Spoiler Alert! This is a detailed review, so tread with caution.
This one is long overdue, but I’d decided to watch a few episodes before I put out any review, and also, I tend to procrastinate. This one’s going to be a long one, but I promise all the other reviews to be short and sweet. Coming to the review, I’ve read enough melodrama about Black Lightning for the past 3 episodes and I think it’s time we start shining an unbiased ray of light on it. Having basically binge-watched all the other shows in the Arrowverse and consciously avoiding Supergirl, Black Lightning’s first episode was a breath of fresh air.
CW has had a string of comic-book inspired superhero shows. You know the genre, the young-adult story slowly creeping into the superhero scene with zero subtlety. So, Black Lightning literally struck like lightning in this superhero universe with his stoic stance, kindness and strict maturity. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a principal to Garfield High and a father to Jennifer (China Anne McClain), a popular high schooler there with a penchant for defying common sense and Anissa (Nafessa Williams), a teacher in the same school with a wish to fight for the black community every way she can.
Jefferson had retired from his superhero duties years ago on the insistence of his now estranged wife Lynn (Christine Adams), but he starts seeing a cause to bring Black Lightning back (good Lord, this overused phrase). However, the growing possibility of a reconciliation with his ex makes him deny his desire to help the community through Black Lightning. He convinces himself that he’s doing more good as a principal than as Black Lightning. He has earned the title Black Jesus from his town and the people treat him like the ultimate messiah. Jefferson, with his liberal and righteous ideals runs the school to make a real difference in the lives of the people of Freeland, but failed to impart this wisdom on his teenage daughter who has been skipping class to drink beers, smoking and hopping into the Club 100 that is bustling with gang activity. This gang, called ‘The 100‘, has wreaked havoc over Freeland and the Club 100 is an HQ for them.
Now, watching the first episode, I had fairly moderate takes for the show. I loved the portrayal of Black Lightning by Cress Williams and found his performance to be the best of all other actors. His comrade Peter Gambi (James Remar) plays an essential ensemble of Alfred Pennyworth, Cisco Ramon, Felicity and Winn Schott. In the music department, I found the title music to be abrupt, which is a pity because it ruins the Black Lightning title graphics and the background score is mediocre, to say the least.
The storyline was good, but riddled with excessive racial stereotypes for a show that is attempting to empower the African-American community. Most of the people involved in the criminal activity in the city are black, with Lala (William Catlett) managing operations for Tobias Whale (Martin Jones III) who is Black Lightning’s arch nemesis from the past. Tobias, too, is an African-American, but suffers from albinism. All the white policemen are presented as racists. Such typical stereotyping took a lot more from the storyline than it gave.
Here’s the outline on the episodes and my take on them.
Jennifer falls into trouble with Lala’s cousin, Will, who shows a particular interest in her at the Club 100. Of course, Black Lightning came in to save his daughter, but with a bucketful of lukewarm action. I mean, it’s not even on par with the action in Supergirl. Yup, that bland. Now, Will has it in for Jennifer and shows up at the school to create a ruckus, with a gun, which he later pulls out. Jefferson stops him with a freaking pep talk about how he’s putting his life down the drain and warned him that the police would shoot his black ass for fun. What? First of all man, he just threatened to shoot at YOUR DAUGHTERS. Are you going to let him go, for real? Needless to say, that decision came back to Jefferson and bit him in the ass like a hungry piranha. Will kidnapped his daughters from the school and took them to the local Seahorse Motel as a dim-witted display of his lack common sense. Lala is shit mad at him for kidnapping the popular daddy’s popular daughters. Meanwhile, anti-Black Lightning ex-wifey asks Jefferson to suit up and save their daughters. Some more lukewarm action later, Black Lightning saves ONLY his daughters. Tobias picks on Lala for awakening the Superhero he had killed years ago and tells him to fix the issue. Anissa, on the other hand, has a paroxysm of superhuman strength when she breaks a sink. Overall, the first episode showed a promise of a story with potential and I was holding onto that.
