Black Light­ning — when moral­ity needs help

Sunday Times - - Review - Ty­mon Smith

The CW chan­nel is re­spon­si­ble for giv­ing the world The O.C. and within its cur­rent uni­verse in­cludes slightly dark and of­ten hu­mour-driven in­ter­pre­ta­tions of DC uni­verse cre­ations such as The Flash, Su­per­girl and the mil­len­nial redo of the Archie comics that is Riverdale. I men­tion this only to ex­plain why the chan­nel’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed adap­ta­tion of ’70s DC ti­tle Black Light­ning is an anom­aly within the CW uni­verse. It is also in some ways re­stricted from be­ing a darker and more grotesque and vi­o­lent comic adap­ta­tion in the vein of the Marvel Uni­verse of­fer­ings such as Jes­sica Jones and Luke Cage.

The show stars Cress Wil­liams as high-school prin­ci­pal John Pierce, the great moral hope of the town of Free­land, who preaches the pow­ers of ed­u­ca­tion as a means of over­com­ing the threats of over­whelm­ing gang vi­o­lence and po­lice bru­tal­ity. But he also keeps a se­cret iden­tity as vig­i­lante Black Light­ning, a per­sona he is forced to bring out of re­tire­ment to pro­tect his fam­ily and com­mu­nity un­der threat from a gang called the 100, who are un­der the lead­er­ship of arch-vil­lain To­bias Whale (played by rap­per Kron­don).

The show, pro­duced by hus­band and wife team

Salim and Mara Brock Ali (Girl­friends and Be­ing Mary Jane) man­ages to work within the less noirish, smaller bud­get and some­times slightly cheesy world of the CW to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive that pro­vides a rea­son­ably com­plex and so­cially aware com­men­tary on is­sues within the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in the age of Black Lives Mat­ter and Don­ald Trump.

Pierce’s strug­gle is set within a com­mu­nity that must deal with not only threats posed by the gang and drugs but also po­lice bru­tal­ity and iden­tity pol­i­tics. He is di­vorced but still close to and ob­vi­ously still in love with his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams). To­gether they must deal with the is­sues fac­ing their daugh­ters — les­bian Jen­nifer (China Anne McClain) and high-schooler Anissa (Nafessa Wil­liams). The story moves in its some­times glar­ingly on the nose earnest way to­wards be­com­ing very much a fam­ily af­fair, as the Pierces are forced closer to pro­tect them­selves and Free­land.

It may at times feel like a col­lec­tion of the les­son scenes from ev­ery ’80s sit­com but there’s some­thing to be said for Black Light­ning’s valiant at­tempt to move away from the of­ten solip­sis­tic, too loyal to the source ma­te­rial su­per­hero genre that’s been of­fered by the Marvel Uni­verse. There’s also a de­li­ciously dev­il­ish cameo by singer Jill Scott as evil mas­ter­mind and lo­cal un­der­taker Lady Eve that makes all the se­ri­ous is­sues worth en­dur­ing. The Alis hit the mark be­tween ac­tion en­ter­tain­ment and so­cial com­men­tary.

LBlack Light­ning is on 1Mag­icTV DStv chan­nel 103 at 8.30pm on Tues­days.

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