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‘Supergirl’ premiere: What worked (and what didn’t)

Image source: CBS/Supergirl

Warning: This review will contain spoilers from Supergirl’s series premiere.

This week, CBS finally dove headfirst into the live action comic game with the premiere of Supergirl. After months of aggressive promotion, the network scored this Fall’s highest premiere numbers for a new series with a whooping 13 million viewers and a 3.1 rating in key demos.

So what was the verdict, after months of anticipation and money spent? Did Kal-El’s cuz make the cut or should she leave crime fighting to the other vigilantes, metahumans, and secret government agencies now everywhere you look on primetime TV? Going by the pilot alone and overall positive reception on Twitter and Facebook during premiere night, CBS has a winner on their hands.

What Really Worked

The show fills a huge void that hasn’t really been adequately filled since the Buffy Summers, Sydney Bristows, and Halliwell Sisters of the TV landscape rode off into their own happily every afters. Granted, for a few brief weeks this year, lady spy and soldier Agent Carter stepped off the silver screen to kick Hydra where it hurts on the small screen. Now, however, there’s a new female superhero on the block and honestly she’s powerful enough to take down both the Flash and Green Arrow if (when????) we get the three-way crossover event that everyone is now clamoring for. #SupFlarrow sounds like a workable trend.

The series wastes not even a second of its one-hour premiere with unnecessary filler. The audience is quickly introduced to young Kara Zor-El as she’s being sent away from Krypton to watch over her baby cousin, Kal-El (Clark Kent/Superman). There’s a problem during Kara’s trip to Earth and she ends up stuck in the Phantom Zone for 24 years. By the time her ship escapes and follows her cousin’s path to Earth, Superman has already made his presence known to the world.

Kal-El places young Kara with a family and her adoptive parents sport some very familiar faces. Her adoptive father is played by Dean Cain. The actor previously starred as the Man of Steel himself in the 1990s’ hit series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Meanwhile, Helen Slater (Mama Danvers) had a cape all her own in the 1984 feature film, SupergirlCain and Slater’s inclusion in the series as the Danvers are two awesome shout outs to the rich and long history of Superman/Supergirl on the small and large screens.

Images: ABC/CBS/TriStar Pictures (respectively)

Can we hope that somehow the show wrangles Tom Welling (Smallville) and some of his co-stars for a few future guest spots? Maybe the former Loises (Teri Hatcher, Erica Durance, and Margot Kidder) can form a team of Anonymous-like hacktivists out to take down Supergirl. (Notice my exclusion Amy Adams.)

The show is clearly not looking to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and likely won’t delve into Agents of Shield/Daredevil-like crossovers  anytime soon.In the aforementioned Marvel vehicles, the universe is shared and mentions of events that have taken place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are sprinkled liberally. Fingers-crossed that once the DC Cinematic Universe ramps up, that Supergirl/The Arrow/The Flash and others will receive the same treatment.

Other things that really worked for the Supergirl pilot was the lighter tone. While it was not the rom-com on steroids that many were worried about based on that first overly bubbly trailer, the show finds a nice balance of lighter moments and Kara’s short-lived moments of uncertainty about her place in the world. Like her cousin, can she be a hero that the world needs or should she listen to DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations) head, Hank Henshaw who basically tells the would-be hero that her services aren’t needed and that she’s in the way. Clearly, Henshaw learns the error of his ways by episode’s end.

Image: CBS/Supergirl
Image: CBS/Supergirl

Oh, the sweet relief that hits when this show avoids the age-old trope of “I’m a superhero, and I must protect those closest to me by lying through my teeth and having a secret identity.” Granted, Kara rightly doesn’t tell every single person in her life, but those with an actual need to know. Her adoptive sister and parents are already in on Kara’s secret origins. She tells her best friend Winn in epic fashion and potential love, James Olsen, isn’t fooled by her sans eyeglasses “disguise”. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like him around the eyes?” James asks her at one point before he lets on about knowing the truth already. Kara rightly does not tell her boss the truth. That woman would sell Kara out quicker than you can say kryptonite, and purely for the notoriety of being the woman that gave Supergirl the moniker, but also outed her secret identity to the world.

