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TV Review: Black Lightning - "The Resurrection"

SYNOPSIS: The CW's first African American superhero headliner unrolls the secrets of his past to protect his city and his family

Black Lightning, TV Review, Drama, Action, Cress Williams, Arrow, The Flash, The CW, DC Comics

REVIEW: Much like Marvel Studio's big screen offerings, The CW has found a winning formula for their small screen interconnected television series based on DC Comics various superheroes. Joining Arrow, The Flash and the rest of the Arrowverse (though not a part of the shared universe) is the latest viglante with powers, Black Lightning. It is no coincidence that the first African American superhero to headline a comic book television series from DC debuts the day after Martin Luther King Jr's birthday and a few weeks before BLACK PANTHER opens in movie theaters. Coming on the heels of Marvel/Netflix's Luke Cage, Black Lightning is a winning combination of The CW's soapy, teen-centric drama with Greg Berlanti's reverent and timely take on classic comic book storylines. Like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, this new series examines timely and political stories under the guise of family entertainment. But, unlike any of those other shows, Black Lightning may be the series we have needed.

Unlike the previous Arrowverse shows, Black Lightning's first episode is not an origin story. Instead, the series picks up nine years after Black Lightning hung up his suit and goggles to live life as Jefferson Pierce. The former protector of Freeland, a fictional city which may or may not overlap with the other CW/DC shows, Pierce has instead become principal of Garfield High School where he has turned the lacking institution into a thriving school with a 90% graduation rate. But, as much as Pierce wants to keep his daughters away from the crime in their city, he cannot keep the gang known as The 100 from creeping closer and closer to what he loves. The first episode of Black Lightning, titled "The Resurrection", is mostly about Pierce returning to his superhero identity with his powers intact but his body no longer that of a young crimefighter and instead one weakened with age.

Make no mistake, Black Lightning is pulpy but in the best way possible. It shares a thematic style that seems to be closer to Arrow than The Flash but still shares the same brand of humor that feels ripped directly from the pages of a comic book. Cress Williams is excellent in the title role which calls for him to deal with events we read about in the newspaper every day: unwarranted traffic stops motivated by race, gang violence in urban areas, drug abuse amongst teenagers and many other timely topics. Black Lightning covers these issues in a manner that reminded me greatly of last year's debut season of Luke Cage, but does so in a manner that is much more appropriate for teen viewers. Like many CW shows, the actors don't remotely look the age they are playing. Daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams), now a teacher at the school, and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) are supposed to be in their early 20s and late teens, respectively and both look at least five years too old for their parts. But, the acting is very solid in this debut hour which rendered any disbelief suspended.

The leader of the villainous gang is a former foe of Black Lightning's directly from DC Comics. Marvin Jones III (aka rapper Krondon) plays Tobias Whale, the albino kingpin of the gang whose appearance is more than a passing reference to Moby-Dick. Whale is a vicious and calculating enemy but his presence is minimal in the premiere episode of the show. It was a risky move casting a rookie actor in such a big role, but with the series putting a focus on the street level players involved on both sides of the fight for Freeland's youth, it may pay off in the end. And it is that focus that makes Black Lightning very different than any other DC series to date. Black Lightning was never the savior of his entire city but instead the defender of his community. The scope of this show is very different than what we have seen from the heroes that came before on The CW but it is too early to tell how that will impact viewership of this tale.

Black Lightning, TV Review, Drama, Action, Cress Williams, Arrow, The Flash, The CW, DC Comics

Black LIghtning does have a substantial amount of music, which is pretty common for any show on The CW, but the genre is mainly hip hop. In fact, where Luke Cage and even the upcoming BLACK PANTHER have supporting roles from Caucasian actors, the cast of Black Lightning is almost entirely African America. Race does play a significant role on the show as a major component of the narrative, but it never feels forced or artificial. Race, whether you want to admit it or not, is a major talking point in our modern culture and Black Lightning does not force it on the viewer. This is not a show for minorites about minorities. Rather, Black Lightning is just a well put together superhero drama that is very timely in it's subject matter. That, coupled with solid special effects, makes for a fun viewing experience.

Compared to every other comic book show currently airing on television, Black Lightning stands out as the most unique and potentially the most daring. It remains to be seen if the promise presented in the series premiere can stand up to a full network season, but I am certainly willing to find out. This show has the action, the acting, and the direction to take viewers on a ride unlike any other DC or Marvel property. By the end of the premiere, we also get to see another superhero, Thunder, whose origin will cause strife between her alter ego and her father whom she doesn't know is Black Lightning. What comes next will certainly be worth tuning in for. Black Lightning has the potential to be something special and be a superhero series that manages to be both pure entertainment and something much more at the same time.

Next on BLACK LIGHTNING: "The Book of Hope" airs Tuesday, January 23rd - A glimmer of hope appears in the community that Black Lightning is back to combat the violence.

Source: JoBlo.com

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