Stargirl shines Brighter Than Many DC Shows
I was a huge booster of Greg Berlanti’s reimagining of the DC universe in its early days. But the longer many of its series stayed on the air they became more political (which didn’t bother me) and less enjoyable (which did). By the end of last year, I was so frustrated with it that I didn’t even bother to look at Black Lightning or Batwoman or engage with the final episode of Arrow.
But being locked in quarantine makes one desperate for entertainment, so last week I reluctantly engaged with Stargirl, a superheroine even more obscure than the one’s Berlanti started with nearly a decade ago, and who (apart from a few late episodes of Smallville) I knew nothing at all about. So I watched, and became hooked within the first thirty minutes — a lot quicker than any Berlanti show ever did.
Courtney Whitmore seems to be an average fifteen year old. Her father abandoned her and her mother Barbara (Amy Smart) ten years ago. In the opening episode, her new stepfather Pat (Luke Wilson, never more appealing) takes her and her family to Nebraska for a ‘new job opportunity’. Courtney doesn’t seem able to blend in with her new high school, and doesn’t know what she’s doing here. Then she goes into the basement, and finds this heavy staff. And it reacts to her. Then the fun begins.
I’ve seen a lot of superheroes over my quarter century of watching TV and movies; I haven’t seen any that make the training part so much fun. The Cosmic Staff is alive — and though it recognizes her, it is very temperamental. Most of the fun of the opening episodes is watching Courtney try to control a staff that frankly has a mind of its own. It turns out that Pat was a member of the Justice Society (actually he was a sidekick — and he clearly has resentment issues about that) He spends most of the first two episodes trying to persuade Courtney not to pursue her destiny. When she suggests that Starman, a critical character in the Justice Society, was her father, he won’t even entertain the idea, and he spends much of the first episodes trying to get her to stay away from the staff, clearly indicating that he has very little experience with teenagers in general.
What separates Stargirl from so many of the superhero shows on the CW — at least so far — is that it doesn’t seem to have a real agenda short of being entertaining. That may change as we get to know most of Courtney’s classmates and their families, but so far, there’s none of leaning towards politicizing when it comes to casting or issues. It’s a very retro show, and I mean this in the best possible way. Pat seems to have a transformer built into his eighties model car, and not saying a word has more character than anything Michael Bay has even tried with a far bigger budget. The major villain Brain Wave was one of the most unsettling heavies I’ve seen in any CW series in quite some time. And newcomer Brec Bessinger as the lead has the same kind of star quality that so many of the leads of the Berlanti verse to, only because she’s so much younger there’s an enthusiasm that so many of them were missing even in the early episodes.
Oh, I admit I’m wary. I have been down this road so many times with so many CW shows that I spent almost the entire two episodes waiting for the heavy-handedness to start weighing the series down. But there’s been a leaning towards flatout comedy that so many of the other series on the network don’t even try anymore. Not campiness or slyness, genuine humor as in the scene where Courtney tries to sew her father costume into something she can use in the Home Ec room — and ends up destroying pretty much every sewing machine in the process. I just hope the showrunner have the good sense to keep Stargirl away from the Arrow-verse for as long as possible. This series is in such a different universe as The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow that I hope no portals open up to make her grow up way too fast.
My score: 4.5 stars.