Even Michael B. Jordan can't save ‘Raising Dion’

Sunday, October 6, 2019 - 4:43pm

'Raising Dion'

'Raising Dion' Buy this photo

Netflix’s new superhero series “Raising Dion” sits in the middle of a bizarre spectrum with Nickelodeon on one end and “Luke Cage” on the other. While it has some strengths, the overall production quality makes it an overall less-than-satisfying watch, which is a shame since a more talented director could have extracted a lot more out of the promising premise.

“Raising Dion” centers around the titular 7-year-old (Ja’Siah Young, debut role) and his mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright, “Shadowhunter”), recently widowed after the death of her scientist husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan, “Creed II”). Dion, a bright and energetic child, discovers he has a range of superpowers that he has trouble controlling, much to the disbelief of his mother. The pair have to discover how to manage these newfound and dangerous skills, as well as navigate the immediate aftermath of tragedy, the insidious presence of casual racism and other harmful social dynamics in Dion’s school and beyond.

To their credit, the two leads provide as much as they can from the substandard script they’re given. Their dynamic is tender and believable. While shared grief over Mark’s death is one of the backbones of their relationship, Dion is understandably presented as not quite being able to fully understand the ramifications of the tragedy. Wainwright’s portrayal of Nicole’s constant struggle between carrying on with her life and being a supportive mother while not being able to let go of the memories of her late husband is by far the best acting on the show.

However, these bright spots are let down by the fact that the production makes the show feel like a Lifetime soap. From the subpar soundtrack to the cheesy flashbacks (with the Michael B. Jordan cameos), there’s never a sense of true emotional weight, which cheapens and practically neutralizes the supposed impact of Mark’s death. It is true that not every superhero series needs to be “dark” and “gritty” as so many are today, but writers should also strive for tonal consistency.

There’s just nothing really new here. Even for someone who is by no means a superhero/comic book series aficionado, the core elements of this plot are too familiar. There’s no risk, no innovation in any aspect of the production and no real grappling with the social issues it presents beyond a superficial presentation of them.

Recently, I’ve come to expect mediocrity from Netflix originals, but I still can’t pin down why. Are these shows really contributing enough to their bottom line that they can abandon any sort of creativity? “Raising Dion” suggests yes. It’s the most frustrating type of work, and the sheer “bleh” reaction it warrants makes you truly regret the valuable time you spent watching it.