Television pilots are a lot like free samples at Costco. A tiny morsel skewered on a toothpick gives you a sense of the experience to be had should you decide to buy the entire wheel of Manchego, or the 81-pack of buttery croissants. The sample is usually delicious, but not always satisfying enough to justify a whole case. But a truly good sample will both delight you in the short term and give you a good indication of whether you want the industrial-size version of this item in your pantry for the next six months.
I’m usually gun-shy about pilots. I come in with the expectation that a show needs a half season before the characters, plot devices, and mode of storytelling are in place. In this case, the sample that is the pilot rarely engenders enthusiasm for the whole series, but might be enough to keep me watching for at least a few more episodes. Black Lightning rises above this trend.
I was recently a guest of DC Entertainment and The CW at their DC in D.C. event, which culminated in the world premiere of Black Lightning. I also snagged an invite to the exclusive afterparty at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. My God, that was a fancy event. I bothered a lot of celebrities. (See pictures after the review.)
Unlike the pilot episode of most superhero TV shows, we don’t have to wait half a season for the character to suit up and kick ass. This isn’t an origin story; this is a second act. When we first meet Jefferson Pierce, he has hung up the blue and yellow for good. He is a high school principal in a troubled neighborhood who, in his words, has saved more lives as a principal than he ever did as Black Lightning. He sees no reason to suit up until threats on both sides of the law menace those close to him. After a nine-year hiatus, Black Lightning is back!
Because this show doesn’t need to dilly-dally with an origin story, it can cut right to the action. Jefferson Pierce has already picked out his costume, mastered his powers, and more or less has a major nemesis. We can breeze past those TV superhero tropes and see Jefferson in action, as good as he ever was.
This is also a show about family and legacy. Jefferson Pierce is a pillar of the community and a loving father. The show immediately establishes that Black Lightning is a means to an end. Even without the powers, Pierce would still protect his community and loved ones. This trait is especially salient when addressing issues such as racial profiling and human trafficking; problems that can’t simply be punched away. This premiere episode accomplished more character development in one hour than most shows do in a whole season.
This weekend, DC Entertainment gave me a sample of Black Lightning, and I’m now ready for the whole thing. Black Lightning premieres for the rest of you on January 16th at 9 p.m. EST. From now on, you’ll know where to find me every Tuesday night.
And now, as promised, pictures of me bothering celebrities!
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