Stargirl – Season 1 Episode 1
The first new Arrowverse show post-“Crisis On Infinite Earths“ technically isn’t yet a part of it as it takes place on Earth-2, one planet in the rebuilt multiverse that the residents of the newly minted Earth-Prime mistakenly believe no longer exists, but things will probably get linked back up sooner or later. We follow high school student Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), who after a chance discovery is set on the path to becoming a superhero.
Prior to this, we get a fantastic action sequence set ten years previously, featuring the Justice Society under a co-ordinated attack by the Injustice Society (let it never be said that naming conventions are inconsistent), leaving the heroes either dead or scattered and putting an end to the Golden Age of Heroes. It also efficiently sets the scene of what kind of world we’re looking at; this kind of overt and colourful histrionics would have been out of place even in the unbridled lunacy of Legends of Tomorrow, but on this world they are seen to be something that has existed for decades. After Starman (Joel McHale) lies dying he entrusts his Cosmic Staff to his sidekick Stripesy (Luke Wilson), a name that will never not sound stupid, who escapes the destruction and goes into hiding.
Jumping to the present, we meet Courtney, a teenage girl reluctantly relocating after her mother Barbara (Amy Smart) gets a new job in her home town, moving along with her stepfather Pat, secretly the former Stripesy, and stepbrother Mike (Trae Romano). Barbara and Mike have little to do so far except contrast their swift love of the town with Courtney’s dismissal of it, but they provide some engaging family dynamics, and their presence will doubtless have greater significance as the series progresses. Most notably, the Nebraska settlement appears to be a time capsule of 1950s Americana, with perpetual sunshine gleaming from the sky, classic cars growling along clear streets decorated in primary colours, strangers greeting each other with warm smiles, drive-in movies, diners, and probably jukeboxes in the corner playing Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. It’s like what the Archie comics might look like brought to live action, if Riverdale didn’t already exist and hadn’t transformed the setting into a demented pileup of Twin Peaks, softcore erotica, slasher movies and after school specials. The nostalgic scenery also serves to set the series apart from the modern metropolises in which the previous Arrowverse shows have taken place, welcomingly creating something a little different.
As for our heroine, to be honest, Courtney doesn’t make the most auspicious of first impressions. She’s sullen, moody, sarcastic, and resistant to Pat’s attempts to be civil to her in spite of her behaviour. In other words, she’s pretty much a typical teenager, and portraying her to be just as prone to the standard foibles of youth will mark her ascension to a superheroine as being even more special. It’s difficult to get a read on who she actually is, as much of what we see of her is a result of her resentment at having to move across country, believing her life to have been ruined by a decision she had neither any part in nor choice but to go along with it. As we see nothing of her life in Los Angeles, it’s unclear if her petulance is in any way justified, but on the other hand doing so would have stretched out the episode’s already measured pace and made this nearly hour-long opener even lengthier.
Courtney’s first day at school reveals the place to be populated by the likes of obnoxious bully jocks who torment people fellow pupils with impunity, vacuous cheerleaders interested in nothing but social status, and ostracised weirdos too isolated and socially outcast to even band together. While such dated social dynamics match the retro stylings of the town, setting and characterisation are two separate things, with one to create atmosphere and the other to offer something to relate to, thus the teenagers are presented as little more than an assortment of formulaic tedium.
I’ll concede that my knowledge of the average American high school experience comes filtered through TV and film, but even if the tropes of old movies were in any way accurate in the first place, I’d be very surprised to learn they’ve never progressed in the intervening decades. Perhaps that’s the point, to create in this nowhere town an isolated pocket of hyper-reality where such passé clichés can somehow still exist, but it’s a distracting throwback that immediately smacks of nothing but a lack of imagination. It’s also possible that the artificiality is entirely intentional and will play into a later revelation that the town is being purposefully veiled in a time warp that somehow allows the villains among its populace to hide from the world (it’s tacitly suggested by Pat’s heavily annotated map that he has been tracking them), but for the moment it’s a distracting disappointment.
Anyway, we didn’t come to this show for social commentary and family drama. We came for the tale of a nascent superheroine developing her abilities, and when that comes around at the halfway point with Courtney’s discovery of the Cosmic Staff, it suddenly kicks things into a higher gear. That she is intrigued but not shocked by the existence of a glowing rod that wilfully defies the laws of physics reinforces the idea that superpowered people and objects might not be commonplace on this Earth, but neither are they unheard of among the general populace.
Establishing Courtney as a talented gymnast justifies her natural agility, and when she progresses to crime fighting it will give her a physical edge that a neophyte vigilante might otherwise lack. The intuitive way she blends the staff’s physical capabilities with her own honed dexterity bodes well for her future as a masked hero, acting as a springboard for developing her abilities, and as she leaps, spins and flies with the staff her unadulterated joy is positively infectious.
The staff is shown to display a degree of sentience, something not seen in the comics, possessing an impetuous, impulsive and mischievous personality, and one more expressive than many of the episode’s supporting cast, coming off like a child craving excitement and adventure. This will create an interesting dynamic between it and Courtney, as she won’t be able to just brandish it as a weapon, but will have to develop a symbiosis with it if she wants it to do her bidding and accept her as a worthy successor to its former master.
It’s not made clear exactly why the staff chose Courtney as its new wielder, as the only flash of heroism we see is her standing up to some cafeteria thugs without a moment’s hesitation. The reason will doubtless become a plot point later, wherein Courtney will have to learn to believe in herself, but for the moment it’s posited that one of the JSA is her absent father because this is the CW and one way or another, everything eventually comes down to family. And love triangles, but we’ll have to wait for that one. Starman is such an obvious candidate he’s mentioned straight away, so that clearly won’t be accurate. It’s highly unlikely that the mystery identity will turn out to be an insignificant thief as in the comics, and a far more interesting possibility is one of the Injustice Society turning out to be the deadbeat in question, leading to future potential of him trying to turn her to the Dark Side once they each learn of the other’s identity.
On the subject of villains, several are introduced beyond their masked alter egos seen in the prologue. Some, such as Icicle (Neil Jackson), are revealed without ambiguity and some are shown with a modicum of subtlety, while others are for the moment only potential and set up to possibly ascend in the future. Courtney’s brief climactic bout against Brainwave (Christopher James Baker) was a good way to finish the episode, displaying the basics of her physical capabilities that will be incorporated into her fighting style, but not making her too proficient right out of the gate. To cap it off, Pat appears piloting his mecha S.T.R.I.P.E. (a totally-not-a-backronym of Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer), leaving things on a pivotal moment just about to be catapulted into entertaining madness.
A measured opening that sets the scene well for the journey of discovery and excitement to come. Some aspects are overfamiliar to the point of cliché, but it’s hopeful they’re merely fronts for greater depth that will be later revealed. Courtney still needs to grow into herself, but there is promise for her to develop into a compelling heroine. Similarly, the possibility for Stargirl to become something original and special is there, if not completely revealed, and hopefully it can eventfully realise its potential.
- Courtney’s potential as a hero
- the distinct setting
- the Cosmic Staff’s sentience
- the opening battle
- Courtney’s general attitude
- the dated portrayal of high school
- most of Courtney’s family having little to do
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