With the second season due to start on The CW, Cal catches up with the Lady of Steel.
Supergirl is the latest DC Comics superhero show from producers Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, who also oversee Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. But while those shows share a home on The CW network and exist within a shared continuity, Supergirl was housed over at CBS for this first season, and establishes its own separate world and continuity. It’s also a show about a female superhero, which makes for a refreshing change. Even though Supergirl has its charms, it’s not all smooth sailing, as it starts off downright awful before improving to a certain extent. It’s a few notches below the (admittedly mediocre) first seasons of both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, and doesn’t come close to the excellent debut outing for The Flash.
As the planet Krypton faces destruction, infant Kal-El/Superman is sent to Earth in a pod by his parents, but he’s not the only Kryptonian who was evacuated. To serve as Kal’s protector, his cousin Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) is also sent to Earth, but arrives many years after Kal has already revealed himself to the world as Superman. Growing up in a normal household with adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh), Kara makes the move to National City, where she lands a job working for media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). When a plane disaster threatens the safety of her sister, Kara demonstrates her powers to save Alex, and emerges as National City’s own superhero. Branded as Supergirl by the media, Kara confides in friends Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), while also receiving help from Alex who works for a covert defence organisation known as the DEO.
This season covers a lot of narrative ground across its twenty episodes, even bringing in Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) – the sister of Lois Lane – which leads to a love triangle between herself, Kara and Jimmy Olsen. Other Kryptonians are also prowling around the sidelines, while the loyalties of megalomaniac Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) remain unclear. In addition, aspects of the show mirror recognisable elements from Superman stories; for instance, Kara can speak to a pre-programmed hologram of her mother, Alura Zor-El (Laura Benanti), and Kara even visits the Fortress of Solitude. There’s a “monster of the week” formula to some of the episodes as Kara faces powerful opponents, but there are also running story arcs and mythology episodes mixed in. One of the more interesting subplots involves Alex’s boss Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who turns out to be fan favourite J’onn Jonzz, also known as Martian Manhunter.
Supergirl undeniably gets off to a rocky start. The season’s pilot episode – which leaked online many months before its original broadcast to a mixed reception – is hard to defend. The script is slipshod, nothing really works, and the enterprise is both hackneyed and chintzy. Particularly embarrassing is the cheap-looking opening sequence on Krypton, which looks closer to a Z-Grade Roger Corman flick. Luckily, however, the show improves across its first season, though there are still big problems which hold Supergirl back from reaching its full potential. Perhaps one of the most glaring shortcomings of Season 1 is that the show awkwardly shies away from showing Kara’s cousin, the iconic Man of Steel. Season 2 will feature Teen Wolf star Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, but in this season, he is never seen, with deliberate framing to block out his face and communications limited to instant messaging. The result is incredibly jarring and awkward. More pertinently, though, try as it might, Supergirl cannot successfully develop the type of emotional heft that catapulted The Flash into the stratosphere.
As perhaps to be expected from a television show, production values here are a mixed bag. On the one hand, characters like J’onn J’onzz and The Red Tornado look close to flawless, as do many of the other Martians seen throughout the series. But on the other hand, there are many digital effects shots that look startlingly unconvincing, and during some of the green-screen sequences, you can almost see a green tint in the hair of actors. There is still some fun to be had in the action scenes if you can overlook the undeniable technical shortcomings, however, and there are even shades of Zack Snyder during some of the mid-air combat sequences. Hell, there also appears to be some light John Williams influence in the show’s theme by Blake Neely.
Benoist is a real catch, and she’s one of the only things which keeps Supergirl watchable during its roughest patches. She’s charming and fun, able to come across as a “normal” bimbo as Kara the assistant, while also handling the more dramatic elements with apparent ease – there’s superb gravitas to her performance. But it’s Flockheart who steals the show as Cat Grant, exhibiting traces of Meryl Streep’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada. Flockhart brightens up the series whenever she’s onscreen, chewing the scenery and often delivering amusing dialogue. Her one-liners are magical. The rest of the ensemble get the job done well enough, though Brooks is a questionable choice as Jimmy Olsen, who’s miles removed from the comic book portrayal. There are even appearances by Helen Slater (the original live-action Supergirl) and Dean Cain (Superman from Lois & Clark), who play Kara’s adoptive parents.
The standout episode of this season is “Worlds Finest,” which guest stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen/The Flash, crossing over with arguably the best DC show currently on television. Supergirl does take place in an alternate universe as previously mentioned, but the writers manage to create a believable conceit to justify the guest appearance, and the result is pure joy. Of course, Gustin remains an utter delight as Barry, but Benoist and Gustin share such a lovely, easygoing chemistry as well, and there’s a certain kick to be had in watching this character cross over to another universe.
Supergirl starts getting into an agreeable groove at around the midpoint of this first season, but it’s difficult to outright love the show due to its various problems. And since there are so many superhero adaptations being produced on a yearly basis, merely decent is not good enough. The potential is certainly here for a great show, and one can only hope that it truly finds its footing in Season 2. With Supergirl transitioning to The CW network alongside other DC shows, it does have a promising future.
- The Supergirl outfit was designed by Colleen Atwood, who also designed the costumes for Arrow and The Flash. She had previously designed the Superman outfits that would be used in the failed film “Superman Lives” which would star Nicolas Cage in the title role.
The sound effect used in Supergirl for her X-ray vision is the same one used in Smallville.
In an early episode, it is mentioned that Metropolis was destroyed during one of Superman’s fights as a nod to Man of Steel (2013). A comic book prequel for that film revealed that Kara Zor-El does exist in that universe.
Ironically, DC Comics cancelled the Supergirl comic book title close to this series’ premiere in 2015. It was announced the following year that it would return as part of the “DC: Rebirth” event (as “Supergirl: Rebirth”), incorporating many elements of this series such as the outfit, Supergirl working with the D.E.O. and National City.