The second episode begins with Jefferson sharing tender moments with his wife after suffering from the painful side-effects of being Black Lightning. The city is still reeling from The 100 attacking Garfield High and the people aren’t ready to let this one go. Even Jefferson’s speeches in the school aren’t calming the citizens down, especially when his former student Lawanda tells him that her daughter has been held up at the Seahorse Motel by the gang and the police refuse to do shit as they have no evidence that she is being held against her wishes. The police are on the hunt for Lala’s cousin to get him to tattle on Lala and implicate him in the gang crimes. Meanwhile, Jennifer has bagged a new boyfriend and gets a creepy message from Lala in the form of a kid who sprayed her red with a squirt gun. Obviously, her daddy has an inconclusive one-on-one with Lala after this incident. Here’s an interesting turn of events – Anissa is a lesbian and is shown spending the night at her girlfriend’s place. Lala, later realizes that his wayward cousin is a personified bullseye on his back and kills him to get it off.
Lawanda stations herself outside the Seahorse Motel – with a camera. Jefferson tries to get her to leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. Jefferson promises to talk to the police department and get her daughter within 48 hours to stop her from filming, which she does, but doesn’t leave. Later in the night, she loses her cool when Lala arrives and sets up her phone on video recording in her car and confronts him. Pointlessly, Lala shoots at her and the phone in her car records everything. Jefferson blames himself for Lawanda’s death and FINALLY realizes that Freeland needs Black Lightning and chooses to throttle the new dynamic he had recently found with his ex-wife. He suits up and walks (yes, he walks to battle) to Lala’s location, where he beats him up and hauls ass when the police arrive. So, Lala is now in police custody with incriminating evidence against him (police found Lawanda’s phone). Anissa has another realization of her superpowers when she beats up a burglar in a supermarket. The stupidest part about this episode was how Tobias blatantly enters the police custody and kills Lala in jail by the hands of the creepy chick on his side.
The third episode is by far the most cringe-worthy of all DC shows. There were some elements that were watchable to say the least, but man… Let’s just get this over with.
Let me start with the performances. Everybody is just overacting now. It has come to point of childish and I’m going to leave it at that. Anissa tests her powers at a junk yard and realizes that they emerge when she is in control of her breathing. This entire scene could have been done better, but the same can be said for the entire episode. The Reverend makes a speech in the memory of Lawanda and asks people to march with him in protest against The 100. Gambi and Jefferson anticipate an attack on the marching people and start preparing for it. Gambi gives him his newest invention that lets Jefferson focus the lightning strike on a particular criminal in a crowd. A new villain, Lady Eve, who sits a atop a literal throne is introduced in this episode. She tells Tobias to make sure that a message is sent during the march – that the streets are not for the taking.
Jennifer and her boyfriend, Khalil, have decided to have sex and he shyly confesses that he is a virgin. And somehow, Jennifer feels comfortable enough to announce to her parents at family dinner that she is ready to have sex. She even declares the day they will be out doing the deed and that she will be home by curfew. Although, her parents were flabbergasted, I was way more concerned than they were. Here comes the cringe-worthy part. Jefferson, then goes ahead and has the most awkward talk of the century with Khalil, somewhere along the lines of asking him how he dries himself after a shower. Khalil tells him that he first dries his feet to which Jefferson delivers the most awkward line of the episode. He points to the fact that the guy who wants to have sex with his daughter dries his fungus covered feet before drying his important parts. He later says and I quote, ‘Do you want to give my daughter Athlete’s foot where Athlete’s feet should not be?’ I had bile in my throat. My question is WHY? This episode could have used better fillers and this sequence could have been avoided without a doubt.
The march went as haywire as it could. While Black Lightning stops the gunman who was sent to fire at the marching people, he missed to spot Tobias who asks the creepy chick to shoot at the Reverend while the people sang in praise of Black Lightning. The bullet first hits the Reverend and then Jenny’s boyfriend, causing mayhem in the streets. Gambi deletes the footage of Tobias without Jefferson’s knowledge. While it will be interesting to see the story go further on that note, the third episode was a let down as compared to the first two episodes.
You know what, I’m going to give Black Lightning the benefit of the doubt. I’d liked the initial concept and a few things in between. There is a lot for them to work on to get the hype that the others DC inspired shows get and I’m hoping that they do.