'Raising Dion': TV Review

Steve Dietl/Netflix
Netflix's latest stumble.
10/4/2019

Netflix's new drama, with Michael B. Jordan appearing in a small role and executive producing, is not unlike a broadcast series — so why are you paying to see it?

There's something about Netflix's consistent disdain for not being a predictable streaming service that gets especially tiresome when you realize, many more times than you're expecting to, that it has zero problem making bad network-level series. It's so easy to equate "streaming services" with higher-end cable channels, and so it's easy to get suckered into the assumption that since you're subscribing to a service the quality will be higher. At this point with Netflix, that shouldn't be the auto response. But if the streamer isn't careful, it might soon be regarded as the sixth broadcast network — and at $12.99 a month, that's not a good business idea.

The streamer's latest drama to look like it could easily fit in with the most trite of the broadcasting fall fare is Raising Dion, a show that's a complete mess almost from the first moments it comes on your screen. And if you've heard anything about this show in the run-up to its premiere, it probably has something to do with Michael B. Jordan being in the cast, an alluring idea you need to put out of your mind immediately. He's here, briefly, but not. And in the moments he's on screen, it's just not enough to curtail the mediocrity that came before it.

Nicole Reese (Alisha Wainwright) is struggling as a single mom to a precocious (and that trait turns to annoying pretty quick) youngster, Dion (Ja'Siah Young). She's a single mom because her husband and Dion's father, Mark (Jordan), died under complicated circumstances while storm-chasing, a thing he does that is not explained very well.

Left to bring up Dion, who is prone to run off or act up precisely when the writing conveniently needs him to get into trouble or cause problems, Nicole is thus late and unreliable as a worker, so she's not able to really hold down a job. Her sister, Kat (Jazmyn Simon), is annoyed with her as much as you will be for not figuring out a solution (though, in fairness, it's often cliched script constructs that set Nicole back and ultimately she can't be blamed for that).

If you haven't seen any trailers for the show yet, well, it's based on the comic book by Dennis Liu and created for television by Carol Barbee, who writes the first episode as well, and the gist of it is that Dion has special powers to make things float in the air or be pulled and thrown in various directions, which he can't control, even though he tries constantly by yelling "abracadabra!" when things go wrong. That invariably makes things much worse, and you will never want to hear someone say "abracadabra" again, unless it's you when you're yelling at the screen trying to make it turn from something on ABC to something you might pay a subscription fee for on Netflix.

Anyway, also in this world is Jason Ritter as Pat, Mark's former best friend and either an engineer or a scientist at some place not interesting enough to mention. He's also a gigantic nerd with a big heart who feels like it's his duty to help Dion, because Mark would have wanted it that way. Ritter has had the misfortune of selecting a number of projects that seem to not work even when he's really good in the role and Raising Dion qualifies as his next one. He's empathetic and funny as Dion's stand-in dad even when Nicole, for no believable reason, keeps him mostly at a distance until she needs him (basically Nicole needs all the help she can get and doesn't seem too keen to accept it).

There are scenes where Wainwright has the frazzled mom thing down, but she seems much too young for the role and also struggles with some of the admittedly dumb and difficult things the writing and plot force her to do — namely come to the realization that Dion is "special" and thus protect him. Like she would be in a predictable network show, she's ill-equipped at first and then overly accepting of the situation almost immediately and, in fairness, none of the actors behave believably in all the greenscreen shots of wonder they have to perform in (Dion is making fish fly out of a lake; Dion is bending and uprooting trees even though he's not quite sure how; Dion is levitating Legos and candy bars and making everything fly around the room somewhat amazingly until it all of a sudden gets out of hand and he yells "abracadabra! abracadabra!" yet again, speeding things up and hurling them into the nearest human).

As would be the case on most network-level series, none of the kids Dion meets at school are believable — they are all either terrible or heroic, acting like brats or adults without a middle ground.

Nobody acts like an actual person. They act like they are in a sitcom or a weak drama, though in the early going Simon and Ritter, as Kat and Pat, at least come off as vaguely normal and believable. Jordan isn't really asked to do much but, no surprise here, he's pretty magnetic in the fleeting moments he's in it (he's also an executive producer, if you're wondering why he's here at all).

By the time Dion and Nicole are seeing ghost people (second episode), things on Raising Dion have become too ludicrous to bear. And by the time Deirdre Lovejoy shows up in the third episode as the person Mark died trying to save and she shows off her powers and hints at what might be coming in future episodes, the only thing you'll want to raise is the remote to turn this off for good.

Created for television and written by: Carol Barbee

Based on the comic book by Dennis Liu

Cast: Alisha Wainwright, Ja'Siah Young, Jason Ritter, Jazmyn Simon, Michael B. Jordan, Sammi Haney, Deirdre Lovejoy

Premieres Oct. 4 on Netflix