May 13, 2016

[TV] Supergirl: Season 1

I've not been too big on superhero-themed shows on TV. It seems the only formula that studios have become comfy with is the teen-oriented drama full for convoluted love triangles and other teen angst cliches. The CW has pretty much defined their programming line-up around genre entertainment tied to teen angst stories.

So when a new Supergirl series was announced, it was easy to assume that CBS was going to follow the same pattern with a different character. But to my surprise, the actual show was a lot more complicated than that while still celebrating the lighter tone and sense of whimsy we expect from older (read pre-Snyder) superhero stories.

This show had a lot going against it such as the perception of it being a silly Superman spin-off that can't actually use Superman or just some weird attempt at a female-oriented series in a weird olive branch to the gender. But thankfully it was much more than all of these things and more and we're all the better for it.

Synopsis: Supergirl is a superhero TV series developed for CBS by Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Andrew Kreisberg. The first season ran for 20 episodes and we're still waiting word of next season.

At the center of the series is Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), who had been sent to Earth as Krypton was dying. She was charged to protect her cousin Kal-El (now known as Superman), but her pod was knocked off course into the Phantom Zone for 24 years before it eventually escaped. So instead of becoming Superman's protector, she found herself under his care as he placed her with a foster family to help her adjust to human life. For most of her life she hid her powers and did her best to seek out a normal life. But then things would change, forcing her to make that fateful decision to use her powers for good.

Her human life involves being the assistant to Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), the founder of media conglomerate CatCo Worldwide Media and pretty much your boss from hell. When Supergirl first appears in the city, it's through Cat Grant that she is named Supergirl and for some reason she asserts some degree of "ownership" over Supergirl's public identity - or perhaps a sense of responsibility? Other notable work colleagues include Winn (Jeremy Jordan), a tech who is one of her friends at the company along with James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), the new art director at CatCo after moving to National City.

Okay, so obviously there's a lot of fun in seeing Calista Flockhart in a role that is sort of Devil Wears Prada but also just silly and crazy at the time. But she's not entirely a caricature - she's still a complex woman who had to fight her way to the top and she ends up taking both Kara and Supergirl under her wing including occasionally giving advice to one or the other. She's pretty brilliant in this role and one cannot help but enjoy all their scenes together.

Another big relationship here is Kara's human family, mainly in the form of her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh). It's quickly revealed that she's actually an agent for the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO) under Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). They eventually enlist Supergirl as an asset in their efforts to meet alien progression and determine the level of threat they represent to humanity. Thus the irony of all this happening given Supergirl is a family member.

Side note, loved the casting decision to make Supergirl's day to be a man played by Dead Cain, who one played Superman in the series Lois and Clark. So yeah, it was a nice little nod in the middle of things. And the show is full of all these sorts of nods to prior Superman franchises or the comics. I won't go as far as claiming that this show is absolutely faithful to any particular run of the comics, but you do feel that they at least did their research.

The show naturally has a bit of a feminist bent, but I appreciate how they framed things. It wasn't simply about calling for equality between men and women, but instead it acknowledges what has gone wrong in terms of the fight for gender rights and does its best to find a path forward. It's not like the dialog becomes preachy or ridiculous when such slants are noticeable in the script. Instead it tends to be more fighting the good fight and stressing that everyone has to fit for what they want as part of the larger effort.

And the show is a lot of fun, plain and simple. Sure Supergirl's punches aren't quite as powerful as you'd expect them to be, but we get enough of such sequences when she makes then most of what she has and tries to out think her opponents instead. So it can be rather inspiring at times but otherwise it remains grounded in how it delivers its message.

Supergirl is a fresher take on the superhero TV series concept and one that I'm glad to have supported from the start. It's clever and cheesy and all the good stuff in-between so it should be interesting. Thus the first season gets 4 crazy Kryptonians flying around the Earth out of a possible 5.

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