Supergirl

We watched the premiere of the new Supergirl TV show last night. I’m not sure why I decided to watch this one while I sat out The Flash last year. Maybe because Supergirl isn’t up against shows I already watch (my interest in Gotham is somewhere south of zero), and I sometimes feel like I watch too much TV anyway.

The pilot episode’s first act was the closest thing I can recall seeing on TV to a true cinematic experience: The staging, the pacing, the effects, even the particular wittiness of the dialogue, all felt like I was watching a movie. If that’s what they were going for – and, frankly, I thought it worked really well – then they nailed it.

I’ve seen a little criticism that Kara’s secret identity is too close to that of Clark Kent’s, but I’m okay with it, especially since Melissa Benoist carries the role off with a fair bit of nuance (I actually liked her better as Kara than as Supergirl). Of the people at her workplace, Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen is the clear standout. I haven’t seen Man of Steel so I have no idea how much Supergirl’s world matches up with that one, but I thought this was the best portrayal of Jimmy Olsen since, well, maybe the 1970s (thought the version in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman was also pretty good). Calista Flockhart has a one-note role (in this episode, anyway) as Cat Grant, and Jeremy Jordan is fine as her cow-orker and would-be romantic interest Winn Shott.

But the episode kind of went to pieces in the second act. Already overburdened with too many oblique references to Superman, the series throws us both a spaceship of criminals who have escaped onto Earth (with the attendant feelings of guilt since they followed Kara out of the Phantom Zone, not that she had any control over any of that), and the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, which Kara’s sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) works for. Presumably intended to provide some structure to the first season (giving Supergirl some people to work with and also feel suspicious of, and some people to fight every week), both of these elements are really just cheap contrivances, and it immediately made the show feel more run-of-the-mill. If the series turns into monster-of-the-week even for just a few episodes, its quality is going to sink like a stone. And I’m so done with Superman and his cast being threatened by menaces lingering from Krypton long after it’s destruction. Doing away with all that was one of the best parts of the 80s reboot of the comic book, and staying away from it (except for Brainiac) was important in the Superman cartoon of the 90s. Just say no.

Also, while I don’t mind repurposing names of minor comic book characters for a new medium, the fact that Winn Shott and Hank Henshaw both ominously share names with Superman villains is not at all welcome. Another thing that sucks the life out of adaptations like this is the slow reveal of some character we know about from the original material. (This is one reason I have no interest in Gotham.) If Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) turns into the Cyborg Superman, you’ll know the series has jumped the shark.

The third act was a fairly run-of-the-mill “heroine overcomes self-doubt” resolution, with a lot of punching and things blowing up. Which is not bad – before seeing this episode I felt the keys to the series would be a witty script and not welching on the superhero action (which is what sunk Lois and Clark back in the 90s). But the back end of the episode did not live up to the execution of the first 15 minutes.

Overall it was a pretty good episode, but I think they missed the boat by throwing Kara into the mess of the DEO and the ship of escaped criminals, which essentially prevents her from finding her own way to being her own hero. The premise is already burdened by her living in the shadow of her famous cousin without being able to ever show him on-screen in a satisfying manner. So the show should be about her establishing herself and building her self-confidence, not rounding up someone else’s criminals or worrying that the DEO is going to capture her again. I think it’s going to try to do both, and I worry that it’s not going to work.

4 thoughts on “Supergirl”

  1. Heh. I liked Lois and Clark because it short-changed the superhero action. I mean, it’s Superman; his only real challenge is figuring out which super-power he’s going to use this week to foil the plot. Frankly, if it’s not super-speed, it’s because he wanted a challenge or to be inventive (“if I use my right, it would be over too quickly” :). At their power level, there’s almost nothing they can’t solve without an adversary of equal capabilities (and no, Lex Luthor doesn’t qualify), and adversaries of equal capabilities lead to massive destruction (one of the few things I liked about Man of Steel; Kryptonian fights are not just destructive, they can be extinction-level events).

  2. I think they’ve established in the pilot that Supergirl fighting with a similarly-powered opponent can, say, wreck a factory building given some effort during their fight. That’s not nothing (heck, it’s better than I can do!) but it’s quite a ways below extinction-level. The post-Crisis comics Superman of the late 80s through the 90s was a little above that, but not a huge amount.

  3. The fundamental problem with superman/girl is the super hero part is just not that interesting. I agree the opening was well done but they did reveal way too much plot in the first episode. They should have teased us about the sister for several episodes and saved the aunt part for mid season. Does not bode well for the writing going forward.

  4. I can forgive some of the overstuffed nature of the pilot because there’s a certain amount of setup that needs to be done for a series like this (and some of it was probably to sell the pilot to TPTB). I’m a little more concerned about the Big Bad introduced at the end of the episode. That has the biggest potential for cheese and scenery chewing, in my opinion, if only because I didn’t see a huge amount of nuance there. On the bright side: I was skeptical about the choice of Benoist but I thought she did a fine job, the relationship with her sister could be interesting or awful, depending on how it goes. No real concerns with the supporting cast, although I thought it was funny that Dean Cain didn’t do much more than smile and it would be good to see a bit more depth in Henshaw’s character, as an example. A nice touch was that the writers clearly assumed that we already knew Kara’s power set (i.e. the use of vision, auditory and flight powers, etc.), jokes aside about her being bulletproof and having her cape shredded. Thinking about the potential end point of the series: if the series ends when Kara is a confident super-hero, perhaps even having a protege or replacing her cousin, then it could get awfully tedious if the bulk of the series has her being an inexperienced clutz. Actually, perhaps a more fitting end point for the series would be Kara being a mature, confident person in all aspects of her life, maybe even going public with her secret identity.

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