This was not meant to happen. We’re in a golden age of superhero adaptations right now. Films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, I feel, are to thank for the plethora of comic book adaptations we’ve seen thrust on movie screens at a rapid-fire rate, not to mention Marvel’s and DC expanding their cinematic universes.
On the small screen, sure, you had programs like Smallville or Birds of Prey that may seem a tad dated by today’s standards, but they were instrumental in helping us get where we are today with so many superhero or comic book adaptations on television, not to mention huge hits on Netflix like Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Arrow may have kicked off the most recent trend that’s continued with the likes of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham, iZombie, and so on. As far as these types of adaptations go, anyway, compared to the likes of The Walking Dead or Preacher.
But for reasons different than why I don’t watch S.H.I.E.L.D., Supergirl was never on my list of comic-book based shows to watch. Not because of it airing on a different network than the other DC Comics’ based shows outside of Gotham on FOX, but because I wasn’t sold on the premise.
Trailers can lie, yes, and sometimes you need to look beyond a trailer or teaser before making a judgment call, I’ll admit. But upon seeing the very first trailer for Supergirl in a movie theater, I was not impressed. I didn’t know what to expect, but it looked like Supergirl meets Dawson’s Creek and really emphasized the whole girl power and feminism angle. Having now watched the show, I wasn’t completely wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with approaching Supergirl like that, and in this day and age, I think that’s expected. What matters is execution.
Adapting anything Superman related is a daunting task, as the likes of Richard Donner, Bryan Singer, and Zack Snyder no doubt know. What is the value structure? Do you go for something more optimistic, or go for something more grounded in current society? And is there room for a happy medium? This is what separates Arrow and The Flash because, while part of the same world, their tones are very different.
So it’s no surprise that Greg Berlanti is the brains behind not just Supergirl, but the DCCW adaptations, not to mention Vixen. He has a certain formula that would no doubt make Supergirl work. And given the show’s renewal and generally positive feedback from critics and fans alike, it would seem that he’s succeeded. So why wouldn’t I be on board?
Again, it all goes back to marketing. And I do not feel that CBS knew how to market this show. Fundamentally, it’s similar to Arrow and The Flash, but Supergirl mixed with Dawson’s Creek didn’t wow me over in advertisements.
And, for priority’s sake, it didn’t help that this show airs the same time as Gotham. And while Gotham isn’t exactly the pinnacle of comic book adaptations, it is one that I talk about, so that show came first.
Also, despite airing on a different network, Supergirl felt like a show that belonged alongside the likes of the DCCW shows. In my mind, it felt left out, but hey, that’s why the multiverse exists.
I didn’t care that J’onn J’onzz was a supporting character, that Barry Allen popped in from his Earth for a crossover episode, or that this was a world where Superman had already been established. Hell, with the way Warner Bros. operates and given the deaths of Amanda Waller, Deadshot, as well as the lack of subsequent appearances of Slade or Harley Quinn on Arrow, I didn’t think Superman was fair game.
I’m doing a massive exposition dump as a roundabout way of saying that Supergirl had a lot of elements that sounded appealing, but nothing that made it a must-watch for me. As months passed, the first season ended and we learned that not only had Supergirl been renewed for a second season, but it would be on the CW.
Between that and curiosity getting the better of me, I gave in to see if my preconceived notions about this show based on a trailer or two were valid.
When I was finished, I had a mixed reaction. There were elements in Supergirl that I enjoyed, but also many parts that I disliked. I’m not here to do an episode-by-episode synopsis, but give my late and, quite frankly, unnecessary and clustered thoughts on some aspects of the show.
After holding out for so long, could I look at this objectively and not let any hesitation hamper what could be genuine enjoyment? Well, let’s do a brief plot synopsis.
Like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and iZombie, each episode starts off with an expository monologue giving viewers the basic gist of the show. Krypton exploded, Kara was sent to Earth to protect Kal-El, but she got knocked off-course. By the time she got to Earth, Kal-El had already become Superman.
So Kara blends in with the world, has an inner circle of close friends who know her identity, and she works to protect the city, nay, the world, from domestic and extraterrestrial threats. Along the way, she learns secrets and revelations about her family, friends, stumbles in her journey as a hero, and shows the citizens of National City why she’s a symbol of hope.
At a time where Superman in the films is criticized for being too dark and emulating more of Batman than the bright and colorful Superman many are used to, Supergirl stands in contrast to Kal-El’s adaptation on the big screen.
