There are a number of flashy superhero shows currently airing on the CW that belong to the DC universe, but none of them tackle the very real issues that have been showcased in the newest series from the network; Black Lightning. Lots of people who tune in to watch TV shows for the purpose of entertainment and to forget about the type of issues they deal on a daily basis may not want to watch the premiere after reading this. However, if they do that, then they will miss out on what may turn out to be the strongest and most powerful addition to the DC comic book TV shows up till now.
Black Lightning introduces us to the retired titular hero, Jefferson Pierce, played by Cress Williams, who is not the principal of Garfield High School. The opening minutes of the show are focused on a news broadcast that announces the death of an Atlanta reporter, Amanda Davis, who has passed away after a stroke. The first few scenes tell us that Black Lightning has been away from the crime fighting scene for the last nine years. We are also introduced to Jefferson’s two daughters. Nafessa William plays the role of the older daughter, Anissa who is a civil rights activist whereas China Anne McClain is the younger rebellious daughter and her wild streak is probably due to the pressure of being the ‘queen of Garfield High’.
The Pierce family has its friction and pressures as the parents are no longer together. , but they remain close-knit. Christine Adams takes on the role of Lynn Pierce, who was one of the reasons why Jefferson decided to retire from his superhero job. She gave him an ultimatum and so he agreed to say goodbye to his crime fighting days. Rather than going for a contentious relationship between the separated couple, the showrunners have chosen to present a situation where Lynn and Pierce are in the middle of rekindling their feelings for each other.
The episode does focus on the family dynamic, but there are lots of other issues that are also tackled and all of them have been picked directly from the current national headlines. The hour-long debut touches on some of the most common problems such as gang conflict, school violence and racial profiling, but none of them come off as preachy or forced. This is one of the reasons why Black Lightning comes off as appealing because the themes all feel natural and essential to the direction the series will take instead of taking us away from the story.
In the premiere, Black Lightning shows us how such complex issues can be dealt with by using two fundamentally different approaches and neither of them is presented as better off or worse than the other. For instance, local gang member Lala and Jefferson want the same thing; the best for today’s youngsters, but their approaches are polar opposites. While one opts for the more gentle approach, the other is more in favor of a more aggressive and firmer first.
The show also has some other cast members other than the Pierce family. We learn that Detective Henderson, played by Damon Gupton, is Jefferson’s friend, but Black Lightning’s rival. It is quite understandable that a cop would never be friends with a vigilante, but hopefully the future episodes will flesh out this relationship more by telling us what happened between the two in the past. Similar to Alfred, who is Batman’s right-hand man, Jefferson relies on James Remar’s Peter Gambi, who is a tailor and Jefferson regards him as his father figure. Peter is the one who works on the outfits and does a great job of fulfilling the role of the mentor, which is a vital element of almost all superhero shows.
As far as the special effects are concerned, we get to see exactly how Black Lightning powers work. He can control and shoot electricity, but it was definitely a surprise to see how he uses his power to strike his opponents physically. This was enough to add a bit of flair to the fighting scenes that came off as believable since they were put together well. The music score of the pilot episode was a blend of R&B and hip-hop and came off as nice. Some dramatic moments will be compared with Batman over the use of music such as the scene where Jefferson is preparing to rescue his daughters.
Nonetheless, if there is one complaint that people might have with Black Lightning, it would be with Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III), the primary antagonist of the show. He is an intimidating and unique figure, but his presence is only really felt until the episode comes to an end. It could be argued that as opposed to Tobias, Lala and his cousin Will have a more heavy impact. However, Tobias is essentially the puppet-master and Lala and Will are doing what he asks them to do. Future episodes will also explore Jefferson’s personal vendetta against Tobias.
There are very good reasons showcased in the premiere episode that bring out Black Lightning from his retirement; not only does Jefferson need to save his family, but the entire city of Freeland also needs a savior. Yes, when he is acting as the principal of Garfield High, Jefferson Pierce has the power to shape the future of Freeland, but the only way that he can make his impact felt in the best possible way is when he puts on his suit for fighting crime and becomes Black Lightning, the superhero.
This is the simple fact that distinguishes Black Lightning from the other superhero shows that are currently part of CW’s schedule like The Flash and Arrow. Flash and Green Arrow are both superheroes and both are very vehement about protecting their respective cities. But, Black Lightning puts a great deal of more emphasis on the community, which makes the show a great addition to The CW’s lineup and to overall superhero TV shows.