After last week’s conclusion of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” I didn’t see the need for Arrow to continue. While I was excited to see what this backdoor pilot was going to look like, I hoped this would be a separate entity, as I wanted the final season of Arrow to focus on Stephen Amell, so this felt a bit like needless padding. However, a recent interview with Katherine McNamara gave me hope that perhaps “Livin’ in the Future” would at least be an entertaining hour of television, so I turned on the CW ready for an extended look at what the future of the Arrowverse had in store for fans.
“Livin’ in the Future” opens with Laurel coming from the past to try to help Bianca Bertinelli, the adopted daughter of Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress. After Laurel fails to get Bianca to go with her, she’s taken, and Laurel is forced to seek out Dinah, who mysteriously woke up in 2040 the day after Oliver’s funeral and doesn’t know how she got there. Laurel begs for her help, telling the former SCPD captain that Bianca will turn up dead in three days and become the impetus for Star City’s eventual decline, thus ruining everything Oliver sacrificed his life to achieve. With Dinah still reticent to go back to being a vigilante, Laurel implores her to do it for Oliver, and she finally relents. The duo’s first stop: a visit to Mia Queen, who is on the verge of graduation and living a happy life with JJ Diggle, who is not the leader of the Deathstroke gang in this timeline. JJ proposes to her the morning of her graduation party, which she accepts. While at her party, she talks with Zoe, who is now alive, and William. William tells his sister that “there’ll be an office waiting for her at Smoak Tech in the morning,” but Mia is unsure of what she wants to do with her life. Laurel and Dinah approach Mia at the party, and when she tells them to leave, Laurel uses a device that, courtesy of Cisco, uses J’onn J’onzz’s memory technique, imbuing Mia with memories of her old life and forcing her to carry both sets in her mind, something for which she initially resents Laurel.
I had been championing an Arrow spinoff set in 2040 for a long time. When “Livin’ in the Future” was announced, I was elated. My only question was, how would Oliver factor in, given that this was still the mother-ship show, only to discover that he wouldn’t. In interviews promoting this backdoor pilot, Marc Guggenheim revealed that, contrary to popular belief, Stephen Amell was only committed to nine episodes, which forced the producers to use one to set up the spinoff. While necessity can sometimes be the mother of innovation along with invention, this is not the case for this aspiring series. “Livin’ in the Future” is all over the place. Let’s start with what little good there is: the team dynamic, the focus on Oliver’s legacy, and Mia. I love that Mia is still grappling what it means to be a hero and trying to live up to her father. Speaking of Oliver, it was nice to see that everything he sacrificed was worth it; if only the plot were as well. Aside from the opening minutes feeling far too rushed, I was left wondering why Laurel was the one going back to save Bianca. Are we to assume that the Legends were too busy to handle things? It felt like the first of many plot contrivances that only got worse during Dinah’s early scenes. Sure it’s nice to see her in a new environment and have an ongoing mystery that will hopefully make her far more relevant in Green Arrow and the Canaries than she was on Arrow, but it simply feels like it was done out of convenience. The fact that she rejected Sara’s offer to bring her home only compounds the issue.
In addition, the idea that this random daughter of Helena is just some victim rather than part of the squad is heavily suspect and serves as little more than a glorified callback. Hopefully, she’ll become a hero in her own right in the future. The villain isn’t much better, with the reveal that Bianca’s ex, Trevor (played by longtime General Hospital star Chad Duell), complete with a – you guessed it – Deathstroke mask, is behind Bianca’s kidnapping. The Deathstroke Gang has become a crutch for the future of Star City, and I really hope they come up with better villains in the future. Sure, I suppose the idea of the Hozen symbol being tattooed on his arm is intriguing, but it just feels like they threw something together without much thought. Not even JJ’s memories being restored or the fact that Mia fails the city in 2041 according to a future newspaper article (a la The Flash), could do much to save “Livin’ in the Future.” I’d like to find out who that masked figure was who restored them, but the overall plot hasn’t given me much reason to tune in to this show when it debuts in the fall, which it no doubt will, thanks to great ratings.
That being said, most of the performances in “Livin’ in the Future” are well done, save for Katie Cassidy. Cassidy and McNamara had forged a great relationship over the last several episodes, but all too often, Laurel felt far too one-note, almost solely being responsible for the snark. When Dinah calls her on it, she gives a lame excuse as though it’s supposed to explain everything, but all it did was make this reviewer roll his eyes. Angst for the sake of angst never works for me. Hopefully, when this goes to series, they’ll dial this aspect of the character down. However, Katherine McNamara and Charlie Barnett gave great performances here. When we’re twenty-somethings about to leave college, we all wonder what we want to do with our lives, and McNamara captures that wonderfully and showcases what she still has to give to the Arrowverse. As for Barnett, after more than a season of being a villain, it was refreshing to see the actor portraying JJ as a stand-up guy, and I can’t wait to see him wrestle with the two versions of himself and the implications for his relationship with Mia.
Despite some great performances, an interesting new character dynamic, and even a few intriguing surprises, a contrived plot brings “Livin’ in the Future” down. This is always a danger with pilots, as they are trying to establish so many things, and it takes a while for shows to find their footing. I really want this series to work, but I still think this may have been better as perhaps a two-hour series premiere. If the legacy of the Green Arrow is to continue, the producers have to do better than this.