“Raising Dion” is a Netflix series based on Dennis Liu’s comic book of the same name.
It follows a young, widowed mother as she balances her work life while raising Dion, her son with superpowers.
It’s immediately evident that the show is geared toward the audience of one of Netflix’s biggest shows, “Stranger Things.”
Dion is a kid who encounters indescribable power, so it’s met with both the pure joy of a child but also the weighted burden of what that power entails.
He mostly processes the superpowers through science, sci-fi and superhero pop culture. There are also clueless adults, a shady organization behind the fantastic elements and a serial killer monster. It’s very “Stranger Things.”
Yet, “Stranger Things” promoted the power of childhood wonder in the face of an increasingly bleak world. While “Raising Dion” attempts to do something similar, through its focus on a mother-son relationship and its use of kids’ entertainment (particularly comic books) to convey its story, it misses the mark on that front in several important ways.
The problem is that Dion doesn’t have a guiding principle for his powers, like most superheroes do. He has no “with great power, comes great responsibility.” He attains great power and misuses it, but not to a disastrous extent that would warrant a moral lesson.
The only truly meaningful lesson Dion learns is that powers have limits and he has control over that, but that lesson doesn’t manifest itself meaningfully in the series’ climax, which treats Dion as reactionary more than anything.
That’s also why it’s difficult to trust his mother Nicole’s growth in trust for Dion, because while she’s clearly learning how to deal with him, she’s not learning from him.
One thing the show could’ve done differently in order to separate itself from “Stranger Things” was to focus more prominently on the single mother-son relationship and what socioeconomic factors play in their lives, particularly because most of the main cast are people of color.
As it stands, the series only goes as far as gesturing toward ideas of race. It’s heavily present in episode three, where Dion almost gets expelled from his predominantly white school because the racist principal automatically takes the side of the white bully, but hardly again anywhere else in the series.
Nicole talks to her son about how the world will refuse to build him up because of the color of his skin, and it’s an emotional scene between the two, but that idea never manifests itself later in the series. The principal storyline isn’t revisited anymore afterward, other than for a visual gag.
No struggle for mom, either
Furthermore, it’s never an intense struggle for Nicole to find a job or opportunities herself. The series makes it out to be a struggle, but it’s primarily resolved through montage, and there’s never any stakes assigned to the conflict.
Nicole gets stressed trying to balance work with Dion, but she’s never really in danger of losing anything.
Dion goes to a school with a good science program, and he pretty much has all the tools at his disposal because of his connections to a big-time scientific organization.
That isn’t saying a superhero show that doesn’t have race or socioeconomic factors affecting the hero can’t be interesting, but, in this case, it would have probably been a richer angle.
With a nine-episode runtime, the series feels a bit stretched out trying to contain itself in a superhero origin story and sci-fi mystery formula. Alisha Wainwright and Ja’Siah Young are entertaining and compelling to watch as Nicole and Dion, but the show can’t seem to find other implications for single parenthood other than how taxing it is, so the beats of conflict we see throughout the series are repetitive.
Simultaneously, the series, like Nicole, can’t seem to let go of the memory of her dead husband (Michael B. Jordan). In many ways, it’s his show. The sci-fi elements and the origin story are his, and the main antagonists have more direct ties to him than to either Nicole or Dion.
The series is about Nicole’s role as a single mother picking up the pieces after her husband’s sudden death, but it’s tough to invest in that when the series wants to spend so much time on the deceased character (and bigger star) through flashbacks.
In the end, the finale is a mixed bag of plot elements that should have been given more time to develop, outside of their relationship to a character primarily featured as a flashback.