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The Electricity of 'Black Lightning' on The CW
January 16, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

The fiercest competition in the superhero game these days may be which one is the most reluctant to play, and Black Lightning’s return catapults him right to the head of that hand-wringing class.

So things get wrenching pretty fast for title character Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams, top) when the new Black Lightning debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

That’s good, by the way, for us the viewers. Nothing like tormented ambivalence to add extra dimension during a beatdown of some serious bad guys.

The backstory, which is efficiently packed into the first episode, reveals Jefferson quit the superhero game nine years ago because it had torn apart his family.

Black Lightning has impressive powers, like suspending bad guys in the air with lightning bolts from his hands, but he’s not invincible. He’s vulnerable to, say, bullets, as well as lesser injuries.

In his earlier run as Black Lightning, Jeff got hurt often and badly enough that his wife Lynn (Christine Adams) divorced him, saying she couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t want to subject their daughters to it, either.

 Jeff and Lynn still get along, though, and they share custody of Anissa (Nafessa Williams), who is in medical school, and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), who’s a star high school student and track athlete.

Jennifer is also something of a rebel, which bothers her father a lot. That’s a problem for Jennifer because two years after he retired from the Black Lightning biz, he became principal of Garfield, the local high-achiever high school Jennifer attends.

Garfield, has increasingly become a small oasis of decency and order in a community that has been increasingly terrorized by The 100, a vicious gang that seems to have overwhelmed local law enforcement.

And yes, we can all pause for just a moment here to acknowledge that the CW also carries a show titled The 100, in which the title characters are pretty much good guys. The crossover possibilities here seem too rich to contemplate.

In any case, it turns out that to keep Garfield from deteriorating into another gang battleground, Jeff has cut a hands-off deal with a former student who went bad and is now a 100 leader.

These deals sometimes don’t work out, though, and when the 100 threatens to encroach on not just the school, but Jeff’s family, he finds himself tempted once more to clench his fists and let his eyes narrow into that superhero gleam.

That would, however, come at a price. He’d love to get back with Lynn, so he’s not necessarily eager to return to what led her to divorce him in the first place.

Also, he likes being a principal and running a school. Not only does he get beaten up and shot less often, he’s convinced that by educating disciplined, focused kids, he’s making an even more important long-term difference.

To get us into this story and frame Jeff’s dilemma as expediently as possible, the first episode sets up a few situations that seem to stretch logic. As a consequence, they give no solid clue about how we can expect good and evil to line up in coming weeks.

By contrast, we get a slow build to the fellow who seems like a contender to become the Big Bad, Tobias (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, right).

He and Jeff have a backstory of conflict. The real conflict in Black Lightning, however, is Jeff Vs. Jeff. Let the self-doubt, the ambivalence and the second-guessing begin.

 
 
 
 
 
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