I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the CBS/DC Comics collaborative “Supergirl.” I didn’t grow up in a world where there were ANY female super heroes let alone strong, female television characters. This was unfamiliar territory but I’m glad I watched the premiere because I can now say that the world finally has a super hero with a heart. Not a heart forged out of false bravado or masculine ego but a super hero that connects with her world right from the outset of the show.
Supergirl doesn’t default to the tired personality traits to which other comic book serializations succumb. There are no super smart billionaire playboys saving the planet, no humans turned hero by way of a science project gone wrong. She’s not a well developed warrior that falls easily into hero mode. Instead, this show gives us a woman that looks, talks and acts like a regular human … even if the story is that she’s an alien. She keeps her special abilities hidden so as to appear human and shares common issues, concerns and beliefs that many women struggle with daily.
From the outset the audience sees Kara Danvers (aka Supergirl) as a slightly unsophisticated young woman struggling to find her place in the world. Working as an assistant to the local news mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) she is caught in a job where her skills and talents are wasted. Instead of developing her sense of self worth and tackling projects to promote the greater good, Kara fetches coffee and paperwork. Still, Kara looks up to Cat’s success as a woman and business owner while trying to figure out how to make that leap herself. The interplay between these two during the show helps further underscore the struggle Kara has with her lack of self confidence and in finding her authentic self.
As Kara navigates her work life, the issue of her personal life also arises. She’s a single woman trying to find love. Her office partner Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) is obviously interested in perusing a more personal relationship with Kara but she’s oblivious to his attraction. When James “Jimmie” Olson (Mehcad Brooks) arrives, Kara finds herself captivated by his personality and more than a little charmed by his good looks. This modern girl also has an encounter with online dating that many viewers will find both realistic and maddening.
In the middle of a tremendously bad blind date Kara is faced with the critical decision to either reveal her secret abilities or keep continue to keep them hidden. When Kara landed on Earth, her cousin Superman placed the then 14 year old girl in the care of the Danvers family. Kara grew up with a human sister named Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh). And can we just geek out here for a minute? Dean Kain and Helen Slater play the father and mother who take Kara in. Kain once played Superman and Slater played Supergirl. I really loved the casting choice because it gave me a reason to wave my geek flag with wild abandon! Back to the story line though. The two sisters are close and on this particularly bad night Alex is about to die in a plane crash. How could Kara possibly stand by without helping? Thus begins the transformation of Kara Danvers into Supergirl.
Kara saves her sister and the plane full of people. It’s a scene filled with great acting without being overdone. The special effects are fun but what really captivated me was the moment when Kara realizes all that she accomplished. For a girl that seems so lost in our modern world we finally see the “Ah Ha” moment Kara needed. She realizes that you can only hide your true self for so long. Eventually those impulses and talents find a way to express themselves and for Kara, that’s helping people who desperately need it.
While Kara wrestles with a blossoming sense of purpose, she must also face the rather negative reactions by those closest to her. In the aftermath of her heroism, Kara’s sister Alex is less than excited for her. Even her office mate Winn makes some offhand comments that remind the audience how cruel the world can be towards those with extraordinary abilities. I’m so glad the writers explored this problem and I’m willing to bet we can all relate to this experience. How many of us get excited developing a new skill set or learning something new only to have our friends and family demean the effort? It’s not right and it’s not fair but this is the reality of human emotion and interactions. Perhaps the scene may remind us to be more kind to others.
The second half of the show focused on smashing Kara’s preconceived notions about her life and watching her fight against evil forces. Up until this point Alex has been an oddly standoffish sibling but we quickly come to understand that her job, the one she’s kept hidden from Kara, involves studying alien life forms and removing alien threats. There’s a secret government agency called the Department of Extra-Normal Operations and they came into existence because of Kara’s arrival on earth 10 years ago. Oh, and then there’s the matter of a giant alien prison that also crashed into Earth and set the worst criminals in the universe free to wreak havoc.
Kara struggles internally with the guilt of knowing that her home planet’s destruction and her subsequent journey to Earth has endangered humanity. Melissa Benoist gives a stellar performance as a conflicted Kara trying to come to terms with the consequences of her journey and the DEO director’s unwillingness to let her help resolve the issue. Director Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) does not embrace the “help” Kara, nor her cousin Superman, could impart and is dubious about the budding heroine in front of him. Henshaw mentions that not everyone is a fan of the super human presence on Earth but that’s it not a popular opinion to express. I expect that this line of thought will cause conflict in future episodes of the show.
No review would be complete without addressing an issue that Kara herself takes up: “Supergirl” versus “Superwoman.” When Cat Grant decides to dub the unknown heroine Supergirl Kara rises to question the name and ask why they weren’t addressing this person as a woman and not a girl. The writers carefully crafted the response delivered by Calista Flockhart’s character making the argument that the term “girl” is fresh and modern. Female viewers are encouraged to embrace “girl” as an ageless title. I’m sorry but I call BS on girl being equal to woman.
Yes, “Supergirl” hails from the original comic line. Superwoman was an altogether different character. I still think CBS and DC comics could have taken a little creative license and fixed this issue. I’m not asking for one television series to fix all the cultural wrongs against women but this is a blatant misrepresentation of female adulthood. We want our girls to aspire to be courageous, bold, accomplished women; not be stuck in perpetual childlike states for the entertainment of others. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this issue because I’ve suffered being called “girl” as a derogatory and snide commentary on my own intelligence and maturity. Yes I’m upset with the writers and creators of the show . . . but they get so much right in the personification of Kara that I’m going to take a deep breathe and let it go for today.
The final scenes of this premiere episode include a fantastic fight scene and a disturbing introduction to a criminal organization. Kara ends up fighting Vartox (Owain Yeoman) who is out to kill both her and the agents of the DEO. She defeats him in a battle of wills but he commits suicide before the DEO can arrest him. There’s also a shadow commander played by Faran Tahir and in a surprise twist, Kara has an aunt Astra who not only survived the destruction of Krypton but is out to conquer Earth and kill anyone who would dare stop her.
The timing and writing of this first episode were fantastic and I can’t wait to see what happens next week. I suspect that Kara’s evil aunt will play a recurring role in creating chaos for our heroine. We know that there will be a number of classic characters from the Superman/Supergirl comic series reinterpreted for this show. As Kara develops her super abilities against these villains, I will be curious to see how her family and friends react to her new skills. I still want to know why the shadow group waited 10 years to try and conquer the planet. What have they been doing all this time? I guess I’ll be tuning in next week for more answers!
Watch on CBS Monday nights at 8:00/7:00c
Follow me on Twitter: @kfdodge and @threeifbyspace
Like us on Facebook or Subscribe for instant notice of new posts!
Share this article with our Social Share buttons above
Find more videos at the Supergirl Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/supergirl
Follow the show on Facebook: SupergirlCBS
Follow the show on Twitter: SupergirlCBS
See official updates from CBS at: http://www.cbs.com/shows/supergirl