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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
ARROW (The CW)
(written by Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim; directed by David Nutter; TRT: 44:01)
The network's description: "After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the Pacific. When he returns home to Starling City, his devoted mother Moira, much-beloved sister Thea, and best friend Tommy welcome him home, but they sense Oliver has been changed by his ordeal on the island. While Oliver hides the truth about the man he's become, he desperately wants to make amends for the actions he took as the boy he was. Most particularly, he seeks reconciliation with his former girlfriend, Laurel Lance. As Oliver reconnects with those closest to him, he secretly creates the persona of Arrow - a vigilante - to right the wrongs of his family, fight the ills of society, and restore Starling City to its former glory. By day, Oliver plays the role of a wealthy, carefree and careless philanderer he used to be - flanked by his devoted chauffeur/bodyguard, John Diggle - while carefully concealing the secret identity he turns to under cover of darkness.
However, Laurel's father, Detective Quentin Lance, is determined to arrest the vigilante operating in his city. Meanwhile, Oliver's own mother, Moira, knows much more about the deadly shipwreck than she has let on - and is more ruthless than he could ever imagine. The series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Colin Donnell as Tommy, Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance, David Ramsey as John Diggle, Willa Holland as Thea Queen, with Susanna Thompson as Moira Queen and Paul Blackthorne as Detective Quentin Lance. Based on characters appearing in comic books and graphic novels published by DC Comics, ARROW is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti ("Green Lantern," "Brothers & Sisters"), Marc Guggenheim ("FlashForward," "Eli Stone"), Andrew Kreisberg ("Warehouse 13," "The Vampire Diaries") and David Nutter ("Smallville," "Supernatural," "Game of Thrones"). Melissa Kellner Berman ("Eli Stone," "Dirty Sexy Money") is co-executive producer. The pilot was directed by David Nutter from a teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim, story by Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim."
What did they leave out? The pilot will make its world premiere tonight at Comic-Con International: San Diego.
The plot in a nutshell: "For five years, I have had only one thought, one goal: survive," billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) explains in the opening narration. You see, Queen was the only survivor of a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean - one that also claimed the life of his father, Robert (Jamey Sheridan), and his latest conquest, Sarah Lance (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) - and, until a fishing boat ran across his island prison a half-decade later, he was the only one who knew. Back home in Starling City, his mother Moira (Willa Holland) has since remarried to Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), a family friend from Queen Consolidated; while Oliver's younger sister Thea (Willa Holland) has taken up with a dangerous crowd. He's of course welcomed with open arms by said group, as well as his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell).
Collectively they expect Oliver to pick up where he left off: enjoying the fruits of his family's labor. He however has different - and much more secret - plans. His experiences of the island, fragments of which are relayed in flashback, taught him he could be and do so much more, not to mention crystalized a list of those responsible for Starling's woes. And with that, the Arrow is born. First up: Adam Hunt (Brian Markinson), a mogul responsible for swindling hundreds out of their savings. He's also the target of Sarah's sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy) - and Oliver's girlfriend at the time of his affair with Sarah - whose legal aid clinic is in a hopeless battle with him in civil court. Being a hooded, bow-wielding vigilante of course has its advantages and it just might be the edge to take Hunt down. Along the way we also meet Laurel's father Quentin (Paul Blackthorne), a detective who's skeptical of our hero; and John Diggle (David Ramsey), a bodyguard whom Moira assigns to Oliver; not to mention a few unexpected secrets.
What works: You couldn't ask for a better constructed, more slickly executed take on the TV superhero genre, one that's brimming with confidence about what's to come. Perhaps the most striking element is the pilot is an unabashed, 44-minute promise to explain how the island changed this rich layabout into a living weapon. It knows it's a leap but the way it's presented here is instantly believable and Oliver has the scars - both physically and emotionally - to bridge the gap. It helps that Amell is about as charming - and let's just come out and say it kids, dreamy - of a lead as you could ask for here. The above is a gauntlet of emotion and he pulls it off, well... as you'll see with lots and lots of sweat.
It helps that Kreisberg and company load the pilot with a bevy of conflicts beyond the obvious tentpole: Oliver has to atone for his sins against Laurel and watch over Thea - both of which may involve pushing them away - not to mention deal with his father's shamed legacy, Diggle's increasingly more watchful eye, keeping Quentin at bay, Tommy in the dark and find his place in the family business. All of the above - and then some - get enough time to marinate without seeming scattershot or confusing, and fill up the tank of the dynamics to come. What else can I say? It's a genuinely likeable show and easily one of the leaders of this season's freshman class.
What doesn't: There will certainly be those who cry foul over the assorted tweaks from the comics: Star City becoming Starling City, Thea being monikered as "Speedy" and so on, or the simple fact this doesn't fit in with the "Smallville" saga.
The bottom line: A top tier take on the superhero genre.