With DC Comics shows one of the mainstays on The CW, if you don't know anything about the world of Black Lightning, you might expect it to fall in line with those mainstays when it premieres on Tuesday, January 16.
Add to the fact Black Lightning is airing behind one of the more joyous entries of The CW DC TV comics, The Flash, and that impression could grow.
Black Lightning is unlike any other show currently airing on The CW. It's a mature, dark look at a metahuman family called to the forefront to fight the heinous crime syndicates tearing their city apart.
There are two episodes available to critics as of this review. I didn't know much about Black Lightning going in and let the show introduce me in its own time what it is all about.
After watching (which I've done twice now), my head was swimming with thoughts, both positive and negative.
Do not expect the same of Black Lightning.
It's established straight away this isn't the fun and games comics show to which we've become accustomed. There isn't a lot of time for light-hearted comedic jabs to lower the tension because the characters on Black Lightning live in a tension-filled world.
Cress Williams stars as Jefferson Pierce, the principal at Garfield High. A metahuman, he once kept crime under control in his city. But when his lifestyle threatened to tear apart his family, he determined he could save more people with his job at Garfield than he ever could as Black Lightning.
Except he's losing a war only he was fighting.
There aren't a bunch of goofy named and costume-clad villains streaking through the streets, but criminals that look just like those that terrorize the neighborhoods of Anytown, USA.
Tobias Whale is one of the biggest bads and with the 100 gang poses an enormous threat to Pierce personally and his community. It's a threat high enough to force Black Lightning out of retirement, even if he tells his ex-wife, Lynne (Christine Adams) it's only temporary.
There isn't snappy banter and clever trickery used by Tobias or 100 to take down their victims. They'll use their bare hands and the barrel of a gun to make quick work of those unlucky enough to cross them.
There is no fun in seeing them display their "powers," which consist, at least so far, of nothing more than death and mayhem. It's cold, painful, and from the darkest places inside their minds.
If Oliver Queen struggles with being the Arrow because of the depths to which he must sink to save the innocent, it's hard to imagine the mindset of Jefferson Pierce.
The villains he deals with aren't crazy psychopaths with their fingers on nuclear buttons, but regular people towing the line between living a life and being a disastrous threat to the humanity.
If you haven't tired of hearing other "superheroes" whine about their lot in life, you will after walking a few days in Black Lightning's suit. They're living on easy street by comparison.
Pierce's two daughters, Jennifer (China Ann McClain) and Anissa (Nafesssa Williams) are feeling the pull of their biology and metahuman abilities as they grow older. They've not seen their father in action in a long time, nor do they probably recall the chasm it created between their parents.
While it's inevitable this is going to become a family affair, it's hard to cheer on the girls because their father gets so little joy out of the tough task set before him.
James Remar also stars as Gambi, Black Lightning's version of Batman's Alfred. By the second episode he hasn't been utilized that much, but I'd imagine his expertise in suit creation and keeping Black Lightning save when powered up will be coming in handy as Thunder and Lightning (Anissa and Jennifer) suit up, as well.
As the first black superhero show, Black Lightning is very comfortable in its skin. The language and music – the culture – is authentic and natural.
I appreciate the show being what it is and not holding back for any reason. It's not trying to compete with any other comics shows currently airing. It's the toughest, most hard-core DC TV show to hit broadcast TV.
I can't help but wish the state of our country today didn't warrant such a straight look at the culture of violence that is prevalent in so many neighborhoods across the United States or the fairytale suggestion that only a metahuman family could rise up to break it down from what it's become.
That's never going to happen, so does that mean all is lost? I know that's not the message, yet a part of me wouldn't have minded Tobias Whale being less than such a hardened human if only to remind me to have some fun.
Where Black Lightning goes from here, I don't know. The family dynamic is a welcome one, and the imagination explodes wondering how they will come together to help their community without losing their tether to reality.
Yet, Black Lightning also has such a firm grasp on reality it's hard not to wonder if just a little of the enjoyment might be lost to the brutality of the world in which the Pierce's live.
It's a well-drawn, fully realized world that needs a hero (or three) like Black Lightning. If you have kids, watch first and then watch with them. The characters aren't going to head into the Lazarus Pit for a spa resurrection day if they meet their end as they do on other DC TV shows.
The violence might be pointed or pointless, but that's how it is in our world, so why not the world of Black Lightning? It's frightening merely walking the streets sometimes, and it doesn't look like that will go unnoticed here.
The world is about to discover how difficult it is to be a superhero when the villains look like you and me and not a bunch of trussed up dandies in bright colors as reality and comics collide in this powerful CW first. Let's allow the Pierce family get to work!
Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16 at 9/8c only on The CW.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.