Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Supergirl 1x01 “Pilot” (Can You Believe It? A Female Hero!) [Contributor: Maddie]

Original Airdate: October 26, 2015

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

No, it’s an... actually sort of promising turn at a female-led comic book adaptation. Kara Danvers is Supergirl, and no she is not conquering the world with her magic piano. (If you get that reference, I love you.) For the sake of full disclosure, I loathed the episode and was ready to rip this show to shreds in this review after my first viewing of it. However, on my second and third viewing, I began to see that this show has a lot of elements that do work, and also has the potential to be some good ol' fashioned fun and family-friendly source of entertainment.

So here’s the shorter version of all the exposition dropped in the beginning of the pilot: When she was 13 years old, Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth to look after her baby cousin Kal-El — whom we know as Superman — right before her home planet Krypton went kaboom. However, Kara gets stuck in the Phantom Zone, and due to timey-wimey stuff, arrives on Earth once Kal has already grown up and becomes Superman. Thus, her mission to protect her family is now unnecessary and she grows up deciding to blend in.

I'm just going to get the negative stuff over with first. The thing about the pilot that made me grit my teeth multiple times is how absolutely on the nose it is. There were lines that you can tell are supposed to be these "drop the mic "feminist declarations, but they fall flat and just end up being a bit cringeworthy.

There’s a line that is said by one of the extras that is so horribly read, it is hilarious: “Can you believe it? A female hero! Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.” Each time I watched the pilot, I laughed out loud because it literally sounded like it was being read off cue cards. And the dialogue throughout the pilot itself verges on after-school special with its messages and its repetitive use of motifs. And, in fact, it prompted me to make the Supergirl Workout Game (since a drinking game would induce alcohol poisoning).

Hopefully, the show lays off the Superman references in future episodes. Then again, a pilot is kind of like the introduction paragraph to a paper, so the writers were most likely making sure that even the youngest of viewers would get their thesis and main talking points. I also really hope the villains improve in future episodes because an overly-misogynist alien jerk was kind of painful to watch.


Before the premiere, I did some research into the comic book origin of the show. Kara Danvers and Supergirl has never been able to have a clear identity, and consequently has never got a core base of fans of her as a leading character. This makes a lot of sense after seeing the pilot. There we some inconsistencies with Kara's characterization, and I feel like we were fed several different versions of her.

There's the meek assistant persona, Supergirl the hero, the Kara Danvers she shows to friends and family, and Kara Zor-El the girl who lost her family and entire planet at a young age. Personally, the office persona fell a bit flat for me. And I didn't get quite enough genuine emotion from Benoist during the scenes that dealt with Kara losing her family and Krypton. However, there was a part in Benoist's performance when Kara was experiencing the exhilaration of embracing all of who she is and her destiny. This is her coming into her own. After all these years, Kara is able to be who she always wanted to be. It's an adorable and contagious joy layered with fire and determination to use these powers to be the brave hero her mother knew she would be. It's a thrill and a relief, and her first instinct is to share that joy with her sister and her best friend. It is these scenes where Benoist shines the most.

Now, Kara as Supergirl gives me mixed feelings. The first scene with Kara saving the plane is awesome. She struggles but she gets the job done. When Kara exclaimed "Oh, come on!" when she realized she had to maneuver the plane through the bridge was one of my favorite moments of the episode. This is a version of Supergirl I can get behind.

Later though, the first time Kara as Supergirl goes against a Kryptonian, she gets her butt kicked... badly. Then — after receiving nothing but a pep talk, no training whatsoever — she is shown to be a competent superhero ready to save the day. Powers are fine, but if you don’t know how to use them, the win isn’t believable. The steps to becoming a hero need to feel earned for audiences to fully appreciate the journey. Supergirl is about Kara becoming the hero she is destined to be, but that journey is one that should be a multi-episode or season-long arc, not something that occurs off-screen after a pep talk. I'm going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and hopefully we will see a more gradual progression as the season goes on. But I am only slightly apprehensive because these writers handled the hero's journey of another certain female comic book hero kind of haphazardly.

While having a solid lead is a show's foundation, having supporting characters are vital in creating a show's heart, rhythm, and overall vibe. The ensemble needs to just work for a show to be successful. Three characters in particular I think, along with Kara, will be the heart of this show.


