial reminder of how enthralling The Flash can be when it focuses on the lighter side of Barry Allen’s life. Hopefully that episode, and the generally improved state of the series in the second half of Season 3, are signs of what to expect when the show returns in the fall.
The Flash: Season 3 is a clear step down from the show’s first two years. It’s not that there were many truly bad episodes this year, but more that the show struggled too long to find a compelling status quo and make the most of the fallout from “Flashpoint.” Some of the best episodes this season had little to do with the overarching Savitar conflict. Luckily, the show did find its footing in the final two months of Season 3, and that strong finish went a long way toward redeeming the season as a whole.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED

CAST

Liam McIntyre (Legend of Hercules)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Dustin Clare (Wolf Creek TV)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)
Cynthia-Addai-Robinson (Arrow)
Pana Hema Taylor (Dead Lands)
Simon Merrells (The Wolfman)
Ellen Hollman (The Scorpion King 4)
Anna Hutchison (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)


RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Ditch Davey (Crawlspace)
Christian Antidormi (Strike Back)
Jenna Lind (Burning Man)
Colin Moy (Xena)
Jared Turner (Filfthy Rich)
Anthony Ray Parker (The Matrix)
Stephen Lovatt (Neighbours)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Todd Lasance (The Vampire Diaries)
Joel Tobeck (Young Hercules)

And so comes the beginning of the end as War Of The Damned brings to its conclusion series’ creator Stephen DeKnight’s take on the story of Spartacus. Picking up where the last arc in the continuity left off, the ever controversial show once again takes us back to the days of ancient Rome to offer up the final chapter of the slave revolt around which the show is based. As with the story arcs that preceded it, the show does not want for sex, nudity and graphic violence, much stronger than most have seen on TV before, but that there is half the charm. Everything about the series, from the performances the set design to the digital effects work is so over the top that it’s hard to imagine the series being nearly as fun had the exploitative elements been toned down in the least. When the story beings, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) has teamed up with Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Gannicus (Dustin Clare) to lead the slaves in bloody revolt against the armies of the Roman Empire. They won’t win an easy victory but Spartacus figures that to really win their freedom they’re going to have to set up a city fortress of sorts in order to have a location that will serve not only as a stronghold but also as a headquarters.As they set about making this a reality in hopes that once accomplished it will allow them to really ramp up their military operations, the powers that be in Rome lick their wounds and look for ways to replace soldiers lost in battle and refill their coffers. The Senate decides that the best man for this job is a wealthy Roman named Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells). He comes in with enough money to help and is more or less put in charge of the military forces dedicated to putting the slaves back in their rightful place. While Crassus sets about doing this, a young Roman man named Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) is brought on board for the specific purpose of going undercover and making his way into Spartacus’ inner circle. The series sticks to the same formula that made the earlier storylines so much fun: lush production values,  epic and bloody battles, sex, backstabbing political types. A series that makes no qualms whatsoever about playing up not only the decadence of the Roman Empire during which it has been set  but also the more violent side of life during those times. The series is all the better for it. Underneath all of this surface level insanity, however, is the final chapter of a pretty well told story. Characters develop nicely and are given interesting personalities and the various plot lines that are woven throughout the series can occasionally be intricate and genuinely surprising. As such, there’s a good amount of suspense here.McIntyre shines in the lead again, showing a confidence and a naturalness in the part that really helps to carry the series. The other cast members all do good work here as well. Merrells and Lasance are both great on the opposing side of McIntyre and company as the soldiers. Performances are rarely, if ever, subtle but they fit the tone of the story and of the series as a whole. Merrells, in fact, tends to steal any scene he’s in even if he occasionally chews the scenery. Throw Ellen Hollman as a female warrior named Saxa and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Naevia, Crixius’ main squeeze, and you can see that the ladies not only look great here but they hold their own in front of the cameras as well.The series ends on a high note, bringing together everything it laid out beforehand rather nicely. Would it have been possible to stretch it out further? Sure, but then you run the risk of the series starting to become old hat and with it already being repetitive in certain ways this far in, that was probably a legitimate concern on the part of the writing crew. As it stands now, the series remained a solid watch all the way through, a show that put entertainment first and succeeded in doing so. It’s easy to see why this quickly became and stayed a fan favorite.