TV Series Review
The things parents have to deal with these days. One could say it's, um, shocking.
Take Jefferson Pierce, former Olympic athlete, current high school principle and divorced father of two. For years he's been a pillar of the community in Freedland: His school has been a beacon of hope for the largely minority teens who attend. People look up to him, and well they should.
But man, his kids can put him through the ringer.
His oldest daughter, Anissa, who's beginning to show off some superpowers of her own, put the word "active" in social activist, protesting racial injustice wherever it's found, and she sometimes gets arrested for her passion. Frankly, she thinks her father's sometimes not so much a pillar as he is a pushover—going along to get along when she thinks he should stand up and fight.
Jennifer, Jefferson's youngest, is less interested in fighting the Man than she is in just plain ol' fighting. Oh, she has nothing against her dad. Indeed, she loves him dearly. But she doesn't love the pressures that come with being Jefferson's daughter and thus the "Queen of Garfield High." Why does she always have to set an example? Why can't she just go out and party and drink and get stoned like any other high schooler?
And those are just the children related to Jefferson. He also must worry about the other kids in his charge—the adolescents that walk the halls of Garfield. He's managed to keep the school largely free of gang-related problems thus far. Drug deals and fights are almost unheard of.
But Freedland's 100 Gang is tired of keeping its hands off the place, And its leader, Tobias Whale, has some changes in mind.
Gangs. Drugs. Questionable cops. Wayward kids.
Sometimes it's more than a normal parent can deal with, even a parent of the stature and conscientiousness of Jefferson Pierce.
But Jefferson's no normal parent. Make him mad, and you'll see more than his eyes flash.
Black Lightning is the latest D.C. superhero to find a home on The CW, and what a home it's been. The long-running Arrow has been one of the network's most reliable performers. The Flash has earned praise from all quarters, including Plugged In. Supergirl flew over from CBS a couple seasons ago and has done just fine for herself, thanks very much.
All of those superhero shows have their problems, of course. But CW has done a fine job of developing its stable of superheroes—staying true to the characters and building a loyal fanbase around each property.
It does so again with Black Lightning, too. But that praise comes with a caveat.
Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash all take their cues from D.C. characters born in what's known as the Golden and Silver Age of comic book superheroes—all before 1970. While comic books certainly had their critics back then—some considered them the Grand Theft Auto of the day—the superheroes were, by today's standards, pretty optimistic and innocent. The CW characterizations of them retain a whiff of that innocence: Barry Allen of The Flash is as well-meaning as they come, and Supergirl's Kara Danvers is a golly-gee throwback delight. (Some of the ancillary characters have contemporary issues, but that's literally another review). Even the brooding Arrow—based on Green Arrow—doesn't get too dark.
Black Lightning, in contrast, was conceived in 1977, during D.C. Comics' Bronze Age. Superheroes were no longer content to just kapow their way through hordes of bad'uns: They were dealing with issues, man. Personal issues. Societal issues. Caped crimefighters were grounded in a deeper sense of reality (relatively speaking) and peril.
CW takes its superheroes seriously, and Black Lightning is a more serious superhero.
The Charges Are … That's not all bad: Black Lightning grapples with volatile issues like gangs and racial profiling and does so with, in my opinion, some nuance and understanding. It gives us a complicated hero who wants to do the right thing, even if he's not always sure what the right thing is. He's even conflicted about how and when to use his superpowers. Indeed, when the show opens, he's given up his role of Black Lightning—hoping his commitment to normalcy might convince his ex-wife (Lynn) to re-marry him and to ensure that he'll always be around for his daughters. "I've saved more lives as a principal than I ever would have as Black Lightning," he says. At times, the show feels less than a light CW caper and more like the critically acclaimed superhero programs on Netflix.
But remember, those Netflix shows are incredibly problematic, and while Black Lightning doesn't go full Netflix on us, it is CW's edgiest superhero show. We hear lots of talk about gangs and drugs. Blood is not an infrequent visitor to the screen, and some scenes can be truly wince-inducing. Language is often raw. And while it's early in the show's run and we've yet to see anyone hop into bed with someone, we've already heard plenty of references to sex, and even a veiled threat at selling someone into prostitution. Anissa, a lesbian in comics, brings that same-sex attraction to the small screen, too.
Black Lightning is ultimately a mixed bag. Sure, it has some charged characters and occasionally electric storytelling. But the content can be stormy indeed.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning; China Anne McClain as Jennifer Pierce; Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce; Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce; Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III as Tobias Whale; Damon Gupton as Inspector Henderson; James Remar as Peter Gambi; Skye P. Marshall as Ms. Fowdy; William Catlett as Lala