This fall, CBS will begin airing a new superhero show Supergirl. This series has a lot in common with the highly popular CW shows Arrow and The Flash. The new show shares the same executive producers, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, and all three are based on popular characters from the DC Comics universe. The new show has a tone somewhat reminiscent of The Flash. It also has one more thing in common: reminiscent of last years unauthorized release of The Flash pilot episode, the premier episode of Supergirl has been leaked six months early.
Leaving aside the details of how and why this leak happened, since it did, we get an early look at the show in much more depth than the officially released trailer gave us. Without giving away too much, here are some first impressions of the show, and how well it stacks up to the growing competition in the comic-adaptation space.
First of all, just to be clear: this is being called the “pilot” episode, but it’s not really a traditional pilot. It’s is obviously a final product – S01E01 of the series, with all of the final cast in place and post-production work done. This is good news and bad news. Good news, because we get a faithful representation of what the show will be like for the rest of the season, but bad news because there probably won’t be much chance to fix things that might be broken. (I may be wrong here, we shall see.)
Generally speaking, I think the show is much better than the trailer led us to believe. I still have concerns over where the focus of the show will be, but the pilot seems to be moving in the right direction. The main complaint about the trailer has been how much time was spent on the mundane details of Kara Danver’s life. Was that an indication that the show was trying too hard to attract a broader audience, at the expense of the core superheroine story? I think the pilot gives us good reason to think that’s not the case. I thought the episode had a nice mix of straight up action, character development, and laying groundwork for the rest of the series. It has about the same mix of heroic plot vs. dramatic development that it’s sister shows on the CW did during their first episodes.
The Good Stuff
The first thing that struck me was how little time this show wasted getting the basic exposition out of the way. Within the first 5 minutes of the episode — basically, the opening stinger — most of the plot questions people had from the trailer are answered, right up front. They let us know quickly what’s happened already and where the world sits. It’s also clear that these writers have worked on DC shows before, and they know their stuff, which is a good sign.
Without giving too much away, the show follows the basics of Kara Zor-El’s modern origin story: sent to Earth as a young girl to protect infant Kal-El, an accident causes her to arrive much later. By the time Kara arrives on Earth, Kal-El is fully grown and has revealed his existence. Supergirl is set in a world where Superman is a household name, though the show goes to extreme measures to avoid using the S-word (there are lots of reference to “he”, “him”, and “my cousin”.) The reason for her delay is explained, but it’s a key element to what looks to be the first season’s story arc, so I won’t go into any more detail.
I really like that this show didn’t have your traditional superhero origin story structure, not even for the first episode. Kara was 12 years old when she left Krypton for Earth, and was made fully aware of the special powers she would have. As we see in the trailer, once she decides to embrace her super side, the show jumps right into the heroics: in the first episode, we see flying, super-strength, x-ray vision, invulnerability, and heat vision. Watching Clark Kent come into his powers, and struggle to master them, can be interesting (it was done very well on Smallville; maybe less well in Man of Steel), but it’s been done. We’ve spent three seasons watching Oliver Queen on Arrow become the Green Arrow, we don’t need to spend a whole season waiting for Kara to figure out she can see through walls.
I also like the fact that the show has a nice upbeat tone, much like The Flash, and in stark contrast to the current DC cinematic universe. The show is bright and colorful, and most of the people are generally happy, or at least content. Thus, when Kara has an emotional moment with her sister, it actually seems important — the character’s not just moping around because that’s how she is. There’s also a lot of friendly banter and humor thrown in. I’ve talked to a lot of casual fans who watch The Flash but not Arrow or Gotham for exactly this reason – it’s just more fun to watch. This show was fun to watch.
The Less-Good Stuff
Of course, there were some places where the show seemed to miss the mark. For one thing, much of the character development seems rushed, or even forced. In parts, watching the pilot was almost like watching a really long trailer — it felt like there was chopped up from a longer, more coherent scene. For example, the Supergirl costume montage from the trailer happens at just about that speed in the episode: we go from an obvious fan-service first try to final outfit, including a Kryptonian powers montage — just a few minutes. It seems like the scene was meant to set up the relationship between Kara and her sidekick/support-nerd, but everything happens so fast there’s no real impact.
