Sunday, January 09, 2022

Naomi (Pilot), on CW

For comic book writers, the multiverse is a gift that just keeps giving. If you want a character to be a fan of Superman comics, who eventually encounters the DC superheroes in the flesh, you just do a little mixing of the parallel universes—and then there they are. In this case, a Superman fangirl doesn’t exactly meet her idol, but when he briefly crashes into her universe, it starts her own super-origins story in the pilot episode of showrunner Jill Blankenship’s Naomi, which premieres Tuesday on the CW.

Naomi McDuffie loves Superman because he was an orphan just like her. She grew up happy and well-adjusted as the daughter of bi-racial couple Greg and Jennifer McDuffie, despite being a military brat. She also seems to be pretty well-liked both at her high school and with her fellow Pacific Northwest local townsfolk, maybe because she seems to have an ambiguous flirty relationship with several of them. Suddenly, Superman and a super-villain blast into their universe, duking it out in the town square (only seen obliquely in cleverly assembled cell phone footage), but McDuffie is unable to record any of it, because she passes out from a tinnitus-like ringing sensation.

As she investigates the presumed publicity stunt for her fansite, McDuffie is struck by the suspicious behavior of Dee, the New Agey tattoo artist and Zumbado, the used car salesman. The latter is already considered a villain, due to his reputation for ripping off servicemen from the base.

Scenes of the high school characters’ hip and casual acceptance of their ambiguous sexuality often sound and feel like they were written by corporate diversity trainers. However, the depiction of Army is refreshingly positive, as far as the pilot shows. Her officer father is a totally cool dad, instead of a Great Santini-style martinet and he is obviously the tolerant, inclusive type, since he adopted her and married her mother. We don’t hear any cliched grievances against the local base either, at least in the pilot, so maybe the series truly has something for everyone.

Kaci Walfall brings some nice screen charisma to the titular character, but thus far writers Blankenship and executive producer Ava DuVernay haven’t fleshed out her character beyond a popular over-achieving geek (of course, this is only the pilot). Mouzam Makkar and Barry Watson are appealing as her parents and they do not overplay their sidelong glances suggesting they know more about McDuffie’s true nature than they let on. Plus, Cranston Johnson is promisingly ominous as Zumbado.

The big challenge for
Naomi will be balancing the teen melodrama with the super-heroics. The pilot does it well, leaning more towards Nancy Drew sneaking around than 90210 hooking-up and breaking-up, but the potential for whiny angst is an obvious risk. Still, it gets off to a pretty good start, particularly with the cleverly executed Superman crossover elements. Recommended [provisionally] for DC fans, the Naomi pilot premieres Tuesday (1/11) on the CW.