Naomi McDuffie (Kaci Walfall) is a normal Oregonian 16-year-old who has a fascination with superheroes, particularly her favorite, Superman. So much so that she has a whole Superman fan website (we can relate to something like that here at The Nerds of Color). A key reason she relates to him is the fact that they’re both adoptees. However, in her new story starting in her titular series Naomi, she finds she may have more in common with the legendary figure than she ever expected.
The following review has minor plot setup spoilers for the Naomi Pilot.
Developed by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, and based on the comic book series of the same name co-written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker and illustrated by Jamal Campbell, Naomi arrives to our screens this week and promises something more distinct and grounded in the superhero genre, while retaining its fantastical elements.
Walfall shines in the role of the title character with a subdued performance that’s never over the top, but still keenly and judiciously teeming with energy that pops out in the more dramatic moments when she needs to. It’s incredibly apt for her to be named after the late, great comic creator and writer Dwayne McDuffie, as she’s a huge fan of legacy heroes, but ultimately sets out to make a destiny for herself. She’s lively, friendly, and has a great overall life, but there’s something brewing in her to find the truth of her past, and that of her hometown as well, that pushes her to investigate her teeming questions. What are her parents hiding from her? How could there be a sighting of Superman when he’s just a fictional character? Who is Zumbado and what does he want?
There’s an almost Matrix-esque quality to it (no, she’s not actually plugged into a computer-generated world) of questioning your everyday life and seeking something more that makes for an intriguing premise to propel the series forward. DuVernay’s cerebral, yet grounded script does well to involve the audiences on Naomi’s journey. Walfall does a great job of showing Naomi’s keen sense of wonder and intrigue that inspires the audience to feel them with her, and find out the answers to the mysteries she’s uncovering.
The supporting cast is mostly good. The dialogue is often too on the nose, which isn’t that surprising considering other CW shows, but this is a pilot that needs to establish Naomi and her world, so it’s mostly excusable. But there’s still a sincere energy from the cast that conveys how much Naomi is loved by her friends and family. Mary-Charles Jones is peppy and hyper-attentive as Annabelle, Naomi’s best friend. Mouzam Makkar and Barry Watson are great as her parents Jennifer and Greg, supportive, yet somewhat secretive towards their adopted daughter. Cranston Johnson is ominous but intriguing as the apparent antagonist Zumbado. Alexander Wraith is conflicted and dealing with his own struggle as Dee, who finds that he has something in common with our heroine. The rest of the cast works well to create the comforting, yet subtly eerie vibe of the show.
What would a superhero show be without action scenes? For the few that the Naomi pilot has, they’re well done, particularly with a familiar caped individual. The cinematography is beautifully done, with director Amanda Marsalis showing beautiful landscapes of Port Oswego (or Atlanta, where they’ve filmed it), immersing viewers easily in Naomi’s world. Hopefully, the series going forward is able to make full usage of its Pacific Northwest setting, and maybe even more as Naomi goes on her journey.
“Pilot” is a great start to this intriguing mystery of a show. Naomi McDuffie is a brave and inquisitive heroine for older and new fans to watch on their screens, and the story promises to be something thrilling for us all to watch. With a grounded yet intriguingly esoteric script by DuVernay and good direction from Marsalis, it’s a solid premiere that should have audiences hooked for what happens next. Check it out when it premieres tomorrow, or stream it on The CW app the next day.
Naomi’s series premiere airs Tuesday, January 11, and you can watch new episodes every Sunday on The CW and streaming the next day on The CW app.