September 27, 2020

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Stargirl (DC Universe/The CW)

STARGIRL 1×01 “Stargirl” review

Stargirl debuts new episodes Monday’s on DC Universe on Monday’s before airing on The CW on Tuesdays.

Synopsis

The new DC UNIVERSE drama series, Stargirl follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore (series star BREC BASSINGER) as she inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to take up the legacy of a long-lost superhero team – The Justice Society of America – and stop the villains of the past.  

In the series premiere episode, Courtney’s seemingly perfect life in Los Angeles gets upended with a move to Blue Valley, Nebraska with her mother Barbara (series star AMY SMART), stepfather Pat Dugan (series star LUKE WILSON) and stepbrother Mike (series star TRAE ROMANO), and she finds herself struggling to adapt to her new town and high school.  But when Courtney discovers that Pat is harboring a major secret about his past, she ultimately becomes the unlikely inspiration for a new generation of Super Heroes.

Review

Stargirl‘s pilot episode, also called “Stargirl”, marks a huge change in the distribution model for streaming platform DC Universe. Stargirl will be the first series which airs across multiple platforms, debuting on May 18 on DCU before airing on The CW network in North America the following night.

From the outset Stargirl sets out to hook its audience with some impressive scope. It’s opening five minutes are easily some of the biggest work that DC has produced for TV outside of Crisis On Infinite Earths. Pulling together a classic Justice League of America lineup, led by Joel McHale’s Starman, and throws the audience in during the midst of battle against a group of formidable foes.

There are immediately high stakes and a great sense of pacing as Stripesy/Pat (Luke Wilson) races to save his hero. As Pat rushes around the scene of the battle it’s clear that Stargirl‘s production team has a well developed visual language for the show and it translates well in the moment.

What also becomes apparent through this sequence is that Stargirl isn’t pitching itself at the same audience as Titans, Swamp Thing or even Doom Patrol. Even as plumes of green fire erupt around Pat and JLA members fall during battle there’s still an overriding sense of adventure in its tone to remains strong throughout the plot.

Watching Stargirl, at least this pilot episode, evoked a similar feeling to watching Shazam. It has that unique blend of action and adventure which has clear stakes but also ensures that a young audience can be caught up in the spectacle.

The series writing features an abundance of well defined characters which vary from some generic high school stereotypes through to archetypal heroes and villains. At this early stage I wouldn’t have expected huge array of complex characters so it feels very on point with other DC Comics pilots in that respect. But what lifts Stargirl above other series is its snappy dialogue from series writer and executive producers Geoff Johns.

Having created the character it’s entirely expected that Johns would have a clear idea of her voice and her personality but what I hadn’t expected was the immense amount of world-building that he would instil in to this opening episode.

Dramatic moments are brilliantly cut through by comedic dialogue which feels like early Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A perfect example is when the dying Starman hands his cosmic staff to Pat and explains that it needs to be passed on to someone new, Pat graciously accepts the challenge and a perfectly deadpan Joel McHale replies “Not you” and proceeds to explain why Pat cannot take on the mantle. This kind of dry wit underpins the entire episode and is a welcome addition to the script.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer may, in fact, be the best comparison for Stargirl as it mixes the mythology of the DC Universe with high school and family drama. All of the groundwork is well laid in this episode as we meet the rest of Courtney’s family with Amy Smart as Barbara Whitmore, Courtney’s mum and Trae Romano as her step-brother Mike Dugan. They both feel like well developed characters even as the story begins but remains to be seen how they will fit in to the wider plot.

We only spend a brief handful of scenes as Blue Valley High School but we do meet potential young-JSA’ers Yolanda (Yvette Monreal), Beth (Anjelika Washington) and Rick (Cameron Gellman). All three seem well set to bring the perils of being a teenager superhero to the small screen and I look forward to seeing how John’s and his team develop them over the coming weeks.

Of course, Blue Valley High School is also populated with plenty of jocks, cheerleaders and bullies. But what the plot seems to hint at here is that there is plenty more bubbling under the surface of these characters than meets the eye. By the end of the pilot it feels like a potential plot line of pitting the children of superheroes against the children of villains is coming to fruition.

Complementing its sharply written script, Stargirl features a fairly lush production. The opening scenes feature some great costume design, Courtney doesn’t get chance to suit up yet but it’s clearly not far away, as well as some excellent fight choreography which translates through the rest of the episode.

When Courtney stumbles across the cosmic staff and it first activates there is some inspired integration between VFX, practical props and stunt work. The staff most definitely has a personality of its own, akin to the cape in Doctor Strange. The personality very much drives Courtney as she is learning her way around her new powers.

Rather than simply handing her the keys to becoming a superhero, Courtney is seen to be fighting to keep up with the staff and it successfully translates to the screen as part of her learning the ropes. Johns displays an understanding that heroes need to earn their place in order to make them more identifiable to the audience.

Visual effects are strong throughout, the final scene debuts our first look at S.T.R.I.P.E. who also seems well integrated with its surroundings. As Courtney flies around the town on the staff there are moments where green screen becomes more obvious but it never distracts from the enjoyment of the episode. Overall this is an impressive production.

Capping things off is an excellent score from Captain Marvel composer Pinar Toprak. We’re already beginning to hear potential themes amongst the score amongst which is a really cinematic soundscape for the series.

Verdict

Stargirl’s pilot is adventurous and fun, tonally separate from other DC Universe entries, its charismatic leads have opened up a new world of possibility in storytelling.

9/10

The show stars Brec Bassinger in the title role. Luke Wilson is playing S.T.R.I.P.E., alongside Joel McHale (Starman), Lou Ferrigno Jr. (Hourman), Henry Thomas (Dr. Mid-Nite), and Brian Stapf (Wildcat). Neil Hopkins (Sportsmaster), Joy Osmanski (Tigress), and Nelson Lee (Dragon King) will portray members of the Injustice Society.


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