CS Review: DC Universe’s Stargirl Brings ‘Optimistic Energy’ to the Superhero Realm
Before Stargirl arrives on DC Universe and on The CW next month, I had the opportunity to watch the first three episodes of the series and long story short, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the newest DC-based superhero show starring Brec Bassinger and Luke Wilson. *Minor spoilers below*
DC’s Stargirl follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) as she inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to stop the villains of the past. The new drama reimagines Stargirl and the very first superhero team, the Justice Society of America, in an unpredictable series that focuses on the character that started creator Geoff Johns’ career as a comic book writer when he created her in 1999, lovingly inspired by his late sister, Courtney, who was killed in the 1996 TWA flight 800 disaster.
The pilot kicks off by jumping right into the action, taking viewers back 10 years during the Golden Age of Heroes and the night it came to a halt after they had protected the world for decades. During an epic fight with Brainwave, Icicle, and their group of baddies, the heroes fall one by one, including Starman (Joel McHale) who tells his sidekick Stripesy, aka Pat Dugan (Wilson) that the legacy of the Justice Society of America (JSA) must survive, that someone “with honor and strength must carry the torch.” Starman makes it hilariously clear even as he lay dying that the next person to carry on his legacy is “definitely not” Pat, but remarks to his sidekick that he’s a good friend before he dies. The scene offers a glimpse of how the drama and humor neatly mesh together in the series, which carries on throughout the first three episodes.
A decade later we’re introduced to teen Courtney Whitmore (Bassinger), Pat’s new stepdaughter whose father vanished 10 years prior (coincidence? Probably not) leaving Courtney with years of missing an absent father and struggling with the possibility that he might have abandoned her and her mother, Barbara (Amy Smart). Courtney is a little cold towards Pat at first, rejecting the idea of anyone trying to replace her real dad and none-too-pleased that she has to leave behind her home for a new one as she moves with her mother, Pat, and Pat’s son Mike (Trae Romano) from Los Angeles, California to Blue Valley, Nebraska, where Barbara is starting a new job. The town isn’t just where Pat and Barbara first met, though, as we quickly learn that Pat has held onto all of the JSA’s records, artifacts, and maps, revealing that he’s looking for something specific in Blue Valley.
The town itself gives off a bit of an odd Pleasantville-vibe, but a few of the teenage bullies at Courtney’s new high school quickly reminds us that not everyone is as nice as they first appear — and a few may or may not be the offspring of some not-so-friendly parents, too. As Pat attempts to bond with Courtney as navigates her new life, the young Whitmore eventually comes across an old photo of the JSA and Starman’s cosmic staff in Pat’s storage. The staff essentially comes to life in Courtney’s presence, effectively choosing her to continue Starman’s legacy, which Courtney has a pretty strong theory about as to why she was chosen that turns into a borderline annoying point of contention between her and Pat. The cosmic staff is delightful as its own side character as the powerful weapon is basically sentient and capable of communicating with Courtney (that only she can understand) even encouraging the gymnast to adapt her athletic skills into becoming a superhero warrior as she takes on the Stargirl name.
Stargirl is heavily rooted in the bonds of family, a direct reflection of Johns and his co-creator Greg Berlanti’s main theme for the series. Johns created the DC comic Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. and the character following the death of his 18-year-old sister whose namesake and “spirit and optimistic energy” lives on in Stargirl. In the lead-up to the series premiere next month, Johns has stressed the importance of chosen family, in that “family is created by bond, not blood.” The strength of Courtney’s growing bond with Pat, who she has chosen as her trusty sidekick S.T.R.I.P.E. (the Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer engineered and manned by her stepdad) is the most important element of the show.
Brec Bassinger does a great job playing Courtney and her new costumed alter-ego, setting the tone for what fans can expect from the new series. Luke Wilson, however, is the key to making the show work as well as it does. He is believable as an endlessly loyal superhero sidekick who tries his best and is a genuine, protective father and husband you want to cheer for as much as you do Stargirl. Wilson has a special knack for delivering lines in a way that through another actor’s mouth might not hit your funny bone but he is excellent at making you crack a smile with his unique style of bringing certain pieces of dialogue to life that simply wouldn’t be as effective had someone else been cast in the role of Pat. When Courtney begins to discover Pat’s secret identity, for example, she questions if Pat is even his real name (referring to the fact that he used to be Starman’s sidekick Stripesy) and the way Wilson sincerely tells his stepdaughter “My name is Patrick” made me laugh out loud, and I’m not sure that moment would have played as well as it did had it not been for Wilson. For another example of the actor’s brilliance, keep an eye out for the scene where a certain bad guy is questioning Pat about his identity and watch Pat’s facial reaction to his own response when he says, “Someone looking for justice.”
Speaking of humor, another thing I enjoyed is how self-aware the show is with some of its cheesier superhero elements. Courtney isn’t afraid to point out how silly some of the heroes’ names are (Stripesy??) or calling out the supervillains’ Injustice Society label, for example, and I can always appreciate when a show can poke fun at itself.
Stargirl is generally light and fun with decent pacing and clever humor that fits well with this particular cast, and the show does a pretty nice job of addressing giant elephants in the room (though, we’re going to ignore Courtney practicing gymnastics with the cosmic staff out in the open in the middle of her neighborhood). Despite its lighter tone compared to some other DC superhero series, there are unexpected reminders, sometimes in the form of surprising deaths, that keep the show grounded with real consequences and very real stakes in the story, which is necessary in order to justify the need for a new Justice Society of America. By the end of the third episode, you’re ready to watch Stargirl rebuild the JSA with a group of budding superheroes along with her sidekick S.T.R.I.P.E. by her side, whether he likes it or not.
Stargirl will premiere on DC Universe on Monday, May 18, with episodes airing the following day on The CW as well as on The CW’s digital platforms.