Flash Gordon Pilot: Review

By Cynthia Boris

flash1-thumb.jpgFlash! (ah ah) Savior of the Universe!

Flash! (ah ah) He’ll save every one of us!

Okay, so the new Flash Gordon series doesn’t open with that great 80’s anthem by Queen, but still there’s an awful lot to like about this contemporary retelling of the classic 1930’s serial. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is the key to this latest addition to the ranks of ‘comic books come to life’.

Twenty-something Steve “Flash” Gordon (Eric Johnson) lives at home with his mother, repairs classic cars in the garage with his best friend and he wins marathon races for fun. He’s living the simple life and all is well until his newly engaged ex-girlfriend, Dale (Gina Holden) takes a job as a local TV reporter and aliens land. From where Flash is standing, dealing with the aliens may be simpler than dealing with Dale.

Turns out that Flash’s father, a physicist, may not have died in a lab fire all those years ago. According to his assistant, Dr. Zarkov (Jody Racicot), Dr. Gordon was pulled through a rift in the universe and now aliens are using that rift as doorway to earth. One of those aliens, a cyberman from the planet Mongo, arrives looking for the “Imex” which belonged to Flash’s father, but Flash has no clue what or where it is. Tough luck for our young hero, as Ming the Merciless of Mongo isn’t going to rest until finds the “Imex” or destroys everyone on Earth, or maybe both.

Looks like it’s up to Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov to save the universe, but lucky for them they can do it in a nice pair of jeans instead of too tight tights!

Right from the start you’ll notice that this SCI FI Channel series looks a lot like something you’d find on The CW. Part of the reason is that it’s filmed in Vancouver with same kind of red, white and blue color scheme you find on Smallville. Add to that the fact that Eric Johnson (Flash) spent three seasons on Smallville as Lana’s boyfriend, Whitney and the comparisons are inevitable. Supernatural fans will recognize Dale as Haley from Wendigo and she spent her summer vacation filming The Christmas Cottage with the younger Winchester brother, Jared Padalecki.

In Flash Gordon, Johnson’s a bit of a Johnny One-Note, facing both curvaceous, flirting aliens and evil torturers with the same flat response but somehow it works here. I think it’s because this series sits on that thin line between a space opera parody and a straight (albeit quirky) drama. Flash’s response to being imprisoned on an alien planet with a cellmate who looks like Quasimodo on a bad hair day is to offer the poor unfortunate victim gum. Sounds silly on paper but. . . well, it’s silly on screen, too, but such is the life of a 1930’s action hero. (I checked with Dick Tracy and Jungle Jim and they agree.)

Then there are the women of Flash. Dale is the “Chloe” of the piece but Gina Holden doesn’t have the ability to pull off the sarcastic jokes the way Allison Mack does and I’m not seeing the chemistry between her and Johnson. This is a real shame, since so much of the story depends on that sexual tension between the two and right now, there isn’t any.

The girls of Mongo (Karen Cliche and Anna Van Hooft) fare a bit better as their characters are meant to be over the top. John Ralston brings a bit of Shakespearean flare to the character of Ming and Jonathan Lloyd Walker puts it out there as Ming’s Chief Torturer Scientist, Rankol.

All of which brings me to my biggest complaint – the planet Mongo. This, I’m not buying and I’m not really sure why. It’s a typical feudalistic society with Ming controlling the only source of drinkable water on the planet. So, you know, obey me and live. We’ve seen this kind of thing on Stargate over and over again and it works, but not so much on Flash. Maybe it’s the Vegas showgirl costumes and the bright colors that are throwing me? Whatever it is, I much preferred the scenes that were firmly set on terra firma.

I know I’ve spent the whole review comparing this show to others projects, but I have one more comparison to sum things up. To me, Flash Gordon walks and talks like the 1980’s live action film Masters of the Universe. It’s got everyday people caught up in a battle from beyond the stars, it’s got alien mercenaries destroying bowling alleys and it’s got big hair. And that’s a compliment because I loved Masters of the Universe, so I’m expecting to love Flash Gordon once they’ve got a few episodes under their belt.

Check out Flash Gordon on the SCI FI Channel starting August 10th at 9:00.

Photos courtesy of SCI FI Channel

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