Aside from being incredibly attractive, Mehcad Brooks brings so much enigmatic charisma to Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy He is smooth as all get-out. In this episode, his only purpose was to drop Superman references and prove that he is totally crush-worthy — which, as the winking GIF above displays, he very much does. However, he and Kara did have nice enough chemistry and dynamic that I am curious to see how their bond and potential romance plays out in future episodes.

I love Jeremy Jordan dearly. I have been a longtime of his and supported him even when he played one of the most insufferable characters in television history on Smash. The guy is immensely talented and has so much charm which he already brings to Winn this episode. While Jimmy may be the guy to elicit the "Wapow!" response from a girl, Winn is the kind of guy to adorably use that onomatopoeia to describe love. He is charming and adorable, and I have a weakness for tech-savvy characters with a touch of awkward helping the hero reach their full potential.

Also, I am so happy that all of the important people in Kara's life know about her powers so we don't have to deal any of the done-to-death "lying to protect those I care about" plotlines. Also, I love that the pilot shows that both of these guys believe in her already. Jimmy calls her a hero and gives her a confidence boost when she needs it, and Winn is immediately on board in helping her in any way he can as soon as she reveals her identity to him.

While we know a love triangle between Kara, Jimmy, and Winn is coming, it's shaping up to be reminiscent of the Jane the Virgin love triangle — where both male characters are great, but who you ship is more of a personal preference than anything else.


As someone whose older sister is her best friend, I always love to see great sister dynamics on television. Kara and Alex's banter in the beginning was super cute, and Kara seems most like herself when talking with Alex. The fights played out like ones with sisters actually do, and Alex is totally the older sister in the dynamic. Kara may have superpowers, but it is still instinctual for Alex to want to protect her. There may have been secrets that were unearthed and I think the repercussions of that will be felt for a few more episodes. But at the end of the day they are sisters and they love each other. Also, I love that the Alex totally kicks butt and is incredibly intelligent and competent, making her a vital part of Kara becoming a fully-realized hero and protecting the city.

Overall, Supergirl has a lot of potential. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy and the characters need to be fleshed out a bit more, but it is also important to consider other factors like demographics of intended audiences. We are now living in a time where there are nine different television shows that are adaptions from Marvel or DC comics. With the content so prolific, the side-by-side comparisons are becoming increasingly moot.

"Superheroes" is not a genre of television — it is a premise. We don't compare Castle and True Detective even though they are both about solving murders. Likewise, we shouldn't compare Supergirl with the likes of Arrow or Daredevil. This show is intended for families to watch together with their children and enjoy together. This changes how the overall tone will be handled. So there may be a bit more cheesiness than you prefer, but a little cheese can also be a fun palatable treat. Also, this was just the pilot — pilots can be problematic and turn around to be great shows. Fortunately, I'm nearly positive Supergirl will be given the time to work out its issues and figure out what works for them.

Personally, I have a three-episode rule before deciding whether a show is worthy of emotional investment and DVR space, but I have a good feeling about this show. The potential is there and I trust in Berlanti. The dude wouldn't have the two biggest openings of new television shows this year if he didn't know what he was doing. All in all, I am deciding to be optimistic, because television needs a show like this. There hasn't been a show on network television for young girls to get excited about and enjoy with their families in a very long time. Positive female role models in the television girls watch is so important and I think girls will get that with both Kara and Alex Danvers. Is it ever going to be a critical darling? Nope. It's both a genre show and television aimed for girls and young women. I see no Emmys ever happening in this show's future.

However, does this show have the potential to be a solid entertaining hour of television with characters we grow to love? Absolutely.

Stray Thoughts:
  • Remember, how every Disney Channel show in the 2000s had a commercial that was all: "Meet (insert female protagonist). She's just like you, except she (insert trope that the show is based on)!" That formula works for Supergirl. "Meet Kara. She's just like you except she has superpowers!"
  • I will admit that it is nice to have a DC comics show set in a city that looks different than Vancouver.
  • Who are we supposed to be shipping on this show? Because I am seriously torn.
  • I'm curious how they are going to explain how no one figures out Kara is Supergirl in a world of HD cameras and hashtags.
  • How is a Miranda Priestly-like boss going to be cool with Kara running off to stop crimes all the time?
  • I kind of love that the pilot addressed the whole property damage thing when Man of Steel neglected to do so.
  • Since I will never be over the unjust cancellation of Go On, I am so happy to have Laura Benanti on my television again. 
  • Will seeing little girls dressing up as Supergirl because of the show ever not be ridiculously adorable?


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