The Fall Season 2016: Supergirl season 2


What the World is Waiting for
What the World is Waiting for

After Arrow, Supergirl is the series nearest to the edge for me. On balance, I enjoyed season 1, but almost all of that was down Melissa Benoist as Supergirl and Kara Danvers, who was born to play the twin leading roles. Apart from that, the series had a lot of good things going for it – I have never previously liked Callista Flockhart but she was great as Cat Grant – but was clunky far too often.

Now the show has been bounced down from CBS to The CW, where it sits alongside the other DC series, but it hasn’t merged into the so-called Arrowverse, and remains in a separate Universe. Which is all too the good because the feel of this lightweight, optimistic, good-hearted show, with its lightweight, optimistic, good-hearted heroine, is inimical to the increasing darkness of everything connected to Oliver bloody Queen.

Changes are to be made, however, and some of these were teased in an opening episode that, as we were all aware, brought the Big Blue Boy Scout, ol’ Supes hisself, into town to visit little/big cousin Kara.

Tyler Hoechlin, who I believe has been better known for playing bad boy roles before this guest stint is, IIRC, the sixth actor I’ve seen playing Superman. He comes onscreen as Clark and, to my great delight, his Clerk is pure Christopher Reeve, which won my support instantly. His Superman was similarly clean, straightforward and open, just as Superman should be: no darkness, no brooding, no sullenness. The perfect hero.

For a while, Hoechlin outshone everyone else. Superman references abounded. Cat Grant’s new assistant, who she summoned with a wonderfully Gene Hackman-like growl, was Miss Teschmacher, Winn – who’s moved from Catco to the DEO this year – got all excited about the technical aspects of when Supes was fixing the San Andreas Fault and, whilst Supergirl can’t have Lex Luthor, there’s a new recurring character in Town (presumably taking the Maxwell Lord role) in his adopted baby sister, Lena, a (so-far) good girl.

Oh, and since Supergirl is now filming in Vancouver with the rest of Greg Berlanti’s DC series’, and Callista Flockhart is only going to be available as a recurring character, Kara’s choice of future career-path is, somewhat disappointingly, a reporter. The show does rely entirely too heavily on nicking things out of the Superman mythos as it is without going down that particular copycat route.

Still, it’s early days and with the mysterious young man from Krypton who landed in season 1’s cliffhanger, and Project Cadmus converting the English assassin, John Corben, into Metallo, not to mention the revelation that all this time, Hank (J’Onn J’Onzz) Henshaw has been sitting on a bloody great Kryptonite meteor (lessee, last season’s recurring big baddies were Kryptonians with limitless powers, he’s got Kryptonite, doesn’t use it against them… does not compute): enough material to keep us going I think.

One definite minus mark was the way the episode treated the Kara/James Olsen relationship. I thought the idea was wrong-headed and stupid, but season 1 went for it with Kara puppy-doggishly following James around with her tongue hanging out until she gets the date she’s been longing for.

Only to decide, now she’s got it, that she doesn’t want it, actually she doesn’t want him, but he’d make a great friend instead.

It’s a step in the right direction but it  was handled appallingly badly, because the writers couldn’t come up with a reason for this change of heart. I mean, hell’s bells, it’s supposed to be only twelve hours since season 1 ended and Kara suddenly thinks differently when nothing has changed except James suddenly wanting to go out with her… In the absence of an in-story explanation of any kind, the viewer has to construct their own rationalisation, and the only explanations that fit are inherently negative about Kara. Dumb writing, completely dumb.

So: overall summary, changes are being made, but on the surface things stay the same. If it were anyone else but Melissa Benoist in the title role, I would probably have bailed by the middle of season 1. This year needs to tighten up, and I am already deeply sceptical of the new character who will replace Cat Grant on a daily basis.

Still with it, but with an option to sidle off if the season’s not very careful.

End-of-Term Report: Supergirl


Warning: for those watching on UK TV, may contain spoilers.

My current schedule of US TV series, all but one of which are superhero-oriented, is starting to wind down now as we approach May, and it’s time to look back and see how good or otherwise they’ve been.

First to hit the traps is Supergirl, closing out a 20-episode season yesterday with the back half of a two-part season finale that, in accordance with the modern formula, sees off the season’s big bad and sets up a cliffhanger for season 2. At the moment, however, there is no word as to whether there is going to be a season 2, which would make the cliffhanger a bit foolish if the show gets the elbow.

Does Supergirl merit a season 2? Overall, I’d go for it, but it would be a reorder with pretty firm conditions attached to it. The show needs to seriously up its game. It’s ideas are mostly pretty decent, its cast are pretty much perfect in their roles, but the writing is constantly underpowered, both in terms of clunky dialogue and, more often, plotting that lacks either subtlety or smooth narration.

