The CW's latest DC Comics-inspired superhero drama, Black Lightning, is off to a great start. The show had the most-watched series premiere for the network in two years, pulled in big numbers for a re-broadcast of the pilot, and held steady in its second week.
And it isn't just ratings that the show is pulling in. Black Lightning has been one of the most talked about shows online as well with the series topping Twitter trends in the United States for hours after the first episode's broadcast, a pretty impressive feat for a show about a character that isn't as much a household name as some of the The CW's other offerings, like Supergirl or The Flash.
But solid ratings and social media chatter aren't the only reasons you should be tuning into Black Lightning. The series, which stars Cress Williams as the titular hero who returns to the vigilante world after a vicious gang's violence comes a little too close to home, may just be one of the best things on television. Offering more than just bad guys and masked heroes, Black Lightning is a show that is unique on a number of levels and is something that everyone should be watching. Not convinced? Well, we have seven reasons why you really should be watching Black Lightning.
Yes, Black Lightning is inspired by the DC Comics character of the same name, but you don't have to be a comic book fan to enjoy this show. Black Lightning isn't a "comic book" show in the sense of the Arrowverse shows. Instead of featuring alien superheroes, people granted superpowers in mysterious accidents, time travel, or even an archer in a mask going toe-to-toe with bad guys with guns, Black Lightning is more real, focusing less on Black Lightning's metahuman abilities and more on his non-heroic life as Jefferson Pierce, his family, and the same kind of details and issues we all deal with in day to day life.
Black Lightning is also not a comic book origin story. We aren't watching a regular guy transform into a hero. Instead, Black Lightning drops into the story several years after the hero put the suit away to be an ordinary person again. Instead of watching a hero be born, we're introduced to a man struggling with the idea of returning to his vigilante identity, not trying to build one. It may seem like a small detail, but it makes a difference. Black Lightning is confident in his abilities. His struggle is how he can best be of service -- as a vigilante or a plain-clothed hero.
That isn't to say that comic book fans wouldn't like Black Lightning. In fact, early reviews of the show by those with solid comic book knowledge and appreciation have, according to series star Christine Adams, given the show legitimacy.
"You guys are the legitimacy of doing a comic book show in the sense that the people who read comics and love that kind of material, it matters to us what they think," Adams told ComicBook.com "We know that this is an environment where there's a lot of superhero shows, so the fact that it's resonating with you is really exciting."
If comic book shows aren't your thing you should still be watching Black Lightning, because, even with the comic origins and the superpowered hero, Black Lightning is really a family show.
Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) gave up being a hero to put his family first. After his marriage came apart largely because of his masked alter ego, Jefferson walked away from heroics to instead be a respected high school principal and father, not only focusing on his own children but on bettering his community by focusing on the children in his school as well. And even beyond that, the story on Black Lightning is as much about the hero taking on the local gang, The 100, as it is about how that choice impacts his family especially as we discover that his older daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) develops superpowers herself. The family dynamic is something that Adams says makes Black Lightning special.
"I think what's special about our show is that we have a superhero, but really it’s about this family dynamic and how they navigate all the regular things a family would do with teenage daughters or if mom and dad were separated," Adams explained. "And, again, I think that is something that will really resonate with the audience because that feels really real and I think that's what they brought to it."
From the opening minutes of Black Lightning's pilot episode, it's clear that it's not an ordinary superhero series. While other shows in The CW's lineup have taken on real-life issues for an episode or two each season, real life issues and struggles are front and center on Black Lightning.
A prime example of this is what may be one of the most intense scenes in superhero television ever. Jefferson, with his daughters in the car, is pulled over and experiences both a small measure of police brutality as well as racial profiling. He manages to come out of the confrontation unscathed, but one only has to turn on the news to find real world examples of traffic stops that don't have such positive outcomes. And while the traffic stop scene is only one example, it's a very clear and sobering one that sets a very unflinching tone for the rest of the series that yes, Freeland needs a hero, but problems aren't going to be solved in an hour's time.
Another fantastic reason to watch Black Lightning are the women of the show. On Black Lightning, the female characters aren't relegated to being sidekicks or support for the hero. Instead, these women are strong characters in their own right with their own stories to tell.
Right off the bat, it's clear that Jefferson's ex-wife, Lynn (Christine Adams) is very much her own person and has her own thoughts about Black Lightning while their daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) are shown to be strong and independent in their own right. In the pilot, both girls stand up to men threatening them, relying on their own strength and intelligence. Black Lightning might be the name of the show, but the women are just as much heroes for themselves -- and in the case of Anissa, that is literally true. Fans will see her suit up as a superhero herself on the show, Thunder.
As great as the women of Black Lightning are, another reason you should be watching is the series' star, Cress Williams.
With a 20-plus year acting career, Williams not only brings a lot of experience to the table, but his performance as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning is layered and nuanced. It would be all to easy to see the character as just a father or just a hero, but Williams' performance weaves strands of both of the character's sides into a rich, dynamic character. When a former student of Jefferson's is killed, his rage and grief radiate off the screen. When he struggles with the idea of being Black Lightning again after years of being away from that life, you truly see him struggle in a way that feels real and unscripted. And Williams' performance isn't all seriousness, either. He has a few great, more light-hearted lines in the series as well, providing a perfect balance. Williams' Black Lightning is a real person, not just a brooding man in a mask.
Another reason to watch Black Lightning? Not only is the series taking on real issues, focusing on family, and bringing some truly amazing characters to life, but it's doing so in a way that is real and authentic.
Black Lightning stands out as one of the few black superheroes on television so getting the authenticity of the stories and the voice in which they are told critical. For series creator Salim Akil, getting that authenticity came from his own life and is something that is very personal for him.
"I just drew from my life," Akil said at the 2018 winter Television Critics Association press tour earlier this year. "Jefferson is already a community -based superhero, he's already a principal, he's already a father. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that were personal to me. I grew up in a community like Freeland. I was surrounded by those things that you see in Freeland and in Chicago and Oakland. It came naturally. It wasn't a choice made out of, 'Hey this is what we want to say.' It came out of a choice of, 'This is what I know, and this is what we know so let's do what's real. Let's do what's authentic and real to me,' which I think everybody embraces. I'm appreciative of that. It's very personal to me."
The authenticity of Black Lightning carries into the show's representation of the LGBTQ community, specifically one of the show's main characters.
In comics, Anissa Pierce is a lesbian, and that's something the show has has remained true to and confirmed in a way that doesn't make a spectacle of the situation. Instead of making a big announcement that Anissa is a lesbian, the show simply has her getting out of her girlfriend's bed. Later, the her parents even make reference to Anissa's love life without fanfare or drama -- Anissa being a lesbian is just a part of life, not what defines her. It's a powerful representation and one that is just another way Black Lightning is taking the superhero show to the next level.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdayas at 9/8c on The CW.