Created by: Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, Sarah Shechter and Andrew Kreisberg
It’s long past time that more female superheroes were brought to the screen and this one is fully front and centre with a tone that feels right.
Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth to look after her cousin Kal-El but her ship got caught in the phantom zone, so by the time she arrived on the planet her younger cousin was older and had already become Superman. Kara is adopted by the Danvers family, and now grown up, she’s faced with living up to her super potential too.
I’m a big fan of ‘Superman’ as a character and as a franchise and I’ve followed the many different adaptations from a young age, even writing my university dissertation on the subject. Now it’s time for his cousin Kara to get another chance at gracing our screens, this time not as a mention or as a minor role (as she was in ‘Smallville’) but fronting a full ‘Supergirl’ TV show.
Instantly it distinguishes itself as worlds apart from any other adaptations currently airing. Even at its darkest moments it’s still lighter than for example ‘Arrow‘, and clearly owes more to ‘Smallville’ and ‘Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’ than the current crop of super shows, even more so the recent DC movies.
The show highlights the female empowerment aspects unashamedly, not just in the most obvious case of Kara, but also with the roles of her sister Alex, her boss and other characters show that women are key to the story and will feature prominently and assertively.
The casting of Melissa Benoist ass Kara is clearly the one that matters most, and though I was a little unsure at first when it was announced, based on her likeability in her short period on ‘Glee’ and her really small role in ‘Whiplash‘, I quickly grew in confidence. In the end, she’s great. Her demeanour really works on screen in the role. She has the ‘girl next door’ vibe, so that you can see her quietly blending in when at work but still looking very striking and instantly more confident when in her supersuit. Getting a balance of the two personas is vitally important but even more than featuring both is how well developed they are. Where we start the story is before Kara has become Supergirl, so we need to be fully convinced by Kara Danvers the assistant and young woman, the superhero she will become is a character that we as an audience will get to know as Kara discovers that side of herself in the show. I personally felt very satisfied with Benoist’s portrayal, she convinced a picky fan like me, and is so very likeable that I think she’s sure to win over enough of the target audience too.
The rest of the cast is generally quite strong too, the women especially. Calista Flockhart (‘Ally McBeal’) plays Kara’s boss Cat Grant (a role that was very different when portrayed by Tracey Scoggins in ‘Lois and Clark’) who is very sure of herself and forthright, I hope the role is well developed and deepened as she is at risk of becoming annoying if serving merely a perfunctory role. Kara’s adoptive sister Alex Danvers played by Chyler Leigh (‘Grey’s Anatomy’) is another strong role, avoiding spoilers here, but she’s clearly said and shown to be both intelligent and tough, with quite good chemistry between the sisters even in this early episode. Family themes are definitely going to be developed with both Kara’s biological and adoptive family which is good as it will help reinforce the point that she’s motivated to become a superhero because of her love for the planet she’s grown up on. The other Danvers family roles are nicely filled with cameos by Dean Cain and Helen Slater. It’s a nice nod to both the original film franchise and the 90’s ‘Superman’ show, completely over the heads of many young viewers but for someone of my era it immediately conjured up exactly what it needed to, the family friendly appeal of the original Superman movies (though ‘Supergirl’ was a blip in the franchise) and the very popular ‘Lois and Clark’.
The male cast is also pretty decent, I especially like David Harewood (also seen this year in ‘SuperBob’) though I’m not completely sold on his character. “Jimmy Olsen is a black man… wicked!” is what my friend Jay (also a black man) said when he watched the episode with me, and I agree, the race change works, it’s a much simpler one to explain than Johnny Storm in ‘Fantastic Four’ in that it doesn’t need any explaining at all and Mehcad Brooks is very likeable in the role straight away. Jeremy Jordan’s role as Kara’s close friend and colleague Winn is the one I’m least sure of, not because I dislike the character, more I wonder what his role will be as he’s such an early confidante that it completely removes the enjoyment of a hidden identity thread with him, and there’s clearly a romantic undertone there that is at risk of being frustrating/annoying depending on how it’s developed (especially as the possibility of a love triangle is teased), though I hope to be won over as the season progresses.
Visually it looks excellent, in the most part very bright and colourful. The opening on Krypton is a little bit flat as regards the design, feeling even more so mainly given the last we saw of the planet was the lavish and superbly detailed vision seen in ‘Man of Steel‘ (possibly the best element of that whole movie). That being said, it’s a short sequence and though it isn’t the best possible way to open a season with some flat visuals, once on Earth it’s a lot better, with apartments and offices looking really very good indeed. Look out for Cat Grant’s wall of screens which I wouldn’t be surprised to see used for hidden gems and Easter eggs that reference the whole mythology and DC comics universe.
As for the show’s weaknesses, I forsee the biggest issue being the villains. This pilot episode shows Kara develop a lot, and almost rushes over her taking on the mantle of Supergirl, plunging her straight into fights with really formidable opponents. Also, the final scene even reveals the person at the top and teases EXACTLY who they are in relation to Kara. I would have held a lot of this back. If you ask me, the first season should have done what a lot neglect to do, revel in the origins, fully enjoy the period in which Kara takes on her new persona. She talks about it and there are a few really good scenes, but that could be slowly developed over a few episodes or even the first half of the season. There’s about 5 minutes of her trying her hand at different problems while also improving her costume, and personally I’d have liked a lot more of that, it’s fun and would warm people to her rapidly. Rather than her taking on extra-terrestrial threats right from the start, I’d have liked to see her in more car chases, bank robberies, rescues, to see her trying out different powers and learning how to use them as a hero.
Many will criticise the show by saying that it’s cheesy, yes it is but that’s not a bad thing, when it comes to certain comic book superheroes a little bit of cheese is needed. I disliked ‘Man Of Steel’ for ignoring so much of what made Clark Kent the lovable hero audiences have adored for the best part of a century, ‘Supergirl’ shouldn’t make the same mistake.
I could be wrong but I confidently think this is going to be a success. It’s refreshing, drawing on beloved childhood memories of ‘Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’ in tone, and feeling a tad nostalgic in doing that. The lighter tone, sense of fun and wiff of cheese are good things that hark back to another era of film and television superheroes that is still remembered fondly. ‘Supergirl’ has a good chance of joining the current DC TV adaptation success stories, though we shouldn’t hold our breath for her to crossover into them, for now Supergirl is flying solo and finding her own place in the world and I’m convinced she will.