Supa Team 4 (now on Netflix) is another step forward for diversity: a Zambian animated children’s series about the adventures of four schoolgirl superheroes. It marks the first-ever African animation project for Netflix, which offers an ever-growing collection of series and films originating from the continent. Anyone familiar with Nick Jr. and Disney Channel fodder will find the Supa formula familiar, but the fresh setting and context renders it a creative asset for the streamer.
SUPA TEAM 4: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Establishing shots of a near-futuristic version of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
The Gist: I learned something today watching Supa Team 4: Energy companies do something called loadshedding, which occurs when energy demand meets supply. It causes blackouts, and residents of this cartoon Lusaka aren’t happy about it; it has the makings of a recurring theme throughout the series, which seems a bit topical for a kiddie show, but frankly, it’s a reality that young audiences can handle. Anyway! That’s not the only widespread problem in the city – it’s routinely being hit by tornadoes that seem to spawn out of nowhere, and before you worry that this show is going to get extra-heavy with some climate change commentary, rest assured, that isn’t the source of the weird, destructive weather.
Anyway again! We meet a quartet of girls attending Kamiji secondary school: Monde (Namisa Mdlalose) is the new girl, Zee (Nancy Sekhokoane) is a soccer star, Komana (Zowa Ngwira) is a science whiz and Temwe (Kimani Arthur) is a lightly mischievous sort. Nearby is Mama K (Pamela Nomvete), who runs a beverage cart, but secretly lets loose a robot insect that spies on the four girls, watching as they perform brave deeds when a tornado hits the school.
Mama K has plans for these kids. She calls them in and shows them a secret underground headquarters, her supersmart supercomputer assistant TOMI and Chomps, a pet goat who farts a lot, spraying little poop pellets everywhere. They stand in awe – then in even more awe as Mama K gives them superhero costumes and gear, proclaims them Team 4 and tells them to maintain secret identities: Monde is M-Kozo, Komana is K-Bongo, Zee is Za-Mpezi and Monde is M-Kozo, and their first task is to figure out what’s up with all these tornadoes. Komana isn’t so sure about all this, though – she needs to jet, because she’s a candidate for a scholarship offered by the head of the local power company, and yes, this is a red flag. Could Captain Loadshedding be Team 4’s archnemesis?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Think PJ Masks and the like, but more culturally specific (and potentially smarter!).
Our Take: Supa Team 4 is bright, lively, colorful and features a defecating goat to counterbalance the potential development of a supervillain – and I’m gambling on probabilities here – who’s quite likely a greedy CEO of a corporate energy provider. (Reading ahead on Netflix’s brief synopses, the bad guy’s identity will be teased throughout the eight-episode series and revealed at the end.) In many ways, the show draws inspiration from its (too many) predecessors in the serialized adventures of pint-sized superheroes, but it shows creative ambition by rooting the premise in a real-life socio-political setting. So maybe it skews a little older in its appeal – middleschoolers more than gradeschoolers – but its vibrant animation, upbeat tone and cheery voice work will entertain families looking for something significantly less bland and cloying than Paw Patrol. Any thematic sophistication that may arise is a bonus.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: A partial reveal of a shadowy Dr. Claw-like villain.
Sleeper Star: Is this where we once again shout out the habitually pooping goat? I think so.
Most Pilot-y Line: Mama K shows off the secret headquarters: “This is where you are going to save the world!”
Our Call: Supa Team 4 is smart and entertaining and has the potential to achieve creatively over its contemporaries. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.