Take the clumsy charm of Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent, just not the same level of confidence of his Superman. Add the bubblegummy flightiness of Lois & Clark. Stir in some freak-of-the-week essence from Smallville and a dash of cynical but insightful wordly wisdom from a late-1990s David E. Kelley dramedy.
Then leave it overnight and sour it slightly with some ill-advised romance that diminishes its otherwise winning main character, and that’s Supergirl for you: An enjoyable throwback to a family-friendly time that hits some turbulence along the way but tries hard to fulfil its potential.
The show has already completed its first season Stateside, and will move from CBS to the home of DC superhero shows, The CW, for its second season.
While the Internet is already buzzing with speculation about what will happen next – it seems Superman will finally show up in S2 after merely texting and whooshing through this season – Malaysian viewers are still new to the show and its characters since it only premiered here on May 31. So I’ll try not to get ahead of things.
Supergirl is the third DC Comics TV adaptation developed by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg after Arrow and The Flash (DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow being the fourth), and stars Glee’s Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers aka Kara Zor-El, another survivor from the planet Krypton.
Unlike its cousins on The CW, Supergirl is set on a different, parallel Earth (as will be made clear in a late-season crossover episode with The Flash).
Kara is actually Superman’s older cousin, and was sent to Earth during Krypton’s dying moments to watch over the infant Kal-El. But something went wrong during her trip, so by the time she arrived (still as a 13-year-old girl), Kal-El was already a grown man … a grown Superman, at that.
He left her in the care of adoptive human parents, Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers (played by Dean Cain and Helen Slater – so in a way, Supergirl gets raised by Superman and … Supergirl, uh-huh). That was 12 years ago, and now, as an adult, Kara has entered the workforce in National City as assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).
She also helps out adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) with her work at the Department of Extra-normal Operations (DEO), headed by the no-nonsense Hank Henshaw (David Harewood).
The DEO is a government agency tasked with investigating super-threats from space, and is kept busy because Fort Rozz, a Kryptonian maximum security prison housing the scum of the universe, crashed on Earth following Krypton’s destruction.
As if going after renegade aliens – including her own aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) – didn’t constitute a full-time job in itself, Kara also has to contend with other super-criminals who target her simply because she’s Superman’s cousin.
Billionaire inventor/industrialist Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) has his doubts about Kara’s intentions and also plots in secret against her.
And Cat wants a scoop so desperately that she forces her latest recruit, Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), to use his connections – he’s “Superman’s best pal”, don’tcha know – to set up an interview with Supergirl.
It’s a crazy place to be for a fledgling superhero, and it might easily run away from someone less appealing than Benoist.
This far into the series, she has proven herself adept at balancing the gawkiness of her human identity with the yearning to explore her full potential as a super-being.
As mentioned earlier (and in no way is it meant to belittle Benoist’s accomplishments), the closest analogy in this genre would be Reeve’s immortal portrayal of both Clark Kent and Superman, and how he actually managed to convince even an audience that was in on the “joke” that he was two different people.
And it’s just nice to have a show again where the hero embraces the idea of being a hero so willingly. While Arrow and The Flash have managed to succeed on the basis of strong supporting character ensembles, the pressure on anyone in a show with “Super-” in the title is that much greater. Benoist has borne that pressure quite capably, and later episodes will show that she can do rage, madness and grim determination quite well too, thank you.
Flockhart has proven to be quite the MVP of the supporting players too, showing in a short space of time that Cat is much more than the fussy, demanding and shallow boss she appears to be at first. Her practical, sometimes alienating approach to dealing with life’s problems may not work for everyone but it does provide some interesting food for thought.
The one thing that doesn’t hold up quite so well to me is the romance aspect. It feels arbitrarily shoved in, disrupting the story flow just so Kara can go all goo-goo-eyed over Jimmy. It’s probably the way his character is written, wishy-washy over his relationship with Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) and annoyingly clueless about Kara’s feelings, but this role isn’t doing Brooks any favours either since he looks uncomfortable a lot of the time.
So what can viewers expect in future episodes? A feminine variation on an old Superman foe (Bizarro), the appearance of a familiar jabroni from DC Comics (the android known as the Red Tornado), a pretty good adaptation of the cool Alan Moore Superman short story For The Man Who Has Everything, some Red Kryptonite shenanigans, and the answer to Henshaw’s mysterious glowing red eyes.
The overarching storyline for the first season will revolve around Aunt Astra, her husband Non (Chris Vance, from Transporter: The Series) and their sinister plan for National City. And of course there’s that delightful Flash crossover (albeit marred by the heroes’ pathetic showing against second-string supervillains), which opens Kara’s eyes to the fact that her universe is just part of a larger multiverse.
The series certainly took flight early on, though it hit some air pockets a little further in. Ditching the leaden romance aspect next season might really let it soar.
Double episodes of Supergirl air at 9pm every Tuesday on WarnerTV HD (HyppTV Ch 613).