'Raising Dion' in a modern world

New Netflix sci-fi series gives a peek single motherhood and grief

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Despite the TV-PG rating of “Raising Dion,” creator Carol Barbee designed a series capable of conveying deep emotion and complex thought.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Netflix’s new science-fiction drama “Raising Dion” goes beyond fantasy to give the viewer something real. In the age of the easily accessible superhero genre, “Raising Dion” brings something different to the table. Based on the comic book series of the same name by creator Dennis Liu, the show tells the origin story of a mother balancing her own self interests while raising an exceptional child. 

In the opening scenes, viewers are introduced to the main protagonists — Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), a stressed single mother, and Dion (Ja’Siah Young), an intelligent 8-year-old boy with the power to move things with his mind. The viewer also learns Dion’s father Mark (Michael B. Jordan) died saving someone’s life. Dion’s godfather Pat (Jason Ritter) steps in as a surrogate father to help Nicole care for Dion. 

The plot of the show starts in a messy apartment in Atlanta where Nicole is rushing to get Dion out of the house so she can make it to work on time. Dion is practicing magic tricks instead of eating his cereal when Nicole tells him they have to leave immediately. In his haste to put his cereal bowl in the sink he trips over a box and drops his bowl. To his amazement, his Froot Loops and milk remain floating in the air instead of spilling — until Nicole surprises him and it all falls. From this point on his powers expand to teleporting, invisibility and the ability to heal others. 

Despite the TV-PG rating of “Raising Dion,” creator Carol Barbee designed a series capable of conveying deep emotion and complex thought. The show takes viewers into the challenges of parenting a gifted child while facing adversity from all directions. “Raising Dion” uses the idea of a superpowered child to tackle bigger issues like class and race. The show creates an omniscient perspective — every character can be seen with their own storyline. 

From Nicole’s perspective, the viewer sees the struggle of unemployment, stifled creativity and grief. Nicole is struggling to find a sense of self while raising her son and trying to reclaim her creative energy. Dion’s perspective is one that is filled with anxiety about losing friendships and family members. In an early scene, the show reveals that Dion is a bit of a misfit and has trouble making friends because he fears losing them like he lost his father. 

Wainwright skillfully uses her talents on screen to insightfully play the role of a struggling mother, from the tears she cries in the face of unemployment to the grief she pushes through to raise her child. Through flashbacks, the series shows how the protagonists have changed from grieving the loss of a husband and a father. Nicole is far less outgoing and much more authoritative, and Dion is struggling to navigate through new experiences. 

Before Nicole became a mother, she was a professional dancer with a very bright future. In a flashback, the viewer sees her in action in one of her performances. She is lively and full of energy and exuberance. As she finishes her set, she tells Mark it is her last time dancing because she is pregnant. The way Nicole is presented as a creative, artistic dancer is different than the downtrodden, anxious Nicole the viewer sees throughout the rest of the series.

The creators of “Raising Dion” give their articulate take on the current state of the workforce and how it affects day to day life. Within the first 20 minutes of the series, Nicole loses her job, and subsequently her health insurance. Throughout the rest of the show, Nicole is unable to tend to her family’s needs and desires because she is either looking for a job or her boss is unwilling to give her time away. In one scene, she is at the pharmacy attempting to buy medicine for Dion’s asthma but without insurance she is forced to buy the drug at a rate 13 times as much more expensive.

Intertwined with the show’s critiques about class are the shows critique’s about race. In one scene, Nicole must intervene when Dion is punished for attacking a white student, Jonathan (Gavin Munn) in school. The principal of the school refuses to punish Jonathan despite the fact that he was the instigator to the altercation. Jonathan stole Dion’s watch, and the principal does not believe it is Dion’s to begin with because he is black. In another situation, Nicole is unable to find a job after endless phone calls and interviews until she finds a black employer who can relate to her situation. Here the viewer sees how the showrunner makes an inseparable connection between class and race. 

“Raising Dion” goes much further beyond the scope of a typical superhero show. The science fiction plot takes the backseat to the much larger story about family and struggle. The cliffhanger at the end of the season is similar to reality in that it is unknown what will happen next. 

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