For more than 20 years, Kevin Smith has been often drawn into the superhero world, from writing for DC Comics to penning drafts of “Superman” films. But these opportunities were usually inspired by the success of his first three films — “Clerks,” “Mallrats” and “Chasing Amy” — and the writer/director’s skill with verbal language and geek references.
Smith generally wasn’t hired because of his reputation as a great visual stylist or director of actors. But that might change after Tuesday night.
Smith helmed this week’s episode of The CW’s “The Flash,” and it might be one of the most cinematic things he has ever directed. The episode, “The Runaway Dinosaur,” fit neatly within the restrictions of a 23-episode TV season. It featured Barry (Grant Gustin) confronting some personal demons within a fantastical framework, which let Barry speak directly to the Speed Force that powers his powers. It meant a few scenes which pushed beyond our normal reality — an instinctual comparison might be to some of the more surreal moments of “The Matrix” — and they read as such without feeling over-the-top or outside of normal show parameters.
Beyond that, there was also a rich emotional undercurrent that led to some true tear-jerking scenes, especially when it came to discussion of mothers lost and found, and the bond Barry shares with Iris (Candice Patton). And it was funny, thanks to a light B-plot with a quasi-zombie villain that Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Wells (Tom Cavanagh) scheme adorably to conquer. In short — an exemplary episode of “The Flash,” but also an exemplary episode of network television.
Maybe Smith was bolstered tonight by a guest appearance by longtime companion Jason Mewes (also known as Jay from “Jay and Silent Bob”). But a great script by Zack Stentz goes a long way. Plus, you should read Smith’s EW essay on what led him to directing this episode, because it explains an awful lot about how he really connected to the material.
The Greg Berlanti-led DC universe has a habit of bringing in underused directors, especially women like Rachel Talalay and Lexi Alexander. Meanwhile, directing for television is at a crossroads. While sometimes it’s a straightforward work-for-hire gig, sometimes it means a chance for real auteurship, like when Steven Soderbergh gets behind the camera for Cinemax’s “The Knick.” It’s an issue that arises more and more as indie directors come to TV looking for work, and then look to figure out how to fit into a new framework. Because it’s not easy to find the balance between fitting into a pre-existing show framework while also finding your own angle.
Technically, this isn’t the first episode of television Smith has directed (he also helmed the pilot for “Reaper,” which was pretty fun). But honestly, watching “The Runaway Dinosaur” made us eager for him taking on more directing work like this, because he moved us to tears and made us laugh within the space of an hour. That’s a definition of great TV.
“The Flash” airs 8pm on Tuesdays on The CW.
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