[Some spoilers for Stargirl season 1 below]
When it was announced that there would be (yet) another DC superhero show, I have to admit I rolled my eyes.
I’ve watched the Arrowverse shows almost since the beginning. I missed season 1 of Arrow and caught up on Netflix before season 2. Since then I’ve watched every Arrowverse show, and have only stopped watching Supergirl (midway through season 3). I even sat through the entire first season of Batwoman, which at best was mediocre, thanks to now former series lead Ruby Rose. I have loved what Greg Berlanti & Co have done with the majority of these characters and shows. The early seasons of The Flash were great. The last few seasons of Legends of Tomorrow have been really great. But The Flash has become tiresome, and while Arrow ended strong, the road there was… bumpy. As I mentioned, I stopped watching Supergirl for a few different reasons, none of which was Melissa Benoist – I think she’s great in the role, but the show was ill-conceived, aimless and little nonsensical (yes, even for a show where Martians live among us, and an alien prison ended up crash landing on Earth).
So when I heard about DC’s Stargirl, my expectations were not high. I wasn’t even sure I could watch it, as I didn’t subscribe to DC’s streaming service DC Universe. Then I heard it would be airing on The CW and I decided to give it a shot. Since this was another Berlanti show, I thought I knew what to expect. Surprisingly, though, the show broke the mold in a few different ways.
The show starts with an epic battle between the good guys: the Justice Society of America (JSA) and the bad guys: the Injustice Society of America (ISA) – clever, right? Evil actually wins as the JSA, including Starman (Joel McHale), is defeated and its members killed. Starman’s sidekick Stripesy, aka Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson), retreats and gathers up the fallen heroes’ weapons and costumes, and escapes to fight another day. Though he doesn’t – at least not yet. At some point he has a son named Mike (Trae Romano) and moves to LA… like you do. (Full disclosure: I don’t remember if they spoke about Mike’s mom, but let’s say she died, because she’s not ever really mentioned.)
Enter Barbara Whitmore (Amy Smart), a transplant to LA from Blue Valley, Nebraska. She is a single mom with a teenage daughter named Courtney (Brec Bassinger). Pat and Barbara meet (in Blue Valley, actually), get married, and move back to Blue Valley – one big “happy” family. What they don’t know is that nefarious things are going on in the quaint little town.
Here’s where Stargirl does things differently. Courtney is not an adult. She goes to school; she probably has a curfew. This show is the first to tackle a teenage hero, and with that comes a different set of parameters. Does it make later fight scenes with actual adults a little cringe-inducing? Yes. But Stargirl leans into that cringe – these are villains. They are dark, evil people who don’t care who gets in their way. If they have to beat up and kill a few kiddos to get what they want? So be it.
In the Arrowverse shows, the protagonist has an origin story that usually involves several other people, who end up becoming that person’s Scooby gang. There’s love, hate, super powers/skills, and the hero sometimes reluctantly takes on the role, saving lives, protecting innocents, blah blah. Oliver Queen wanted to carry out his father’s quest to right wrongs in Starling City. Barry Allen wanted to help stop meta-humans from terrorizing his city. Kara Danvers wanted to stop aliens from terrorizing her city. Kate Kane wanted to stop her homicidal twin sister from terrorizing her city.
But Courtney is chosen by Starman’s Cosmic Staff (which I refer to as Staffy, because it really needs a name). Staffy reveals itself, and its abilities – shooting bursts of energy and flight, among them – to Courtney and she excitedly decides to become a super hero. She does some research and thinks Starman is her father, for reasons, and decides she needs to avenge his death. Courtney finds and alters the Starman suit (in her new high school’s sewing class) and Stargirl is born.
Stargirl encounters Henry King (Christopher James Baker), aka ISA member Brainwave , a telepath and telekinetic, and ends up accidentally putting him in a coma after he learns her secret identity. His son Henry Jr (Jake Austin Walker) is a classmate and is involved in a sexting scandal with fellow classmate Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal). Yolanda sends Henry a picture and jealous girlfriend/mean girl/queen bee Cindy Burman (Meg DeLacy) sends the pic to… everyone. Yolanda is ostracized by her friends and even super religious family; she ends up befriending new girl Courtney and she recruits Yolanda to her cause by giving her the costume of JSA member Wild Cat, effectively creating a new JSA.
Turns out sociopath Cindy’s dad is also a member of the ISA – the hooded Dragon King. Cindy decides she wants to follow in daddy’s footsteps; we learn because of his experiments on his daughter, she is somewhat cybernetic. She fights Courtney but gets sidelined by her father when she goes off the rails, demanding to be a part of the ISA.
Speaking of the ISA, head honcho Jordan Mahkent, aka Icicle (Neil Jackson), returns to town to pick up where they left off, restarting Project New America, which at this point hasn’t been fully detailed to us viewers. We do know it involves mind control and six surrounding states… We also learn Barbara now works for Jordan and Jordan’s son Cameron (Hunter Sansone) is also in Courtney’s class, and a possible love interest.
Through a series of events, fellow outcasts Beth Chapel (Anjelika Washington) and Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman) become the new JSA’s Dr Mid-Nite and Hour Man, respectively. Beth’s Dr Mid-Nite goggles are basically a supercomputer (and sometimes deus ex machina), and Rick’s hourglass pendant gives him super strength for an hour at a time. It turns out Rick’s parents were also heroes and killed by the monstrous Solomon Grundy – who even the ISA keeps locked up – and Rick is out for revenge.
The creation of the new JSA/Courtney’s own Scooby gang felt very organic, and even shows the team struggling to be superheroes. Courtney and crew stumble; Yolanda even threatens Henry Jr as Wild Cat, and in a possibly unprecedented scene, Henry immediately recognizes Yolanda – because of course he would. All too often superhero shows gloss over this bit of realism, and it was refreshing to see this play out this way.
With Pat, who now pilots a huge battle ready robot called S.T.R.I.P.E, as their mentor, the kids are now investigating the ISA, the ISA members’ kids, and trying to figure out what’s really going on in Blue Valley. Along the way there are some fights, deaths, and revelations that make this show one roller coaster ride. Mysteries are sprinkled throughout as you would expect, like the truth about Courtney’s parentage, and the creepy (or is he?) high school janitor that for some reason has a sword and possibly remembers using Staffy.
So far, Stargirl feels like a fresh superhero-show experience. The writing is quick and authentic, the action sequences and special effects are well done and satisfying, and storylines are playing out a little more realistically (dark?) than the norm: Icicle kills [spoiler] to send a message! Barbara finds out about [spoiler]! Brainwave kills [really big spoiler]! I’m anxious to see how the season wraps up, and having already been renewed for a second season (relocating solely to The CW), here’s hoping Stargirl keeps things interesting and never becomes another superhero slog.