The Good, The Bad and The Twee – CBS’ Supergirl

Overnight CBS unleashed a weird semi-condensed (but dressed as a trailer) version of the Pilot for their upcoming Supergirl TV show. My feelings towards it are mixed but mostly optimistic. It does some things right, others not so right and some….well….more on those in a bit.

Before I go any further it is worth outlining what exactly a Pilot Episode is in terms of US television and the role they have. They are a catch all, “Look this is the show we want to make!” 40 minute setup for what will hopefully be a full or part season order from a network. They paint the broad strokes of a show, its characters and overall tone. They are also used as a test bed for potential ideas or approaches which is why they can fluctuate wildly in quality in such a short space of time. More often then not things are chopped and changed from the Pilot to the production run of a show and I am guessing (read: hoping) that is the case for the more problematic aspects of Supergirl.

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The main overall complaint I have with the near 7 minute trailer is that the first half of it feels like a shot for shot remake of the recent SNL Black Widow movie trailer skit. It hits all the tired clichés and tropes for female centric comedy and drama. Trading the unique strengths of the character with easy wide-audience appeal. We see Kara straight up carrying coffee and being the ditzy girl in glasses and a plain sweater working for Meryl Streep’s, Miranda Priestly sorry Calista Flockhart’s, Cat Grant! She’s frustrated with her job and her love life is going nowhere. Her best guy friend is sooo into her but she hasn’t realised how much he cares for her yet! Then in comes the new office beefcake making her all flustered and unable to speak. Then….

Jeez I could go on but I won’t.

I get why they have done it and I just plain don’t like it. It is not who Supergirl is as a character. She is often intentionally presented as having a completely different approach to Superman’s dealing with being the most powerful person on the planet and trying to have a normal life schtick. This just feels forced in places. But I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt though because if Arrow can start off as a cheaply made Batman knock off full of beautiful people and slowly turn into a deep and interesting show. I can forgive a shaky and trite starting point for Supergirl for being what it is. The thing to sell the show to people before slowly turning it into something better.

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Thankfully things turn around at the halfway mark as we see Kara stepping up and starting to become the hero we all know her to be. The change from frustrated young adult to heroine is handled well and we get a good sense of her powers and overall abilities. There are a few nice winks at things from the comics like Supergirl’s bandanna costume and of things to come further down the road. Although the joke about her “coming out” as a superhero to her friend being misinterpreted as being a lesbian is a bit groan inducing. Also the forced conversation with Cat Grant about why she’s named her Supergirl rather than Superwoman is a wasted opportunity to show Cat’s inherent jealousy of Supergirl.

There are thankfully good starting points of a show amongst the mess. Melissa Benoist seems to be having a lot of fun with the character. Little moments like her being excited to see her heroics being talked about on the news or that she does not have any hesitation about becoming a superhero once she uses her powers are awesome to see. There is also feeling that they want to move her away from just being angsty Superman with boobs, a problem that has plagued the character in the comics for decades. And while there are plenty allusions to The Devil Wears Prada to be made with the show’s version of Cat Grant. It is certainly a more interesting starting point for her than the usual “everyone just thinks she’s a pretty face” characterisation of the comics.

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Still there are a few niggling problems I have with what we have seen so far. The main one being the show’s approach to Superman. Look, I get it. This is the Kara show and that is great but having Superman as this aloof figure in her life just does not work. Instead of Superman telling Kara in person that the power and drive to be a hero was inside her all along and he just wanted her to discover it for herself then handing her the blanket that is one of the few tangible links he has to Krypton. Like in one of those nice touching scenes that easily could have ended with, “and now that you’re here I don’t need to worry about Metropolis! Good luck kid! I’ll check in with you from time to time. Bye!” Instead we get Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen pulling best friend/mentor duty and sort of ruining the impact of the passing of the torch gesture.

It just does not fit with the relationship Kara and Kal are meant to have. Again this could all be fixed in the full run of episodes but for now it just feels…off. It would be great to see the awkward, Superman lectures Supergirl on how to be a hero and she gets annoyed with him, dynamic on screen. It is one of the reasons they work so well together in the comics and is a shame to see that pushed to the side.

Still in the end we see her being a hero and wanting to help people. That is all the show needs to get me interested. Saving the plane is her call to action and my call to give the show a go!

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