Wrapping Up With ‘Naomi’
by Erik Amaya
The CW’s Naomi started strong with a curious central mystery and a thin-enough comic book backstory to take the characters’ origins in a different direction if need be. Its early episodes also centered a group of teenagers intent on helping their friend, Naomi McDuffie (Kaci Walfall), learn the truth about her inter-dimensional or extraterrestrial birth parents. Unfortunately, the usual CW pace and production woes got in the way of that mystery and the show became less compelling by the end of its first thirteen-episode season.
In its best moments, Naomi carefully balanced the DC Comics sci-fi and superhero aspects with a high school drama — a premise we suspect The CW was keenly interested as the rest of the superheroes on the network were swiftly approaching middle age. The group of young actors — which include Walfall, Mary-Charles Jones as her best friend, Annabelle, Aidan Gemme as Annabelle’s boyfriend, Jacob, and a trio of love interests for Naomi comprised of Daniel Puig, Will Meyers, and Camila Moreno — proved to be a likeable bunch, particularly when the three love interests bucked dramatic TV conventions and bonded in unexpected ways.
But halfway through the season, the dynamic was upended. Meyers and Gemme were missing much of the time and the high school elements took a back seat to Naomi investigating the mystery by herself or in the company of seeming villain Zumbado (Cranston Johnson), who turned out not to be the big bad, but a misunderstood super-powered being from Naomi’s home reality. Unfortunately, the Zumbado reveal moved the series into its weaker aspect: an unending series of two-hander scenes in which one or both participants speak in riddles about Naomi’s past or destiny. We imagine the restricted number of castmembers in any given scene was a COVID-inspired safety precaution, but it meant whole episodes could feel very samey even if it switched from a plot where Naomi and Zumbado investigate S.T.A.R. Labs to one in which Naomi’s adoptive parents (Barry Watson and Mouzam Makkar) work to keep her secret safe. Worse, that samey-ness could continue from episode to episode.
Then there are other failings, like the way its initial support of potential queer romances gave way to something more heteronormative. But the failure on that front reflects a problem with the series overall: there are just too many characters for a thirteen-episode teen superhero drama. Between the six teenagers, there are two mentors (once Zumbado explained himself), two parents, and some attempts at recurring high school characters to contend with. When the production is forced to keep scenes low on players, that means someone like Jacob gets little-to-no time to develop into a character. In fact, it should be noted we never actually learn he is Annabelle’s boyfriend until the sixth of seventh episode. And that’s unfortunate as the kids bring an energy and freshness to the familiar CW superhero material. The adults, meanwhile, already feel like they’re used reciting this dialogue over on thank to years on The Flash or Arrow.
This is no better exemplified than in the two-part season finale, which literally put the adults in a room together where they must spit technobablle at each other while the kids — now all on the same page about Naomi’s secrets and powers — prove to be huge nerds and the help she most needs. Sure, their scenes don’t completely work, but it proves the show is better realized with its younger dynamics. This may be why Naomi’s adoptive parents proved to be liars and Dee (Alexander Wraith) is on his way out into space.
Despite our misgivings about the show, we hope the series gets a second season to find the balance once again. Now that Naomi knows most of the truth and the threat she presents to Brutus, she can get ready to assemble the 29 against him. And coupling that with more traditional senior year conflicts, there is a hope the program can find its footing. Although, with the network allegedly on the way to a new, more news-focused ownership, there may be no room for Naomi in The CW’s long-term future. But at least one more year would give her the chance to graduate high school and save the world.