Powerpuff: Bringing Back Girl Power Like It's 1999
The CW's latest pick-up has begun filming, and what can we hope to look forward to?
Here's my disclaimer: I was not a big fan of the original Powerpuff Girls that aired on Cartoon Network between the years 1998 and 2005. Whenever I did watch the show (which wasn't often; I didn't grow up with cable), I usually just waited for the anime block to come on instead. While the show was vibrant and distinguishable from other cartoons of its time, I was young enough that the novelty and nuance behind certain aspects of the show just completely went over my head most of the time.
Running on a tradition of banking on nostalgia (whether that's through Riverdale or the reboot of Charmed), the CW ordered a pilot for this pseudo-sequel where the kiddie superheroes have grown up and have had to cope with the traumas and consequences of their former lives as the girls to call when the world needed saving. The question on everyone's minds, I'm sure, is this: can the transition from a tongue-in-cheek cartoon to a darker and moodier live-action look at "superherodom" really work? I mean, we already know how children's cartoons may not be the best fodder for live-action mishandling: remember the outcries over Netflix's Fate: The Winx Saga and, further back, the disastrous thou-dare-not-speak-its-name Avatar: The Last Airbender film?
But before I get you all depressed over your favorite cartoons that have been done dirty by the miserable adaptations of years past, there's still hope. Diablo Cody, love her or hate her, is attached to the project as a writer for the pilot. Not much else is known beyond the first episode or its trajectory if more episodes are ordered for a full season, but the unknown factor leaves a lot of room for me to imagine what might make this revival sequel stand apart from the cartoon-to-live-action adaptations that came before it—as well as how it will diverge from the franchise that became so beloved in the first place.
Here's just a wish list of what I personally would like to see in the show:
A dive into that sweet, sweet sci-fi goodness
The girls aren't really human. If we're to go by established lore of the original cartoon, Professor Utonium created the girls as "sugar, spice, and everything nice" with the accidental ingredient of "Chemical X." They may look like little girls, but they really are just humanoid creations concocted in a laboratory setting. Dependent on how the live-action show retcons this, it could be an interesting element if the girls struggle with their "differences" compared to other "normal" girls their age.
Sure, we may have had shows with vampires and werewolves and hordes of superheroes, but have we ever really seen a female character (especially one coded as a superhero) grapple with the identity and existential crisis of perhaps being too powerful for her own good? (Marvel Studios tip-toed around this scenario with the recent Disney+ hit WandaVision and its take on the Scarlet Witch, but what about a show aimed predominantly at girls between the ages of 15 to 24?)
Basically, I want to see these girls have to learn how to cope when "different" may just be a code word for "potentially monstrous" depending on whose perspective rules the day.
What else would be on my wish list?
Don't pit the girls against each other (at least not right away)
Teamwork: we love to see it in our superhero media. Ensemble pieces like the Avengers films wouldn't be nearly as engaging if we didn't see each team member have to learn how to handle each other, from both a social standpoint and a battle one—especially when we can see team-up shots of the characters once in a while.
As for how this relates to Powerpuff, you have to keep in mind that these are the childhood variants of female team-ups like the Birds of Prey in the DC Universe. Their one distinguishing factor? They're all superhero ladies with powerful abilities each in their own right instead of a mixed ensemble with varying degrees of power and aptitude.
What makes me nervous is that each summary of Powerpuff's premise calls the girls "disillusioned" with the implication that they have been living away from each other and trying to forge their own identities apart from their pseudo-sisters. While that's great and all, I really want to see them grow back together as a trio rather than trying to fly solo (even with all the drama that may likely entail).
Worse, even, is the idea that a "pure" character like Bubbles may "go dark" simply because she may want to be in the spotlight yet not want to return to being the superhero girl she once was. The trope of goods girls gone bad is a legit bad smell I can already scent on the wind for this show (though I'd love to be proven wrong).
Essentially, I just think we really need to see some healthy doses of girl power in this show—and not just as a way to appease those of us nerds who preach the "politically correct mumbo-jumbo." It needs to be organic and natural in the story, much like how it was in the original cartoon.
You know what else would be nice?
A romance plot line that doesn't suck
Let's be real. It's the CW. There's gong to be a romance plot line in there somewhere. (And, honest to goodness, what I remember most about the average CW show I tune into is the presence of romantic mishap storylines.)
The cast list on IMDb has a character named "Joseph 'Jojo' Mondel Jr." I think, even without a character sheet to go by, we can all tell whose son Jojo's going to be. Will he be a love interest to one of our girls? As the original cartoon villain's son? I would probably bet a lot of money on it (if I were a betting lady).
Why am I so sure? Enemies-to-lovers romances are THE THING behind many young adult-aimed stories these days. And, as Powerpuff is a show that I'm guessing is aimed at the 15-to-24-year-olds, there's likely going to be a will-they-won't-they tug-and-pull type deal with Jojo and one of the Powerpuff Girls.
And I really, really, really hope it's written well.
And, just because I'm me, I have another thing to add that would be nice to this sugar, spice, and everything nice concoction...
LGBTQ+ characters and themes
I think the inclusion of LGBTQ+ elements would simply make the show feel like a thing of its time rather than something made just for nostalgia bait. Call it "woke" if you want, but anyone from a gay boy to a transgender individual to a bisexual superheroine would be a welcome addition to this post-Millennial pseudo-sequel to a beloved cartoon. Why? Lots of kids who eventually had these identity hurdles grew up on Powerpuff Girls and you know what would be nice for them? To see themselves represented in a show like this. The girls are twenty-somethings in this show, so it stands to reason that they're going to be interacting with peers who have had struggles with being true to themselves without danger or threat. If a Powerpuff girl were to befriend you and say you're perfect just the way you are, wouldn't you feel seen?
It's just something we all should consider as creators in this unfurling world. Why not in the realm of Powerpuff too?
If you're looking forward to this reboot/sequel/reimagining, stay tuned to your friendly neighborhood search engine to find out when the pilot episode will air. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to see whether this show will warm our nostalgic hearts or crush them completely (whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, we'll just have to see).