Thursday, September 09, 2021

Stargirl, Season Two: I Hate Stargirl Less

I watched the first five episodes of the new (second) season of Stargirl (which I have not been kind to in the past).  

I'm enjoying it more than the first season, which introduced so many characters, but (literally) wasted a lot of them.  Courtney is still irritating but at least she (and others) seem to be more aware of it.  Cindy ("Shiv") remains (and remains irritating) as Courtney's underwhelming foe, but that shouldn't surprise me since she's obviously designed as an anti-Courtney.  Beth Chapel continues to grow on me as a character and I actually said "I love you, Beth!" more than once out loud (which perhaps her parents should consider doing). I particularly enjoy her unexpected chemistry with Rick Tyler.  Sometimes the show wallows in dated stereotypes, but I give it credit: it often demonstrates that modern teens aren't as trapped by such stereotypes as previous generations were, and the relationship between Rick and Beth is a good example.

The annoying parts remain annoying (I'll get to that in a minute), but the show's gotten darker and more interesting and that helps.  Whereas last season's challenge was definitely a rule-the-country cabal of costumed villains, Eclipso is a cosmic-horror nightmare whom you can't punch into submission.  The show has done a wonderful job with the Shade, which is impressive, considering what a tricky character he is.  He's simply intrinsically threatening and even when he's on "your side", it's not exactly comforting.  Things will get darker still when Jennie/Jade finds her brother Todd/Obsidian, who has darkness powers as well.

Somehow they managed to work Paintball, of all people, into this mix, as an unexpected treat; even though it was a stretch, I enjoyed it.

So, I'm enjoying the main plot.  Meanwhile, the JSA is expanding (Green Lantern's daughter Jade shows up, as does the Thunderbolt and some original members will be popping up) and a new Injustice Society is forming (I'm jazzed for Fiddler Junior, whose actor seems good).  Beth is facing up to the realities of her homelife, Rick is taking an unexpectedly humane approach to an old problem, Cameron and Courtney continue to fail to be a couple, and Artemis's parents give us a surprisingly complex view of parenthood.

I do continue to be annoyed by endless examples of Dramedy Ridiculousness that riddle the show needlessly.  Such as...

There is no internet. Sylvester "Star-Spangled Kid/Starman" Pemberton, the genius who invented the nearly-magical technology of the cosmic staff, is crawling his way across the country, looking for breadcrumbs to locate his former sidekick, Pat "Stripesy" Dugan, including asking Pat's ex-wife who is (of course) a waitress at a diner, like this is an episode of Route 66 (look it up, kids).  Hey, Sly; try Google. Pat didn't even bother to change his name and he owns a business, so you know there is a record of that on-line (and on the Pit Stop's website, and don't try to tell me it doesn't have one).  How did he find Pat's ex-wife if he can't find Pat? Ridiculous.  The ONLY possible save will be if, when he does find Pat, Starman says, "it never occurred to be that you'd be dumb enough not to change your name."  That would be pretty on-model for both characters.

Surprise vacation plans! Uh-huh.  In real life, parents do not spring 'surprise vacation plans' on the children and then react with disbelief when the children are not thrilled.  This is a sitcom thing to manufacture conflict.  It's believable that parents might have a different idea for their children of what constitutes a good vacation, but their IDEA would definitely be mentioned to the children before plans were made.  And the dog would not get a vote.  Ridiculous.  Please spare us these cringeworthy moments that make the family unlikeable.  Also, the kids clearly don't need or want a trip; not being in school is vacation enough for them.  The parents could easily go away for two weeks on their own and let someone look after the kids while they are away.  Besides... those kids are old enough to take care of THEMSELVES for two weeks. I'm pretty sure if you can defeat the Injustice Society, you can manage to feed yourself for a fortnight.

Catholic guilt! Ugh; Yolanda Montez.  I guess she's just going to be the Permanent Self-Doubt Character.  Look, we can all tell that Brainwave is living rent-free in her head somewhere and that's the cause of her headaches. But OF COURSE she's interpreting that as guilt issues for killing him.  Look, I don't mean to dismiss that killing someone, even in self-defense, would be pretty traumatizing for a teenager (anyone, really).  But saddling the Catholic Latina character with this issue?  Like a lot of the characterization choices on the show, it just seems a bit lazy.  Also, the blatant retcon of Mike's vehicular murder of Icicle as an 'accident' so that only Yolanda has this guilt issue was embarrassing.  Apparently the writers finally noticed that what was a joke when Mike did it was supposed to be trauma/drama when Yolanda did it, and I'm not even going address the sexism of that.  

No More Secrets, Except This One.  The computer that writes CW scripts is simply unable to write them without the Secrets Quadrille:

  1. Characters Keep Secrets from One Another
  2. That Causes Problems and They Uncover Those Secrets
  3. Their Feelings are Hurt, but they Work through Them and Promise "No More Secrets!"
  4. Something Even More Important Comes Up, That One of them Has to Keep from the Other(s) for their Safety; Repeat

This was already trite before CW started doing it. In every show. In every season.  Please stop embarrassing yourself and us with this routine.  Reality check: the parents in this show have been letting their children run around fighting supervillains TO THE DEATH.  Not telling them that Eclipso killed a little girl because you 'didn't want to scare them' is laughably unbelievable.  The Shade seems like he's actually interested in protecting the children; you just seem like you're interested in protecting them from the truth. He's protecting their lives; you're protecting their innocence.

