Five Characters From 'Arrow' That Would Make Better TV Than 'Arrow'
By now you’ve no doubt seen or at least heard about Arrow, DC Comics’ latest hit or miss (pun intended) series. It’s a puzzling piece of television. While it certainly has some potential with its stellar supporting cast and an excellent eye for fight scenes, it continuously steps on its own feet. The drama gets undermined by bad dialogue, and the humor always falls flat, frequently delivered by irritating tertiary characters. Arrow can’t seem to decide what show it wants to be—is it a badass action drama, or a campy cartoon? None of which is helped by the fact that the least interesting character on the show is the one that bears its name. Nine episodes in, and we haven’t learned anything substantive about the protagonist beyond his devotion to seeking revenge against his father’s former partners turned enemies. The writers' approach seems to be inspired by the Mike Grell stories of the late 80s, which had the emerald archer carving a path of violent vengeance through the urban underbelly of Seattle. On the show Oliver Queen is essentially Batman with arrows, which doesn’t work because still no one has found a way to make a man carrying a massive compound bow on the street not look ridiculously obvious. He is also surrounded by characters far more fascinating than himself, but they are powerless to play any more than their bit parts, because it isn’t their show. Each week, when I engage in the masochistic ritual of watching Arrow, I can’t help but wonder. What if it was their show?
If they really wanted to do a show about a sharpshooter, they should’ve picked this guy. Floyd Lawton is the world’s foremost assassin, often credited by his employers and comrades as “the man who never misses.” None of which you would’ve known from watching Arrow, since in his sole appearance he was constantly missing targets with a high powered rifle when he wasn’t indiscriminately spraying bullets from wrist-mounted machine guns. Which begs the question, if the show wants to be taken seriously, why give the villain wrist-mounted machine guns? Why give him an enormous plastic eyepiece and then still have him look through a scope? Why kill him in his first appearance?
Sure there’s the question of how sympathetic a protagonist a mercenary killer might be, but people tune in every week to watch Dexter butcher criminals, so maybe the issue is just having him kill the right people. A show about Deadshot would be a sleek and sexy action/espionage affair, much like Nikita. The first season could follow him as he takes various contracts, perhaps with a code of only killing bad guys to add a little moral grey. Season finale, he gets busted. Season Two, he gets recruited into the Suicide Squad, the government’s top secret totally deniable black ops team of incarcerated supervillains, under the direction of Amanda Waller, probably the most formidable woman with no superpowers in comics. Season Three, he either earns his freedom or escapes, and goes freelance with the Secret Six, taking high risk clandestine jobs all over the world. That’s a three-season arc right there, and shows have been greenlit with less. They could even keep the whole name-shortening convention and just call it Shot.
Depending on which comics you read, Huntress is either Helena Bertinelli, the daughter of a Gotham mafia boss who swore revenge when her family was murdered in a mob hit, OR she’s Helena Wayne, daughter of Batman and Catwoman from an alternate reality. In both versions, she often fights organized crime with martial arts and arrows and is one of the few heroes willing to kill. Unsurprisingly, the show went with the more accessible mob princess backstory, only in this version her father is still alive and running the family business. After he ordered her fiancé’s death, Helena swore to undo Daddie's life’s work and destroy everything he loved. When Oliver Queen encounters her on the show, Helena’s story completely upstages his own. Not only is her desire for vengeance more compelling than Queen’s quest for some nebulous notion of justice, she has a clearly defined antagonist to oppose while Oliver struggles to cross names off his father’s mystery list. It’s easier to root for Helena because we know her father is a gangster, a recognizable evil, and therefore she is justified in fighting him. Oliver is basically knocking off and shutting up all of his dad’s old business partners, while keeping his own crimes and his father’s a secret. When he tries to give Helena a rather righteous lecture about doing things for the right reasons, neither she nor the audience buys it. She, on the other hand, is honest about what she wants and being willing to do anything to achieve it. That’s the kind of strong female character you can build a cult series around. I can understand the reluctance to try, as a version of this character was central to the failed Birds of Prey series, but even that has its devotees on the internets.
