Imagine if the movie "Batman" had been made for television instead of as a theatrical feature. It probably would have ended up looking a lot like "The Flash."

And that's not criticism. "The Flash" is one of the best new shows of the season.Oh, we're not talking "L.A. Law" or "St. Elsewhere" here. This is, after all, a show based on a comic-book character.

You have to suspend reality to enjoy this. You have to believe for a little while that super heroes can exist and that there are super villains out there to do battle with.

But if you do, you'll enjoy tonight's two-hour premiere (7 p.m., Ch. 5), which sets up the the series.

Police scientist Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) is working late one night. A bolt of lightening, reacting with chemicals in the lab, strikes him, giving him superhuman speed.

Initially, Allen's only desire is to rid himself of his newfound power, which he cannot control. He turns to government scientist Christina Mc-Gee (Amanda Pays), who helps him understand what has happened to him.

But at the same time, a high-tech motorcycle gang is terrorizing the city. The villainous leader, Pike (Michael Nader of "Dynasty) kills Allen's policeman brother.

Allen decides to use his sound-barrier-breaking speed to bring Pike in.

The parallels to "Batman" are unmistakable - and understandable. Both come from the same studio, Warner Bros.

Like Gotham City, The Flash's Central City is a stylized amalgamation of the '30s and the '90s. So are the fashions.

It's very dark - most of the action takes place at night. And if the music sounds similar, it's because it comes from Danny Elfman, the man who scored "Batman."

There are even a couple of scenes patterned exactly on "Batman." When the Flash confronts the villain who killed his brother and prodded him into super-hero action, he says, "You made me." (Shades of Batman and the Joker).

And remember when the Batwing flew in front of the moon, forming the Batman logo? Here, we have an electric bolt passing in front of the moon, forming the Flash's logo.

The special effects here are fabulous. This is not the hokey speed-it-up video that you used to see on "The Six Million Dollar Man."

One word of warning: There's a lot of violence here. People are gunned down, blown up, knocked around. But it's all TV violence - people are shot but they don't bleed. It's not gory.

Older kids will like it. And so will Dad.

It's good, escapist TV. So sit back and enjoy.- TONIGHT ON THE TUBE: In addition to "The Flash," the sitcom American Dreamer (8:30 p.m., Ch. 2) debuts. Robert Urich and Carol Kane star, and it's pretty good.

There are also season premieres of The Cosby Show (7 p.m., Ch. 2), The Father Dowling Mysteries (7 p.m., Ch. 4), A Different World (7:30 p.m., Ch. 2) and Cheers (8 p.m., Ch. 2); Law & Order (9 p.m., Ch. 2) deals with a subway shooting; and you'll find out who died in last week's explosion on Knots Landing (9 p.m., Ch. 5) - maybe.

- LOOKING TOWARD FRIDAY: The wonderful new series Evening Shade (7 p.m., Ch 5) premieres with an hourlong episode; the really awful new series Going Places (8:30 p.m., Ch. 4) debuts; Patrick Duffy and William Devane star in the made-for-TV thriller Murder C.O.D. (8 p.m., Ch. 2); and Donna Mills stars in the made-for-TV romantic comedy The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (8 p.m., Ch. 5).