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Fox has the Batman-ish Gotham. The CW is currently busy with Arrow and The Flash, with the spinoff Legends of Tomorrow coming in the new year. And now CBS will be home to the latest TV incarnation of a DC superhero, as Supergirl is here to kick some ass and take names, as well as coffee orders, since she’s also got a day job. I had my initial doubts, but Supergirl is a pretty good time on the small screen.
For a superhero show to work, you’ve got to have a solid actor or actress in the lead, and Glee vet Melissa Benoist is positively charming as Kara Danvers née Zor-El. This is a superhero who is almost always smiling and trying to see the good in the world around her, even though it isn’t her original home, and works as almost a polar opposite to some of the darker comic book stories out there. Not that cheeriness is always needed, but it’s nice sometimes.
Kara is living in National City, having landed here as a young teenager. She was originally meant to watch over her cousin Kal-El, otherwise known as Superman, but there were some problems and she didn’t get here until after he was already an icon. And so she kept her identity hidden and eventually took up a job at the media conglomerate CatCo, run by Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant. Kara’s only an assistant, despite her unique abilities, but she still keeps her good nature at the ready. Her coworkers include Jeremy Jordan’s techie Winn Schott and Mehcad Brooks’ new recruit Jimmy, er, James Olsen, a former Daily Planet photographer whose former relationship with Superman plays into how he and Kara interact.
Then there’s Kara’s sister Alex, who is the Danvers’ biological child and knows about Kara’s powers. She is a science-headed doctor working for ex-CIA biggie Hank “possible future Cyborg” Henshaw at his Department of Extra-Normal Operations. He’s interested in all things “super,” and even though Kara doesn’t know it initially, she has eyes on her from all sides. This is a solid launching point for the series to take things in a more dramatic and plot-heavy direction.
The pilot itself isn’t as super-strong as it could be, although it lays out potential in droves. We get a lot of talk about Superman as “my cousin,” and even witness a brief glimpse or two, although only in ambiguous forms. The episode’s villain is an alien muscleman who does nothing to service the plot, but does allow audiences to see seeds of what the special effects team is capable of, as does the plane scene (from the trailer). The episode also shows us that even though Kryptonite isn’t involved here, Supergirl is not an invincible character, especially now that she’s just getting into the role of a hero. She may not bruise like most people, but she definitely gets punched like them.
While there are obvious shortcomings like cornball dialogue and predictable emotional jaunts, the show is so upbeat that it’s hard to get weighed down by negatives. For instance, Cat Grant is a pillar of characteristic negativity as an untouchable icon of new media. But Flockhart is fantastic in the role, and she not only gets a moment to metaphorically pick Kara up by her bootstraps, but she is also one-half of an on-the-nose-but-still-worthwhile scene that tackles the personal ethics of the word “girl” in a headline about a superpowered being. CBS isn’t one to take on feminism head-on, but here it is.
The rest of the cast is just a little too generic at this point to make any specific judgment calls. I like Brooks as an actor, so his take on Olsen works for me, even though he’s a far more assured and slightly arrogant version than people are used to. I love David Harewood, so I know Hank is going to be a powerful force as the show goes on. A nice touch was adding former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain as Kara’s adoptive parents Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers. And Laura Benanti’s scenes as Kara’s real mother Alura are enjoyable, though they’re fairly surface.
This modern version of Supergirl is the brainchild of New Normal co-creator Ali Adler and the Arrow/The Flash team of Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti. This show would pair excellently with Flash given its optimistic approach to storytelling and character development, and terribly with the gleeful sadism of Gotham. As well, it definitely sticks out on CBS, which is home to 1,001 procedural dramas, and will hopefully inspire the network to continue looking for more serialized projects. In the end, although the pilot may not necessarily be the best thing you’ll see on TV this month, I’m betting that it grows into something that’s, well, super.
Get ready for Supergirl to premiere on CBS on Monday, October 26 at 8:30 p.m. The show will move into its regularly scheduled 8 p.m. ET timeslot after the premiere.