Black Lightning is different from any other superhero show on The CW.
I didn't even know The CW could roll like this: electrocution; death by piranha; extreme gang activity; and a definite Lean on Me vibe. On a Tuesday at 8 p.m., this blerd heart can only take so much. Marvel's Luke Cage, Black Lightning and soon Black Panther. Who's got next? Brown Hornet?
I kid. Because Black Lightning is very of-the-moment, hitting many long-running, hot-button issues out of the gate. There's so much to like here, it almost seems like a quibble to call it out on a major problem.
I'm talking about the costume. With loud lightning bolts on his chest, the hero looks like a walking, talking neon sign.
(I wouldn't say that to his face, not after seeing what he can do in anger. Really, though, how is he going to get the drop on anyone?)
But perhaps the cartoon-ish costume is needed for levity, because this show is something serious.
Cress Williams stars as high school principal and community hero Jefferson Pierce. Viewers learn early that he put up his "vigilante" suit after his then-wife pleaded with him while his bloodied body soaked in a tub. But when everything he's worked for is threatened, well, the story takes off.
Williams is perhaps best known for his role as the boyfriend to end all boyfriends on Fox's Living Single. The '90s sitcom, which starred Queen Latifah, was all that, but his turn as Black Lightning could change that, and quickly.
The language is authentic, even the speechifying. When Pierce's youngest daughter Jennifer (China Anne McClain, an acting veteran at 19) laments being called the "Queen of Garfield" High School partly because she's a track star and her father's the principal, she says that it's just "low-key hating." That's something you'd hear in passing just walking down the street. And it's lovely to ears long used to code-switching.
As is the way Pierce talks to his daughters, one an avowed revolutionary, and students. He clearly loves them and, even though he's taught them to stand their ground, he has come to a truce with the leader of The 100 Gang and one of its leaders so that his school is left out of the citywide chaos.
This is a city in which they protest gang brutality, not the police kind. Black Lightning may be one scene away from that, so be forewarned.
A word: I have noticed that fellow nerds don't seem to feel the shows with black superheroes as the lead, the fervor for Black Panther aside. I get it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a proven track record. And if you miss seeing Black Panther, you will probably miss key moments in the ongoing saga and be a little lost come time for Avengers 3.
Luke Cage is standalone, though, so too many gave it a pass. Black Lightning doesn't seem to connect with the Arrowverse yet, so some are probably thinking of giving this one a pass, too. I won't beg; I'll just tell you that it is an engaging piece of work with layers upon layers from masters of the craft: husband-and-wife team Salim and Mara Brock Akil, who are the showrunners, and Greg Berlanti, Mr. CW himself.
Be aware, though, that this show does not shy away from whence it came. It oozes awareness from its theme song to the soundtrack to guest turns by newscaster Roland Martin and activist icon Rev. Al Sharpton. Even Martin's punditry rings of authenticity, something the Akils trade in, having helmed The Game and Being Mary Jane.
Speaking of Martin and Sharpton, their cameos bring to mind how both talked about Missouri and Baltimore. The city in Black Lightning is small enough for a principal to have an impact but large enough to garner national media attention.
And this show should get the national attention it deserves. The first episode ended with a cliffhanger for those not in the know and a welcome reveal for those who do. This will be a family show, albeit not the kind to which that title is usually attached; this one will be full of thunder and lightning.
Black Lightning should be here to stay for a while, even after Panther has come and gone; TV needs more heroes like this one. Black Lightning has something to say, and this show is good enough that it will make you listen.