One of DC Comics’ most iconic superheroines got her own television series Monday night amidst mixed feelings from fans beforehand. Did it soar or crash?
Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), the cousin of Superman, works as a lowly assistant for a rude newspaper owner (Calista Flockhart). But when disaster strikes, she can no longer hide her extraordinary powers and becomes a superheroine.
Many fans worried that this show would be nothing but “Gilmore Girls” with capes. Indeed, early promos presented it as such. But while its primary target audience is still probably young women, this isn’t simply a rehash of, say, “Lois and Clark.” It features some superhero intrigue and action, the latter of which rivaling what’s usually seen on the big screen. Kara has more to deal with than romantic shenanigans, sexism, and a mean boss.
The show’s greatest challenge, though, was figuring out how to present Supergirl’s origin. In the comics, it’s so closely tied to Superman it’d be impossible to separate them. The problem is that Superman is such a larger-than-life presence that he’d overshadow Kara. Unfortunately, there was a bit of this in the pilot. Though Superman was never fully seen, he was frequently mentioned. Kara often compared herself to him. In some ways, it felt like the creators were attempting to make a Superman show without Superman. But as time went on, Kara asserted herself more, becoming a heroine who could stand on her own. Heck, she battled and defeated a renegade Kryptonian in the pilot’s penultimate scene. How Superman will be prevented from making a full-fledged appearance later will be difficult since it seems Kara fought a minion of “the general,” which is mostly likely Supes’ longtime foe Zod (more on that later).
To the pilot’s credit, it avoids the many pitfalls that befell NBC’s failed “Wonder Woman” pilot from several years ago. Kara is no overbearing, belligerent feminist. Her origin is accurate to the comics (in fact, it combines elements of both her pre-Crisis and post-Crisis origins) in that she is Kal-El’s cousin who was sent to Earth in another rocket to keep him safe, but she didn’t land until 24 years later. Most importantly, Kara is an endearing and earnest character yet she is never annoying. In other words, this is the Supergirl from the comics.
The pilot delved deep into Superman mythos but not overly so like Fox’s “Gotham” did. Kara is joined by “Superman’s pal” Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), Winslow Schott, Jr. (Jeremy Jordan) and Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) at her workplace, CatCo. Winslow shares a name with Superman villain Toyman, a possibility that holds potential. Flockhart gave a borderline cartoonish performance as Cat Grant, playing her as an over-the-top rude tycoon. Given her background as “Ally McBeal,” that’s not surprising. She was the one thing that almost derailed the otherwise serious pilot. She’s definitely intended to be an analogue for Perry White (or perhaps J. Jonah Jameson). Most interesting was Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who in the comics became the infamous Cyborg Superman. In the series he’s the head of a government agency that polices extraterrestrial activities.
The weirdest and most mysterious casting/character was Faran Tahir, who is credited only as “The Commander.” In the pilot, the renegade Kryptonians—who escaped from the Phantom Zone—spoke of paving the way for “the general.” In the episode’s tag scene, one of them met Tahir’s character, who talked about ruling Earth. Is she supposed to be a female version of General Zod? That would be a bold move, one that might upset many fans. Zod has become quite popular in light of “Man of Steel,” but gender-swapping him on television might be too much. However, it remains to be seen who Tahir is playing.
The pilot featured a wonderful Easter egg for longtime fans of Superman media in that Dean Cain (who played Superman in “Lois and Clark”) and Helen Slater (who played Supergirl in the 1984 film) cameoed as Kara’s adoptive Earth parents. Though they spoke no lines and appeared in only one scene, it was a subtle yet wonderful acknowledgement of what had come before.
While the shadow of Superman loomed over it, “Supergirl” got off to an exciting start. The pilot set the stage with good characters and many potential stories and villains for future episodes. While it shares a timeslot with “Gotham,” it could give that show a run for its money. DC might want to reconsider competing with itself.