written by Dayna Abel, Jason Froikin and Cara Russell
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
Okay, look. I love, love, love noble superheroes. I’ve said it before, and that’s why I fell so in love with The Flash. Last night’s premiere of Supergirl brought us more of the heroic idealism we see in Barry Allen, geared more towards providing a role model younger girls can look up to. While the pilot outright stated as such in a hamfisted moment or two, it’s impossible to deny the importance of seeing Kara Zor-El brought to life on the small screen for her first leading role.
Melissa Benoist’s Kara is everything I’d hoped she’d be: a sincere young woman eager to help others, with a strong moral core. She is very much a novice superhero who needs guidance and support, particularly from her adopted sister Alex. I did not see the twist of Alex being a DEO agent coming, and it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Alex, Kara and DEO Agent Hank Henshaw will develop over time. Speaking of relationships, I can’t say I cared much for Winn. I was put off by his “oh, you’re not into me so you must be gay” attitude, and his initial dismissal of Kara’s plane-saving exploit. I didn’t get the impression they were close friends, and I hope he earns that during the course of the season.
Despite some egregious plot holes (how did Superman find Kara but not Fort Rozz if they crashed together? If the Phantom Zone villains have been laying low, how does anybody know anything about them? Do Clark and Kara just…never talk to each other? Call? Email? Anything?), the premiere was very good, getting right to the superheroing in the first act. (I’m looking at you, Smallville.) The acting is excellent on all counts, and Benoist’s emoting really carries the character. The special effects are great, the overall story was great, and I’m definitely tuning in for the rest of the season. Overall, I very much recommend Supergirl, especially if you enjoy the heroic optimism of The Flash..
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If you watch Supergirl with an open mind, you get to enjoy a performance by Melissa Benoist that makes you believe the character of Supergirl is human before she’s an alien. That’s an important distinction, because it makes her more relatable, more friendly, less distant. You find yourself firmly on her side before she takes her first flight. It’s almost as if she’s a human being given powers during the course of the first episode; easy to forget she’s an alien who had them all along.
The show itself has that same modern action/intrigue feel like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and would be very familiar to fans of that show – yes, up to and including the involvement of a secret government organization. Familiar enough, in fact, that it fades away as a theme for the show, leaving it to be almost entirely driven by its characters. Other characters to watch are Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, who looks to be a cold and aloof boss, but occasionally spouts profound wisdom; and Kara’s foster sister Alex, who worryingly switches between support mechanism and rival, and practically wears a flashing “danger” sign. Unfortunately, the character of Jimmy Olsen so far has existed only as both Kara’s connection to Superman, and the viewer’s. That proved to be kind of disappointing so far, but he still has time to redeem himself by doing something more spectacular than saving Kara’s job and telling her how proud Superman is of her. The almost-nameless I.T. guy at least got to make her a costume.
Only time will tell if this series has staying power. Because it’s based on a formula that’s quite overused these days, it has an inherent weakness; the writers will need to strive hard not to fall back on that formula, and to keep the characters fresh and entertaining. Supergirl has been advertised almost entirely by showcasing its title character. While that makes sense, it also means the advertising carries all of the baggage of opinions people have about the DC Comics version. Unfortunately, that very same baggage has been known to sink just about every part of the Supergirl franchise in the past. My message to CBS would be to show those people things that break the preconceptions. Get them to let go, and try the new show.
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How does one articulate incoherent screaming? Let’s find out! I do admit fully that anything with the Supergirl branding is a sure-sale to me, but whether it’s something I will enjoy or buy out of obligation is something else. This Supergirl definitely falls into the former category.
Like any pilot, the premiere of Supergirl felt a bit cramped. However instead of the storytelling sin of drawing out exposition, the team chose to steamroll right through the setup and complicated backstory in three and a half minutes, introducing us to our heroine, four parents, one adopted sister, the cousin who was her raison d’etre, and Kara’s primary emotional conflict (social conformity in absence of defined purpose). The rest of the episode follows through at the same fast pace, showing us, rather than telling us, taking time to breathe only long enough to demonstrate just how self-aware the writers are of this responsibility as they address sexism within media representation, while setting up the framework of a highly female driven story. As it turns out, Kara’s true legacy comes not from her duty to Kal-El, but from her mother Alura, and is threatened by her maternal aunt Astra (a former resident of a Phantom Zone jail). A nice twist on a Kryptonian society that often shunts women into the sidelines, to be written out of history.
Overall, the pilot delivers a complete story, hitting all the story and action notes one would expect from an origin, without feeling bogged down. While some characters did receive very little screen time, all felt well defined, if without depth, with most of the character growth going to Kara and her sister Alex. I do hope that future episodes will have the opportunity to decompress, allowing for deeper characterization and with more compelling adversaries. As it stands, the emotional and social conflicts take center stage in a way that will be appealing to fans of Lois & Clark, Smallville, or even the sibling drama Supernatural. But most importantly, it’ll make you believe a girl can fly, which is something that is often sorely missing in media.
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