I’ll admit to being a bit of a fanboy of superhero sagas. Don’t judge me, I’m not alone if the box office and TV ratings are anything to go by.
Recently Netflix released season 3 of Arrow. Having just finished watching season 2 of Daredevil the timing was wonderful. I sat down to watch it and accidentally started at season 1, episode 1, which I decided was a good place to refresh my memory from.
A TV show, especially a pilot episode where they’re seeking funding is very similar to the first pages of a novel; you need a great hook to catch your audience. It’s not enough to be ‘okay’…it has to be great. With my writer’s hat on I marveled at how well the beginning of Arrow hooked me.
“I am returning, not the boy who was shipwrecked but to bring justice to those who have poisoned my city.” (1:36)
Within minutes of the show starting we know that the protagonist is out to get vengeance against the bad people in his city. He’s motivated by a semi-noble pursuit of righting the wrongs of his father.
He mysteriously speaks Russian and has the reflexes of a cat (not literally, Dark Angel fans) and super-bad ninja-like skills.
“Everyone is happy your alive. You want to see the one person who isn’t?” (12:29)
He’s also got a boat load of guilt and emotional distress (pun-intended). When he was shipwrecked he was in the midst of an affair with the sister of his girlfriend. The sister didn’t survive the shipwreck (at least that’s what we think at this stage). He of course still loves his ex, but she understandably doesn’t want anything to do with him. Smart woman, all things considered. However, there’s enough backstory there for some serious emotional conflict: He’s in love with her, but also pushing her away so she’s not collateral damage in his war on bad people.
“Did he make it to the island? Did he tell you anything?”
He’s abducted by masked assailants (15:00) who want to ensure his father is dead, and what his father might have disclosed. The intrigue of a mystery and a hidden enemy loom large.
His younger sister is abusing drugs and alcohol (10:53), in much the same way as he did.
Bad guy, about to die: “You don’t have to do this?”
“Yes I do; nobody can know my secret.”
He’s an anti-hero, a bad guy killing other bad guys.
So in one episode you have plenty of hooks, external dangers and mystery with enough inner turmoil for the character to overcome. An excellent beginning.
(I’ve written before about great beginnings of TV shows in hiding the horrific through the eyes of children).