TV shows like Arrow or The Flash have always been super powered soap operas – and there’s nothing wrong with that

Alex Moreland
Contributor

Often there’s an inclination amongst comic book fans to decry TV shows they don’t like as being akin to soap operas. It was particularly prevalent during Arrow’s fourth season, when a focus on Felicity Smoak’s family lead to much outrage amongst (some sections of) the cult audience that the CW hit had built up.

The common complaint was that Arrow was no longer the programme they believed it to be, and was now a soap opera – they pointed to executive producer Wendy Mericle’s background on Desperate Housewives in particular, highlighted perceived similarities between Arrow and various soap operas, and continued to denigrate the programme based on this comparison.

Quality of Arrow aside, because that’s a thorny issue in and of itself, there was a fundamental mischaracterisation of the genre here: Arrow didn’t become a soap opera. Quite the opposite, in fact – Arrow had always been a soap opera.

And it’s far from the only one; The Flash, also, is a soap opera and always has been. The same is true of Gotham, or Smallville, or Supergirl. In fact, it’s not limited to these TV shows – it’s not difficult to argue that a lot of comic storylines are essentially soap operas, an obvious example being the story of Batman and his ‘batfamily’, as they’re often known.

At its most basic definition, a soap opera is an ongoing serial, focused on examining the personal lives of their characters. They’re often melodramatic, too, with a sensationalised and exaggerated plot.

What part of that doesn’t fit superhero programmes?

Arrow, from the beginning, was always about the personal lives of its characters. Yes, there’s the obvious angle of the love triangle between Oliver, Tommy and Laurel – but it’s not as though Oliver’s mission wasn’t deeply personally motivated, or inextricably tied to the affairs of his father. That’s demonstrably a soap opera plot, right from the beginning!

The same is true of The Flash, with its focus on Barry’s family, and the attempts at personal revenge made by Dr Wells. Equally, you’ve got the West family and their lives taking centre focus, with Barry’s unrequited love of Iris a key plotline across the course of the show.

Superheroes keep secrets, living double lives, and hiding parts of themselves from those around them that they love. That can surely be considered a soap opera story, no? And surely no one would ever argue that these superhero TV programmes don’t rely on sensationalised and exaggerated plotting – lest you forget, the Flash fought a race of sentient gorillas just a few weeks ago. Besides, everyone loves a good scenery chewing villain, and that’s the epitome of melodrama.

It’s not exactly incorrect to term these programmes soap operas, then. So why is this such a bad thing?

Well, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t a bad thing. While the term “soap opera” might have developed negative connotations for whatever reason, in the end it’s just a way of describing the genre – and it describes the CW superhero shows to a tee.

There’s nothing wrong with that, in the end – after all, Arrow was still a soap opera when people loved it – and a problem only arises when people begin to mistakenly believe this genre is the root of their problems. It’s really not – in fact, a lot of what they love about these shows is a facet of the soap opera tradition.

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