It was a season of Supermen, moves to Vancouver, and same-sex preaching. But did The CW actually improve Supergirl? Cal tries to decide.
With Supergirl shifting from its initial CBS home to the current DC television hub on The CW, a shake-up of the show was both inevitable and welcome, since Season 1 was unmistakably hit-and-miss. And to the credit of the showrunners, Season 2 of Supergirl hits the ground running, opening strong with a rousing two-parter which introduces Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and ups the ante in terms of both action sequences and production values. It’s a promising new beginning, with its aesthetic brought more in line with the other shows on the network, so it’s a real shame that this superior quality isn’t maintained. Indeed, the remainder of the season unfortunately fails to stick the landing; an ironic reversal of the show’s first season which was initially awful but progressively grew more watchable and enjoyable. Still, Supergirl remains a slick, entertaining comic book action series in spite of its shortcomings, and it’s at least a damn sight better the last few seasons of Arrow.
Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) maintains a day job at CatCo Worldwide Media, but she also protects National City as Supergirl, working with her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) at the covert defence organisation known as the DEO. When a Kryptonian pod arrives on Earth, Kara hopes that another of her kind survived Krypton’s destruction, but the passenger turns out to be Mon-El (Chris Wood), a former citizen of the planet Krypton’s sister planet Daxam. Despite a longstanding feud between Daxam and Krypton, Kara builds a hesitant relationship with Mon-El as the pair develop undeniable feelings for one another. Elsewhere, Alex initiates a same-sex relationship with police officer Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), tech wizard Winn (Jeremy Jordan) joins the DEO full-time, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) is left in charge of CatCo in the absence of Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), and Kara becomes fast friends with Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) despite her familial connection to criminal Lex Luthor. In addition, Mon-El’s mother Rhea (Teri Hatcher) endeavours to rebuild Daxam, and targets Earth for an invasion.
Whereas Supergirl’s first season ran for only 20 episodes, there are 22 episodes in this second season, which is still just short of the 23-episode runs granted for The Flash and Arrow. There’s a welcome mix of monster-of-the-week and mythology episodes, though there are certain through-lines and subplots. Although serialised storytelling appears to be shunned for the most part by contemporary television, it’s fun to see Supergirl deal with more minor threats, as it underscores that Kara constantly works to keep National City and its citizens safe. One of the primary subplots of Season 2 is Alex’s relationship with Maggie, which feels shoehorned-in to touch upon a Big Important Issue™ with all the subtlety of a shotgun. Although this type of edgy material has basically existed in comic properties forever (X-Men is one big allegory for Civil Rights and homosexuality, after all), the handling of the relationship never rings true or makes as much of an impact as it clearly wants to. Even more headache-inducing is the season-spanning threads involving Mon-El. Alas, the love tangent with Kara is dead weight.
Supergirl’s move to The CW Network necessitated a change in filming location, and therefore Los Angeles was switched out for the more cost-effective Vancouver, home of the other CW programs. Although the shift admittedly results in superior production value and special effects, since not as much needed to be spent on locations, it does come with one big casualty: Calista Flockhart. She was the standout in the first season with her sharp, acerbic wit that managed to keep the show enjoyable, but here she only appears in five episodes, and her absence is felt – without her, dialogue is mostly humdrum. The much-publicised Hoechlin also feels wasted as Superman since he’s so underused, appearing only in the opening two-parter and the finale. He’s most egregiously absent during the expansive team-up event which runs through The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Is Hoechlin really that busy? Then again, perhaps this was a mercy since Hoechlin is nothing to write home about – he carries himself adequately, but he’s too meek as Superman, and he’s a far cry from the likes of Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill.
The show’s improvements from a technical standpoint this season are hard to deny, with smoother green-screening and superior digital effects. Action scenes are frequent and thrilling, such as the alien throwdowns in “Survivors,” and many of the set-pieces involving Superman and Supergirl fighting alongside one another (and battling each other in the finale). The show’s most impressive achievement from a CGI standpoint continues to be the Martians – they look convincingly detailed, though they admittedly lack proper weight in certain shots. Some wiggle-room must be permitted since this is a TV show produced on a tight schedule with limited funds, but not everything works. Certain sets look basic and obvious, CGI flames in “Welcome to Earth” are absurdly phony, and alien foot soldiers in the finale look to be wearing cheap Halloween costumes. On that note, the finale does seem to end quite suddenly, and one cannot help but feel that an invasion should feel more epic in scope. This show is what it is, but it could be even better with a more generous budget and a longer post-production period.
The season’s directorial roster includes veterans like Glen Winter and Larry Teng, though the likes of Rachel Talalay (Sherlock, Doctor Who) and geeky filmmaker Kevin Smith are mixed in, too. Smith previously directed a Season 2 episode of The Flash to great success, establishing a strong relationship with the producers in the process, and therefore the self-confessed Supergirl mega-fan was recruited to direct two episodes here. It’s surely no coincidence that Smith’s episodes are among the most enjoyable that the season has to offer, particularly “Supergirl Lives,” the title of which is a sly reference to the theatrical Superman project that Smith was attached to write in the late 1990s (and has spoken at length about).
Benoist continues to be an absolute joy as Kara/Supergirl, and the remainder of the ensemble cast hit their marks respectably. The character of Jimmy Olsen has seen many alter-egos in the comics, but in this season, he creates a suit of armour and begins hitting the streets as Guardian to help fight crime, relying on Winn for technical assistance. With Brooks’ unique interpretation of Olsen greatly differing from the norm, the decision to introduce Guardian is one of the season’s greatest successes. Another big win is the casting of newcomer Frederick Schmidt as the comic book villain Metallo. He makes for a charismatic villain, but he’s also a real threat. Ian Gomez is a real find as Kara’s new boss, and there are guest appearances from a number of recognisable performers, including Teri Hatcher (who played Lois Lane on Lois & Clark), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman from the 1970s television show), and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules).
Flaws notwithstanding, Supergirl nevertheless manages to keep its head above water thanks to the game cast and frequently exciting action sequences. The show won me over in the end to a certain extent, and I plan to stick with it in the future, but it nevertheless doesn’t come close to Daredevil, Legion, or the current king of DC television (in my eyes), Gotham, which is more mature, intriguing and polished. Yes, Supergirl aims to be another show entirely compared to adult-oriented superhero programs, but The Flash does it better with seemingly little effort. If you enjoyed the first season of Supergirl, you’ll almost certainly be satisfied with this second season. But if you actively dislike the show, there’s no point giving this one a shot.
- Tyler Hoechlin (Clark Kent/Superman) went to prom with Katie Cassidy who portrays DC Comics character Laurel Lance/Black Canary/Black Siren in Arrow and The Flash.
- Brenda Strong portrays Lillian Luthor; Strong is best known for playing Sue Ellen Mischke on Seinfeld. On that series Jerry refers to Sue Ellen as Elaine’s “Lex Luthor”, referring to them being arch enemies. Lillian is Lex Luthor’s mother on Supergirl.
- David Harewood publicly expressed dissatisfaction in playing Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman. He felt the writers gave the character no depth.