Review by C.J. Bunce
After what I viewed as the best superhero series pilot yet here at borg back in May, Stargirl never let up, never let us down, and with this week’s season finale rises to become the very best superhero series yet. We can slice and dice and compare series like The Flash and Arrow, Supergirl, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but did any of them adapt the comic book mythos to the screen as written and drawn by years of comic book writers and artists? Or did they all twist the stories to cut away at what made the stories enduring in the first place? Even Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina–two fantastic comic book adaptations–were nudged aside by thirteen perfect episodes of comic books in TV form. Not since the heart in the original series The Flash, The Incredible Hulk, and the animated series Superfriends has a series full of superhero characters gotten so much so right. And one scene in the season finale was so good, so surprising, it may have you stand up and cheer.
From the far corners of 30 years of DC Comics, Stargirl delivers a story of a relationship TV never really does that well–a positive relationship between step-daughter and step-father. Courtney Whitmore’s relationship with her new stepdad was like you’d expect at first–awkward. But it was doubly awkward when he was an over-eager good guy named Patrick played by Luke Wilson. What I thought the pilot was telegraphing for the season was a coming of age show, but really it was some writers who understood superhero societies in the source material, why readers love them so much, and what makes them work. Sometimes that means leaning into the “hokey” bits instead of holding fast to the idea that modern audiences don’t want that.
It helps that the actors so obviously believed in their characters or this might not have gelled so well. Brec Bassinger could have been flighty and superficial in the title role, but instead she was endearing and her character made good decisions at every turn. Luke Wilson’s trademark “aw, shucks” approach completely sealed the chemistry between the seemingly odd crimefighting duo. The pantheon of villains was like nothing TV–or movies–have successfully executed. And the final confrontation spun circles around this winter’s expensive, multi-series, multi-hero Crisis on Infinite Earths team-up event. Why? Writing, a story with heart. In short, Stargirl is how to do superhero TV right.
At the beginning of the season, the big tease was an appearance by Sylvester Pemberton, aka Starman, played by Community’s Joel McHale. This was the same Star-Spangled Kid from the 1940s (aka Skyman) and member of Seven Soldiers of Victory, the All-Star Squadron, and the Justice Society of America. But the twist was adapting a much later comic book incarnation by show creator Geoff Johns, while filling in every corner with fun throwbacks for comic book aficionados. At the end the deep questions revealed themselves: Who is going to get out of this season alive, and how far are the writers willing to take the superheroes’ actions?
Yes, this was like the best parts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, iZombie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and The Flash, but Stargirl also stands apart as something unique. The special effects, the stunts, the costumes, the talisman props, the gorgeous 1950s art direction incorporated into modern small-town Midwest–and those pristine battle scenes (including a truly epic, seamless CGI battle between Solomon Grundy and S.T.R.I.P.E.) conjured splash pages and covers, transformed them from comics to the screen–all artfully, magically handled.
In the superhero genre, for me the best superhero translations to the screen include Logan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The First Avenger, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ant-Man, Thor: Ragnarok. And one other: Zachary Levi’s big-screen movie Shazam! Shazam! is the same brand of fun, good-hearted adaptation of classic comic book material that Stargirl succeeds at. Note: You’ll need to watch the finale for the surprise, fantastic, key scene I mentioned above, which changes the stakes, and ups the ante in every way for Season 2.
The pantheon of superheroes included Yvette Monreal as an incredibly layered, empathetic, troubled girl behind the hero Wildcat. Cameron Gellman made Hourman his own. And as to the villains, Christopher James Baker created a villain we loved to hate in Brainwave, second to the vile Icicle, played by Neil Jackson, and the pairing of Joy Osmanski as Tigress and Neil Hopkins as Sportsmaster was nostalgic fun. Courtney’s mom, played by Amy Smart, and her step-brother, played by Trae Romano, rounded out the core of a great family-friendly show. For Season 2, we must have more of Mark Ashworth’s surprise character’s appearance. Anjelika Washington teamed with Henry Thomas as Doctor Mid-Nite–another part of the series that could use expansion in Season 2, which the CW promises is coming in 2021.
Creator/executive/producer Geoff Johns pulled it off, and viewers never once had a reason to ask: Where’s Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman?
Stargirl–the best season of superhero TV yet, in an era of plenty of competition. Get the entire first season of Stargirl now here on Amazon. It’s also streaming as part of DC Universe, and available now free in its entirety on the CW App.