"Are you saying we're wasting our time chasing lightning?"
REVIEW: It's a superhero story done in the X-Files style! Don't agree? Think about it. Giovanni Ribisi plays DPO, an angsty teenager with the power to control electrical fields who seems to charge up by calling down lightning (SHAZAM!) to fight bullies and perhaps win the love of that unobtainable girl while being hunted by the law. Only his trusty sidekick Zero (played by Jack Black in a before-they-were-stars double!) knows and protects his secret. The latter's death is even visually couched in superhero imagery, with arcade coins dropping like Martha Wayne's pearls, and DPO watching from a rooftop, dramatically backdropped by epic clouds!But as this IS an X-Files story, DPO is a deranged mutant (mutate?) who uses his powers irresponsibly and tries to kill the woman of his dreams' husband. Zero, only a touch less creepy than his dim friend, is actually afraid of him. And the response to bullying is far from proportional (don't play DPO's favorite arcade game!).
I'm wondering if the production was actively doing a parody of the superhero concept, because some of the episode's weaknesses would almost become meta-textual strengths if they were. The character of the uncooperative sheriff, for example, is a tired cliché (on this series alone!), but also one you'd expect from four-color adventures. This one obsessively talks about the science of lightning to the point of absurdity, on the basis that he has his morning coffee with the scientists working at the local lightning studies observatory, and yet we never see these oh-so-insightful scientists. Please, Mr. armchair lightningologist, tell us more. It's science as treated in the comics. Or maybe it's just weak plotting, that's possible too. Certainly, there's no explanation as to why the final lightning strike disables DPO, or how they intend on keeping him locked up if he still has some power left.
That said, the episode is full of nice touches, starting with the music. This is really the first X-Files episode to use a real pop-rock soundtrack, much of it used to score the action ironically. Ring the Bells by James is damn near perfect to score the bully's death at the start. The cooked heart. Chris Carter's credit on DPO's TV screen instead of the usual black card. And the very fact that "Lightning Lad" has no real ambition for his powers. Like his mother who watches things simply because "they're on TV", DPO uses his powers for to play video games and play pranks. And he doesn't put any thought into his murders either. A villain dangerous precisely because he's not clever.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I won't pretend D.P.O. doesn't have its problems, but it's hugely entertaining.