It’s not easy being the (technically older, but still younger) cousin to the greatest superhero the world has ever known. But CBS’s Supergirl, from Warner Bros Television, is trying to break the female superhero glass ceiling by bringing a new kind of lead comic hero to the network.
Based on the iconic superheroine, Melissa Benoist (Whiplash) stars as Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl, as she reveals herself and her powers to the world for the first time.
Let’s get the big question out of the way: Is Superman in this show? The answer is yes, in a few very small doses. But the reasoning behind why he isn’t around in Kara’s adult life is pretty thin, and I’m hoping the creative team builds to some greater explanation, because the threats that appear to growing against Kara are extremely large in scale – meaning there’s no way Superman would not get involved.
But sticking true to the source material, Kara is Kal-El’s (aka Superman/Clark Kent) older cousin that was sent to Earth to watch over him as an infant when Krypton was destroyed. But after an incident throws her ship off course, Kara arrives on Earth having been in suspended animation during her trip for many years.
When she awakes, Kara finds Kal-El has grown up to become Earth’s champion under the mantle of Superman, leaving her stranded on this foreign planet – where she no longer has a purpose. 12 years later, this search for meaning drives the pilot episode (and probably the series) as Kara struggles to find a fit for her personal and blossoming superhero lives.
Supergirl isn’t the smoothest pilot episode to come out of Greg Berlanti’s DC Comics camp, and has a rougher time finding its footing than The Flash or even the Arrow pilot. The tone is a mess and switches from rom-com, to campy Devil Wears Prada comedy, to a true-blue DC Comics superhero show – and they all clash with each other. I can literally hear the fanboys cringing at some of the inter-office scenes that are pretty awful.
But what really does work in the episode is Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. Benoist is an adorable, cheery revelation in the role with her refreshingly optimistic demeanor and her thousand-watt smile. I can see her easily becoming a fan favorite actress in the role – she is just so darn likable, yet you’ll still believe a girl can fly.
The special effects are also extremely solid most of the time. Much like on The Flash, Supergirl pulls off some pretty large-scale super power action scenes on a TV budget with much better success than you’d anticipate. From a plane crash scene to super-powered fights, it all looks mostly impressive. I really dig the design of the Supergirl suit and the bright, colorful, optimistic shots of her flying look extremely cool. Again, for the most part – there are few less-than-stellar-looking effect shots here and there, which has been the norm in this genre.
The supporting cast is solid, if not a bit clichéd. Calista Flockhart is inspired casting for Cat Grant, the aging beauty and CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media. Flockhart is having a lot of fun in the role is a highlight of the generally corny office humor/romance.
One of the bigger departures from the comic book source material is James “Jimmy” Olsen played by Mehcad Brooks. Rather than the plucky, freckle faced red-head, this version is a tall, muscular and confident African-American with supermodel good looks. It took me most of the episode to get past the CW-ification of Jimmy – and yes, he is the clichéd heart-throb that Kara pines for – while ignoring her nerdy friend-zoned coworker Winn Schott (the future villain Toyman, played by Jeremy Jordan). But once I saw the role Jimmy would play in Kara’s growth towards embracing her destiny and how he connected her with her Super cousin, I quite liked his presence in the pilot.
For DC Comics (and Superman fanatics like myself) there’s plenty of great references to the source material universe, something Berlanti and Co. do exceptionally well on The Flash and Arrow. There’s the aforementioned pre-Toyman, and Hank Henshaw (prior to becoming cyborg Superman) also plays a key role in a secretive organization that targets Kara. Probably the most clever tip of the hat is the cameo from original 1984 Supergirl Helen Slater and Lois and Clark‘s Superman Dean Cain as Kara’s adopted parents Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers.
Through the Danvers family you get the girl power and scenes like the “sisters gossiping over ice cream” Gilmore Girls-type moments between Kara and her adopted sister Alex (Chrylser Leigh). It helps that these two ladies have very natural chemistry, but these types of interactions will be very divisive among viewers.
The biggest issue the show has going forward is finding a balance for Supergirl that works for all the many demographics the pilot reached for. While personally, I enjoyed the more in-depth mythology-heavy moments of the show, younger female viewers will probably love the romance and girl talk moments. That’s not to say that those moments are a bad thing for Supergirl. I love that the show is doing something different and representing women to young fangirls with a strong role model. If I had a younger daughter, I would absolutely watch this show with her.
Regardless, this show will be tough sell to the typical male audience wanting something more akin to The Flash or the even darker Arrow. Supergirl is a cheery, hope-filled, bubbly superhero adventure with major girly overtones that might turn some off, but I’m optimistic about seeing Kara continue to don the S-shield as Supergirl in hopes the show continues improve and find its sweet spot.