'Stargirl': TV Review

Stargirl - Publicity still - H 2020
Tina Rowden/The CW
Derivative, but should fill the superhero-origin-story-shaped hole in your heart.
5/19/2020

DC Universe and The CW's new teen superhero drama, starring Brec Bassinger, Luke Wilson and Amy Smart, is... like a lot of other superhero dramas.

After watching five episodes of The CW and DC Universe's Stargirl, I'm not quite sure I can explain the main character's powers, which relate to gymnastics, genetics and a powerful gizmo known as the Cosmic Staff.

I'm quite sure, though, that I can connect the superpower of Stargirl as a series to two simple words: location and timing.

Although it was developed for DC Universe (and episodes will premiere a day earlier on the streaming platform), Stargirl skews much younger and lighter than the service's variably gloomy and snarky (neither word necessarily meant as criticism) entries like Titans, Doom Patrol and the beloved animated Harley Quinn — making it a much better fit for The CW. So kudos to whoever realized that going sharesies on this one was a good idea.

It also benefits Stargirl immensely to be premiering just as most of The CW's regular superhero shows are wrapping their seasons or have already settled into what could be a longer-than-usual hiatus owing to the coronavirus. It's hard to imagine TV ever having a deficit of superhero shows, but Stargirl's premiere comes at a moment when we may not have a surfeit.

The result is that a show that is frequently derivative to the point of distraction might actually fill a need for viewers able to concentrate on its occasional charms until better superhero shows return.

Stargirl, created by Geoff Johns from his own, very personal, comic, kicks off 10 years ago with the death of the hero known as Starman (Joel McHale, for some reason) as part of a purge of Justice Society of America members by the nefarious Injustice Society.

Back in the present day, high school sophomore Courtney (Brec Bassinger) is being forced to move to Nebraska with mother Barbara (Amy Smart) and new stepfather Pat (Luke Wilson). For reasons that either are or aren't completely coincidental, Pat used to be Starman's sidekick Stripesy; the small Nebraska town they're moving to may be a haven for retired members of the Injustice Society; and Courtney may be Starman's daughter, or at least she has some attribute that the sentient Cosmic Staff responds to.

In no time — and I mean NO time — Courtney has dubbed herself Stargirl, tailored a new costume for herself and she's recruiting for a new juvenile version of the Justice Society. That's convenient, since the Injustice Society is preparing for… well, I'm not exactly sure what they're preparing for, but it's probably, at the very least, a low-key takeover of Nebraska, which could be a serious inconvenience for drivers mapping out the most efficient path from Iowa to Colorado.

Early episodes of Stargirl are an oddly jittery thing. Johns jumps from the flashback to the family's move to the discovery of the Cosmic Staff to Courtney settled into her role as nascent superhero at a perilous pace, skipping more than a few steps in traditional character and narrative development. Through five episodes sent to critics, I couldn't tell you anything about Courtney's personality or voice other than that she's plucky; I could barely explain what the family is doing in Nebraska at all; and as for those "coincidental" elements I listed above, I'm assuming they'll eventually be revealed not to be coincidences, but in the short-term they're a bit silly.

The start of the season prioritizes introducing potential adversaries rather than our potential heroes — a questionable choice since, other than a nicely intense Neil Jackson as a character whose identity The CW wants to treat as a spoiler, none of the actors or characters tied to the Injustice Society are even vaguely interesting. They do kill people, which is at odds with the otherwise quaint nature of the show's stakes.

The series starts picking up in those fourth and fifth episodes, in which Courtney begins to make friends and we're introduced to a spirited Yvette Monreal as a school outcast named Yolanda, plus Anjelika Washington as an ultra-chipper nerd named Beth who, thus far, is walking the tightrope on the good side of the funny/annoying divide. I really like the utilization of Wilson's "Awww shucks" charms as lifelong sidekick Pat, while he and Smart are perfect entries in The CW's stable of nostalgic parental casting.

Bassinger is amiable and chipper. It's hard to say much more about her given that the role is so underwritten that she blends in with other recent blonde-teen-learning-superpowers performances like Olivia Holt's on Cloak & Dagger and Virginia Gardner's on The Runaways (a show that Stargirl resembles on more than a few superficial levels). Courtney's transformation into Stargirl begins with the Cosmic Staff basically becoming uneven bars to capitalize on her gymnastics background, and I was psyched that the show might be Gymkata for superheroes. But it races past that origin story with the same speed it zips over countless other details.

Courtney and Stargirl are upbeat and enthusiastic and keep the show from wallowing in Titans or Doom Patrol levels of murkiness. That carries over to the show's look as well. The Stargirl pilot was directed by Glen Winter, who has worked on basically every current show with DC ties and guarantees a level of visual continuity. The special effects, from the staff to a giant transforming robot to the individual powers of the different heroes and villains, are top-notch. Best of all, they occasionally exhibit a sense of humor, almost in the vein of Legends of Tomorrow, yet another show to which Stargirl will surely be compared.

I could go on and on about the various generally superior (and sometimes not) shows and movies Stargirl reminded me of, but they're probably not airing right now. Available is a heck of a superpower.

Cast: Brec Bassinger, Yvette Monreal, Anjelika Washington, Cameron Gellman, Trae Romano, Jake Austin Walker, Hunter Sansone, Meg DeLacy, Neil Jackson, Christopher James Baker with Amy Smart and Luke Wilson.
Creator: Geoff Johns
Episodes premiere Mondays on DC Universe and air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.