We started off with semi-klutzy Kara Danvers, aka Kara Zor-El, aged about 24, PA to media mogul and all round superior supercilious Cat Grant. Kara was actually Kal-El’s older cousin, sent (separately) to Earth to take care of the little babby, even though she’s only twelve herself. However, thanks to a detour via the Phantom Zone, by the time she arrives, he’s fully-grown and she’s still only twelve.

So Kara gets placed with foster parents the Danvers, Jeremiah and Eliza, both scientists, and their slightly older daughter Alex. Jeremiah isn’t around long before he’s taken away by the DEO, where he dies. Kara is taught to conceal her powers and herself, to be human and weak, to not draw attention to herself, all the while that Superman was the big hero of Metropolis.

However, Kara is forced to use her powers to avert a disaster that threatens the life of sister Alex, who is second-in-command at the Department of Extraterrestrial Operations, under Hank Henshaw. Kara comes out as Supergirl and works with the DEO, Cat Grant promotes her as the heroine of National City (whilst constantly calling Kara ‘Kira’). And it seems that en route through the Phantom Zone, Kara’s pod dragged with it Krypton’s Fort Rozz, home to multi-alien psychopaths and bad guys, a ready-made menace-of-the-week.

The casting, as I’ve already said, was very good. From the outset, Melissa Benoist nailed both Kara and Supergirl, as well as rocking the traditional costume, and Callista Flockhart as Cat Grant has been spectacularly good. There’s also a genuinely heart-warming touch in casting Dean Cain (Superman of Lois and Clark) and Helen Slater (Supergirl of the 1984 film) as the Danvers.

As for the rest of the cast, they’ve been mostly effective, but haven’t risen above the often quite poor writing in the way that Benoist and Flockhart have. I’ve a soft spot for Jeremy Jordan as Win, aka Winslow Schott Jr, a name I recognised of old, being Superman’s way-back foe, the Toyman (Win’s father, as it happened), but far less so for Mehcad Brooks as the softly spoken Art Director James (not Jimmy) Olsen.

Jimmy (no, James) has moved to National City supposedly to get out from under the shadow of the Big Guy (the show cannot contractually actually use Superman, a difficulty that it has been too obvious in contriving ways to avoid this, and for the first few weeks, weren’t even allowed to mention him by name), but in reality he’s here because Supes asked him to move out and keep an eye on little cousin.

Chyler Leigh is effective as Alex Danvers but loses points for how she’s conspicuously trying to be the tough, super-efficient operative, which in turn slightly undercuts her effectiveness as Kara’s sister.

Which leaves British actor David Harewood, as DEO Director Hank Henshaw: cold, cynical, heartless until we learned the secret he was concealing (with that name, we comics fans knew there had to be a secret) which was that he is actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

Overall, the series’ major problem is that it doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be. It aspires – rightly, in my opinion – to the lightness and sense of fun of The Flash (there is no mystery about the best episode of the series being the crossover with The Flash). Melissa Benoist pretty much ensures that as the right line to play. However, that lightness needs balancing out with danger, menace and threat, which is where the show doesn’t quite know what to do.

Thankfully, the clunky menace-of-the-week was dropped quickly, in favour of more natural foes, and continuity was maintained by the slow development of the Big Bad, which started off as Kara’s own extremist Aunt, Astra, with lowly Lieutenant husband Non, only to jettison Astra midway, to a kryptonite sword through the heart, leaving the far less dynamic Non in charge.

Non and Astra’s plan was something called Myriad, and this dominated the two-part finale. Myriad was a broadcast mind-control system that took over the minds of everyone in National City except for Kara, Cat Grant, and recurring anti-hero Max Lord (Peter Facinelli, another buoyant and boisterous part bound for better things if season 2 materialises). These last two were protected by devices created by genius Max. Even Superman, arriving as the cavalry, succumbed instantly.

Let’s specify a few of the points I’ve made over this last two episodes. At  this point, Hank has been outed as an alien and is on the run, with Alex who helped him escape. They’re out of range, visiting Ma Danvers. As soon as the news breaks, J’Onn decides to return, his Martian brain proofing him against Myriad. Alex insists upon returning as well, even though she will instantly come under Myriad’s influence and be not only utterly useless but also a positive danger. J’Onn can protect her, at the cost of reducing his effectiveness by at least 50%.

