The pilot for this fall’s Supergirl TV series has appeared online, and here’s our spoiler-free review! If you were put off by the show’s six-minute preview from last week, I can assure you the show is significantly better than that. It still some of the same issues, but it’s far more charming than problematic.
Honestly, the biggest problem with the pilot is that it’s a pilot, and thus not only needs to establish the basics for anyone who somehow is watching the show but hasn’t heard of Superman and his origin, but also has to go through an incredibly standard plot process in order to avoid confusing or alienating all those potential viewers. I assume that, as a CBS series, the Supergirl pilot was forced to stick to only the most familiar character beats in hopes of reaching CBS’s enormous, older audience.
This is why we saw all those chick flick tropes in the six-minute preview below released last week, as Kara is the harried assistant for her no-nonsense-to-the-point-of-cruelty boss (played by Calista Flockhart), fetching coffee, wishing for something more, awkward around cute guys, etc., etc. The good news is that most of those scenes were already in the preview, so the Devil Wears Prada-esque, working woman aspect of the show is only a small part of Supergirl.
The bad news is that this also means that the overall plot, that of Kara Zor-El coming into her own and empowering herself (quite literally!) is also told in the most standard manner possible. Kara is a young woman who wants to do more with her life; Kara breaks out of her mold; Kara’s sister tries to undermine her (to keep her safe); a powerful man tells her she can’t accomplish anything (Hank Henshaw, leader of the inevitable secret government organization tasked with dealing with superpowered people), and the episode’s villain — because there are absolutely supervillains in Supergirl — is a misogynist who does everything but tell Kara to get in the kitchen and make him a sandwich. I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to tell you Supergirl proves them all wrong by the end of the pilot. (If you thought that perhaps Kara would get her ass kicked, and then give up being a superheroine to fetch coffee for boss, my apologies.)
Happily, one cliché the pilot does not run into is providing some kind of love interest for Kara, which is infinitely refreshing. Yes, she gets tongue-tied at James Olson’s handsomeness, but at the end of the episode they’re friends, not potential romantic partners. Her friend Winn, who delivers the atrocious line in the preview about Kara being a lesbian (assuming that is why she’s not interested in him), also is firmly kept as a friend. (Although he does actually have another awful line, telling Kara how pretty she is without her glasses on and getting tongue-tied himself. Without doubt, Winn is Supergirl’s worst aspect, so hopefully he gets better.) For all the clichés in the pilot, I love that Supergirl completely avoids even hinting that Kara needs a love interest in order to be fulfilled.
Anyways, I’m pretty confident most of these issues are purely because it’s a pilot. Furthermore, after Arrow and The Flash, I trust showrunner/creator Greg Berlanti implicitly. Both his other two DC superhero shows were fun but flawed for the first parts of their first seasons, and then got exponentially better.
Even if this expected improvement doesn’t happen, Supergirl is still well worth checking out because it is fun. Anyone who chided Man of Steel for being too dark should check out Supergirl post haste, because it’s so damn refreshing to see someone wearing the “S”-shield smile. Kara loves her powers; she loves helping people, and her excitement is infectious. It definitely helps that the flying effects are excellent, as are many of the action VFX, like when Kara saves the plane. Some of the fights scenes get a bit dodgy, though. (If the special effects budget is markedly tighter for Supergirl’s regular episodes, there may be an issue, but that remains to be seen.)
Furthermore, Melissa Benoist is almost superhumanly charming as Kara Zor-El. She’s the perfect mix of confident and self-doubting, fearless and concerned, strong and vulnerable, and above all, completely likable. When she first uses her powers to save a crashing plane (as seen in the preview), she’s equally delighted with the rush of helping people and seeing herself on TV, to the point that she giggles. This is not the giggle of an empty-headed young girl — it’s a genuine, natural expression of joy.
I guess the best way to put it is that Supergirl is unapologetically a girl. I know that’s going to turn some people off. Some viewers will surely find the non-superheroics dull, and I’m sure some women will find the fact that occasionally Kara bothers worry about what to wear insulting. It’s like the scene in the preview, where Kara is upset that her boss Cat has named her superhero alter-ego Supergirl. Kara finds it insulting, but Cat wants to takes back “girl” as empowering. Both viewpoints are completely legitimate. But I feel confident that Greg Berlanti absolutely means Supergirl to be empowering. If you can give Kara Zor-El the benefit of the doubt, I truly believe you’ll find Supergirl entertaining, too.
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