Comic Con 2015 TV Pilot Review: Supergirl
REVIEW: With the success of Smallville, Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham to stand on (with much more to come at that), it’s not all that surprising to see DC attempt to bring yet another superhero to the small screen, although this time from someone of the opposite sex leading the charge. Not that female-led shows haven’t been able to dominate TV before (Buffy, anyone?), but after a failed attempt at a Wonder Woman show starring Adrianne Palicki (ironically, now showcasing her skills on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed like the ladies of DC may not get their shot, but alas Supergirl has swooped in to save the day. Or has it?
Produced by the creative minds behind Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl stars relative newcomer Melissa Benoist (WHIPLASH) as the titular heroine (aka Kara Zor-El aka Kara Danvers), who is sent to Earth to protect her cousin, Kal-El, who was blasted off moments before she was, leaving their destroyed home planet of Krypton in their wake. However, Kara is derailed into the Phantom Zone before finally finding her way to Earth, courtesy of her now grown cousin, sporting the identity of Superman (only seen off camera, but having a MAN OF STEEL-ish vibe). With Superman obviously not in need of protection, Kara is shouldered with some adoptive parents (Lois and Clark’s Dean Cain and the original SUPERGIRL, Helen Slater) and is set upon her own destiny, although still carrying (and suppressing) those superhero genetics.
Fast forward to many years later with a young adult Kara living in the fictional National City, working as an assistant for a feisty DEVIL WEAR’S PRADA-like boss, Cat Grant, played with snappy attitude by former Ally McBeal, Calista Flockhart. With expository voice over from Kara leading us up to this point, the show starts to settle into its identity, which is the usual playful, stereotypical, getting-to-know-you stuff, introducing Kara’s key supporting players (the friend-zoned friend, the work crush, the demanding boss, the strong-minded sibling, etc.). It’s all standard stuff at this point, but it thankfully whisks along so we can get to the heart of things.
Ultimately, Kara is repressed and struggling to find meaning in a world that already has a SuperMAN doing the hero stuff, so what can she do? Being an assistant at a media firm isn’t exactly what an alien from another world with superpowers is made for and her hunger to explore her abilities is eventually tapped when she’s “forced” to save a plane carrying her adoptive sister (Chyler Leigh) from crashing, which actually turns out to be a fairly fun sequence. The fallout of saving the plane is that Kara is rejuvenated and committed to seeing the superhero thing out, although her sister (whom she just saved from said plane) feels that she has now compromised her identity.
What follows is a montage of costume iterations, small-scale bouts with local criminals to test her might (all with the help of her friend-zoned pal, Winn, played by Jeremy Jordan) and the confidence-building test of her powers. Like Smallville, Supergirl sets up an onslaught of baddies for Kara to tussle with in future episodes, although instead of using Kryptonian rocks, they are using a spacecraft that followed Kara from the Phantom Zone to Earth, which subsequently crash landed, freeing the prisoners to roam the planet and get up to their no good ways. Her first such baddie is Vartox, a horn-headed supervillian with an “axe” to grind, seeing as it was Zara’s Kryptonian mother that imprisoned him. Her first bout with Vartox sees Kara being bested and eventually saved by a government organization called the DEO, (Department of Extranormal Operations), led by Hank Henshaw, better known in the comics as the man who becomes the evil Cyborg Superman. However, he’s more Nick Fury than anything else here and the DEO definitely feels very Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
After an inspiring message from home, Kara resets and takes on Vartox once again, this time finding the strength she needs to win the day and help fulfill her destiny as Supergirl. Most of that probably sounds pretty by the numbers and, well, you’d be right. However, it’s a formula that has worked before and, given a little more time to grow, it will likely settle in just fine here, too. The biggest asset this show has is Benoist, who is impossible not to adore as Kara. She’s got the spark to carry the lead, boasting strength, vulnerability, charm, and beauty, all of which she’ll need to help carry the weight of some of the weaker players. Flockhart is a fun addition to the cast and, although she’s got presence, Leigh has some work to do to get us to warm up to her character. Mehcad Brooks’ mancrush version of Jimmy Olsen has his work cut out as well, seeing as his personality is nothing like the Olsen we’ve known in the comics or prior films, instead opting for a strong-willed hunk rather than a nerdy photog with high ambitions.
Supergirl is filled with a lot of the silly character interactions you’ve come to know from other DC shows and is definitely lighter fare than CW’s Arrow and The Flash, but that isn’t such a bad thing. Ultimately, it fits its audience, which will likely cater to the teenage crowd, particularly young girls looking for a hero to root for or teenage boys looking for a hero to root for…and crush on. Fortunately, Benoist is more than up to the task on both and with some decent action pieces and a laundry list of villains to choose from, Supergirl has plenty of room to fly if they dig deep enough into her journey. As a pilot, it shows promise, but it also has hurdles to overcome, most of which can be solved with more episodes under its belt. It’s cheesy, goofy, stereotypical, and with standard issue special effects, but it also has a terrific lead, the Kryptonian connection, the DC comics playground, and a few supporting players that make it worth your while. I’m intrigued to see what path this show takes, but could easily see it taking off with Benoist leading the charge to stardom.