Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The Flash (1990): Beat the Clock

Before Wakanda, Angela Bassett had an early career appearance in one of the various DC universes, playing true royalty: a jazz vocalist partly inspired by Billie Holiday (judging by the flower she conspicuously wears in her hair). Linda Lake is also presumed to be dead, murdered by her tenor player husband, Wayne Cotrell. However, she is alive, secretly held captive by her brother-in-law producer. Barry Allen, avid jazz listener, CSI tech, and secretly the Flash, has less than an hour to find her before Cotrell’s execution, but fortunately he is as speedy as ever in the “Beat the Clock” episode the original series The Flash, worth revisiting in light of Bassett’s Oscar nomination and tomorrow night’s season premiere of CW’s The Flash.

Allen is the jazz fan, whereas his colleague Julio Mendez is not, but he knew Cotrell from the old neighborhood, so he never accepted the guilty verdict. An hour before his date with the electric chair, Allen takes a message from another jazz musician, Dave Buell, asking him to tell Mendez he has a tape that will prove Cotrell’s innocence. Unfortunately, the bad guys get to him while he is still on the line. By the time the Flash gets there, Buell is gone, but he finds the smashed tape, which their CSI colleague Christina McGee tries to reconstruct.

As The Flash snoops around Elliott Cotrell’s jazz club, he discovers the producer has secretly held Lake doped-up, somewhat bringing her out of it from time to time, so she can record “newly discovered” sessions. Unfortunately, Cotrell’s muscle, a former vocalist known as “Whispers” might have the drop on the Flash’s CSI team.

For jazz fans, it has been amazing to see how many vintage recordings have been posthumously discovered (like the Mingus Cornell 1964 concert, just as an example). “Beat the Clock” offers a rather nefarious explanation for the proliferation of “new” recordings from deceased artists. This episode never drops any real jazz names, but it suggests a reasonable level of familiarity with the music. It also has a very cool neon noir look going on, reminiscent of Warren Beatty’s
Dick Tracy movie, which released about six months before this episode first aired.

Of course, “Beat the Clock” is also notable for the guest stars, including Basett, portraying a singer, predating
What’s Love Got to Do with It by two years. She has a Holiday kind of look, but much of her character’s screen time is spent under the influence of Elliott’s Cotrell’s drugs. However, it is great fun to see horror film legend Ken Foree prowling around Central City as Whispers. Although not as well known, Jay Arlen Jones definitely carries himself like a hip musician and credibly holds his tenor, when portraying Wayne Cotrell.

This is an important episode, because it makes it clear The Flash thinks you are a square if you’re not listening to jazz. Superheroes should always be cool like that. As a result, this episode is highly recommended on its own, even though the 1990 series is not currently available on a free streaming platform (but it was a few weeks ago, so maybe it will turn up somewhere soon).