Naomi: The Complete Series
It’s a shame that we’re finally seeing many more diverse takes on the superhero genre now that it’s been so overworked. The exhaustion of fans and creators with this genre means no one’s sure what to do with it any more, so we’re finally getting characters beyond the usual white guy. That’s a very admirable thing… but I still have to care about the story and cast. It’s entirely possible to applaud something for existing while not finding it to your taste.
And that’s what happened with Naomi: The Complete Series. I didn’t care much for the comic (written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, artwork by Jamal Campbell), because I found the promo was telling us “this character is important!” without anyone ever showing us why or moving the character beyond the generic. But I was curious as to how things were changed for the TV show, if at all. So when the studio said “do you want a review copy?” I said “sure, I’ll check it out.”
Unfortunately, I found it had similar issues. The overall plot of “special teen discovers fate”, combined with a sort of Nancy Drew group of friends (none of whom have much personality of their own) investigating, was much too familiar to me, without anything different or unusual enough to keep my attention. Kaci Walfall, who played the title Naomi McDuffie, does an amazing job, but the material lets her down.
I did note that even they make fun of the superhero idea as “nerdy stuff” in the premiere episode, when a friend said, “Superman? The guy wears a cape and spandex! …not the coolest.” That brings up one of my points of confusion. I had assumed that, as a DC-comic-inspired show that aired on the CW, this was in the same universe as the Superman show. But later on, I figured out that no, this is a universe where Superman is a comic book character. There’s an “appearance” by the character early on, but it’s referred to as a “stunt”, and they ask “who played him”, as we would. Still, it would have been nice to have it set out more clearly that superheroes are not real in this universe … until Naomi found out about her powers and history.
Speaking of which, Naomi is a poorly defined hero, as she seemed to be able to do whatever the plot needed. She’s secretly an alien, which means she has mental powers, and flight, and blasts, and is tough, and I don’t know what all else. There’s a lot of assumption that the viewer cares enough to do their own research and put all this together, and that’s a lot to rely on. I did like an early signifier that things were changing for her. She no longer needed glasses, which is a nice, everyday indicator of changes happening.
As with the comic, the show was a very slow build. That made it cheaper to produce, as special effects weren’t needed as often, but I disliked this approach for the same reasons I disliked the comic. We are told this is important, we are told what she was, but little of that was in the story itself on screen. What we did get was pretty pedestrian. For example, early on, the used car lot owner (reworking a very old cliche that used car salesmen can’t be trusted) was shown as a menacing villain, but I had no idea who this was or what connection he had to her. There’s an assumption that I’d be interested enough to stick around, but I wasn’t.
We’ve seen so many origin stories at this point that it was all familiar, which made it boring. The show relies on that shorthand, but that makes it generic. Finding out “secretly she’s special” is all too strung out and slow. With most of the 42-minute episodes I watched, I’d start having my attention wander about 25 minutes in. I eventually gave up after the first three episodes, skipping to the final episode 13, as the show was part of the CW cancellations prior to the network’s sale.
My favorite reference was where I had a personal point of connection. Her best friend revealed that she binged Sherlock (the BBC TV show), quoting “Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I loved that because I also love that show. Perhaps if I was younger, closer in age to the characters, or hadn’t seen too many stories of this type by now, or was hungrier for more super-powered characters of color, I would have enjoyed this more. But I can’t help thinking that “superhero” is the wrong genre for today’s teens looking for a show about finding out who you really are and learning to make your own choices.
I did find it unfortunate that military dad (who’s white) was shown as the source of family wisdom. Mom (a person of color), in the early episodes, just cares about her emotionally and doesn’t say much. In contrast to those stereotypes, I did like the way Naomi had two cute boys interested in her and she gave them both the “friends right now” talk. There was also a female purple haired potential love interest.
The special features are light. “A Hero Will Rise: Kaci Walfall” is 5 1/2 minutes of praise for the young actress as she tells how she came to the role. The eight-minute “From Page to Screen” has her talking about playing the role, along with show creators and executive producers Ava DuVernay and Jill Blakenship saying they loved the “contemporary take” on an “unlikely superhero” from the comics. “The Adaptation of a Hero” (6 minutes) praises the many people who worked on the show and talks about how fantastic the cast and crew were. (The studio provided a review copy.)