Stargirl (The CW)
Season One, Episode One – “Pilot”
Written by Geoff Johns
Directed by Glen Winter
I am a huge fan of Geoff Johns’s contributions to DC Comics, mostly as the Justice Society writer. He was able to present aging heroes and those who took up their legacies in a way no writer since Roy Thomas had done since All-Star Squadron in the early 1980s. There’s always a rich sense of history that is reasonably accessible to the unfamiliar and resonates powerfully with those who know the backstories of characters. Making a series based on Stargirl, which I reviewed the comic earlier this month, is a brilliant choice to introduce lesser-known heroes and villains.
A decade ago, Pat Dugan, aka Stripesy, rushes in his car to the Justice Society’s headquarters. They are under siege from a cavalcade of villains. Pat struggles to help and escapes with his partner, Starman, but not before the zombie-like Solomon Grundy damages their flying car resulting in a crash landing. Starman asks that Pat find someone to carry on the legacy giving his sidekick the cosmic rod and passing away.
Jump to the present day, Pat has married Courtney Whitmore’s mom, and the family is moving from Los Angeles to Blue Valley, Nebraska. Courtney hates leaving the only home she’s known for a small town in the middle of nowhere. After a rough first day at school, she discovers the cosmic rod in the basement, and it immediately responds to her touch, signaling a possible connection with the late Starman. Her activity awakens Brainwave, one of the JSA’s old villains who is living in Blue Valley. Before he can strike down Courtney, Pat arrives in a battlesuit he’s been testing out.
From a pure DC fan perspective, there is a lot I like about the show. That opening sequence leans into the classic Justice Society members. Clad in their traditional costumes, we get glimpses of Hourman, Sandman, Doctor Mid-Nite, Hawkman, Wildcat, Doctor Fate & more. On the villainous side, we see the Brainwave as mentioned above, plus Sportsmaster, Tigress, The Icicle, and Solomon Grundy. For those familiar with the comics, you know who they are right away, which is pretty astonishing. I can remember those early 2000s when movies like the X-Men did everything they could to distance themselves from the comics. Though it was incredibly brief, that scene was terrific.
The first episode follows the comic book’s opening reasonably close, changing some details like Mike Dugan already living with the family. The key difference appears to be that the JSA’s enemies are living in Blue Valley undercover now. Courtney has a confrontation with Henry King, Jr., aka Brainwave, Jr., and he appears to be set up as the ongoing high school antagonist. There is a very brief cameo from Cindy Burman, who I suspect will come to have a more substantial role later in the season. The showrunners don’t overload the viewer with too much and leave things on a cliffhanger, pushing the explanation for Pat’s STRIPE battlesuit into the next episode.
I can’t say I was very impressed with the show’s lead, Brec Bassinger. She physically resembles Courtney Whitmore, but her performance is not acted very well. It’s the level of quality you’d expect from your average Disney Channel show; when she needs to be more emotional, you can really see the acting at work. I think the show needed someone a little more charismatic and someone who can balance wholesome with rebellious. Maybe I have my own biases about what Courtney should be like, but this just wasn’t it. The core player in the show misses the target and brings down the rest of the program.
I think there is a lot of potential in Stargirl, but I don’t think it’ll be something I keep up with every week. I could see myself binge-watching the first season when it’s all done. I haven’t been a big fan of The CW’s Arrowverse, but this show seems to be slightly different tonally, which is refreshing. I am also a sucker for exploring the JSA’s corner of the DC Universe.