Supergirl: A Rough Start Leads to a Fun Flight

Whenever there is a new show on television that grabs my attention, I find that there is a helpful method to take when trying it. For me, I give a show five to six episodes before I decide whether to continue or to drop it. Those five to six episodes are key, because they can determine whether it looks like a show will go on towards a good path or be a rough watch. A pilot can be rough, naturally, considering it has to set up the premise of the show along with introducing numerous characters, the setting, and the show’s plot. The next few episodes, then, have the room to stretch and smooth out the rough patches. The writing can take a few steps up, now that it has its necessary exposition out of the way. The performances can improve, now that the actors have had time to play as these characters. If things go well, the promise of what a show can offer reveals itself within these first few episodes. If not, then it’s another bad program that I turn down. Supergirl (based upon the DC Comics superheroine) is one such show that has started recently, and thankfully it looks like it’s on the path to being an enjoyable program.

When Krypton faced its destruction, the rocket pod that carried the infant Kal-El was not the only pod to leave the planet. The other contained Kara Zor-El, a 13-year old girl and cousin of Kal-El. During the journey, however, her rocket pod was struck by stray debris, causing it to go off-course and delay her arrival to Earth. The result is that she is still 13 years old when she finally arrives on Earth and is found by Kal-El, who has since grown up to become Earth’s greatest hero: Superman. With his help, she is adopted by the Danvers family, growing up in a new life as Kara Danvers. Now, as a twentysomething in National City, she works as a personal assistant to media giant Cat Grant. When a catastrophe occurs that threatens the life of her foster sister one night, Kara decides to do something about and uses her Kryptonian powers to save the day. The result is that she becomes a media sensation overnight, being called “Supergirl” by the press and gaining the attention of the shadowy Hank Henshaw and the DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations). Now, having used her powers for good, Kara has gotten a costume of her own and takes to the skies as Supergirl, fighting crime and helping the DEO deal with extraterrestrial threats.

Now, within that five to six episode window that I suggest, there has already been promise to the show. The story moves along at a good pace, not dragging out the main arcs for this season too long in their potential beginnings. Melissa Benoist is an excellent choice for the lead role of Supergirl, bringing a cheery spirit to the role that complements an optimistic hero like this. In fact, the cast pretty much gets right along well with their characters and the subject matter. However, there were some rough patches that cropped up within these first few episodes.

For one, it pushed a bit too hard on the fact that this is a show about a female superhero. Now, more representation of female heroes is ultimately a good thing. It’s certainly about time for more mainstream shows or movies that high-light female heroes. However, the first few episodes feature some rather blunt speeches about female empowerment. The intention behind these speeches is good, but the blunt manner in which they’re written and delivered may turn some away. Also, the show has been grappling with being both rooted in and trying to get out of the shadow of Superman. This has resulted in a few times of Kara explicitly saying that she’s not just like her cousin, rather than showcasing it through her actions. Thankfully, as these episodes have gone on, there has been some course correction. The feminist sentiment has shifted, remaining strong but moving away from on-the-nose speeches and towards fleshed out female characters and dynamics, while the issue of Superman is worked around in looking at how his legacy is impacting upon Kara and the world. There is also the story benefit of how Kara actually grew up on and remembers Krypton, something that helps to give her a core element that differentiates her from her more famous cousin. For me, a good example of this course correction can be seen in the show’s most recent episode, “Livewire”.

The episode’s story is one that showcases its female perspective, offering stories that explore mother/daughter relationships (whether figurative or literal). On the personal level, there is the story of Kara trying to help her foster sister Alex as their mother comes to National City for Thanksgiving, laying down praise upon Kara while frequently critiquing Alex. On a more superheroic level, there is the story of Supergirl trying to take down Leslie Willis, a shock jock who’s gained electricity powers and seeking revenge against Cat Grant for demoting her because of an on-air anti-Supergirl rant. At their core, both stories concern the effects of a mother figure in how they bring up their daughter figure, whether how Eliza Danvers’ contant critiques of Alex have fostered some frustration in having to always play the “big sister protector” to Kara or how Leslie’s villainous ways stem from Cat Grant having constantly pushed her to be more aggressive and cynical rather than reining in her bad attitude. Even Cat comes to recognize how her own driven, somewhat mean methods come from a mother who was never satisfied with anything Cat could do. Thus, the episode takes advantage of being a show about a superheroine through exploring stories and offering action that relate to the female perspective, rather than just spouting out general phrases of female empowerment.

Hopefully, the show maintains this stronger path. Though things started off a little rough, Supergirl shows some promise and keeps getting stronger. It offers a fun spirit to its superhero action, its story moves at a brisk pace, and it helps to stand out from the crowd by having a female hero at its core. If it keeps going on this course correction, then it will be a strong addition to the recent wave of TV shows based on comic books. If you want to watch Supergirl, it airs Mondays at 8:30 PM EST on CBS. You can also catch up on past episodes over at CBS’s website.

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