Naomi Review: A Charming and Compelling New Chapter of DC Television

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In a lot of ways, Naomi‘s television debut feels a lot like her 2019 debut in the pages of DC Comics. Both are existing alongside established spaces that recently tried to reinvigorate their existing canon — DC through its “Rebirth” relaunch, and The CW‘s DC shows through 2020’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover — with a coming-of-age story that feels both expansive and incredibly intimate in its emotional and narrative scale. While the character has only existed for less than three years, she has quickly become a fan favorite, which has made the idea of a live-action television adaptation of her story feel like a pleasant, but inevitable, surprise. Spearheaded by A Wrinkle in Time’s Ava DuVernay and Arrow alum Jill Blankenship, the pilot episode of the Naomi series could not be more fitting for its protagonist — it’s a little rough around the edges, but unbelievably charming, and possesses the potential to change your view of the DC universe.

Naomi chronicles the adventures of Naomi McDuffie (Kaci Walfall), a confident and whip-smart teenage girl who blogs about the superheroes she loves — particularly, Superman. When her quiet hometown of Port Oswego is rocked by a Superman-related supernatural event, it sets off a chain of events that leads Naomi to question her own origin story. The mystery Naomi pursues begins to change everything she thought she knew about herself, her adopted family, and what it means to be a superhero.

One of the biggest questions I’ve had about Naomi, essentially from when the show was first announced, was how quickly and effectively it would reveal the specifics of her superheroic origin. Within the first (and, until next spring, only) solo Naomi comics from Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker, and Jamal Campbell, that journey of discovery takes up a lot of real estate, but in a way that uses the confines of a monthly comic format to their utmost advantage to stretch out key plot twists and cliffhangers. If the pilot is any indication, the television series is trying to strike a balance between the slow burn of the source material and the attention span of a TV audience, drawing out the mystery just enough without growing tedious. It will be interesting to see how that thematic pacing continues into subsequent episodes, as there’s a lot of potential to explore the (admittedly, lesser-known to casual audiences) corner of comics lore that Naomi is tied to, as long as the series doesn’t take too long to lay its key proverbial cards on the table.

To an extent, there’s an admirable comparison to be drawn between that pacing and the narrative approach to Clark Kent discovering his origin story on The CW’s foundational DC show, Smallville. Both shows take a bit of time to confront their characters’ complicated pasts and futures — after all, Smallville didn’t even say the word “Krypton” until midway through Season 2, whereas I expect Naomi to dive into the specifics of her home planet by Episode 3 at the very latest. But given how the larger world of superhero adaptations has grown accustomed to speedrunning through canon and putting everyone in a superhero costume as soon as possible, it remains to be seen whether Naomi’s approach will be refreshing or risky. That being said, there is one element of the pilot — and particularly, Naomi’s place in the larger world of superheroes — that is genuinely clever and unexpected, and that tees up a mystery that will be fascinating to follow even once Naomi’s origin is explained.

Even as it begins to tease the superheroics to come, the Naomi pilot excels by creating a foundation for the titular character’s civilian life, one that both honors the energy of the source material and stands out from The CW’s current superhero offerings. Certain key sequences of the episode are essentially ripped from the comics and are executed in a way that will be charming to both existing and new fans of Naomi. Admittedly, not every tactic the series uses is perfect — the opening minutes are filled to the brim with expository dialogue, and a few conversations essentially repeat elements that literally just occurred. But when the series tonally hits its groove, it’s a delight to watch, marrying the youthful spirit of Naomi and her world with the increasingly weird things that are starting to happen within it. It’s clear that the series wants to be a character-driven narrative first and foremost, and while it occasionally rests on tropes to flesh out some of the other parts of Naomi’s world, it leaves plenty of room for other shades of their personalities to be explored later on.

What really makes the pilot of Naomi memorable, and what will undoubtedly captivate fans going forward, is Walfall’s performance at the center of it. While existing comic appearances have established her characterization pretty significantly, Walfall finds ways to make the role uniquely her own, with a confident, scrappy charisma that is mesmerizing to watch. Even just over the course of one episode, it’s clear that Naomi will be an active, curious protagonist in the events of her story, something that can’t always be said for some of The CW’s other superheroes — somehow, the show makes the act of its protagonist conducting a journalist investigation infinitely more entertaining than the handful of times Superman & Lois has already attempted to do so. By and large, the supporting cast perfectly complements Walfall, and finds their own smaller-scale ways to be endearing. Naomi’s teenage cohorts — such as bubbly best friend Annabelle (Mary-Charles Jones), jock Nathan (Daniel Puig), and sarcastic comic book fan Lourdes (Camila Moreno) — all have fascinating degrees of chemistry with her, something that the text of the show itself even acknowledges (to the delight of soon-to-be shippers everywhere). The various adults in Naomi’s life don’t get to shine as strongly in the pilot, but the performances of her parents, Greg (Barry Watson) and Jennifer (Mouzam Makkar), and of mysterious car dealer Zumbado (Cranston Johnson) leave plenty of room for exploration in future episodes.

To an extent, the pilot of Naomi feels like nothing else in the realm of superhero television right now. It might not have the predictable flashiness of most of The CW’s other DC shows, or as strong of a genre hook as some of the DC shows that are currently streaming — but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What the series does have is a profound amount of heart, sincerity, and personality, and an approach to its relatively new source material that could be spun into something truly special. Anchored by Walfall’s truly excellent performance, Naomi has all the makings of DC’s next TV hit, if you’re willing to wait to watch it take flight.

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Naomi is set to premiere on Tuesday, January 11, 2022 at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.

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