Several other character development plot threads (e.g. Kara’s blind date) seem like they’re supposed to be giving us characterization, but they’re moved past and forgotten so quickly they don’t mean much. And much of the banter seems a bit forced, like it’s desperately trying to drive home just how comfortable these characters are together, even in a situation where they probably shouldn’t be!
They’re also falling into a pattern that drives me crazy on The Flash — Kara’s secret identity is almost an afterthought. When the show starts, only four people know she’s Kryptonian — her family. When the show ends, we’ve added at least three more! Please, please lets keep that number down for at least a half a season?
Hopefully we can chalk all of that up to this being the first episode, trying to get the characters and their relationships settled and in place, so we can get to the good stuff. The second episode will be crucial in determining if this will be an ongoing problem for the show.
Another miss, for me, was the Kat Grant character. Calitsa Flockhart is obviously channeling Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada, but that’s a huge set of shoes to fill, and it comes across cliche. Even worse, she completely drops that act when it’s time for her to be serious and sensitive, then goes right back into it. She almost comes across as having a split personality.
And really, there’s just too much of her. Perry White or J. Jonah Jameson play mostly bit parts in their shows: they’re foils for the other, primary characters that work for them, and rarely the focus of any scene. Kat Grant, on the other hand, dominates all of her scenes with Kara, and not merely in a keeping-her-secret-identity way. She really does completely overpower Supergirl’s personality, but doesn’t really add much to the scenes. I was constantly wanting to fast forward past her scenes. In seems like they’re positioning her character as a kind of surrogate mother figure for Kara (though, as far as we know, her adopted parents are alive), but most of the time she just comes of needlessly harsh. Perhaps the writers plan to use this dynamic to show Kara’s personality changing as her confidence grows, but if so, I hope they get to it fast, because I was completely sick of Kat Grant by the end of this episode.
Lastly, and perhaps most annoyingly, is how much this show wanted to be about Superman without being allowed (I assume) to say Superman. It’s obvious that Kal-El is the far more famous of the two cousins, and by tying Kara’s story in with his, it lets us fast forward past a lot of otherwise tedious exposition. But the number of times Kara’s cousin comes up in conversation got old very quickly. The fact that they try so hard to avoid naming him makes it even worse. During the opening exposition scene, they identify him as Kal-El and Superman but after that, we only get one occurance of “Man of Steel”. Instead, Kara would frequently talk about “him” in a way that we’re supposed to know who she’s talking about. Obviously, since she’s related to Superman, it’s going to come up, but the point of this show is that Kara is a hero in her own right. She doesn’t need to have her now-older cousin’s specter towering over her all the time. Much like Gotham is not about Batman, Supergirl should not be about Superman. Hopefully this will dwindle away as the episodes continue — we’ve gotten the idea, lets move on.
I think this is going to be a good show. The major elements I think are there. While I have some issues with some of the dialogue, I think the actors themselves mostly have their characters nailed. Melissa Benoist, in particular, seemed to have no problem carrying the show when she needed to, although her Kara Zor-El was much more believable than her Kara Danvers. The central relationship with her sister seemed genuine (jury’s still out on the other two budding relationships). There’s a good hook that should provide good fodder for the early villain-of-the-week episodes, with hints of the broader story arc as well.
This isn’t going to be a show for the hard-core DC comic fans, though. It’s clearly meant for a broader audience, even more than any of the other DC shows on TV so far. Constantine this is not. But I’d make the same assessment about The Flash and that’s turned out to be one of my favorite DC shows to watch, so don’t let that discourage you from giving this one a try.
Overall, I would probably rate this show at about 7 out of 10. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as compared to Arrow, The Flash, or even Agents of SHIELD. I would probably rate it somewhere in my top 10 comics-based shows, around where iZombie and (likely) Legends of Tomorrow are sitting.
Definitely worth watching.