Everyone loves a superhero story. And what better than a kid superhero who will save the world (or his friends and family, at least). Netflix’s new super-powered drama, “Raising Dion,” revolves around a single mother raising her young 8-year-old son in a world in which he is “different” in many ways.
“Raising Dion” tries to answer the age-old question: what makes one a hero? It comments on a few other societal issues along the way. Topics like bullying, “otherness,” race, toxic masculinity; all timely subjects in 2019. Dion (Ja’Siah Young) is a precocious 7-year-old when the series begins, trying to find his place at a new school after the passing of his father. He tries hard to fit in with the cool kids at school and pushes away his one true friend, Esperanza (Sammi Haney), a too-wise-for-her-age young girl who really sees and likes Dion for who he is.
Dion’s mom, Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), tries her best to be a great mom and navigate all the obstacles thrown at her and Dion as a single, black mother who just lost her job for putting her son first. There are moments when Nicole has to explain the world to her son without shattering his innocence (e.g. a racist teacher who assumes the little black boy is the problem). Those more serious moments are lightened with the heartfelt, cute moments where Dion notices his still-grieving mom is sad and cheers her up as only he can. The bond between these two is the sweetest thing and the tie that binds this series.
Once Dion, who is obsessed with magic and superheros, realizes he can do magic and reveals his powers to his mother, her instincts go into overdrive and she knows she needs to do whatever she can to protect him and his secret from a world that fears others. But she’s not alone. She has help from Pat (Jason Ritter), her husband’s best friend and coworker who is still a lowly engineer at a sketchy tech company. There is always a shady corporation at the middle of things in a comic book/superhero story. As Dion’s godfather and mentor, the somewhat “off” Pat is always around and there for the boy and his mother.
But this wouldn’t be a superhero story without a super villain. This is where the storyline and the science really falter. The Crooked Man, as Dion names him, is a storm that takes the shape of a giant man who comes out of nowhere and reeks havoc in what seems like small, concentrated areas. The spontaneous storm is linked to mysterious disappearances in Iceland where people witnessed lights and gained powers. The connection between the Crooked Man and the disappearances doesn’t really seem to connect. Nicole and Dion are aided by Charlotte (Deirdre Lovejoy) who also has powers and was connected to the death of Nicole’s husband. There is the obligatory teacher/student superhero training scene that runs a tad too long. But the show has to make sure it hits all the genre tropes.
“Raising Dion” does a great job of explaining touch subject matters like racism, stereotyping, boundaries, toxic masculinity and “trying to fix what isn’t broken” in an authentic and very real way that would be understandable for viewers, even young kids. There is a lot of seriousness but fun, lightheartedness mixed throughout where the kids shine. The cute moments try to make up for where the special effects and graphics often fail.
There is some filler that could be trimmed that doesn’t really move the story along. The sister has a gay love story and Nicole has flashbacks to her dancing days and when she first met her husband, Mark (Michael B. Jordan). The flashbacks seem unnecessary. The series spends too much time on that but not enough time actually explaining why some have powers or even if they all got the same powers. The end of this series leaves a lot of questions unanswered and the final scene perfectly sets the stage for a second season. Hopefully we’ll get some answers in season two, along with a tighter, more cohesive storyline. Since all of the Marvel properties (“Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and “Daredevil”) were canceled on the streamer, “Raising Dion” has to step up and fill the superhero void.