TV Review - Superhero seeks social justice on new CW series

By Terry Terrones Updated: January 13, 2018 at 11:36 am • Published: January 13, 2018 0

"Black Lightning"

Cast: Cress Williams ("The Hunger Games," "Bridge to Terabithia"), Christine Adams ("Batman Begins," "TRON: Legacy"), Nafessa Williams ("Twin Peaks," "Code Black"), China Anne McClain ("Descendants 2," "House of Payne"), Damon Gupton ("Bates Motel," "Whiplash"), James Remar ("The Warriors," "Sex and the City")

Airs: The series premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the CW

The premise: Gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) used those abilities to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning. But after too many nights with his life on the line, and seeing the effects his alter ego was inflicting on his family, he left his superhero days behind nine years ago and settled into being a high school principal and a dad.

Pierce thought his crimefighting days were behind him. With crime and corruption spreading, and those he cares about in the crosshairs of the menacing local gang The One Hundred, Black Lightning returns to save not only his family, but also his community.

Highs: Few networks know how to set up a convincing superhero origin story better than The CW, and it demonstrates that yet again with "Black Lightning." The pilot episode hits all the correct notes, showing viewers that Jefferson Pierce is a good and decent man just wanting to do the right thing, but he lives in a world that refuses to let him do so.

When we meet Pierce, he seems to have it all. The former Olympic athlete is in charge of Garfield High School, a charter school that's turned around the lives of its students. It's devoid of gang violence, and its students are achieving unprecedented success, making Pierce a hero to the community. His daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), are also doing well. Anissa is at the top of her class at Garfield, and Jennifer is a med student who works part time at the school.

Life is good for the reformed vigilante, but problems loom. Pierce still pines for his ex-wife, who left after seeing him come home bruised and battered one time too many. He also has to deal with a gang that runs rampant through the city, threatening to infiltrate his school, and with cops who pull him over because of his skin color.

Jefferson Pierce isn't just a superhero. He's a social justice warrior. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. AND beats up bad guys. This instantly makes him one of the most interesting heroes on television.

Lows: While The CW is great at getting its superhero series off to a strong start, it has a habit of tinkering with their programs too much. The dark and brooding tone of "Arrow" in season one and two? Gone. The small, tight team on "The Flash" and "Supergirl?" Bloated to the point that almost everyone on the show is a hero/genius/hacker.

CW leads also have a tendency to be their own worst enemy. How many times have we seen Barry Allen/The Flash, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and Kara Danvers/Supergirl be so stubborn that they didn't listen to people they trust and ended up making a critical error? Too many times, unfortunately, and it's still happening. Will Jefferson Pierce suffer the same fate as other CW heroes? I hope not.

Grade: (B+): After watching the first two episodes of "Black Lightning," it's clear that this is a different kind of CW superhero series. Jefferson Pierce isn't a billionaire, a tech guru or an alien. He's an older, mature everyman with grown kids and incredible abilities who wants to make his world a better place. That is a hero worth rooting for.

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Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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