While Zack Snyder works away at turning the DC cinematic universe into one, drawn out sigh of boredom, Greg Berlanti and co. are not so silently providing their alternate DC universe through television, and it’s one that even with a smaller budget and lesser star power is becoming just as integral to the expanded universe.
It’s also a hell of a lot more fun.
The most recent addition to the television DC universe is Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl. Born with the same skills and superhuman powers as her cousin, she was sent after him when she was a child in order to protect him from the strange new world he was being sent to, as well as himself. However, on the way her path was diverted and she was stuck in a frozen, cosmic sleep for almost 20 years. Once awake, she realizes her cousin no longer is in need of her protection, having become the world’s protector, and decides to live a normal, and happy life as a human.
Of course this all comes undone on the fateful night when her surrogate sister is caught on a plane experiencing a system failure, and Kara has to use her superpowers to save her sister and the fellow passengers on the plane. This doesn’t just announce her presence in the world, but it also invigorates her to embrace her abilities as well as her past, believing that she too can make a difference in the world.
While the pilot certainly spends some time in familiar territory in certain sequences, the episode also feels refreshingly upbeat and new, taking it’s cues more from The CW’s The Flash than Man of Steel. Even the familiar beats such as as Kara needing a pep talk from a loved one to embrace who she is, a sequence where she tries on multiple different costumes before finding the right one, or telling her secret to a friend (Jeremy Jordan’s Winn Scott) has enough bright and cheerful charm to keep it from feeling stale. There’s the obvious (and well warranted) concern that with the CBS model, Supergirl will rely too heavily on baddie of the week, especially with the set up given to us in the premiere, and while I’m not getting my hopes up that this won’t end up being the case, I am optimistic that the show at the very least will find it’s footing and become a show that’s worthwhile.
It helps that the cast has some supporting players to bolster up some of the more lacking material. Mechad Brooks is charming as James Olsen, one of Kara’s biggest new supporters and one who knows her secret. Calista Flockhart also has a scene stealing role as Cat Grant, Kara’s boss who despite her scathing behavior also delivers one of the more empowering messages of the episode about how if Kara finds something wrong with the term “girl” it really has something to do with her own projections.
Benoist is the true breakout here, having had a thankless role in Glee and only scraping some minimal screentime in last years Whiplash. The greatest moments of joy that come from the series opener typically come from her, and more specifically, her moments of unadulterated enthusiasm in the role. Whether it’s Kara watching the news coverage of her bodily saving the crashing plane, finding out that she can’t be hurt by bullets, or racing off to save the day, her full faced grin is enough to light up the screen. She’s pure, sweet energy; a great fit for the superhero.
The procedural aspect of the show is going to need some tinkering, but the shows unabashed message about female empowerment and feminism is so refreshing and so unlike any of the other superhero origin stories currently on television that I can’t find it in myself to be all that concerned. We are being oversaturated currently with superheros, be it on our television screens or on the big screens, and despite being a huge fan of them myself (I am in theaters opening weekends of any Marvel property) it’s grown tiresome to see the same variation of a typical hero. In a pop-culture landscape where we’ve had Ben Affleck, Christian Bale and Michael Keaton play Batman since the 90’s; and Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire play Spider Man in the last ten years alone, it’s telling to see that Wonder Woman has still only appeared once on the big screen since the original television series, at least until Gal Gadot’s appearance in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice film. Even still that’s just a supporting role and Marvel has done little better, with A.K.A Jessica Jones being its first female lead property in the MCU and a Captain Marvel movie still a few years off. For female fans of superheros it’s frustrating to be such a fan with such little representation on screen (this is doubly so for women of color or the LGBTQ community). Supergirl, for it’s by the numbers procedural aspects and hokey dialogue, is the first real outlet supporting the idea of feminism in superheros, something long thought of as a boys club.
Despite it’s shortcomings, Supergirl is a winsome show with a delightfully charismatic lead. The issues the show needs to fix aren’t impossible hurdles, and the confidence is present in the first hour out that it’s easy to believe that those misses were simply pilot awkwardness. What set’s Supergirl above fellow television heroes is that she already possesses her power and knows just how strong she is. Where other shows we’d be forced to endure the same old origin story, Kara has already told us hers and we’ve already seen what she can do (and when what she can do is carry a plane on her back, the more interesting story would be to see what she can’t).
Supergirl is one of the most promising series of the fall and if it’s anything like last years The Flash, should only get better and better with each new episode.