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5 reasons you should be watching ‘Arrow’

I can’t believe I’ve made it this far into television blogging without talking about Arrow, which has, in its two short years on air, become the show I most look forward to watching every week. If you’re thinking Arrow — based on DC’s “Green Arrow” comics — is just another soapy CW genre show with bland acting by beautiful people, you would be wrong. Arrow is the story of billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, after five tortuous years stranded on an island, returns with a vendetta against those who have ruined his hometown of Starling City. Here are five reasons you should be watching Arrow right now:

Heir to the Demon

Stephen Amell as The Arrow (Cate Cameron/The CW)

Superheroes done right: It’s been a while since primetime television has done a superhero show well. Often the lower budget of television leads to cheesy special effects and off-screen action sequences. But not so with Arrow. Somehow, the producers manage to pull off at least one spectacular sequence a week — whether it’s an intricately choreographed fight, stunning trick shots with Arrow’s bow, a big explosion or a thrilling car chase.

A genre-lover’s dream cast: The titular star Stephen Amell was a relative unknown before being cast as the Arrow / Oliver Queen. But the show is rounded out with supporting actors and recurring guests who are sure to be favorites of anyone who loves sci-fi / fantasy. Watch for Katie Cassidy, formerly Ruby from CW’s long-running Supernatural, as Laurel Lance, Oliver’s long lost love. And Paul Blackthorne, from the TV adaptation of the beloved Dresden Files novels, plays Laurel’s father — police detective Quentin Lance. Other recurring guests include John Barrowman (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Alex Kingston (Doctor Who) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Actual character development: One of the interesting things about Arrow is that it tells stories in two timelines — the main story is in present-day Starling City, as Oliver spends his evenings using bad guys for target practice. The second timeline is on the island where Oliver was marooned for five years, and be assured that this is no Castaway story. There was a lot more happening on that island than campfires and coconuts, and the unfolding story there helps shed light on how Oliver transitioned from a spoiled, self-involved rich kid into the present day’s hardened sharpshooter with his own moral code.

Birds of Prey

Caity Lotz as Canary (Cate Cameron/The CW)

Girls who kick ass: Arrow may be Oliver’s show, but this vigilante is surrounded by women — both friend and foe — who are nuanced, tough characters not afraid to put Oliver in his place. Laurel Lance, her sister Sarah, Oliver’s sister Thea and his mother Moira all have their own interesting character arcs that don’t always revolve simply around their relationship with Oliver. And several of them have proven that they are just as courageous and tough as the show’s title character.

Stephen Amell’s abs: Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory.

via The CW

via The CW

via The CW

via The CW

 

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Why I can live with TV show spoilers

I just returned from a week-long vacation to the House of the Mouse (aka Disney World), and during my hiatus, several new episodes of my favorite TV shows aired. Links to recaps of these shows have been popping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and it’s been nearly impossible to avoid “spoilers” about what happened. But I am not the type to stick my fingers in my ears and start singing loudly to drown out plot developments.

A few years ago, researchers at the University of California – San Diego published a study that found that readers’ enjoyment of stories with plot twists were not diminished by learning of those developments ahead of time. In fact, they found that these spoilers actually enhanced reader enjoyment. The study didn’t investigate why, but the researchers had a few ideas:

…one possibility is perhaps the simplest one: that plot is overrated.

“Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing,” said Christenfeld, a UC San Diego professor of social psychology.

It’s also possible that it’s “easier” to read a spoiled story. Other psychological studies have shown that people have an aesthetic preference for objects that are perceptually easy to process.

“So it could be,” said Leavitt, a psychology doctoral student at UC San Diego, “that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”

I’ve found this to be true of my favorite TV shows as well. I certainly don’t go looking for spoilers, but when I stumble on them, I often find that I can still enjoy the show, because of great characterizations and emotional resonance. Knowing what happens to my favorite characters doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of watching their reactions to it. And in some cases — like with one of my new favorite shows, the CW’s Arrow — learning about spoilers actually increases my enjoyment of the show, because it deepens my understanding and appreciation of the comic universe on which it is based. Knowing ahead of time that (SPOILER ALERT for previously aired episodes) the show would guest star Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, who would eventually become The Flash, helped me better enjoy that character’s place in the show’s mythology. It was just more fun to watch.

The one exception to all this? Reality shows. There is rarely “character development” in the traditional sense, and many shows — particularly reality show competitions such as American Idol and Top Chef — are easily spoiled by the simple knowledge of who went home that week. In fact, the final two episodes of the most recent season of Top Chef sitting on my DVR will probably go un-watched, as I inadvertently spoiled myself while browsing an entertainment website. Once I knew the winner, the allure was gone.

Perhaps spoilers serve an important purpose, as a barometer of the quality of our favorite TV shows. If we can be spoiled and still want to watch, I’d stay that’s some pretty good television indeed.

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