When we meet Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) in the first episode of “Arrow,” premiering Wednesday night at 8 on the CW, he is a feral creature. Stranded on a deserted island in the North China Sea, he has a scraggly beard, an electroshock mane, and wild eyes. He is one face-painted volleyball away from madness.
But all that quality alone time, fending for himself in the elements, has transformed Queen even further mentally and physically in this adaptation of the DC Comics superhero tale Green Arrow.
Instead of the ne’er-do-well billionaire playboy he was when he was shipwrecked on that island five years earlier, he returns home to Starling City a man with a mission. (And a killer set of abs. This is a CW show about a superhero, after all. Killer abs are not optional.)
That mission involves a little book of names given to him by his father (Jamey Sheridan), who did not survive the shipwreck, and a subsequent training montage in an old warehouse in which he shows off said abs and his finely honed archery skills. Queen sets out to right the wrongs that have befallen his city, some of them perpetrated by his own family.
He is welcomed back to civilization by the remains of that family, in one of several deviations from the comic-book mythology, including his mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson), and sister Thea (Willa Holland), who live in the Starling City equivalent of “Downton Abbey” and are understandably unsettled by the return of their presumed dead son and brother.
Most unsettled, however, is Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), who had been Queen’s main squeeze before he took up with her sister Sarah, who then died in the shipwreck. She channeled her righteous rage into becoming a legal-aid attorney to help the downtrodden. Her dad, police detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), is also pretty peeved at Queen over one daughter’s heartbreak and another’s death.
But what they all don’t know is that with his bow and arrow, a green hoodie, and some less-than-precisely applied green eye makeup as his “Arrow” disguise, Queen is going to make their lives better.
If that all sounds a little silly and yet fairly dark, it is. Both the tone of the pilot, in which this superhero is a killer and another character commits suicide, and the show’s look — it rains atmospherically on the island, at sea, and in Starling City — set a grim mood, even as Amell’s stilted narration keeps it in slightly cartoonish territory.
There are lighthearted moments as well, as Queen’s smarmy best bud, Tommy Merlin (Colin Donnell), fills him in on what he’s missed. When he asks, “What’s ‘Twilight?,’ ” Merlin replies, “You’re so better off not knowing.”
Genre fans should be pleased by the action-oriented hour. Eye-candy addicts will enjoy Amell’s moves, and he’s got the broody superhero attitude down. And for drama fans normally unwilling to dip their toes into comic-book waters — and suspend disbelief that a boozy party boy nearly driven mad on a remote island for five years would now know how to hack computers — it has an ensemble of good players. “Arrow” isn’t quite a bullseye on its first shot, but it hits the target.