Netflix’s Luke Cage—starring Mike Colter (as the titular superhero), Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali and a host of former actors from HBO’s The Wire—debuts September 30 as the latest in a crop of outstanding shows preserving TV’s new golden age. Taken alongside the season’s Queen Sugar, Atlanta and Insecure, this Marvel adventure series wins for a similar reason: undiluted, triple-darkness African-American culture interlaced with a strong narrative that tells us all something about being Black right now at this moment. What better time for an attractive, superheroic, bulletproof Black man whose only costume is an unassuming hoodie?
Luke Cage, first introduced on the small screen last year in Netflix’s Jessica Jones, relocates uptown from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem, and the move switches up the mood between the two series right away. Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge score the show, flavored full of golden era hip-hop like Wu-Tang Clan. (Method Man even cameos as himself.) Performances from Jidenna, Raphael Saadiq and Faith Evans recall dynamic musical set pieces from New York Undercover. Harlem itself explodes onscreen, from the fictional Harlem’s Paradise nightclub owned by bad guy Cornell Stokes to authentic bodegas, churches, Jackie Robinson Park, the famed Rucker Park basketball court and more.
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With Luke Cage, it’s evident the character’s A-list superhero potential has never been tapped quite as well in over 40 years of his comic-book history. Colter, highly charismatic and spot-on in the role of reluctant hero, attacks corrupt politicians and drug smugglers alike with a patented black cool Daredevil or Iron Fist could only dream of. Remember the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning” (“It’s my n*gga Pop from the barbershop…”)? From the very first episode, Cage is taken under the wing of a Harlem barbershop owner nicknamed Pop (Frankie Faison)—just the type of subliminal detail writer-producer Cheo Hodari Coker masterfully keeps lacing the show with without drawing away from the storyline.
Two seasons of Daredevil and last fall’s Jessica Jones raised expectations for Netflix’s Marvel TV adaptations nearly to a tipping point. Despite the odds, Luke Cage is arguably the best yet.