Black Lightning might be the best superhero show on television.
This is after just watching the first episode.
Usually, I'm not one to make quick and bold proclamations about TV shows after just the pilot episode because I believe it takes a few episodes for a show to get into a rhythm and really hit the stride of what it has to offer us. Sometimes though, we get lucky and one just hits a home run on the very first pitch and you can feel it's something special.
Black Lightning pretty much hit a grand slam with its Tuesday night debut on The CW, right after arguably the network's most popular superhero show The Flash made its midseason return. With a captivated lead-in audience that probably has already seen most of what superhero shows can give us, the 9pm EST hour was full of everything we had never seen before in a superhero show and it was fantastic.
Black Lightning is almost nothing like the other DCCW shows and that was something to be expected going into the premiere. No efforts or attempts have been officially made to connect it to Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow or Arrow, we have heard constantly about the nature of the show and the subject matter it was going to deal with, and we knew that it was going to be a more localized and intimate story regarding the city of Freeland and how one man would become the symbol for the people to stand against the evil of the gangs that corrupted it.
Still, as much as we heard about all of this beforehand, we still had to see it to believe it. Well, we damn sure saw it alright.
Cress Williams, who is no stranger to The CW having previously starred in Hart of Dixie plays Jefferson Pierce, a devoted father of two daughters who is the principal of Garfield High School and has spent almost a decade doing his best to educate the youth of the city and keep them from the clutches of The 100, the most lethal and dangerous gang in the city. Unbeknownst to the city and his daughters, Pierce is a retired superhero who previously fought crime boss Tobias Whale and The 100 as Black Lightning, until his life-threatening alter ego forced him to promise his now ex-wife that he would hang up his mask and suit for good to focus on his family.
Years later, Pierce has done very well for himself and his family and is even potentially on the verge of reconciliation with his ex-wife (Christine Adams), but Freeland is becoming more and more overrun with the threat of The 100 and gangland mentality weaving its way into the lives of kids on a daily basis, something that Pierce's oldest daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) is all too aware of and is eager to fight at any cost, which is almost the opposite of her younger sister Jennifer (China Anne McClain) who is also headstrong but wants her own life apart from the responsible nature of her family. When The 100's actions start to hit too close to home, Jefferson ponders the notion of Black Lightning returning to action, aided by his friend Peter Gambi (James Remar) who has known him his whole life.
This show approaches the superhero concept in such a fresh way with the idea of the hero already having been retired from the game and building his family to best of his ability, only to find himself called back to his super-powered service to help his community. He struggles with the idea of balance in terms of duty to his family and duty to his people in a way that we really haven't seen before with any superhero show, especially from the perspective of an older hero coming out of retirement. We've seen origin stories, redemption stories and stories right smack in the middle of the hero's journey, but never one that was thought to be completely over and is now being revisited, at least not in this way.
Williams is powerful and demonstrative as Jefferson Pierce in a way that proves beyond any possible doubt that he can carry the show as the lead. Christine Adams, Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain all have strong chemistry with him and they are a more than believable black family living in what is left of a middle class America today, serving a city that is all over the economic spectrum as any city is in real life. The Pierce Family is the heart and soul of this show and will certainly be the driving force of it going forward without question.
What really sets Black Lightning apart from the rest is that it simply doesn't pull a single punch. On anything. Period. Almost every major social issue regarding the black community is dealt with in just the first episode, from racial profiling to police brutality to gang violence to sex trafficking and a number of others. This show seriously goes places in just the pilot episode that no other superhero TV show has ever dared go to, and Black Lightning does it with grace, poise and great introspection without being preachy, heavy-handed or overly dramatic. The things that these characters deal with are REAL issues in our world today and the fact that Jefferson can electrify things and people with the blink of an eye serves as a conduit for the audience's trigger moments of emotion. Indeed, there are at least two instances in the pilot where overt racism is his trigger to activate his abilities and serve up justice in a wholly satisfying way for the audience, especially the black audience.
There is so much to be excited about with this show just from the first episode, particularly with its potential to tell real world stories and deal with real world issues in a grittier, more grounded fashion, but also to do it from the framework of a positive image that is a successful black family. Jefferson isn't a deadbeat dad with a past, his ex-wife Lynn isn't a junkie that doesn't care about her kids and both Anissa and Jennifer aren't malcontents with no hope of productive lives. In short, they aren't bad and lazy stereotypes for what a black family is in America. They are instead a hopeful, strong and proud example of that kind of family which makes this show one that a family can seriously watch together and get something more out of it than just action and a killer soundtrack, though the music for the pilot was beyond excellent to say the least.
Black Lightning is a true multi-dimensional show that promises to really turn some heads and bring a new light to the concept of superhero TV. It's a bold, unafraid and unapologetic take on the genre and after how strong the first episode was, I can't wait to see what the rest of the inaugural season has in store for us. Renew it right now, CW. My Tuesday nights at 9pm are booked solid for the next few months with this one. Well done.
BLACK LIGHTNING - 5 out of 5 - Airs Tuesday nights at 9pm EST on The CW.