The Flash (1990) DVD Review

  • Series Title: The Flash
  • Season: The Complete Series (Season 1)
  • Episodes:  22
  • Discs:  6
  • Network: CBS (Warner Brothers Television)
  • Cast:  John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays, Alex Désert, Richard Belzer, Vito D’Ambrosio, Biff Manard, Mike Genovese
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This is the original The Flash television series from 1990, based on the DC Comics Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. I remember watching the series in 1990, and liking it because it was very over-the-top and funny.  Unfortunately, re-watching the series, it does not live up to even that sense of nostalgia, and there’s no other way to say it – it’s just pretty bad.

One of the problems with the program is the utter lack of women and minorities (I’ll get to Dr. Christina McGee and Julio Mendez in a moment). The Central City police department doesn’t appear to employ a single female officer. Not one. They also don’t appear to employ any minorities at all. The two street cops, Bellows and Murphy, have the bumbling quality that brings to mind early 1960s comedy cop shows such as Car 54, Where Are You? Murphy, in addition, is the stereotypical Irish Cop – at least he doesn’t speak with a phony leprechaun accent, which would have taken it from a bad stereotype to an offensive one.

Dr. Christina (Tina) McGee, played by Amanda Pays, whom I normally like (she was also in Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future) tries so hard in The Flash, but her part is nothing more than the token Strong Woman ™. She’s a scientist, and we know this because every time we see her she’s in a white lab coat and normally Barry sees her at Star Labs. This is one case where I would have liked to have seen a bit of romance between Barry and Tina, because at least that would have given Tina something to do. Tina spends all her time worrying about Barry, especially his health, and occasionally helping him on cases by running lab results (something Barry, as a forensic scientist, should be able to do himself), breaking into computer systems, or, occasionally getting captured. It’s sad, and a thankless role.

Julio Mendez, is Barry’s friend and colleague at the Central City police department. Though I liked seeing an African American as an intelligent, educated character who works for the police department, unfortunately, he’s even more of a token role than Tina. We rarely see Julio actually doing anything at Barry’s lab. His only role seems to be setting Barry up on blind dates. And he has no idea that Barry is The Flash.

Even with the art deco set and location design (although the Pac-Man font that appears occasionally definitely doesn’t fit with Art Deco) the show is definitely set contemporously, that is, in 1990, so the lack of real women and real minorities just glares.

The early half of the series, also, makes the mistake of trying to make the Flash simply a supercop. And having Barry use his speed to catch everyday criminals simply doesn’t work. In addition, the pilot introduces Barry’s family – Nora Allen – his mother, his father, and his brother Jay, who is also a cop. Jay’s killed in the pilot, which becomes Barry’s motivation for becoming a crime-fighter. But Barry’s father is a real jerk. Mr. Allen constantly compares Barry to Jay and comes up wanting. He also insults Barry for being a scientist and not a real cop (in his father’s view). It’s painful and sad to watch. The pilot also introduces Iris, an arty type, who disappears to study painting in Paris and we never see again. You’d think that getting rid of Iris would free Barry for a relationship with Tina – but no. This Flash is a solo man with no girlfriend.

The second half of the series, which introduces super-villains to challenge the Flash is an improvement. Yes, the series still as problems, but introducing characters like The Ghost, Nightshade (a friendly hero who helps the Flash), Mirror Master, Captain Cold, and of course, The Trickster, at least makes it slightly more watchable – and on occasion almost getting to the level of “pretty good” despite the glaring issues.

Mark Hamill is way, way over the top in the episode, “The Trickster”, but in the final episode of the series, “The Trial of the Trickster” he returns, dials it back a bit, and becomes wonderful. The series final episode is it’s best by far – which is the saddest thing about this show – it had potential, and was definitely starting to find it’s own feet when it was cancelled. “The Trial of the Trickster” also introduces Prank, a women who is heir to a toy store fortune and completely obsessed with the Trickster. She becomes his partner in crime and frees him from jail before his trial. She’s also the driving force of much of his rampage in his encore performance, providing weapons, materials, semi-deadly pranks and jokes, getaway vehicles, etc. Although in the first episode, “The Trickster”, Prank was a figment of James Jesse’s imagination – and his obsession with having an assistant caused him to kidnap and turn private detective Megan Lockhart into his “Prank”; in “The Trial of the Trickster”, Prank is a real character, though with very little background. And she’s completely obsessed with and possibly in love with the Trickster – despite his treating her terribly and not caring about her. If you’re familiar with the DC Animated Universe, you can see where this is going – the Trickster-Prank relationship seems to me to have inspired both the character of Harley Quinn and her relationship with the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. (and Hamill played The Joker throughout Batman: The Animated Series and many subsequent Warner Brothers Animated DC films.) If all of the 1990 The Flash series had been up to the quality of it’s final episode, the series might have lasted a bit longer.

Another episode I’d like to discuss is number 15, “Fast Forward”. In the episode, Pike, the violent biker from the pilot is released from prison on a technicality. During the Flash’s conflict with Pike, he fires a heat-seeking missile at the Flash. In attempting to out-run the missile, Flash travels 10 years into the future. There, Central City has become a cesspool of violence, crime, sex, gambling, and it’s also the personal playground of “Mayor Pike” who runs the city as his own, personal fiefdom. Yes, it’s very reminiscent of Back to the Future Part II (with Biff running Marty’s hometown). But what I found interesting about it was I couldn’t help but think of the modern day The Flash (2014) episode where Barry slips into the future and prevents a tidal wave from destroying Central City but is completely unaware that Wells “kills” Cisco. In the 1990 The Flash episode, Julio is killed in the future, and we’re pretty sure Tina is as well but her experiment completely negates that future by returning Barry back in time a few minutes earlier – so he can prevent Pike from firing the missile. The 1990 The Flash episode was typical for the show, but it made me a bit disappointed in the new 2014 series that they’d actually updated an episode from the original series. Don’t get me wrong, the modern episode is awesome, and when I saw it, I thought it was one of the best of the 2014 The Flash episodes, but it now disappoints me to find out that story wasn’t as original as it seemed.

Overall, The Flash (1990) is a disappointment. It’s full of melodramatic dialogue and acting, and the subtle but impossible to ignore lack of women and minorities is disturbing and upsetting. The best episode is definitely it’s last. If you can find the episodes “The Trickster” and “The Trial of the Trickster”, especially the second one, on-line somewhere they are worth watching, but the series is not really worth buying.