There’s been a bit of a wait for this latest addition to the superhero TV genre, with most the rest of the shows three-to-four weeks into the season, but Supergirl is now officially with us and the pilot, though far from flawless, suggests this is going to be an enjoyable series.
It was familiar territory to begin with: the pilot escaped about five months ago and I watched it then and enjoyed it first time round. I haven’t compared the two in detail, but the official broadcast version seems to have added no more than the title card and the credits. So, how did it play?
For one thing, not only does this show have a female lead – which is going out on a limb in itself – but it’s a female-dominated cast. As well as Melissa Benoist, who knocks it out of the park for three-quarters of the episode, both as Kara Danvers and Supergirl, there’s Chyler Leigh as her adoptive sister Alex – a DEO operative and xenobiologist – and Callista Flockhart having the calm-centred, still-faced time of her life as media Mogul Cat Grant.
The producers have played about a bit with the backstory: Kara starts off aged 13, following her baby cousin Kal-El to Earth to act as his protector but by a twist of fate delayed en route for 24 years, by which time baby Kal was a baby no longer and certainly not in need of protection.
The still 13 year old Kara, robbed of her purpose, is adopted by the Danvers (a touching cameo and the promise of a recurring role, the parts being played by Helen (Supergirl) Slater and Dean (Superman) Cain) and despite an ardent desire to help others, had foresworn the use of her powers only to climb the ladder as far as hapless, put-upon, slightly geeky, slightly ditzy PA to the bitchy Ms Grant.
(Actually, for all she’s attempting to look and act a bit dowdy, a bit naive, overgrown schoolgirl, Benoist looks utterly charming and delightful. By the end, when her confidence has grown a bit, she’s progressed from unfashionable tops and pants to a quite sleek, cream dress, and looks a lot less interesting.)
The story gets kick-started when a National City plane carrying sister Alex starts to circle the city with two engines on fire. Kara, who’s just been bummed out on a date with a cheap sleazebag, reminds herself how to fly and hauls up into the sky to guide the plane safely down to a splash landing on the river.
The way this is handled is definitely influenced by The Flash, though Kara’s sheer delight at the adrenaline rush of using her powers at long last is the show’s own making. It’s clear that an underlying lightness of spirit will buoy up the show, though there’s also enough serious shit revealed to ensure a constant struggle lies ahead.
This unfolds in two principle areas. Firstly, there’s the aforementioned DEO, or Department of Extranormal Operations, a covert Governmennt organisation set-up after the Man of Steel first appeared, to protect Earth against alien invasion. It’s run by Hank Henshaw (aka, in the comics, the Cyborg Superman, a Reed Richards analogue and deep-dyed villain) who doesn’t trust any aliens. He’s played by David Harewood and he’s a bit of a cliche thus far, not to mention one that sounds almost exactly like David (Diggle) Ramsey on Arrow.
The other is the handy dandy source of special effects fights for the season to come. This is Fort Razz, a piece of Krypton that survived the planet’s total destruction completely intact, and which somehow, conveniently, got pulled to Earth in the wake of Kara’s own craft. Fort Razz was Krypton’s version of a prison for psychotic madmen (and women), all of whom have superpowers on Earth. They’ve been underground for a decade but now they’re starting to plot something.
It’s by far and away the weakest part of the set-up, even if their leader, the General (Zod?) turns out to be Kara’s auntie from Krypton, sister of mother Allura and, since Laura Bernanti is playing both, presumably her twin.
It’s the weakest because it’s a cheap cliche, though the pilot did run it close in what, hopefully, will be a bad turn restricted only to this episode. Big sister Alex, before her DEO affiliation was revealed, did try to stomp hard on Kara’s moment of glory, feeding her the old ‘for your own protection’ line. And when Kara ignored her and got collected by the DEO, Alex was still at it, undermining her sister, belittling her, to the point that Kara did indeed decide she was crap at this and gave up.
Whereupon Alex immediately switched 180 degrees, became all ‘you can do it girl!’ and sisterly support, which came out of virtual nowhere. Left to itself, it would have been just another cliche moment, tiresome but not unexpected, but it had ladled onto it all Alex’s repressed sibling rivalry, about the star of the family being immediately outshone by the ‘new baby’.
It stood out as in total contrast to the rest of the show, to the primarily upbeat atmosphere, and came close to sinking the episode right there.
However, we got through that moment intact, and ready for stronger and more confident displays in weeks to come.
Can’t leave the show without mentioning the two remaining cast members. Mehcad Brooks plays Jimmy, no sorry, James Olsen, expanding his horizons and keeping a friendly eye on the little cousin of his pal in blue (apart from the one mention upfront, the script works overtime to avoid saying the word Superman: that must be one helluva rights issue), and not incidentally jacking up her hormone levels a tad or two.
And Jeremy Jordan plays co-worker Winn, conspiracy theorist, computer wizz, designer of singularly inappropriate Supergirl costumes, confidante and admirer of the geeky Kara before she revealed herself as being more than just a coffee-supplier to the Boss Lady.
It’s not until I turned to the cast list that I discovered Winn’s full name is Winslow Schott. Winslow has been around the Superman universe since 1943 as the super-villain, the Toyman. Hmmm.
Take all in all, Supergirl looks good and looks as if it could get better, especially if it keeps to the Flash end of the spectrum. Melissa Benoist is perfect for the part and she certainly fits the costume which, apart from the above knee-length red cavalier boots, sticks to the classic format. I’ll stick with this one.