A Look Back on The Flash (1990)


Before Grant Gustin zoomed in as Barry Allen aka the Flash in 2014, back in 1990 we had John Wesley Shipp in the titular role (who would go on to play the Barry’s biological father Henry Allen, the Flash of Earth 3 named Jay Garrick, and now Barry Allen of Earth 90 who is also the Flash of his Earth). The story involved Shipp as Central City Police forensic scientist Barry Allen who gets struck by lightning and doused by lab chemicals. As a result he becomes a speedster. With the help of research scientist Tina McGee (Amanda Pays) he fights crime and learns more about his powers. The show had great potential but didn’t have enough time to explore it as it was cancelled after one season (primarily due to budget constraints).

The performances are well done. Shipp gave a good performance providing the perfect balance of stubbornness, nobility, and humility. His delivery gives the perfect balance of passionate and serious tranquility. Alex Desert as Barry’s lab partner, Julio Mendez was a likable source of comic relief in emphasizing Barry’s lack of fashion and trying to set him up on a date. It is however somewhat saddening that he never finds out his friend is the Flash (something that would have been nice to have done and delve into had the show continued) as he balanced out the intensity Barry had. Amanda Pays as Tina McGee, while she lacks the same chops as Shipp, still gives a decent performance in her own right and Shipp and Pays have legitimate chemistry.

The pilot episode establishes the tone and the relationships among the characters. However it rarely advances them. Barry for instance, following the funeral of his brother Jay, has a moving conversation with his nephew Shawn. Although the two have several scenes together in the episodes that follow this relationship isn’t explored beyond this. Barry’s relationship with Dr. McGee is one that develops over the season but any romantic possibility never follows through. Other characters Mendez and his boss Lt. Garfield are mostly around to merely advance the plot or provide comic relief.

The show’s style and tone is yet another problem. The show seems to display Central City as a crime and gang-infested place similar to Burton’s Batman, which had come out a year earlier. However the episodes seem to back and forth between 80s and 40s style clothing, art, and characters, which makes it an odd blend. Some episodes want to showcase dark and grittiness, while others have camp, color, and cheesiness. This proves to give way to the problem with the series identifying itself with what it wants to be.

In regards to the villains there are a couple that stick out. While Mark Hamill was a good as Trickster 2014 remake, here his performance (and his look) was quite over-the-top in the vein of a 60s Batman villain and it gets really distracting. It is still memorable and Hamill’s mannerisms he utilized here would channel well into threat he would have in his episodes on the current Flash. Pollux (also played by Shipp) is a villain created for the show being an unstable clone of Barry. Shipp did a good job of making him feel like a different person from his original counterpart and in some cases the sadness and confusion of being a clone. It’s a shame he dies within the episode as they could have explored this character so much more and relationship with the Flash so much more

The effects surprisingly still hold up by 90s standards. While the creators didn’t have the same technology they do now and you can spot some of its flaws, some things like Barry’s speed running are done quite well. However the effects did cost a lot of money, which led to the show’s cancellation (in fact the costume itself cost almost $100,000). Michael Champion’s Captain Cold (though I still prefer Wentworth Miller) was yet another fun villain. Whereas the character in the modern Flash was silly (but layered) in his mannerisms this version is shown to be quite dangerous and calculating.

The 1990 Flash is a nice nostalgic look back. It certainly has good style but is all over the map with substance. It’s a short series but one that made a big impact. Today’s Flash brought the best parts from 25 years ago and in doing this ensures that the quality of this show, whether good or bad will not be forgotten quickly.