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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iStargirl /irounds out her team on Halloween
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)
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Stargirl’s first four episodes have offered all kinds of different visions for what the series could become: An action-packed superhero show. A family melodrama. A topical teen series. But “Hourman And Dr. Mid-nite” is where Stargirl seems to fully embrace what it really wants to be: A plucky teen superhero show that wholeheartedly embodies the goofiness of Golden Age comics. Last week’s episode served as a somewhat clunky transition from the slow worldbulding of the first three episodes to the fast-paced “Courtney rebuilds the JSA” storytelling that’s now fueling the series. And while I still think that adding Joey’s death into the mix so quickly was a mistake, the show clearly wants to move past it, so I will too.

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Though TV shows once tied their holiday episodes to real-world dates, in the age of streaming, Stargirl delivers a Halloween episode in June. And the costume-based holiday seems to give the series permission to get a little goofier than usual—Courtney spends several minutes wandering around in a giant Gremlins head for only the slimmest of plot reasons. After proving to be a comedic scene-stealer throughout the first few episodes. Anjelika Washington’s Beth Chapel finally takes center stage here, and her chipper earnestness is a perfect fit for this episode’s lighter tone. She all but forces her way onto the new JSA thanks to her superpowers of curiosity, upbeat earnestness, and non-stop talking. Every superhero team needs its nerdy know-it-all, and thanks to Doctor Mid-Nite’s A.I.-infused goggles and her own knack for synthesizing data, Beth is more than up for the task.

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Yet as its title suggests, “Hourman And Dr. Mid-nite” adds not one but two new members to Courtney’s burgeoning JSA. The other is school delinquent Rick Harris a.k.a. Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman), who, like Courtney, is a “legacy.” His dad was Rex Tyler a.k.a. Hourman, the JSA member who survived the Christmas Eve massacre only to be killed in a Solomon Grundy-related car crash after tracking the Injustice Society to Blue Valley. (He’s the one who mailed Pat the research that led him to Nebraska.) In a fittingly meta bit of casting, Rex is played in flashback by Lou Ferrigno, Jr.—an actor who has his own superhero legacy status thanks to his Hulk father.

While it remains to be seen whether Courtney’s paternal heritage will prove legit, we’re already starting to see how her obsession with legacy could be her downfall. She’s so enamored by the idea of birthright that she doesn’t stop to consider whether Rick actually has the right mix of skills and heroism that she’s looking for from her new JSA. Her recruitment plan nearly backfires when Rick takes his dad’s super-strength granting hourglass and runs. It’s unflappable Beth—the newbie hero Courtney initially wrote off—who winds up bringing Rick onboard when she reveals that the Injustice Society killed his parents. But even then the team unity is only tentative. Rick makes it clear that he’s interested in revenge, not justice.

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Illustration for article titled iStargirl /irounds out her team on Halloween
Photo: Annette Brown (The CW)

As with Yolanda’s episode last week, Stargirl rushes through an origin story that could’ve been much more poignant if it had been allowed to unfold more slowly. But that’s clearly not the mode Stargirl wants to operate in, and this episode’s confident tone helps it get away with favoring breadth over depth. It also helps that “Hourman And Dr. Mid-nite” connects its two titular characters to the parenting theme that’s so central to Stargirl. Before Rick’s parents were killed, they left him in the custody of his Uncle Matt (Adam Aalderks), who’s turned out to be an irresponsible, emotionally abusive caregiver. Matt’s basically the polar opposite of Pat, and Stargirl is smart in observing the ways in which Rick’s closed-off, angry behavior stems from his unhealthy home life.

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Glimmers of hope and kindness shine through when Rick stops to chat with Pat about cars. But when things get too personable, he instinctively shuts down in self-defense. Rick later explains that he feels like he’s being poisoned by the constant anger he feels towards the world. And Stargirl understands the strength it takes to break a cycle of abuse. When granted superpowers for an hour, Rick limits himself to destroying cars and trees, not his uncle. He may not want to be a hero, but he’s clearly no villain either.

Beth, meanwhile, gets a more comedic storyline about parent/child relationships. She’s struggling with the fact that growing up means moving away from a world where everything was defined by her nuclear family unit. It’s an idea we’ve frequently seen parents grapple with in movies and TV shows, and it’s hilarious to see it flipped on its head. Here Beth is the one nostalgic for her ant-farm filled childhood while her parents demand a little independent space to be themselves.

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Illustration for article titled iStargirl /irounds out her team on Halloween
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)

Courtney, Yolanda, Beth, and Rick are four very different teens with four very different relationships with their parents and four very different reasons for joining the new JSA. That’s a promising place to start building an ensemble series, although it remains to be seen what kind of balance Stargirl plans to strike with its many, many plot threads. The fact that next week’s episode is called “The Justice Society” hopefully implies that Courtney is done recruiting new teammates for the moment and that Stargirl can take a much-needed moment to catch its breath after these whirlwind first five episodes.

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As much as “Hourman And Dr. Mid-nite” locks into an effective tone, Stargirl is still struggling to recapture the streamlined plot momentum it had in its first three episodes. The vague glimpses of the Injustice Society’s nefarious plan(s) haven’t added up to anything particularly tangible or focused yet, and Pat has felt a little too removed from the main action lately. Elsewhere, the brief moment of Henry Jr. unlocking some of the same mind-reading abilities as his dad seems to imply Stargirl has a whole other legacy-related throughline to explore. Plus we’ve still got wildcard characters like mean girl Cindy and elite teen athlete Artemis Crock floating around too.

Still, if Stargirl is a bit like a top threatening to spin out of control, “Hourman And Dr. Mid-nite” at least implies it’ll be fun to watch it do so. This is an episode that unabashedly embraces the idea of a magical hourglass that can grant its wearer superstrength for one hour a day—all thanks to some brilliant chemistry, of course! Few live action superhero properties have aimed for this level of pure Golden Age goofiness before. That’s one legacy the series can be proud of upholding.

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Stray observations

  • Yes, I’m as annoyed as you are that this episode title spells it “Dr. Mid-Nite” not “Doctor Mid-Nite.” Thankfully, years of being a Doctor Who fan have prepared me for this kind of incongruity.
  • JSA History: Stargirl’s original iteration of Doctor Mid-Nite was Dr. Charles McNider, a blind inventor who created superpowered goggles to help him “see” in various ways (including x-ray, infrared, and lie detecting vision). According to his onscreen stats, Dr. McNider died in battle at the ripe old age of 96. (Impressive!) Rex Tyler, meanwhile, was a brilliant chemist who tied his strength-granting hourglass to his DNA, which is why it only works for Rick.
  • Also, Dr. McNider joined the JSA in 1941, so apparently the group was around for a long time.
  • This week’s Luke Wilson Scene I Could Watch For An Hour: Pat matching Matt’s animosity with inward suspicion, outward kindness, and a final, “Take it easy.”
  • Steven Sharpe a.k.a. Gambler (Eric Goins) arranges the Injustice Society’s broadcasting dish heist during a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 drama The Wrong Man, which tells the real-life story of an innocent man wrongly charged with a crime.
  • “I saw her playing the violin in, like, a super evil looking way.”
  • Okay, Mike making grotesquely skewered jack-o’-lanterns was actually pretty great.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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