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The most anticipated TV series premiere of the year is finally here.
In a landscape where pretty much every broadcast network freshman series is binary—high-key trash or forgettably mediocre—Supergirl is, perhaps, the salvation of our weekly conversation. Since CBS unleashed the first footage via a lengthy trailer in May, followed by the pilot’s unceremonious leakage and later a finished version of the pilot made available to critics, Superman’s kid cousin gone solo has been hotly debated. Some love it, maybe one or two hate it, most found it solid, but hey—at least we’re talking about it so damn much.
Back in May, the Smallville apologist Justin Charity and I discussed the trailer. I thought Supergirl, a tonal outlier, showed hints of promise, whereas Charity feared it would be The Devil Wears Prada with crime-fighting and romantic tangents. Now that the pilot’s finished and airs tonight, let’s check back in and see whether Supergirl will indeed save us all.
CHARITY: Supergirl opens with the bursts of personality and supernatural action that the show's spiritual forefather, Smallville, skirted in its earliest seasons. Here we're treated to not just one, but two CG fireballs, with Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Kara Zor-El, kicking a starter pack Kryptonian lackey through cinder blocks in between these explosions. Unlike Clark Kent, young Kara flies. She prevents 9/11 in act one of the pilot.
The debut trailer for Supergirl emphasized the glitzy, coke-white media workplace setting, a la The Devil Wears Prada, thus burdening the lead actor Melissa Benoist with Anne Hathaway’s career aesthetic. Here the inaugural conflict is in the newbie office assitant Kara’s masking her identity while her colleagues in editorial rush to cover the spectacular emergence of this unknown Supergirl. That's the the age-old tension of this franchise, but Supergirl is much quicker to this point than the notoriously tedious Smallville was.
The pilot is fine. For the first three minutes, Kara is a child actor with adult voice-over rattling her origin story at a painful pace, as if she’s ripping crusted Band-Aids from a hairy forearm. (Strangely, the tone of Kara’s exposition shifts from grave to Peter Parker-awkward to mirror the actual course of her adolescence, as if contemporary Kara is aging while speaking.) There's nothing subtle about the script-writing or (worse yet) the performances, but at least these characters are, uh, unapologetically themselves so immediately, and effectively. Jimmy Olsen is the Wise and Handsome Friend. Jeremy Jordan is A Limerent Idiot. Alex Danvers is the Resolute and Compassionate Sister. They're all pretty moe.
What were expectations heading into this thing, and how are you feeling about the pilot?
FRAZIER: I was expecting more Lois & Clark than Arrow, and that’s exactly what we get here. For better or worse. Nor is this Smallville, which used burgeoning powers as a metaphor for hormonal teenagers. That series was WB in a nutshell, whereas Supergirl is so very CBS. And it’s better for that: Man of Steel is C+ proof that the Super fam are not watchable when they’re Batman-levels of weary.
Upon rewatching the pilot, I'm realizing that, phew, I really can’t stand a lot of these people. The show is so sweet; it’s like a sugar rush. I’m thinking of Kara’s annoying, thirsty, geek friend, who basically plays like the nerd dude from National Treasure on 1,000. He gotta go.
CHARITY: Winn Schott’s beta-lust is so egregious, spoiled, and hateable from jump, and Jeremy Jordan’s performance of such thirst is the polar antonym of endearing. I'd kick that puppy. Yet thanks to Schott, Kara is only the second-most saccharine citizen of National City, which, with that goofy-ass name, is a true comic book metropolis insomuch as it exists only as local news broadcasts, imminent disaster footage, and a series of blackened alleys. It feels quite like Spiderman 3, and Kara definitely reminds me of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker more than anyone else.
It’ll be interesting to see how these characters develop, if at all. Michael Rosenbaum carried much of latter-day Smallville with his bratty and rotten portrayal of Lex Luthor, and so I’m hoping that, in this case, Calista Flockhart continues to son the younger cast as they settle into sure footing and their respective voices.
The thing about Smallville is: I love that show, but it’s awful, but I love it, but its ten season was exhausting, and so it pretty much foreclosed the possibility that I’d ever watch Arrow, The Flash, FOX’s Gotham, or ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I know those shows all vary in tone and whatnot, but for a while, I was generally fed up with such prolonged suspension of disbelief and the godly patience required to “enjoy” these trashy-ass scripts. Where do you think Supergirl will fit in the contemporary landscape of televised comics? Will it really stand out?
FRAZIER: It’s definitely going to stand out, and not just because as the pilot takes blatant pains to stress, it’s a woma—er, GIRL, doing "a man's job."
Greg Berlanti made Arrow and The Flash pop in a climate where attempts to jumpstart those properties failed often and miserably (well let’s be honest, no one even really gave Green Arrow much thought to begin with lmao, except Smallville. It all comes back to Smallville.) With the understandable pair of balls this guy must’ve developed, the only thing bolder than taking on Wonder Woman is dropping a show so unapologetically sincere and sunny, literally and figuratively, at a time when brooding is the wave. But respectable as that onus is, will the streets be responsive to it?
I personally found Melissa Benoist’s sincerity more grating than charming, especially during every conversation with her hating-ass, "normie" sister who helped gas her into a bemusing life of normalcy. Why hasn’t she been kicking ass with her cousin as soon as she became legal age? Does this series really think the way around Superman’s [contractually] unavailable shadow is to frame him as an absentee dad? Will we all be able to endure Melissa Benoist-as-Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On-as-Supergirl week in, week out?
I’ve seen this show getting Bs across the board but this is truly a series determined by episodes two and three...and shit, seven and eight. It’s a solid start but less so than any pilot, it gives no real hint at what kind of show Supergirl can and will be, from Monster of the Week, to Long-Term, or even eschewing super serious serialization as yet another populist swerve. How nice of CBS then, to only make the pilot available for critics. Much like Supergirl aims to walk in Superman’s footsteps before flying out of his shadow, Supergirl aims to do so with the likes of Smallville. Time will tell if it has the chops to. What I’m really saying is, Supergirl has about one month to get it’s shit together, before Marvel’s Whisky-Swilling Ass-Kicking Jessica Jones snatches her shine.