New shows ‘Arrow,’ ‘Revolution’ hit bulls-eye with archery craze

Vera H-C Chan
Fall TV

Two weapons you can always count on in fairy tales and post-apocalyptic worlds: the slingshot and the bow and arrow.

The slingshot, though, hasn't been sexy since David took down Goliath. The bow, on the other hand, has made a ballyhooed cultural comeback, brandished by the likes of Princess Merida in "Brave," Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games," Nighthawk in "The Avengers," and real-life heroes from the Summer Olympics. And no less than three television shows come this fall slinging arrows, among them "Arrow" (The CW), which debuts Oct. 10, as well as "Revolution" and the returning "Grimm" (both on NBC).

A darker, sexier Arrow

The CW's latest offering in its superhero lineup stars Stephen Amell as Green Arrow, whose pulp antecedents go as far back as Batman in the DC Comic universe. His TV debut, though, drops the "Green" from the title because "Arrow" felt "sexier, a little more dangerous," explains writer and co-executive producer Andrew Kreisberg. "We didn't want people to come with a preconceived set of notions" -- although never fear, he says, there's a green hoodie cloak, and Amell looks dashing in it.

The vigilante's 1940 origins were very much inspired by Batman and Robin Hood, although he's more bent on social justice than crime. His revival makes perfect sense in the era of Occupy and "Dark Knight'"s phenomenal film success.

The fact that Arrow shoots from a quiver is a happy confluence of pop culture. Archery hadn't quite hit the cultural zeitgeist when talks about bringing the bow-toting vigilante to The CW came up, Kreisberg says. "The biggest influence [of these films] is, we just have been making a lot of cultural jokes in the show themselves," he explains. "There is a 'Hunger Games' joke in there for Oliver [Queen]," Arrow's alter ego. With the protagonist abandoned on an island for five years, there's a lot of pop culture to catch up on, including the popularity of archery itself. "This has been such an amazing year, with 'The Hunger Games' and 'Avengers' and 'Brave' and the Olympics, and now with 'Revolution,' it seems a waste if we don't comment on it," Kreisberg says.

What to give a woman to shoot

In an interview with USA Today, "Revolution" creator Eric Kripke acknowledged "The Hunger Games" influence, although he drew less inspiration from Susan Collins and more from J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, George Lucas, and Homer in his vision. "I certainly realize young women with bows seem to be at the front of our culture's mind right now. ... But for me, it was just about a series of logical decisions that led to it: I need a young Luke Skywalker character I can introduce the world to, and it's a world where guns are very scarce, yet she has to hunt. So what weapon can I give her?"

"It's impossible not to have ['The Hunger Games'] be a factor," agrees "Revolution" writer and co-executive producer David Rambo, in a Yahoo! interview. "We talk about it all the time. We're not borrowing from it so much -- we are aware of it. We kind of strive not to do what they did in 'The Hunger Games,' because that would look like stealing."

The pilot, Rambo notes, was written before the film, although the books were already hitting the best-seller list. J.J. Abrams-backed "Revolution" racked up record numbers in its Sept. 17 debut, not just for NBC premieres but for any network premiere in three years. Set in a post-apocalyptic America just 15 years from now (insert your election-year wisecracks here), the adventure series draws upon an artillery of swords, knives, and necklace-powered stun batons for its battling citizens bereft of electricity. It's the teen girl with the male name, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), who's armed with a compound crossbow.

"This is 15 years after the blackout," Rambo explains, just about when Americans would have plowed through their ammo stockpile. About 80 percent of humanity would have died due to struggles for survival, disease, environmental degradation, and more. "People would have to go back to things like swords and knives and bows and crossbows," he says.

The romance of archery

Scenes with a bow -- be it a longbow or a compound crossbow -- do require distance, whereas a gun can be long-range or lethal. "As a dramatist, I find guns to be kind of easy," Rambo says. "You put a bow and arrow in a scene, there's a kind of grace to it ... it's kind of primal."

In "Arrow," Oliver Queen is asked about his weapon of choice. "His explanation is that guns are loud and noisy and they jam, and anybody can pick up a gun and fire it," Kreisberg says. "To use a bow and arrow takes precision and skill and emotional control."

In the police procedural-meets-fairy tale "Grimm," now in its second season, lead character Det. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) sports a Dopplearmbrust from his family inheritance -- essentially a double-stacked crossbow with one bolt loaded with a tranquilizing hellebore extract and the second bolt with lethal hemlock.

"I can't speak for any inspiration from other media" like "The Hunger Games," "Grimm" property master Drew Pinniger tells Yahoo! in an email. "The Dopplearmbrust came from the writers. There was actually very little reference available in research, which was great because it let us dream a little about where this weapon would have come from and why."

As with all of Burkhardt's weaponry, that crossbow is based upon a concept of "preindustrial futurism," Pinniger explains. "Our producer, Norberto Barba, frequently references early sci-fi writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells." A weapon may render someone insensible or dead, but unlike the quick trigger of a gun, "archery," Pinniger points out, "is a romantic art. Everyone loves the hero that can calmly take aim and hit the target."

20,000 shots

One challenge the shows are pleased to meet is the passion of the archery community. "Our fondest goal in this show is that archery fans -- and they are legion, they are many -- we need to make them as happy as the comic book fans," Kreisberg says. When archery tech Patricia Gonsalves met up with Amell, she sat him down to watch a montage of bow-and-arrow scenes in movies and explained how they got it all wrong.

According to a stuntman on "Revolution," an archer will need to have shot 20,000 to 30,000 times to get the breath and the musculature and the eye to work together.

Of course, even the Arrow will find that a longbow's not always the right fit for the occasion. Amell used the "Ninja Warrior" training course and picked up some parkour from no less than the double for the upcoming "Man of Steel" in his martial arts and weapons training. Still, Kreisberg says, "I think we found clever ways to have him interact with other characters while using the bow and arrow. We don't look at them as difficulties, we always look at them as challenges.

"He does some amazing things with bow and arrow, especially in Episode 4," the writer-producer says with a chuckle. "Let's say his interrogation technique with a bow and arrow isn't for the squeamish."

[Related: Movies like "The Hunger Games" have helped bring archery into mainstream consciousness]

Great moments in pop-culture archery.

  • A gang of hoods: Errol Flynn set the standard that lightweights like Kevin Costner couldn't hope to match -- although Cary Elwes might have come close in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993), with his five-arrows-at-once-into-a-single-bulls-eye shot. Beat that.
  • Artemis followers: Tracy Spiridakos will be reviving civilization, one arrow at a time, in the much-anticipated J.J. Abrams project "Revolution." Her character Charlie is closely following in the steps of Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida, and that Na'Vi chick. Other women who've had their chance at a recurve: Jessica Biel as Abigail Whistler ("Blade: Trinity"), Jennifer Garner as Elektra, Keira Knightley as Guinevere in "King Arthur."
  • Bows to men: "Deliverance" stripped men down to their most primal being, so no wonder Burt Reynolds resorted to a bow and arrow to bring down the redneck. Forty years later, it's still a tossup as to what was the scarier weapon: the banjo or the bow.