This Supergirl doesn’t exist in a mostly muted color palette. She’s fun and has dimension. And there’s a real passion in Melissa Benoist’s performance whenever she’s on-screen that it’s hard for me to picture anyone else playing this particular incarnation of Supergirl.
But Supergirl is more than Kara and it’s most of the performances around Benoist where I had problems. Half of this is the actors, and the other half is in the writing. When I say that Supergirl feels like a superhero version of Dawson’s Creek, or any other sappy teen drama, I’m talking about familiar beats or tropes you see in those type of dramas.
Whether it’s characters arguing for the sake of drama, complicated love triangles, one character happening to walk in or catch two people kissing, episodes closing out with musical cues to get your emotions running…it all drags Supergirl down. And I don’t feel some of the drama here is earned.
Now don’t get me wrong. A show can have some of those traits and make them work without feeling forced or cheesy. Hell, iZombie has many of the aforementioned elements, but what makes that show so great is the writing. I buy Liv’s complicated relationship with Major in that show.
I don’t buy Kara’s will she/won’t she feelings with Jimmy Olsen. Part of that is because the love triangle between Kara, Jimmy, and Lucy Lane just feels like conflict for the sake of conflict, and also because I don’t feel Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks have the same sort of chemistry as, say, Grant Gustin and Candice Patton on The Flash.
Plus, aside from sticking Lucy at the DEO, having Jimmy already in an established relationship with Lucy just feels like the show sowing seeds for Jimmy to break it off with Lucy and explore his true feelings for Kara. That’s expected and is just what happens, partially because of neither Kara nor Jimmy telling Lucy that Kara is Supergirl, even there’s no reason to hide it from her of all people.
Oh, but it’s not just Jimmy. Then you’ve got Winn, the guy who has a crush on Kara. He’s fine enough as an ally, but when he kisses Kara and then gives her the cold shoulder, I’m left wondering why. And then at one point, he’s disappointed because he saw Kara and Jimmy hug? What the hell?
Okay, Winn is shy and in a bit of competition with Jimmy, but I never thought of him as the petty, jealous type. It felt out of nowhere. He already knows how Jimmy feels about Kara and if television conventions are anything, Jimmy’s relationship with Lucy wouldn’t last, so for Winn to get pissy over a hug is an example of unearned drama. It’s drama for the sake of drama.
This extends to characters not communicating or saying things just earlier instead of later. Maybe this is a me thing, but I don’t have the patience for people who don’t just talk about their problems. So Alex kills Astra, but J’onn takes the blame. Okay, I get that.
But then Kara gives J’onn the cold shoulder for quite some time, but he’s fine because he can take it. Alex, though, feels that telling Kara the truth would hurt their relationship. Either Alex isn’t giving Kara enough credit and making a huge assumption, or she’s just afraid. If it’s fear, then fine, but given their longstanding relationship as Earth sisters, I would think that Alex is bold enough to admit what she did.
And once Alex gives her teary revelation, it’s as if all the anger Kara felt towards J’onn just dissipates. She forgives Alex in no time, but the fact that she was such as asshole towards J’onn felt unnecessary.
She gets over it and that’s my problem: withholding the news served no purpose other than to create some friction between Kara and J’onn and let guilt eat away at Alex…guilt that wouldn’t have been there if she had been honest in the first place. Trust your sister the way that she trusts you.
These are the kinds of issues that have dragged down Arrow, but this is only the first season of Supergirl and some of the sappier elements or lack of communication that I see here are the reasons there’s such hatred from many fans towards the fan-dubbed ‘Olicity.’
For the record, I think you can make Oliver and Felicity work as an item, but not when it’s dragged down by bullshit romantic drama better saved for soap operas. But then, Arrow might as well be a soap opera right now, but I digress, because the show’s current issues run well beyond Olicity.
Back to Supergirl. Oddly enough, the one character who I disliked the most is the one who may not appear as often because of the show’s move to Vancouver. I like Calista Flockhart’s performance and Cat Grant is one of the more vocal characters on the show, but she was also one of the most grating.
Aside from her being insufferable and vain- and I get that was the point- her celebrity name-dropping coming almost as frequent as Cisco’s movie references on The Flash, and her overall less than pleasant character made her someone I could have done without. For a moment.
When the show introduced us to Cat’s eldest son, Adam, I saw how much Cat wanted a relationship with an actual human being instead of her awards. Her defenses drop when Adam takes her down a peg and calls her out on her shit. And even though I find Cat’s vanity an issue, she does make a valid attempt to bond with her son and the writers do a good job of humanizing her as the season progresses.
