Raising Dion is a classic coming-of-age story that breaks new ground.
Widow Nicole and her eight-year old son Dion are grieving after Mark (Michael B Jordan) died saving a supposed stranger in a freak storm in New Orleans.
Dion discovers he has supernatural powers with comic effect. He levitates bowls of milk, starts a Lego hurricane, and lifts fish out of a lake in bubbles of water.
His superpowers become more spectacular—and darker—as he battles against the villain he calls The Crooked Man.
The show follows a well-trodden superhero formula.
A young protagonist struggles to control forces bigger than themselves—both their new superpowers and the angst of adolescence.
But the plot and special effects are captivating enough to make it seem original.
Alongside the family-friendly fun, the storylines are very real at times. Nicole’s attempts to keep Dion’s superpowers secret are interwoven with the family’s everyday struggles.
She can hardly pay for Dion’s asthma medication after losing her job—and her health insurance plan.
These sorts of problems aren’t typically found in the middle class, white idylls of staple US family dramas from the 2000s.
Writer and producer Dennis Liu is part of a bigger movement to make superhero stories more diverse.
Raising Dion comes off the back of films that put black characters centre stage, such as smash hit Black Panther or Netflix’s Luke Cage. There aren’t many shows that have a black single mother and her son as the heroes.
Dion’s classmate and best friend, Esperanza, is a wheelchair user and his aunt is a black lesbian.
But raising Dion doesn’t simply congratulate itself on how representative it is.
In one scene a white teacher tries to suspend Dion after a white pupil stole his watch, assuming he is “a bad kid”. Nicole struggles to find a way to tell him that the “world’s going to slap him down every chance it gets” because of racism.
Dion wonders why the teacher has “bad ideas about the colour of people’s skin” because he thought Martin Luther King had sorted it all out.
In another episode Dion unexpectedly levitates Esperanza and moves her legs in a bid to make her walk. They have a big row because he did it without permission, leading the show to look at respecting people’s boundaries and consent.
This could make for a show that is obviously trying too hard to be woke.
But the way it’s done is nuanced and sophisticated. And while the show’s subplots—the superpower vs the everyday—feel disjointed at times, they’re brought together brilliantly at the end.