“Summer School: Chapter One” ups the teen drama while also showing that nothing seems to have been lost in the show’s move to The CW.
This recap of Stargirl season 2, episode 1, “Summer School: Chapter One”, contains spoilers.
Stargirl was one of the most pleasant surprises in last year’s small-screen superhero landscape; a totally earnest, enthusiastic, and surprisingly expensive-looking high-school drama that was also packed with great action, worthwhile themes, and personable performances. There was plenty of worry that the show would lose some or indeed all of these qualities in its move from the DC Universe to the CW, where superhero properties tend to be given a pocket-money budget and left to die of old age (Superman and Lois notwithstanding). The good news is that Stargirl season 2, which premiered with “Summer School: Chapter One”, continues exactly where things left off, in exactly the same form, more or less – and more of this wholesome slice of superhero life can only be a good thing.
Stargirl season 2, episode 1 recap
But the smartest decision that the Stargirl Season 2 premiere makes is not allowing the show to become an outright superhero drama, even after all the chaos of the previous season. Courtney (Brec Bassinger) feels she still has responsibilities to the staff, to her friends Yolanda/Wildcat (Yvette Monreal), Rick/Hour Man (Cameron Gellman), and Beth/Doctor Mid-Nite (Anjelika Washington), and to fight against the Injustice Society of America. But she also has responsibilities to her mother, Barbara (Amy Smart), stepdad Pat (Luke Wilson), stepbrother Mike (Trae Romano), and herself. She must go back to school, get good grades, and think about a career. This whole superhero thing doesn’t have the best pension or health insurance schemes, after all.
This isn’t to say that “Summer School: Chapter One” forgets all about the ISA or their nefarious schemes – it even opens with a decades-earlier flashback to Eclipso killing Doctor Mid-Nite’s daughter, teeing up some of the overarching plot and character drama that is obviously going to power this second season. For now, though, the kids are aimless, and what’s more, is they’re dealing with a host of personal problems stemming from everything they experienced in the last outing.
Courtney herself, of course, can’t stop trying to be a hero even when it isn’t warranted, perceiving everyone around her as a potential threat. Beth is trying to reconnect with the original Doctor Mid-Nite through his consciousness loaded into a pair of goggles. Rick feels like being a superhero should afford the kids some kind of superheroic social status, which of course it can’t by definition, so he’s struggling more than ever with his sense of self-worth. And Yolanda has the death of Brainwave on her conscience. Was she justified? Does wearing a suit and fighting against obvious evil give you the right to be judge, jury, and executioner? As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.
And the kids finding things hard means that Pat must find things hard too since he’s uniquely positioned as the kids’ trainer and confidante but also a parent. He wants Courtney to take some time off and go on a family vacation, but that plan is derailed by her slipping grades landing her in Summer School, hence the episode titling, and indeed the persistent theme of small-town ennui, kids feeling hemmed in by their surroundings, their parents, and their social woes. Even if they didn’t have the rise of supervillains to contend with, it’d feel like a lot.
But they do have the rise of supervillains to contend with, namely in the form of Cindy (Meg DeLacy), who at the end of last season’s finale found the gem housing Eclipso, has a hidden lair under Blue Valley High, and is looking to restock the ranks of the ISA by going on a recruitment drive. Her potential candidates include Courtney’s crush Cameron and… Mike, among others.
The small-town teen-drama vibe of this opener is a welcome palate cleanser after an all-action finale, but it kept me guessing about the state of the show’s fight choreography and visual effects until close to the end. There’s a lot to enjoy in the meantime, obviously; the kids are all super likable, and Luke Wilson remains absolutely perfect, but the first season’s action was a big part of why it was so impressive. Luckily, the same level of quality seems to have been retained. When Courtney takes on a new character, the daughter of the Green Lantern, after mistaking her for an intruder, it makes for a fantastic exclamation point to the episode. Nothing much seems to have been lost in the move across networks, and while it remains to be seen if this outing can clear the high bar set by its predecessor, at the very least it seems like it can hold its own.