Supergirl, Season 1 Episode 1-Pilot
The last two years have been an exciting time for those of us who grew up on comic book heroes. DC has been attempting to build their television brand, sometimes with great success (Arrow, The Flash) and sometimes not so successfully (Gotham, Constantine).
Into this mix comes Supergirl, a superhero with a great deal of potential that has never been handled well in the comics. I will not lie and say I was not worried when I saw that it would air on CBS. CBS is not known for appealing to a youthful demographic, and if the special effects work that I’ve seen in some of their shows is any indication, they certainly don’t pour a great deal of their budget into producing a polished brand. That said, the six minute trailer that was released some months back had me intrigued. The look of her suit hearkens back to the Man of Steel. Jimmy Olson (Mehcad Brooks, The Game) is a black man. Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal) is starring as a snooty media mogul intent on getting Supergirl on her front page. This looked like it could be fun.
The pilot starts off with the origin story of Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist, Glee). The daughter of Zor-El and Alura is sent to look over her famous baby cousin, her departure taking place minutes after he departs. However, her pod gets caught in the shock wave of Krypton’s explosion, propelling her into the Phantom Zone. Trapped in the Phantom Zone for years, she doesn’t age, and her pod is finally released for some unknown reason, pulling with it unbeknownst to her Fort Rozz, a maximum security prison for the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. When she arrives she is greeted by her cousin, who is now grown and has revealed himself to the world as Superman. He places her with the Danvers family (Dean Cain, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Helen Slater, Supergirl), who helped him learn about his abilities and powers. Suddenly without purpose, Kara decides it’s best if she just fits in, as the world doesn’t need another hero.
Flash forward to the present. Kara Danvers is an administrative assistant who wants to do bigger things with her life. A flight that her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh, Grey’s Anatomy) is on experiences engine trouble (later revealed to be a deliberate attack) and without thinking Kara flies in to save the day. Her sister admonishes her, warning her it isn’t safe for her to reveal herself. This causes a rift in their relationship, a rift that is deepened when Kara is captured by the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), headed by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, Homeland). Kara discovers Alex works for the department and orchestrated her capture. Henshaw explains the presence of the prisoners and Kara’s role in it, which shakes her already weak confidence in her decision to reveal herself to the world. However the DEO isn’t the only entity that has taken an interest in Kara’s appearance. Vartox (Owain Yeoman, The Mentalist), one of the escaped prisoners from Fort Rozz, notifies a shadow figure that Kara is on earth and he is ordered to deal with her. Her reveal, and the subsequent fall out, force Kara to make some tough decisions.
Supergirl’s story mirrors the Superman canon in some respects. Kara, like Clark, uses black awkward glasses as her only disguise. She works in journalism. She’s awkward and bubbly, expressing herself in a way that make her seem smaller and less powerful than she actually is. The first primary difference is that unlike Clark, who pretends to be shy, clumsy, and self-effacing, Kara is truly all of these things. She was a headstrong 13 year old left her home with a purpose. When she finally arrives, she discovers her purpose is irrelevant, and that the world has gone on without her. The core of her identity, protector of her little cousin, is no more and unlike Clark, who had the benefit of being raised as a human, Kara is torn between two worlds and doesn’t really know how to fit into either. She simply knows she should be doing more but recognizes she doesn’t know how to go about doing so. The pilot episode, while a bit melodramatic in addressing this struggle, does a good job showing Kara as a young woman trying to discover herself.
The other difference between her and Clark and one that is more problematic to me as a viewer is that EVERYONE seems to know who she is, and those who don’t know she tells. Jimmy Olson, who prefers to go by James now, was actually sent to National City by Superman to keep an eye on her. Alex revealed Kara’s identity to the DEO, which is how she got a job as an agent with them. She tells her best friend Winn (Jeremy Jordan, Smash) who she is all because she wants someone to be excited for her. While these actions are natural for a young woman who is insecure about her place in the world, they seem short sighted as someone raised by a family who helped Superman discover who and what he was.
This story blends a few of the character histories from the comics but the look of the suit and the timing of the show might make one believe that this show takes place in the Man of Steel universe. However executive producer Andrew Kreisberg confirmed in an interview that this story doesn’t tie in to either the Christopher Reeve franchise or the Zack Snyder franchise. The showrunners did not want to be bound to the existing canon and have created a standalone story. This seems consistent with DC keeping their television properties separate from their movie franchises. Indeed, we are left to wonder if any elements from the DC television properties will allude to issues in the movies and vice versa (what I like to refer to as the Marvel formula).
That said, the pilot episode was entertaining and fun. As a woman I will admit there were parts of it that felt a bit heavy with teen girl angst and some of the scenes between Kara and Alex were a bit melodramatic, but this is a CBS show and a certain level of melodrama is to be expected. It is a nice show for families, especially those with young girls, who can watch a show with a woman as a lead that they can connect with and relate to. As I feared, the special effects left something to be desired, as did the wire work and action sequences. Again, this is CBS, and this was only the pilot. The introduction of a prison full of escaped prisoners on earth, along with the imminent arrival of a shadow general intimately familiar to Kara opens the door for a great season of action and adventure. Once the show gets a foothold, hopefully more money can be spent on cleaning up the poorly choreographed action sequences and CGI effects of Supergirl flying through the air and using her abilities.
I graded this one a little lower because the pilot was shot in a way that makes me believe that the writers and producers didn’t think they could get it off the ground. Everything is tied up very quickly and in a neat little bow that seems less than genuine and rushed. The action sequences and special effects left a lot to be desired. At points it was painful to watch Kara regress from a 25 year old working woman to a 16 year old girl. Supergirl is a lighter series so far compared to her DC cousins airing on The CW network, but that could change. CBS is not a stranger to dark storytelling (Person of Interest airing on that network is one of the darkest and most morose series I’ve ever watched on network television). However, Supergirl doesn’t have to change tone to be a better show. The show has great promise if written correctly and I am looking forward to what comes next.