Disclaimer: There be spoilers here and I’m not Black, but I hope to review this show respectfully and appropriately.
Black Lightning, developed and headed by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane), premiered last night and was one of the strongest pilots I’ve seen.
It follows Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) who retired from vigilante life nine years ago after too many close calls. Now he’s Garfield High’s principal in Freeland. The same school where his eldest daughter Anissa teaches when she’s not studying for medical school, and his younger daughter Jennifer (China Anne McClain) is a track star.
Christine Adams is Lynn, Jefferson’s ex-wife and mother to Anissa and Jennifer, Damon Gupton is Detective Henderson (wants to do good police work), Jefferson’s friend, and finally James Remar portrays Gambi (the only white lead) and Jefferson’s oldest friend and surrogate father.
Clearly, there’s love, friendship, and respect for all of these characters and an immediate warmth that I hadn’t seen on DCTV since the (now) West-Allen family. Even separated, Lynn and Jefferson care for one another. How long before they make their way back to each other? Especially when Jefferson still wears his wedding ring and wants a reconciliation? Like if you look up chemistry in the dictionary, their picture should be there.
Anissa and Jennifer feel especially real with Anissa trying to protect and keep an eye on Jennifer. She is as rebellious as any other youngest child/sixteen-year-old kid of a principal.
The following exchange really sells it: Jennifer tells Anissa, “Well, all you guys want me to do is go to school, run track, and be a good example for the other girls,” who responds, “and when did that become a bad thing?” We’ll see how long that lasts.
The premiere actually starts with Anissa’s arrest after participating in a protest turned violent after the 23rd gang shooting in one weekend. Immediately after, on the way to the school fundraiser, (white) police pull Jefferson over (for the third time in one month) after profiling him as a potential robber. Both Anissa and Jennifer pull out their phones to record the interaction, but must put them away. This scene more than sets the tone for the entire series. It’s hard to watch, especially for anyone Black who’s been pulled over before. Though for anyone who pays attention at all in America, that scene will resonate. At the end, Pierce’s powers lead to the electricity around them going out and the sheer restraint Pierce has is clear.
Police brutality can’t be ignored in America, and Black Lightning isn’t going to either. Panning to an Asian woman in the police car saying that Jefferson isn’t the robber is incredibly important and effective. It’s not just white people who are antiblack, and it’s important we (NBPoC) all remember that.
The 100 Gang
We’re properly introduced to members of the gang when Jennifer sneaks away to a party at the 100 Club and immediately gets into trouble because Lala (William Catlett) who runs the club is an asshole to her and the guy she’s with, Will. The Akils don’t let viewers ignore the varied reasons behind the 100 gang members’ involvement. Especially when the politics of the “bad guys” come down to The 100 gang. Led by Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) a Black man with albinism, the gang is violent and cruel.
Tobias and the many 100 gang members aren’t faceless like most villain extras in other DCTV shows. There are emotional repercussions to the violence in Freeland, not just physical ones. Jones III as Tobias is immediately engaging and immediately scary when he harpoons Lala. (He also murdered Jefferson’s father years ago).
Lala was key, as his truce with Jefferson kept the gang’s violence outside of the high school, but now he’s tasked by Tobias to get rid of Black Lightning.
The (predominantly Black) writers know what they want to say, how to say it, and are backed up with incredible direction, music, and costuming. Gambi’s shop itself is gorgeous and his interactions with Jefferson indicate so much history the viewers can only begin to imagine. (Plus he’d been secretly working on a costume all this time!)
Gambi is actually the biggest proponent of Black Lightning’s return. He also helps patch up Lightning after he gets shot saving his daughters who Will and friends kidnap after they both yell at him when he tries to talk to Jennifer.
Overall, I thought the writing was sharp and the cast had incredible chemistry. The show is unlike anything to air on the network before and serialization is perfect for a 13-episode season.
I’m particularly interested to see how long it takes for Jefferson to permanently start suiting up. Plus Anissa’s entrance as Thunder! These events will obviously change her interactions with him. Plus how much more trouble will Jennifer get into?
- Jennifer’s voice overs as narrator was A+ especially for the CW’s younger skewing audience.
- The musical cues when they cut to commercial are incredible.
- The character’s texts on screen are fun and immerse the viewer.
- JEFFERSON/LYNN!!!!!!!!! I need a Black Lightning/Lynn scene yesterday.
- The religious overtones? So good. I hope multiple Black Christians talk about this portion of the show.
- Anissa breaking the sink at the end was heartbreaking but exciting.
This episode was a solid 10 out of 10 for me. What about y’all?