If you’re anything like me, you probably spent the first five minutes of tonight’s Stargirl season two premiere wondering if The CW was accidentally airing the wrong show. The effectively eerie 1950s-set horror prologue goes on for so long and is so different than anything Stargirl has done before that it really feels like the intro to a whole other series. Never fear, however. Though Stargirl has (kind of) hopped networks between seasons, its sunny superhero vibe is back and better than ever. While “Summer School: Chapter One” expands the show’s world in some new and exciting ways—especially with that creepy prologue—it also retains the optimistic, family-focused core of what made the first season such a fun addition to the ever-expanding TV superhero canon.
That horror movie opening isn’t a complete non sequitur either. In addition to teasing out the mystery of new baddie Eclipso, it also introduces a major theme of this premiere: Things that look put-together on the outside can be anything but underneath. Like many a classic horror movie, the Eclipso prologue locates dread lurking beneath a picture-perfect suburban facade. And Courtney Whitmore and her friends are experiencing something similar, even if they’re not quite able to admit it out loud yet. On the outside, everything about their lives seems great. They came together as a team to take out Icicle, Dragon King, and Brainwave, arrest Sportsmaster and Tigress, and drive the rest of the Injustice Society away. Blue Valley is officially safe. What more could a group of fledging superheroes ask for?
A lot more it turns out, as this patiently character-centric premiere starts to reveal. “Chapter One” keeps the action to a minimum in order to check in on where our heroes are at following their big victory back in the season one finale. As team leader, Courtney is the one whose struggles are the most external. Though it’s been months since anyone’s seen the ISA, she’s become obsessed with researching ways their members might return. In fact, she’s been so distracted that she even failed two classes, forcing her to attend the dreaded summer school of the season’s subtitle (and cancelling a pretty fantastic sounding family vacation in the process).
But all things considered, Courtney is arguably handling things better than her fellow Justice Society cohorts. While she at least has a supportive family to fall back on, Yolanda, Beth, and Rick are all struggling with feelings of isolation. Yolanda is riddled with guilt over killing Brainwave in cold blood. Beth is struggling with the loneliness of losing her A.I. friend Chuck on top of the pain of discovering that her parents are getting a divorce. And Rick is trying to turn over a new leaf only to find that not everyone is willing to give him a second chance. (He’s also seemingly trying to bond with a mysterious creature who may or may not be Solomon Grundy, though that’s mostly just a tease for now.)
While Stargirl is probably always first and foremost going to be a Courtney-focused show, it’s nice that this premiere takes time to set up individual arcs for Yolanda, Beth, and Rick too. Part of the problem with the show’s endearing but overstuffed first season was that it had so many ideas it wanted to tackle and characters it wanted to serve that its main hero ensemble sometimes got a little lost in the shuffle. “Chapter One” suggests that Stargirl wants to put Yolanda, Beth, and Rick more front and center this season, which is a solid place to start when it comes to laying the foundation for the show’s sophomore outing.
Which doesn’t mean that “Chapter One” doesn’t have its fair share of new additions too. In fact, it’d be easy to turn this entire review into an explainer of all the intriguing new elements introduced in this episode—from the aforementioned intro to Eclipso’s ominous powers to the reveal that the latest legacy member to cross paths with the JSA is none other than Green Lantern’s daughter (Ysa Penarejo). Joel McHale is still floating around as (maybe) Sylvester Pemberton, who winds up seeking out Pat’s ex-wife Maggie. And Cindy Burman struts back into Blue Valley High to start putting together a Next Gen ISA made up of Tigress and Sportsmaster’s daughter Artemis, Fiddler’s son Isaac, Icicle’s son Cameron, and—most shockingly of all—sweet, sweet Mike.
Though this premiere is relatively relaxed in its pacing, it’s clear that Stargirl hasn’t lost its ambitious sense of scope. More importantly, however, it also hasn’t lost the sense of earnestness that made the first season so winning. Brec Bassinger continues to be a hugely charismatic anchor for the series. And her scenes with Luke Wilson are once again a major highlight. Like its new CW sister series Superman & Lois, Stargirl is a superhero family drama that’s equally rooted in the perspective of both the parents and the kids. As with so many high school athletes and drama geeks, Courtney feels like she’s found a lifelong calling that should take precedent above all else. But like many a pragmatic parent, Pat and Barbara want their daughter to have some practical fallback options too.
It’s a relatable core to ground the show’s Golden Age zaniness. Courtney believes she has a responsibility to use her Stargirl powers to save the world, while Pat feels like he has a responsibility to ensure his daughter has at least a semi-normal adolescence. As he sweetly reminds her, “The JSA is not the only team that you’re a part of. Our family’s a team too, okay?” It’s a lovely framework to anchor Stargirl’s expansive worldbuilding, and a sweet welcome back message for the show’s unique tone.
- The opening prologue is clearly still supposed to be somewhat ambiguous at this point, but my read is that we’re watching the daughter of the original Doctor Mid-Nite a.k.a. Charles McNider as she’s entranced (and presumably killed?) by Eclipso in the form of that creepy little boy, Bruce.
- This week’s Luke Wilson Scene I Could Watch For An Hour: Pat’s pure dad joy at pitching that lake house trip to Mike.
- Speaking of which, it really feels like this show is personally punishing me for my early complaints about Mike not fitting the tone of the series. Please don’t make him evil or kill him off!! I want his sassy paper route commentary to last forever!
- Yvette Monreal does some fantastic work in the scene where Yolanda barely holds it together in the church confessional.
- That one twisty jump move Courtney does in her fight with Green Lantern’s daughter looks so cool.
- Courtney’s friendly new principal makes a nice impression—particularly in his refusal to go along with Pat’s ill-advised “cat fight” joke. I also love everything about junkyard owner Zeke and his newfound commitment to being Pat’s friend, partner, and flamethrower provider: “Sometimes a man just needs himself a robot.”