TV

‘Stargirl’ Is A Beacon Of Superheroic Optimism And Joy

Stargirl originally received the greenlight for DC Universe, but never fear if you don’t subscribe because, like other shows birthed for that screening service, this series is also landing in second location: The CW Network. Likewise, Doom Patrol will soon continue with a second season on HBO Max, Harley Quinn is now pushing through its sophomore turn on Syfy, and Swamp Thing looks to be moving to The CW in the near future. Yes, it’s confusing, but I have a hunch that the DC Universe shows could all end up being absorbed into HBO Max at some point (with DC Universe ceasing to exist as a standalone service). Putting that speculation aside, what’s important, in this moment, is that Stargirl exists, and it’s a surprisingly sweet and enjoyable, live-action treat.

A little history here might be helpful. Much of the initial talk about this show revolved around Joel McHale’s announced casting as Starman, and let’s just say that Joel’s take on the character has been retooled a bit from the comics. Without getting too nerd-detailed here, it’s enough to say that this Starman could be described as DC’s version of Captain America, and in the TV show, he’s a springboard for the rightful focuses of this series: Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) and her stepdad, Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson). He’s a grown-up, former sidekick (S.T.R.I.P.E.) of Starman, who has apparently long since given up the life. She’s a slightly resentful, pain-in-the-butt teenager at first, but she’s ultimately a good egg. And for whatever reason, she’s able to pick up Starman’s cosmic staff and assume the mantle of Stargirl, much to the concern of Pat, who knows what this thing can do.

DC Universe

That’s a little muddled if we’re talking about the tweaking of DC Comics canon, but as far as comic book TV/movie origin stories go, it’s pretty straightforward. There’s, of course, some mystery to be settled about why the cosmic staff chooses Courtney, which doesn’t entirely become clear in the three episodes screened for critics, but it’s nice to have a little ambiguity even though we can probably guess what happened. Yet the process of putting this character on TV follows a real-life origin story, for Courtney was born from a bittersweet inspiration. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

This show comes from creator Geoff Johns, who also created the Stargirl comic book series in 1999 as a tribute to his late sister, who perished in an airplane accident. Two decades later, the character’s on the small screen as Courtney, who unwillingly transplants to Nebraska after her mother (Amy Smart) marries Pat. Pat’s previous adventures are a secret to mom, but he’s in possession of Starman’s staff. And it’s a surprise to both Pat and Courtney when she can pick up the energy-shooting weapon, which McHale previously told us is kind-of like Thor’s hammer because only certain folks are worthy to hold it. Again, McHale actually doesn’t have a huge role in this series, but he makes the most of his screentime with his patented brand of sarcasm that rivals the likes of Deadpool.

The heart of this series, at least at the beginning, revolves around how “family” bonds don’t need to be tied to blood, as we see through Courtney’s blossoming relationship with Pat. He’s protective even as she bristles against him, although Courtney doesn’t have a tragic childhood history like other teens-turned-superheroes (Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Billy Batson/Shazam!). She’s simply a relatable teen who faces common fish-out-of-water obstacles. Wilson and his jawline, which are past the days of playing a frat boy or heartthrob, form a solid paternal presence, and Brec Bassinger (once Courtney gets past being angry about Nebraska) exudes a take-no-BS attitude. Courtney’s also inherently good, not only against supervillains but against all the a-holes that one runs into in high-school hallways. So, she’s able to accrue some karma-points for when Stargirl needs to do some recruiting to assemble a New Justice Society.

DC Universe

I don’t want to spoil the hows-and-whys of why Stargirl must form a fresh organization, but it’s enough to say that, as far as the CW’s Arrowverse connections go, Stargirl stands separate from that crowd, at least for now. This show’s special effects are also more sophisticated than what you’d see on The Flash and so on. And in Courtney’s new hometown, Blue Valley, there’s been the infiltration of city officials who have ties to a rogues gallery calling themselves the Injustice League. Courtney’s got a solid right-or-wrong barometer, so she’s not about to let this stand. It’s actually a very simple story that’s unmotivated by anything other than a good person who simply enjoys kicking evil people’s asses, and she’s thrilled that she can do it. That’s pretty refreshing in an era full of superhero nuance and overdone context, along with arguably sympathetic villains and antheroes. Sometimes you just wanna watch the bad guys — who are clearly bad guys — go down, right? Stargirl is here for you in that way.

Once one gets past all the history and adjustments that brought Stargirl to TV, this series is simply enjoyable (and un-stressful) to watch. The first few episodes put Courtney (and Pat, who rolls around town in a massive robot suit, and that’s not as corny as it sounds) up against their first adversary, Icicle (Jordan Mahkent), who’s created quite a cover story for himself in Nebraska. We get to see Courtney’s first f*ck-ups with the staff, and her gymnastics moves, and her slight imperfections that make her a believable, but not grating, teen presence. All of this points toward promise for this series, especially in a time when we could all use some unadulterated joy in our own lives.

Ultimately, Stargirl carries much of the same aura as Shazam!, only more wholesome and kid-viewer-friendly. She’s not nauseatingly bubbly, but her intentions are pure, and she doesn’t let injustice (especially after a frozen supervillain wants to kill people on a highway) happen unchecked. The show isn’t high art, of course, but it’s funny and optimistic and gadget-filled and a breeze to watch. As the season proceeds, we’ll see Courtney bring other young heroes into the fold, including the new Hourman (Lou Ferrigno Jr., who grew up with The Incredible Hulk at home, so it really is a new generation here) and new Wildcat (Yvette Monreal), to fully face off with the Injustice Society. The introductory episodes show a lot of promise, so, hopefully, it will continue to be a pleasure to watch this series unfold.

‘Stargirl’ will debut on the DC Universe streaming service on Monday, May 18, and then on Tuesday, May 19 on The CW.

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