Strong female characters in positions of power abound, and more are coming. It’s not just Kara/Supergirl. Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex (LEXIE GRAY lives!!!!) turns out to be a tough black ops agent for the DEO. Her boss, Cat Grant, clearly takes crap off of no one and she has no respect for mediocrity. Mechad Brooks is an outstanding and welcome addition to the cast as the very grown up and charming, James “Jimmy” Olsen. Laura Benanti is doubly amazing in her roles as Kara’s Kryptonian mother, Alura, and potential big bad, Auntie Astra.

The show accomplishes a lot in that first hour. Introducing Kara and putting her on the path for truth and justice. Introducing a big bad, two potential loves for Kara, and a shadowy government agency with their own supply of kryptonite.

Doesn’t Quite Work

This list actually came out shorter than I was initially thinking and might be a series of nitpicks. Bear with me here. One thing that really drove me crazy initially (had to re-watch three times just to clarify for myself) were the initial timelines surrounding how long Kara was stuck in Phantom Zone and how long it had been since Superman made himself known.

They mention 24 years multiple times after my first viewing, somehow I thought they were saying that it had been two dozen years since the Man of Steel saved his first plane and basically came out to the world as a superhero and non-Earthling. It took three times re-watching, but Kara was stuck in Phantom Zone 24 years, and before she made her way to Earth her cuz did his thing and came out. DEO became aware of Kara the minute she arrived on the planet. Again, it was a nit, but I had to pick it. Timelines must be understood, and they kept mentioning the 24 years. Once would’ve been enough.

Some of the special effects weren’t the best, but hello nitpick. Not much they can do to make bullets bouncing off a person’s chest look real. The plane rescue and Kara taking off both looked equally amazeballs. Okay, this is an issue that’s always been a pretty huge plot hole whether you’re talking about Supergirl or her cousin. She’s out in plain view for anyone to see and take pictures of her face, yet not one single person recognizes that it’s Kara without her glasses? James doesn’t count. He already knew about her relationship to Kal-El.

Speaking of Kal-El, the show spent the entire hour dancing around saying “Superman.” I guess it’s some kind of copyright issue or another case of the cinematic verse not wanting to cross the streams overmuch with its small screen counterparts. Case in point not using Grant Gustin (The Flash) for the film version of the same character he’s doing an outstanding job of playing over on CW. Saying “Superman” shouldn’t be such a huge issue. So what if we never see more than his silohuette, but if the show goes on for several seasons, there’s only so much dancing the writers can do before it gets old.  Say his name…Heisenberg…wait wrong show. Superman. SUPERMAN. Man of Steel. how hard was that?

What or who really had me gritting my teeth during the episode? The oh so dismissive Hank Henshaw with his “you wanna help? Go get someone some coffee.” Sexist much, sir? If Kara’s so dangerous wouldn’t it be better to work with her and help her find her work. Help her become a resource that you can depend on. Would he have been so dismissive if he were talking to Clark/Kal-El? Again, maybe I’m picking that nit, and she is technically Cat Grant’s “Girl Friday.” However, the comment was unnecessary and again, sexist.

Kara overcomes her own insecurities and manages to show how truly smart and powerful she can be. This hour-long introduction to CBS’s Supergirl proved well worth the money and months of waiting. What say you? What did you think of the Supergirl premiere? Did it win you over completely and you’re ready to leap right in to see where the story takes you next? Were you not quite sold yet, but willing to see where it goes for now? Hit the comments below with your nitpicks and things that really worked for you.

Image: CBS/Supergirl
Image: CBS/Supergirl

Cort Robinson

A lover of words and moving pictures, I'm a fangirl from way back. Seriously—I grew up watching Daytime TV from my granny's knee. It was Knots Landing over Dynasty, and BtVS over pretty much everything else. I watch entirely too much television and am quite happy sitting in an empty movie theater on a rainy day. And if we’re talking bromances, there's no bromance quite like the Winchesters. Cort has been writing since she can remember and podcasting for nearly 10 years with @bradzb. Be sure to check us out our "Brad and Cort Talk" interviews and recaps. Also, join in the conversation over at our "Brad and Cort Talk" FB group.

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