The CW has created a reboot of the '90s super hero show The Flash. The reboot reflects a lot of the changes we have seen in society - changes that have pushed awareness and acceptance of LGBT characters and diversity in casting. This reboot has also turned out to be one of that network's biggest shows. But this is more than a network banking on a trend - superhero shows - that is already popular. A number of novel elements of this show make it worth the watch. Inclusion of LGBT characters and a diverse cast, as well as the outsider element of the superhero milieu, makes this a pretty gay show.
One of the most obvious novel elements in The Flash is the diversity of the casting. To start, the relationship between Barry Allen/the Flash (Grant Gustin, formerly on Glee) and Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin, formerly on Law & Order and Rent) is striking. West fostered Allen for fourteen years after Allen's father was sent to prison for his wife's murder. When is the last time you saw a white kid fostered by a black family on television? The relationship between the two is central to the show and is heartwarming. Det. West isn't simply the stereotype of the 'wise old black man' - alla Morgan Freeman - mentor. His character evolves and has his own heroic journey as he deals with his dramatically changing world. Allen is also far more than a two-dimensional good guy. Allen's naïveté is endearing, with Gustin adding all the snark and charm you'd expect from someone who was a bad guy on Glee. (FYI, I'm kind of in love with Barry Allen, not the least because Grant Gustin is my dream man.)
In addition to Detective Joe West and his daughter Iris, the show includes other diverse characters like Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), a hipster and a mechanical engineering genius. Alongside him is Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). While Iris West (Candice Patton) is an intrepid wanna-be reporter with a mean right-hook, Snow is yet another anomaly on television - a brilliant scientist. Also a bit of an anomaly, at least for the genre, is Central City Police Captain David Singh (Patrick Sabongui). In the DC comics and the pre-pilot appearance of Barry Allen on the Arrow, Singh is the Crime Lab Director. However, on the television show Singh isn't a stereotype of an Indian scientist. Instead, he's a sarcastic and hardboiled police chief. Also, he's gay and it is revealed in an off-hand comment rather than a protracted coming-out story.
While the show isn't free of stereotypes - and while the dialogue periodically has missteps - I love it when female characters don't need men to rescue them, and Iris certainly is no wilting violet. Though Snow is more passive, she is also more than a pretty face in a miniskirt holding a clipboard and using vaguely scientific jargon. No joke, I've seen women "scientists" on TV before who weren't much more than eye candy for male leads. Instead we see Snow working with equipment and actually doing science instead of just rattling off terms we are supposed to assume make sense.
The diversity isn't the only thing that makes this show pretty gay or even the main reason I love the show. Aside from the beautiful Grant Gustin (seriously, I want to have his babies) and Cisco's hilarious asides, what makes this show so special to me is the fact that the heroes on the show aren't super tough or strong or trained fighters. They're nerds, bona fide and unapologetic nerds. The show doesn't try to make the characters popular hotties that just happen to be geniuses. The show acknowledges that nerds can be very isolated. Yet these nerds find camaraderie and save lives. Even better, the characters are believable. They're not weird basement dwellers inventing gadgets or strung out social rejects. For all their awkwardness, they're funny and cool, and Grant Gustin is adorable. (I promise I'll only say it one more time.)
These characters are outsiders who find a purpose, and a young man struggling to conquer deep childhood trauma while staying on the side of good. This isn't The Arrow, where the dystopian setting is a world of grays and the hero is deeply flawed and constantly in danger of losing himself to his violent urges. The Flash has clearer good guys and bad guys. Yet there is moral complexity. Instead of a dystopian setting, the show explores the moral ambiguity of science and the very modern problem of pollution and industrial disasters.
The show doesn't outright ask what it means to be human, but rather weighs the choices we make with the opportunities and abilities we are given. Barry Allen struggles to keep his secret from someone he loves and the lies he has to tell. His powers further isolate him from the world, yet he is determined to do what he thinks is right and use his abilities to help people. Contrast this with Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), on the other hand, who has a mission and goals that still aren't clear but involve him committing murder. Whether or not his ultimate goal is altruistic - protecting Allen and the other two members of their team or medical discoveries to benefit mankind - he seems to feel the ends justify the means. He is the dark horse that makes Allen's heroism shine all the more.
So, okay, this is a CW show and not Pride & Prejudice. But it is nice to see a classic heroic journey; a 21st century superhero who isn't just a two-dimensional good guy, but struggles with the responsibilities that accompany having superpowers. The show isn't about what it means to be human, because ultimately that may not matter and it certainly doesn't make you a good person. It is a story about isolation, being an outsider, navigating a world where the moral basis of scientific discovery is murky, and the relationship between a surrogate father (Det. West) and son (Allen). Oh, and seriously, Grant Gustin - I'm handsome, hilarious, and a great cook. Let's get dinner.