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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Flash is an action-adventure series inspired by a DC Comics character that's slightly less intense than its parent show, Arrow. There's still plenty of superhero-style conflict with a fair amount of more traditional violence (gunfire, car crashes, and a few dead bodies), but the Flash's power is speed, which he uses to escape danger, change events, or overpower villains' attempts at evil rather than to fight. Characters are killed suddenly; survivors are motivated to seek revenge. When the Flash's actions change historical timelines, some characters may have a "good" and "evil" version, which may confuse young viewers. There are hints at romantic involvement among adults and a tricky love triangle, but physical contact stops with kissing. Language is similarly limited ("hell" is as bad as it gets). The Flash's solid sense of right and wrong makes him a decent role model, despite the fact that he keeps secrets to protect his identity. A subplot follows his quest to learn the truth behind his mother's murder many years ago; repeated flashbacks show her death by mysterious forces in various timelines.
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What's the story?
After his mother was murdered and his father wrongfully convicted years ago, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) dedicated himself to understanding the impossible, the stuff of urban legends most people disregard. Those around him don't fully understand his obsession, including his surrogate father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), and Joe's daughter, Iris (Candice Patton). But following nearby S.T.A.R. Lab's particle accelerator mishap that sends a shockwave through his town and puts him in a coma for nine months, Barry awakens to find he has the power of super speed, becoming THE FLASH. What's more, he's not the only person genetically altered by the explosion, but many of the other "meta-humans" are using their new powers for selfish purposes. Suddenly Barry is thrust into the battle between good and evil as Central City's masked hero, the Flash, with help from the remaining S.T.A.R. Labs team: physicist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), biomedical engineer Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), gadget master Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), and, in later seasons, Julian Albert (Tom Felton). And as he learns to harness his new powers, Barry also gains new insight into the mysteries of his past and the truth behind his mother's death -- though as Barry will soon learn, that truth only brings more complications.
Is it any good?
With a lighter vibe and toned-down violence, this spin-off of fellow CW superhero show Arrow is suitable for younger viewers (and an easier sell to worried parents, too). Gustin appeared briefly in Arrow as Barry's alter-ego role as a crime-scene investigator, and Stephen Amell's Oliver Queen shows up in a few Flash episodes, too. The crossover between the two shows -- and the mentor/student relationship between the two heroes -- is tailor-made for Arrow fans, to be sure, but you don't have to know that backstory to fall in step with this one. What you do need is an appreciative imagination and a soft spot for a slightly awkward hero, more along the lines of bespectacled Clark Kent than the self-assured likes of a Bruce Wayne, for example. Barry adjusts to his new superpowers far more quickly than he does to the duality of his two identities, and masking his second identity further complicates matters with Iris, his longed-for love interest who's involved with someone else but soon becomes obsessed with the town's unidentified new superhero (and, in later seasons, becomes the pivot-point for a plotline that endangers Barry and those close to him).
That said, Barry's insecurities make him really likable and cause him to wrestle with matters others in his place might disregard. At one point, he even voices his concerns to Arrow's Oliver (Stephen Amell), vowing that as much as he wants to embrace his new identity as a hero, he never wants to be a vigilante. It's a nice element of humanity that helps ground him, makes the line between right and wrong pleasantly clear for viewers, and keeps the content from delving too far into the darker side of heroism. Overall, this is a fun pick for those who love a good superhero tale, and good whole-family watching.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of superhero stories like The Flash. Why do you think characters such as the Flash are experiencing a rebirth of sorts right now? Do you enjoy stories that bring the impossible to life? Do they have any learning points, even though they're fantasy?
How do special effects enhance our experience of stories such as this one? Do you think these were well-done? By comparison, how do older titles such as Superman fare in the modern age of entertainment?
What's the difference between a vigilante and a hero? Is revenge ever a good motivating factor? How is justice served in the real world? Is it a perfect system?
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