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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Black Lightning is a superhero drama with dark, mature themes and levels of violence, sexual content, and drugs that are intense for network TV. Black Lightning (aka Jefferson Pierce, played by Cress Williams) pointedly doesn't use guns during his many battles, but the bad guys do and are frequently shot (showing blood) and killed. Though Black Lightning sometimes turns to logic and reason to defuse violent situations and uses his bolts of electricity to subdue rather than kill, innocent bystanders sometimes get caught in the fray. Villains are more violent; for example, a major baddie shoots a man in the chest. There's also a sexual threat in some of the violence, like when gang members say that a woman should sell her body to pay a friend's debts. The show's violence is frequently intertwined with issues of race and/or class, with Black Lightning emerging when police officers engage in racial profiling (e.g., saying things like "get your black ass on the ground"). Women and people of color have strong central roles, and young women are able to set boundaries around sex, romance, and drugs. Expect same- and opposite-sex flirting, dating, and kissing, and language including "damn," "ass," "hell," and "bitch." A teenage main character is shown smoking and drinking at a club; later, she says she's a "little stoned"; drugs also play a part in gang activity. Adult characters drink cocktails, but no one acts tipsy.
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What's the story?
In troubled Freeland, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a man with standing -- and a secret. As the principal of charter high school Garfield, he helps guide young people from a neighborhood beset with drugs and gang activity to a bright future. But nine years ago, he was a different type of hero. As BLACK LIGHTNING, Jefferson has otherworldly powers over electricity, which he used to subdue crime boss Tobias Whale (Marvin "Krondon" Jones III) and protect Freeland -- until he was injured so severely that his wife, Lynn (Christine Adams), left him because she was tired of watching him kill himself slowly. Now, as Jefferson tries to stay true to his school and be a good father to his two daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), Freeland's menacing local 100 gang is ramping up, with a new plan for their town. It's time for Black Lightning to return -- to save Jefferson's family, and his town.
Is it any good?
By giving us a hero grappling with career and fatherhood as well as the criminals tearing up his town, the CW has gifted viewers with the most mature, complex superhero show to date. Cress Williams has gravitas to spare in his role as a community leader with a secret past, and his family relationships seem real and well-rounded: Jennifer and Anissa really seem like sisters, and like real, complicated women -- women who are chips off the old block and have secrets of their own. Will the TV version of Black Lightning follow the storylines of the DC comic, transforming Jennifer and Anissa into superheroes Lightning and Thunder? Only time will tell, but it seems likely.
But as good as it is when Black Lightning focuses on the Pierce family, it's even better when it adds relevant modern cultural commentary to the superheroics. Why, demands a black pundit on TV, is Black Lightning called a "vigilante" when in other communities people with superpowers (a wink to the other CW heroes in the Arrowverse?) are called "heroes"? Why can't police officers in Freeland tell the difference between Jefferson and the gang members who complicate his life? Set in a universe with racial politics that mirror current U.S. concerns, Black Lightning has extra relevance and interest for viewers who wish for a powerful guy who can zap the bad guys and magically make everything right.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about superhero dramas, and why they're popular on TV. What types of serial adventures does a superhero setup make possible? Why do people like them? Do they wish they could have superpowers like the characters on TV? How is Black Lightning like or different from other superhero dramas on TV?
Comic book adaptations are common on TV and in movies. What other adaptations can you name? Is it more enjoyable or less enjoyable to watch a show when you haven't read the comic books on which it's based?
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