You’ll like if you already: Shows of the DC Universe
Likely Timeslot: Monday at 9, Tuesday at 9, Thursday at 8.
A lot of you were waiting for this preview to come. The devil in me wanted it to be the last The CW pilot I give a look at. Just to build the tension. And also because I’m not a big DC fan so it’s not really my priority. Before delving into it, let me tell you the young-skewing network has a bit of a situation here. Their CBS produced-pilot are weak, especially Valor and Dynasty, while Insatiable is kinda good but a wild card. In the meantime, the Warner Bros. pilots are all strong possibilities, with family dramedy Life Sentence an exciting one (and a personal favorite), Searchers an ambitious option and Black Lightning looking like a no-brainer for obvious reasons. The problem is the network won’t be able –in theory though- to pick-up only WB pilots since it is co-own by CBS. So which one will have to go? The suspense is already killing me.
Before reading Black Lightning, I had the feeling it may not live up to the expectations, explaining why FOX decided to not proceed with a pilot order. Some of you may not know the project first landed at FOX in September following a multiple-network bidding war but had to move when they realized –a little too late- that they were already the home of two DC Comics shows (Gotham and Lucifer), with Marvel’s X-Men drama Gifted looking good for a series order. That was too many superheroes and mutants for them, apparently. The CW saved Black Lightning last minute like they did with the second season of Supergirl and Riverdale, which was also set up at FOX initially. Now that I have read the pilot script, I can say FOX made a very bad decision (especially when you look at what they ordered instead) and The CW made the right call by saving it. It’s not the best thing I’ve read this year but it’s a good one for sure.
Black Lightning would have looked good on FOX surrounded by Empire or Lethal Weapon. The three of them deal with family. Differently. But still. It’s not a show about Jefferson Pierce, it’s a show about the Pierce’s family. The daughters characters are featured prominently in this first hour. They are the most interesting ones and without them, the show would hardly fit with The CW line-up. Jennifer, the youngest, is an independent, outspoken scholar-athlete with a wild streak of her own, who defines herself as a feminist and has a tendency to get into trouble; while Anissa is a passionate and quick-witted lesbian twenty-something who balances the demands of medical school with her job teaching part-time at her father’s school. Oh yeah, it’s a bit of a school drama too since Jefferson is the principal of the Garfield high-school in a poor neighbourhood of Los Angeles and most of the action happens there. And for those, like me, who are not familiar with the DC Universe, those two are meant to become superheroes as their father: respectively Thunder and Lightning. There’s already a hint of it in the pilot.
Jennifer and Anissa have a mother; Jefferson and her are separated, she has another man in her life for quite some time but he still believes she’ll come back. She’s the main reason why he stopped being Black Lightning. She knows his secret identity. As does his mentor, an old man named Gambi who creates his new costume (of course, there’s the inevitable scene of every superhero show where he put it for the first time). Depending on the chemistry between the actors, there’s a big potential with these two strong relationships. The pilot has its own villain, who’s part of a larger story, the one of a local gang called the One Hundred who wants to recruit Jennifer. And yeah, Jefferson will do everything in his power to stop them. Expect this part of the show to be serialized with the gang coming back from time to time.
There is no mystery left around Jefferson Pierce when the pilot ends. We get to know through flashbacks, Arrow-style, how he got his powers in the first place, what he did with them –mostly good things- and why he hung up the suit. It’s never boring, but never very surprising either. His story is more or less the same as every other superheroes of this earth. What makes it different and timely is the fact that it’s the first black superhero on network television (the other one being Luke Cage on Netflix). And of course, it’s not a little detail. The pilot deals with police brutality –Jefferson is checked by the police twice and it’s not a walk in the park- and the message the writers –who are black and husband and wife- want to send to the new generation of African-american is that it’s time to harness and release their power by becoming their own superheroes. It’s an important thing to do in those troubled times.
Black Lightning is probably the most family friendly and political DC Comics show so far. It follows very closely, even too closely, the usual steps of a superhero series and adds some substance to the mix. An entertaining hour of television that is not just one more DC Comics show on The CW.