In the past few years, superheroes seem to have invaded television just as much as they’ve pervaded movie theaters. Series like Agents of SHIELD and Arrow led the way for more and more Marvel and DC characters to pop up on TV.
In the case of DC, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl are all dominating their respective nights on The CW. Each of these shows dig deep in the DC Comics archives, but The Flash in particular, has found a way to deliver weekly doses of comic book mayhem and memorable villains galore.
Yet, whether due to sharing similar network space as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which aired on both The WB and UPN before those two networks merged to become The CW) or simply because of the impact that the Joss Whedon show has had on how television handles such series, The Flash is perhaps the best modern example of how well Whedon’s storytelling still works for today’s audiences. For the record, we’re not saying that The Flash is in any way a rip-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rather, we’re simply aiming to demonstrate the clear influence of the earlier show, which has shaped countless series over the years.
1. A chosen one with special powers and a quirky surrogate “family”
Just as Buffy was burdened with the legacy of being the Slayer, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) was chosen by the Speed Force to become a hero. Being the Flash is often a source of great torment for Barry, leading to his shocking decision at the end of Season 2.
However, like Buffy, he has a support team behind him that has ultimately become more like family, including core members like Cisco (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker), and Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). As the show progresses, Team Flash expands and changes just as the Scooby Gang did back in Sunnydale.
2. A team of gifted people facing a city stricken with supernatural foes
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, our heroes faced regular supernatural threats due to the existence of a Hellmouth beneath the town of Sunnydale. Likewise, Central City is littered with metahumans, thanks to the same particle accelerator explosion that gave Barry his powers in the first place.
While the reason behind the consistent slew of worthy adversaries might differ, both shows focus on a city that is disproportionately attacked by all manner of supernatural beasts. Yet, instead of demons and vampires, The Flash has characters like Weather Wizard, the Trickster, and Gorilla Grodd.
3. A sidekick who is the comic relief/heart
We’ve already mentioned how Buffy and Barry both center on teams of gifted individuals who come together to take on one bizarre enemy after another, but both of their respective teams also share a pair of sidekicks (one male, one female) who serve as the de facto best friends of the heroes.
Cisco’s enthusiasm and humor — especially with regard to naming each week’s baddies — call to mind Xander’s (Nicholas Brendon) own status as the heart of Buffy. Also like Xander, Cisco comes from a poor family, which makes his dedication to his pseudo-family all the more powerful. Unlike the Buffy sidekick, however, Cisco does have powers, and he’s very intelligent, whereas Xander was more of a working class hero.
4. A female nerd with a dark side
So many comparisons can be drawn between Alyson Hannigan’s Willow and Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin. On the physical side, both have red hair and are considered the less attractive female in the group. They are “dressed down” — Caitlin donning a lab coat, Willow in her early-season overalls — but are clearly very attractive, and just waiting for someone worthy to notice.
But aside from that, Caitlin is a true scientist, much the way Willow was (before she hit the magicks too hard). And remember how audiences were introduced to Vampire Willow as a bit of foreshadowing for when Dark Willow eventually becomes the Big Bad of Season 6? Caitlin seems to be following in those very footsteps: It’s been confirmed that we’ll be seeing Killer Frost, possibly as a season-long villain, very soon.
5. Moral complexity that sees heroes turn into villains (and vice versa)
Part of what makes both The Flash and Buffy so satisfying is the possibility that almost any character could shift alliances over time. Buffy famously saw fan-favorite characters like Angel (David Boreanaz), Spike (James Marsters), and Faith (Eliza Dushku) flip-flop from good to evil, and The Flash has had its own share of morally complex characters, chief among them Harrison Wells and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). The latter icy villain even went on to serve as a core member on Legends of Tomorrow. Not too shabby.
6. Evil doppelgangers and a season-long “Big Bad”
Buffy got some nice mileage out of the concept of dark doppelgangers of fan-favorite characters, most notably the appearances by Vampire Willow. The Flash has also toyed with this idea, with the introduction of Earth-2 in the second season. Moreover, both shows hinge on a single formidable threat for each season, with Buffy coining the term “Big Bad.” The first two seasons of The Flash applied this title to mysterious figures like Reverse-Flash and Zoom.
7. A musical episode
Whedon was always trying to challenge himself with Buffy, and one of the ways in which he did that was writing a musical episode. “Once More, with Feeling” aired during the sixth season, and Whedon and his wife, who had never before attempted such a feat, wrote, performed, and recorded all of the songs themselves. The episode featured a plot wherein a demon casts a spell on Sunnydale, forcing all of the residents to break into song and dance. It was critically acclaimed for both its plot and music.
In its third season, The Flash attempted the same feat. In a crossover episode with Supergirl, the Music Meister (Darren Criss) shows up to “teach them all a lesson,” knocking out Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), Barry, and Wally. He sends them to a world inside their heads where they are club singers stripped of their powers, and they must follow the script to get out.
The episode was a great opportunity to show off the musical talents of Gustin, Benoist, and Criss, all of whom starred on the FOX musical comedy Glee once upon a time.
Additional reporting by Becca Bleznak.
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