She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power
Image: Netflix
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She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, Netflix’s reimagining of the 1985 spin-off of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, debuted last year with only a passing resemblance to its source material. The names are the same—there is, gleefully enough, still a character named Netossa, who literally tosses nets at her enemies—as is the broader plot. On a fateful outing, dutiful soldier Adora (Aimee Carrero) learns that the “evil Horde” she serves is in fact evil. This is also around the time that she stumbles upon a powerful artifact, a sword that, when held aloft while reciting an oath, turns her into She-Ra, an 8-foot-tall warrior who’s only tasked with maintaining an elemental balance on the planet of Etheria. As the series unfolds, Adora/She-Ra makes new friends with rainbow-colored hair while regularly thwarting Hordak’s (Keston John) forces.

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But while parts of the original framework remained in place, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power proved itself the rare reboot that’s powered more by innovation than nostalgia. Noelle Stevenson has updated She-Ra’s look and themes with the help of a women-led writers room, varied character design, and a vivacious voice cast, including AJ Michalka as Adora’s frenemy Catra and Marcus Scribner as relentlessly cheerful archer Bow. Each princess in the Rebellion, from Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) to Frosta (Merit Leighton), is now distinct in appearance and personality, which creates far more engaging interplay between characters. She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power (note the plural) is richer and more daring in its storytelling than the original, its exploration of toxic relationships and inclusion of queer-coded characters often bringing to mind exceptional, contemporary animated series like Steven Universe.

Season one was as much an origin story for She-Ra as the Princess Alliance, a rebel group armed with love, friendship, as well as power over plant life and elements (and nets). As Adora, Glimmer, and Bow sought out new allies for their cause, Stevenson and her writers, including Josie Campbell, Laura Sreebny, and Katherine Nolfi, combined those spirited one-off adventures with an overarching story about the responsibility that comes with power as well as how our responsibility to each other can bolster our own strength. Season two picks up those narrative thread and themes, but doesn’t have nearly as many opportunities to develop them further. There are only seven episodes to season one’s 13, so though the show is as exuberant and humorous as ever, the second season is slightly less satisfying because of its brevity.

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Image: Netflix

She-Ra season two also lacks the larger storyline of the first season, which saw Adora and her Bright Moon pals, Glimmer and Bow, establish a new Princess Alliance by recruiting Frosta, Mermista (Vella Lovell), Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson), and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown). In its place, we have Adora’s ongoing training with Light Hope (Morla Gorrondona), the guardian of the Crystal Castle, which is basically She-Ra’s Fortress Of Solitude. Adora struggles to get a grip on her new powers, but remains acutely aware of who she’d be letting down if she fails to master them. She is also increasingly haunted by her predecessor, Mara, who took She-Ra to a very dark place. Adora’s ambivalence comes to a head in season’s two best episode, a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired outing that strengthens the bonds of the Alliance while also revealing the erosion of She-Ra’s confidence.

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But even as Adora grapples with the potential for failure, she grows closer to her newly minted Best Friend (S)Quad: Glimmer, Bow, and Swift Wind (Adam Ray). Their interactions are among the show’s funniest and most endearing, from discovering Bow’s cache of action figurines modeled after his friends to Swift Wind’s attempts establish his preordained bond with Adora/She-Ra. As enjoyable as this trio-turned-quartet is, She-Ra also expands on their relationships with the rest of the Alliance, a development that offers great opportunities for growth. Glimmer now finds herself mentoring Frosta, who’s every bit as anxious to prove herself as a viable warrior in the fight against the Horde as the teleporting princess once was.

Image: Netflix

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She-Ra makes great use of its limited opportunities via such sweet and rewarding turns, but early on, the vacillation between another incremental gain on the battlefield and the hangout comedy at Bright Moon make the second season feels somewhat aimless compared with the first. Drawing the battle lines and rebuilding the Princess Alliance were key to creating drama in the first season, and those aspects continue to work well here: The fight with the Horde rages on, as Entrapta (Christine Woods) and Scorpia (Lauren Ash) continue to assist Catra and Hordak in their bid for Etherian domination. The princesses are still learning to work together without getting in each other’s way, which is all par for the course. But we feel the absence of the fraught dynamic between Adora and Catra, which was often more compelling than discovering magical abilities and waging war on a global scale.

Adora, Catra, and their queer-coded relationship provided a lot of tension and fun in the first season, but She-Ra season two delays their reunion to its own detriment. The battle for Etheria is obviously of great significance, but the evolution of Adora and Catra’s relationship—from scrappy orphan buddies to competitive besties (and possibly more) to sworn enemies—is what sets She-Ra apart from other fantasy-action series. When Adora and Catra square off again, the results are electrifying, not least of which because they are both fully formed characters. One of the most inspired moves She-Ra made in season one was to treat Catra’s antihero (or, by the end of the season, full-on villain) journey with the same nuance as Adora’s path to becoming Etheria’s greatest hero. Catra isn’t a mere absence of something in Adora, and Adora isn’t just the opposite of Catra; their relationship is more complicated than that, and exploring it made for some fascinating television in season one. There just isn’t enough time in season two to delve into it, not when there’s more First Ones tech to unearth, training to undergo, and battles to be planned.

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Image: Netflix

Though there isn’t nearly enough Catadora, season two does offer forward momentum for virtually all of its characters, from Glimmer blossoming in a leadership role to Scorpia making some headway with Catra without sacrificing any more of her dignity. Entrapta remains an amoral puzzle, but we get a better sense of the non-princess members of Catra’s squad of henchpeople (yes, including Kyle). But it’s Bow who has the most poignant storyline, which Scribner handles with aplomb. The She-Ra voice cast is full of captivating performers—it’s hard to pick a favorite among Carrero, Michalka, Fukuhara, and Woods—but the giddiness bordering on anxiety that Scribner brings to Bow, which is equal parts Chidi and Jason from The Good Place, is what makes the season finale incredibly moving.

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The season finale teases huge developments that will hopefully be addressed in a third season, but it’s the smaller moments that win the day in She-Ra season two. The introduction of a loving, openly gay couple serves as an example of healthy relationships in the show and TV in general, and their matter-of-fact treatment upon arrival feels just as significant. So though it doesn’t have nearly as many chances to further the story, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is every bit as enjoyable and heartwarming in its second season.