“It’s not a bird… It’s not a plane… and it’s not a man.”
This mantra has been the visual earworm that CBS, the network behind the new Supergirl series, has done its best to pound into its potential viewers’ heads since their promotion of the project kicked into high gear over the past month or so.
CBS wants to make sure that audiences are very well aware that this series offers something different; something new; something exciting; namely, that they have a female superhero at the center of the action.
There is absolutely no doubt that the superhero television landscape is dominated by those who boast a Y-chromosome, and with a few small but notable exceptions (Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman being the most popular and arguably the most well done female superhero series), this has been the status quo since superheroes first came to the small screen.
Is Supergirl the series that will finally mark the end of this trend? Unfortunately, if the pilot is any indication, audiences will have a bit of a wait until they get a female-led superhero series that can stand up to the likes of The Flash.
Supergirl focuses on Kara Zor-El (cousin of everyone’s favorite Superman, Kal-El), who was sent from the planet Krypton in an attempt to save her, landing on Earth as a young, teenage girl, complete with all of the super powers of her cousin. She is adopted by the Danvers family, who teach her to hide her powers from the world – something that can only be done for so long. Now a young woman working for the media conglomerate CatCo, Kara must find a way to be the Supergirl she was born to be while keeping her secret identity safe from the bad guys.
In its opening moments, Supergirl displays a wealth of potential. The brief glimpse of Krypton is a treat for fans of DC Comics and truly begins to make one wonder about this lost civilization, where science ruled supreme. The absolutely wonderful cameos of Kara’s parents are more than suited for the roles and, again, a treat for Super-fans who have followed Krypton’s past appearances on both the big screen and the small. If there was a perfect choice to play Kara, Supergirl actress Melissa Benoist is it. She manages to play a character that, while fun, can kick a bit of ass and is very intelligent to boot!
The problems with the series come from the writing itself and, unfortunately, once all is said and done, the problems with the pilot are the only moments that are truly remembered. First, let’s talk about the biggest and most obvious issue: the pilot plays out like an attempt to create a super-powered Devil Wears Prada television series, complete with the diva female boss; in this case, the stylish and tough Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).
Those that compared the first trailer for the Supergirl series to a very popular SNL skit starring Scarlet Johannsen weren’t too far off. For the few that may have missed Marvel’s attempt at a female superhero movie à la SNL, check it out.
It seems that someone at CBS saw the skit and rather than using it as a “don’t” list, they simply used it as a backbone for the pilot episode of Supergirl. If this wasn’t the producers’ intention, perhaps the intention was to simply mirror every single romantic comedy every made. A woman trying to find her place in a man’s world? Check. Clumsy, slightly geeky and endearing female character that can’t seem to catch a break? Check. A female who men notice more once the glasses come off? Check. At least two actors for audiences to “ship” with the lead actress? Yep, you guessed it – check. While Kara doesn’t wind up in a relationship with any man by the end of the pilot episode, there is no doubt that the producers truly wanted to set expectations and hopes for the inevitable conclusion.
Still, this series is all about girl power, right? This is all about offering a superhero series that is every bit as wonderful as its male-centric counterparts, right? Well, at least that’s what the writers want you to believe. If you watched the episode, the mantra mentioned at the outset of this review will likely ring true. After all, the writers took every opportunity to remind viewers that this is a strong female character! Not by simply writing a strong female character, of course, but by making sure that said female character did her darnedest to remind the audience several times with her own dialogue.
To be fair, Kara wasn’t the only one reminding the audience of the obvious. Cat Grant actually takes about two minutes of screen time explaining why “Supergirl” was an even more acceptable moniker than “Superwoman”, after Kara points out the silliness of the title. Supergirl writers, please take note: audiences never need to be told a character is awesome! It is your job to write an awesome character, not to simply write lines assuring the audience that they are watching an awesome character. End note.
Still, the episode wasn’t all bad! As mentioned, Melissa Benoist is perfectly cast, and while her character in the first episode is a bit flat, she is the type of actress that can run with her character if given the opportunity. In other words, better writing = better Benoist.
In one of the more meta moments of the episode, Kara tries on a variety of Supergirl costumes that the character has worn over the years and, appropriately, questions how she would be able to fight crime in those barely-there outfits. This bit of fun at the expense of the source material was perfect and seemed to flow with the episode. The new
Jimmie James Olsen, as played by Mehcad Brooks, injects a bit of diversity into the series and while he wasn’t given much to chew on in the pilot, there is no doubt that Olsen will likely play a much larger role as time goes on.
For DC Comics fans, one of the more exciting scenes happened to come right along with one of the “WTF?” scenes of the episode. As Kara is drafted by the government to fight alien threats (yes, Supergirl is officially one of the X-Files agents now), a few faces that seem a bit familiar pop up on the screens in the war room, including possibly Parasite (Despero?), which could lead to some awesome things down the road. The Phantom Zone is being used in the series as part of Kara’s origin story, so there is definitely some setup for a few big baddies and as the episode ends, audiences even get their first glimpse of the Kryptonian General who is heading to Earth, likely to start trouble. In other words, it seems that big things are to come.
Pilots are a bit iffy, even given the best of circumstances. At the time the pilot is shot, things are a bit in flux and the story lines and characters will change as time goes on. With Supergirl, the winning team behind Berlanti Productions has an entire world that can be mined for great material and given their track record with The Flash and Arrow, audiences can only hope that the next episode of Supergirl, “Stronger Together”, will live up to its potential.