This extends to her relationship with Supergirl. She believes in Supergirl standing as a symbol of hope, but also recognizes that Supergirl, like Kal-El in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, gives the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.
And that became very clear in the episode that not just made me respect Cat Grant, but stands as my favorite episode of the series thus far: “Falling.” Here, Kara is exposed to red kryptonite and becomes an all-around asshole. She becomes bolder, lets an alien go, and even throws Cat off of a building before catching her at the last moment. Kara tells Cat that power is deciding who gets to live and who dies.
Right before Kara tosses her, Cat says that she created Supergirl and that she won’t let her down. It’s a ballsy thing to say in front of an alien who could kill you without trying, but this showed me that, despite Cat’s arrogance, behind that tough exterior is someone who wants Supergirl to be this shining example of truth, justice, and the American way. Only when put in mortal danger does Cat go public to denounce Supergirl.
Sure, it’s because the plot demands that Kara rebuild her reputation, but this one moment made me appreciate Cat Grant a little more. Even J. Jonah Jameson can come around to admit that Spider-Man is a hero.
But this isn’t why I love the episode. Supergirl, like Clark in the Donner Superman films, goes through an arc. Heroes don’t always just get their praise from the public. They must earn it. And at times, that struggle can be grueling, but worth it to show character development.
I enjoyed watching Oliver Queen show the people of Star City that he’s more than just a vigilante, Bruce Banner proving that the Hulk can be used for good and not just a weapon of destruction, Matt Murdock showing the police of Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil is on their side, or Peggy Carter showing the men of the SSR that she’s a capable. Even though she already deserved to be seen as an equal, but I’ve already discussed Agent Carter.
The drama in “Falling” felt real because we’ve seen Kara endure conflicts from every side, whether work or the DEO, but this gave her a chance to really vent, but also, like Batman’s fear of Superman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, show the public what kind of person a Kryptonian could be if they chose not to be a savior, but embraced their power and just did as they pleased.
And watching Kara try to earn that trust back after one little slip-up felt like a real arc. Like Clark in Superman II, she learns that she’s held to a higher standard because she gives people hope. She doesn’t get to just be a normal person. Sure, Supergirl here is allowed to be a bit more vulnerable and show emotion, but she still has to maintain that strong exterior so people still look up to her.
When the public aids her and The Flash when the two battle Livewire and Silver Banshee, the renewed trust in Supergirl feels genuine and we see that Kara regrets her actions. She’s learned from her errors and that makes her a better person. And I appreciate that the public doesn’t just flip on a dime and accept Supergirl without consequence. She has to earn that trust, not just get it back without effort or because the plot demands it.
To me, this was the high point of the series and the best example of emotional drama that felt earned instead of just exploring Kara’s bad side. Nothing before this was bad, but not all that memorable. “Falling” had real weight to it. It’s a shame that it just took sixteen episodes into the series for me to find one a memorable one.
Otherwise, the show itself is decent enough. The fight scenes aren’t too bad, and the dramatic moments when earned can be quite good. The feminism and girl power talk didn’t grate on me as much as I thought it would since it’s only prevalent in a few episodes and is all but gone towards the end of the season.
I understand that, this being a female superhero, you’re going to tackle that topic. Hell, I would be surprised if the show didn’t. But I don’t think the talks of feminism and being a woman in the world are as well-written or believable as they are in Agent Carter, nor are they given the level of seriousness that we got in Jessica Jones, though Jessica gets a whole different set of standards with Netflix.
And don’t give me any nonsense about not comparing Supergirl to other female led comic-book programs. Both Daredevil and The Flash have been compared to Arrow when Daredevil, like Jessica Jones, has a different set of standards. Supergirl is just as fair game for comparisons as anything else.
Overall, though, the first season of Supergirl is decent enough. As far as Berlanti-led shows, I’d say it’s better than the first season of Legends of Tomorrow, but not the first seasons of either Arrow or The Flash. The forced emotional drama and lack of chemistry between some characters drags the show down.
However, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and Supergirl is much more than its first trailer made it out to be. Benoist is a great lead and she brings the optimism you’d want from a superhero like her. When Supergirl is good, it’s very good, but like other Berlanti shows, the drama and romantic subplots keep it from being great.
Sharpen up the weaker elements and I think Supergirl could be a much stronger show. And given how much the CW has been marketing the show since it changed networks, I do hope it gets more exposure because behind all the unearned drama is a good show. It’s not for everyone, but if “Falling” is any indication, it’s that this show has the potential for greatness. Here’s hoping that happens in Season 2.