Padlock Security. You know, Pat, if you really don't want someone to be able to find S.T.R.I.P.E. so easily, you might at least put it in A BOX.  

Arbitrary School.  Parents cannot simply enroll you in summer school to keep you out of trouble, Yolanda.  You can't flunk History and English without noticing it, Courtney. You can't just make a student take a second entirely different final after they pass one, Ms. Rick's Teacher, without having to justify that to the Administration.  You can't call parents in on the last day of school and tell them their child has flunked and has to go to summer school with no prior warning, Mr. Principal.  And someone really should have mentioned that THERE IS A SUPERVILLAIN HIDEOUT under the school so the building could be closed to clear that out during the summer.


Bryan L said...

I'm a sucker for anything Justice Society (looks over at the set of JSA action figures next to my desk) so I'm all in for Stargirl. Yes, there are too many CW moments (like the family vacation, or lying to each other, or heck, Courtney, just kiss the boy before you run off to your JSA alert -- you'll get there 30 seconds later). At this point I treat them like I treat commercials and completely ignore them.

The Shade is a delight. The show is 200% better any time he's on the screen.

I liked the emphasis on the Thunderbolt being a genie and taking things literally. It's a good check on his omnipotence if his master has to stop and think before wishing. I still prefer "say you" to "so cool" though.

I like the sentient Cosmic Rod. I like the sentient Midnight goggles. I love the character of Hourman (I always like heroes with specific limitations who have to THINK before acting -- Ultra Boy falls into this category for me too), but I'm not sold on this version yet. Wildcat is completely meh. The guilt business is getting old fast.

But I'm still watching.

John C said...

The Mike/Yolanda distinction reminds me of how, over on Flash, it was never innately a problem when someone gained powers--including when someone like Wally was given the powers he wished for by the season's villain--until Caitlin got powers. Then, it was a source of fear and shame, until her "power" turned out to just be another character...or whatever the heck that situation is supposed to be. I feel like part of it also stems from the fact that Monreal is basically playing half her age, and "I'm sure my debilitating PTSD will get better on its own, so I'm not even going to mention it" seems silly from a woman her age.

To be (mildly) fair to the dramedy aspects, though, my mother pulled the "surprise vacation" thing on my sister and me, twice, when I was around that age. Granted, that happened in a different century, a weird time when DC was pushing Rick Tyler, Beth Chapel, and Yolanda Montez as the new generation of heroes, as other titles were working out the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and...huh, déjà vu. Anyway, Courtney and Mike took it better than I did.

But yeah, in our world, searching for Patrick Dugans that are around Luke Wilson's age in the United States only turns up about a dozen addresses, which wouldn't be hard to check. On the other hand, Pat basically moved three or four months ago in the show's timeline, so it could take time for the profiles to update, especially if the house is in Barbara's name.

And yes, the Crocks were a highlight of the show so far. After last season, I didn't expect to enjoy their episode at all. To give them all space to grow, I still wish that the previous season's plot wasn't so heavy-handed, though, with the "sure, they're doing good things, but people might get hurt when they do it--plus the word Injustice is in their name--so we need to stop them violently. Helping them do it without hurting people, I think we can agree, is entirely off the table, even though we allegedly have the same goals..." Hopefully, Eclipso won't turn out to be the "evil environmentalist" trope who just hates light pollution.

Dave said...

This season is marginally better than the first, but that's a bar so low a snake in a hat couldn't get under it.

Because of her little-girl voice and characterization, Bassigner will always be the weak link on this show, though DeLacy is a very close second. I'm sorry; I'm not 14 and don't see a mean girl as a plausible villain. But then, that's always been the problem with the show; Inifinty Inc. was full of kids and teens, but they were smart and capable, rather than a bunch of troubled teens. This bunch is just plain dumb, because the Arrowverse demands that its main characters have IQs hovering around room temperature and never learn from their mistakes.

The only real saving graces to the show are its deep cuts to JSA and DC history, Cake as The Shade (truly a delight), and Hopkins and Osmanski as The Sportsmaster and The Tigress. The whole parenting thing is a nice change of pace.

As bad as Stargirl is, though, it's like The Wire compared to the train wreck that Supergirl has become. That show can't end too quickly.

Scipio said...

"DeLacy is a very close second"; their attempts to make her character sympathetic with a sad backstory backfire for me. Basically, she's just choosing to be terrible person at every opportunity, for no apparent reason, when her every experience should direct her differently.

Anonymous said...

I used to enjoy "Supergirl" immensely; now it doesn't know how to make me care about what's going on. Supergirl sometimes inspires hope, and that much is right; but J'onn has lost all connection with his comic book version (wise pater familias tinged with loss) and mostly the show is a bunch of stuff happening that I find hard to get invested in.

Which is more or less where I was with "Stargirl" season 1, with the added obstacles that 1) we were to believe that plucky teenagers could prevail against career villains primarily through teenage pluck and 2) it was very much a Mary-Sue-athon. (It's easy to call any protagonist you don't like a "Mary Sue", but I would argue that the stories were in service to showing us how wonderful Courtney was rather than Courtney being written to tell a story, which is about as clear a definition as you'll get.)