Starring: Brec Bassinger, Luke Wilson, Amy Smart, Trae Romano
Writer: Geoff Johns
Director: Glen Winter
Executive Producers: Greg Berlanti, Greg Beeman, Melissa Carter, Geoff Johns
Network: The CW
Stargirl is the latest comic book series to hit the small screen, with a debut episode that is full of potential. Not to be confused with the Disney+ series of the same name, Stargirl is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the short-lived comic book series “Stars and STRIPE,” written by show creator Geoff Johns. The comic introduced readers to Courtney Whitmore, an enthusiastic teen girl who discovers her new stepfather Pat Dugan is the former sidekick to Golden Age-hero the Star-Spangled Kid. Despite her recklessness and youthful exuberance, Courtney becomes the bearer of the Cosmic Staff. This all-purpose item primarily serves as an energy weapon, as well as Courtney’s mode of transportation.
The debut episode, aptly titled “Pilot,” keeps much of this core concept intact, including Courtney’s (Brec Bassinger) tense relationship with her stepdad Pat (Luke Wilson) and plants the seeds for their eventual bond. It’s also packed with Easter eggs and moments of fan service that never distract from what is otherwise a fairly typical origin story, albeit one that ends on a helluva cliffhanger. The respect to the source material is evident throughout, from references to the larger DC universe to the smaller character moments. Even some brief exposition that reveals Pat’s history with super-heroics and inclusion in the Justice Society of America is lifted directly from the comics.
The episode starts with a bang as Pat races to assist the JSA during what may be their final battle. It’s an exciting sequence that is both brutal and dark. And when I say dark, I don’t just mean tone, although the term certainly applies. The production values are on-par with shows like The Flash and Supergirl. There’s such a dark hue over the entire cold open that it’s difficult to see what’s happening.
While this may be a deliberate attempt at cost-cutting, it’s a shame because there’s a lot of spectacle in those first few minutes. This is only one of a few issues, which include the not-so-subtle name dropping by Pat, whose only lines during the battle are exclaiming the name of the hero on-screen at any given time. There are also some amusing lines from a certain character late in the scene that seems natural for the actor (who I won’t reveal here), but feel oddly out-of-place in the context of the scene. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also somewhat weird?
The rest of the episode is a very by-the-numbers origin, complete with a brief training sequence and the hero misusing her newfound powers to get back at some jerks. Rather than rely on fan service to elevate the story, writer Geoff Johns crafts an accessible narrative with flawed, relatable characters portrayed by a skilled and likable cast. One of the show’s best assets is the family dynamic with Luke Wilson bringing his patented “aw-shucks” attitude to the very blue-collar Pat, whose hopeful optimism is incredibly endearing. Wilson has solid chemistry with Amy Smart, who plays Courtney’s mom, and newcomer Trae Romano brings some energetic fun to Courtney’s stepbrother Mike.
As the titular hero, Brec Bassinger proves to be a more-than-capable lead. She brings enough depth and charisma to keep Courtney from being just another angsty teen. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare quite as well, with several unnamed characters coming and going. Frankly, I couldn’t tell which of Courtney’s new classmates were actually part of the cast and which were just extras.
Despite its few flaws, Stargirl is a solid addition to The CW’s DC lineup. It seems to exist outside the main Arrowverse, which makes it perfectly accessible to all viewers. The family-friendly vibe also puts this more in-line with Supergirl or even Smallville but never feels heavy-handed. There are also plenty of subtle nods, such as Courtney’s wardrobe being comprised of the same colors that she’ll eventually don in her superhero guise (possibly as early as the next episode). There’s also a last-minute reveal that guarantees I’ll be setting my DVR to record again next week!