It makes no sense whatsoever, except on the emotional level, and even then it’s still stupid. These are two very experienced, high-level agents, trained to think analytically about situations and deal with them dispassionately and efficiently. So J’Onn gives in and takes her. Alex is immediately captured, Myriaded and sent out to fight Supergirl dressed in kryptonite armour and equipped with the ol’ kryptonite sword.

But Alex snaps put of her programming, not because Supergirl pleads with her to do so but because J’Onn has flown off and brought back her mother to get the girls to stop. This massively powerful, instantly effective brainwashing system can apparently be defeated by saying the word ‘hope’ a lot, because that gets people to shake it off, effortlessly.

Thus thwarted, after an entire season building up Myriad as this infallible menace, Non sets his phasers to kill. Apparently, upping the voltage on Myriad will cause the human brain to explode, rather than reinforce the mind control side of things. We have four hours before everybody’s head goes ka-boom!

Supergirl will stop things but, since she’ll have to go in there alone, it’s probably a suicide mission. So, with such a tight deadline hanging over them, Supergirl changes back to her Kara-self and goes back to work to tell all her friends that she loves them in a way that is obviously a goodbye. Given that Max Lord hasn’t yet located the whereabouts of Myriad, it’s dramatically sound, but it kills the momentum of the episode, undercutting its supposed threat by such a slow-paced diversion.

The same thing goes after Supergirl, with J’Onn’s aid, defeats Non and his henchwoman Indigo (J’Onn literally rips her in two, despite her being a body-stretcher). But it’s too late to stop Myriad from ka-booming everybody’s head unless Supergirl can lift Fort Rozz into outer space. She has three and a half minutes left…

So she contacts Alex for a heartfelt conversation. Seriously.  So she can say goodbye and also get Alex to promise to get a life (here meaning boyfriend, marriage, kids and white picket fence, the very things Supergirl has already rejected as her destiny). Alex takes so long promising that it’s a wonder there are even seconds left but there’s still time for Supergirl to flex her muscles and lift the Fort (about 500 times her size and obviously perfectly constructed even after crashing on Earth, since it doesn’t crack up at all) into space. It floats off, Supergirl floats towards oblivion, and Alex turns up to rescue her, having taken very little time to get Supergirl’s pod out of the DEO’s underground HQ, topped up its petrol tank and flown it into space to save her.

This is the kind of story-telling I mean when I say Supergirl has got to up its game. Letting emotional beats lead despite the damage done to credible plots, careless and ridiculous short-cuts to reach end-points. The show’s ambitions are admirable, but it cannot yet establish its story-points without resorting to plotting that operates on old-style comic book logic.

Yes, I know, the irony is palpable. But it’s one thing to thrill ten year old boys with victories for the hero, and entirely another to operate to the same standard for an adult TV audience in prime-time. On the other hand, Dallas did bring Bobby Ewing back from a particularly long shower, so maybe I shouldn’t grumble…

One other point I’d like to mention, is the show’s overt feminism, or rather its constant adherence to a Spice Girls-level ‘Girl Power’. Supergirl has a penchant for making serious social points, usually in relation to the status of women, and whilst it’s good to hear such things being stated and re-stated (often in well-chosen words), the show needs to learn to be a bit less obvious about such things. Frequently, it comes over as a bit lecture-like (class, you should write this down) and the show could do with being a bit more Show than Tell.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed Supergirl without ever being blind to its faults. It’s developed it’s lead character’s confidence and effectiveness without too much obviousness over its twenty episodes, and there’s the makings of a good, fun show in there. It needs to manage its elements better, and it could have something. Other shows are demonstrating that it’s possible, so Supergirl clearly has it in it and should get a second shot.

But unless it does start to fix those flaws, not a third, I think.

Where could season 2 go? The final episode left a couple of threads open. J’Onn was pardoned for his part in saving the world from Myriad and reinstated as DEO Director with  facile speed, but General Sam Lane and Maxwell Lord still have their alien xenophobia to the fore, with the General handing over to Max an incredibly powerful Kryptonian device.

Then there’s Jeremiah Danvers: not dead this ten years, kept alive and imprisoned at the extremely secret Project Cadmus, to be hunted out by the Danvers Girls.

And as for that cliffhanger, it’s another Kryptonian pod, identical to Kara’s, crash-landing in the Park. Kara rips off its canopy, looks inside and says ‘Oh my God’. Who’s in there? Only time and season 2 will tell. Personally, I side with those already hoping for Krypto, the Superdog.

Grading: B minus, could do better. I’d like to see a season 2, but I wouldn’t be frustrated if the show was cancelled here. We’ll see.

The Fall Season: Supergirl


Why does every TV superhero’s costume have to be fourteen shades darker than the comics?

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.