Slade Wilson volunteered for a top secret government program dedicated to creating super soldiers. With his enhanced physiology, reflexes and intelligence, Wilson quit the army and became the mercenary known as Deathstroke. Even though he got his start obsessively harassing a team of tweenage sidekicks, Deathstroke has gone on to become a villain that is spoken of with a fearsome respect around the Justice League’s big table. Not only is he one of the most formidable combatants in the DC Universe, but a genius tactician as well, capable of fighting a room full of superheroes to a standstill single-handedly, and even outwitting Batman. And he can do it all with one eye. But it’s not all unrelenting badassery with Slade—the Wilson family has more drama than the complete boxed set of The West Wing. An ex-wife that tried to kill him, one son lost and another gone insane, and a daughter he is forever trying to recruit into the family business.
Sadly, Arrow has treated Deathstroke in much the same way as Batman and Robin did Bane. In both instances, a brilliant and compelling mastermind character was reduced to a mute thug. What is the point of bringing in such an iconic character if he’s only going to be standing around and waiting for one of the more important villains to tell him who to attack like a dog? Although he is portrayed by a very capable stuntman, his toughness is severely undercut by the fact that he loses both of his onscreen battles to a malnourished barefoot prison escapee with a bow and arrow, and we’ve already seen his mask staked to a post when Queen is rescued from the island, so we already know Deathstroke never makes it beyond the flashback segments, which totally deflates any narrative tension that might have been. A Deathstroke TV show would be more like 24, just a steady flow of constant nail-biting chaos week after week as a mercenary tries to make a living and be a single dad in a world full of super-powered people.
Kelly Hu is actually the actress that plays China White, the leader of the Triads in Starling City. This is more of a lament that they could not give her a better role and real character to play. See, China White isn’t even a DC villain—they made her up just for the show, and the result is embarrassingly bland. Her personality begins with a white wig and ends at the tip of a curved pair of knives. While I could watch Ms. Hu dance around in a ballet of blades all day, it’s a shame they couldn’t have used such a gifted actress to bring one of DC’s many beloved badass females to life. DC Comics literally has binders full of kickass women, so why are we given this vaguely racist caricature when fans would love to see the strong and proud Lady Shiva, deadliest woman alive? Or perhaps the mysterious street brawler White Canary? They could even keep the wig. Why not let her portray the seductive and poisonous Cheshire, or even Shado, the ninja archer, for the ultimate orgy of arrow-shooting action? Every time I see her scowling menacingly from beneath her white wig, I can’t help but wistfully wonder how much better a show Shiva starring Kelly Hu would be, and then I get a little sad.
Detective Quentin Lance
Speaking of characters made up just for the show, Detective Quentin Lance is actually much more intriguing than his daughter Laurel, who is the main romantic interest. He is the classic world-weary cop who’s seen it all, with the kind of laconic wittiness that very clever people tend to develop when they have been bored for a long time. Maybe he’s the most relatable character because he’s the only one that openly views the events of the show as patently absurd, and even though he’s constantly declaring he can’t believe he’s on the trail of a vigilante archer, after a few episodes it almost looks like he’s enjoying the challenge. Detective Lance’s scenes are the highlight of every episode, and honestly the show would vastly improve if he became its main character. It could be a police procedural about how normal cops do their job in a world of villains and vigilantes. They’ve already got an excellent template courtesy of Brubaker’s Gotham Central series—just think Law and Order with Batman. How awesome would it be to see Harvey Dent go after the Joker in a court of law? It would certainly be unlike any other superhero show in the history of ever.
So there you have it, DC—five free ideas for a better show that you can make from the pieces of the old one. Call it another reboot, folks seem to love that. Although I limited myself to characters that actually appeared on Arrow, the DC stable is brimming with characters with potential to make amazing television—let me know which are your favorites in the comments.
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