Whenever I think of Jim Gaffigan, I can’t help but think of his bit about Hot Pockets. And so when he popped up as the voice of the JSA’s very own genie, Thunderbolt, I kept waiting for the fluorescent pink entity to start pontificating on freezer calzones. Much to my disappointment, it didn’t happen. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 2, Episode 3, “Summer School: Chapter Three.”
“Summer School: Chapter Three”
Despite how many characters we met in the first season of Stargirl, there are still a few JSA and ISA members we have yet to formally meet. This week, we’re introduced formally to Thunderbolt thanks to Mike Dugan.
Mike has been a weird part of the Stargirl cast since the beginning. Courtney, her parents, and the other JSA members are incredibly earnest. They express their feelings genuinely and react pretty believably considering the situations they experience. And then there’s Mike. He feels like a little brother yanked out of a 90s sitcom, or like he was trained to act using specifically Rodney Dangerfield movies and only those; he reacts sarcastically to just about every situation, and seems to have been born with his eyebrow stuck in a smug raised position.
Mike did have a couple of moments last season when the battle with the ISA invaded the Whitmore-Dugan household, but still felt like an outsider.
Starring Mike Dugan
This week, though, puts the focus right on young Mike and Thunderbolt. The episode deals with feelings of loneliness and isolation by matching the two up. For Thunderbolt, he’s the only one of his kind here on Earth, while Mike is the only one of the young characters who wants to be involved with the JSA but has no way in. His step-mom, Barbara, doesn’t have any powers or robots either, but seems a lot more content with that knowledge.
After the first couple wishes turn into a comedy of errors–Pat Dugan rightly describes Thunderbolt as “not exactly a living Monkey’s Paw, but close enough”–Mike starts to see Thunderbolt as his way into the JSA. Thunderbolt tells Pat that his previous owner, Johnny Thunder, wished for Thunderbolt to find someone like himself; Mike, like Thunderbolt (and Johnny Thunder) is feeling left out of the lives of those around him and hungry for a connection.
After helping the JSA find the Shade, Mike goes against Pat’s wishes and joins the team as they confront him. This is our first experience seeing the Shade in action. Without even breaking a sweat, he pins down all of the JSA members, as well as Pat and Mike.
After the traumatic experience, Mike readily admits his mistake, and wishes the pen was in better hands. Of course, the pen disappears in a flash, and he realizes with great disappointment what he’s just done.
Finally, Mike feels like a sympathetic character rather than just a joke character for Pat to deliver fatherly lessons to between Courtney’s major life events. Gaffigan is, as you’d expect, consistently funny but also brings a sadness to Thunderbolt that I wasn’t expecting. Similarly, we get to see how Mike actually feels about the events taking place around him and how they affect him. It shouldn’t have taken this long to give Mike some substantial screen time, but it’s good that it happened—he feels much more like a part of the cast.