Supergirl - season one (2015)
Creators: Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg
review by Donald Morefield
"I am so sick of hearing about the man of steel. Okay, let's not mention him again... So, the first question... is this better than Smallville?
On the strength of a fast-moving introductory episode and some of the twisty developments in its debut season, yes, it certainly is - even if that favourable comparison means it's only a marginal
subgenre improvement. Humble office assistant Kara works for a media queen and fashionably abusive boss, Cat Grant (Ally McBeal herself, Calista Flockhart), who is clearly based on Anna
'nuclear' Wintour, and effortlessly dominates nearly all of the show's non-action scenes. Melissa Benoist (Whiplash)
is a bit prone to over-acting and yet, oddly, she is often better, and more convincing, as Supergirl than Kara. What a difference a cheer-leader costume makes!
The costumed heroine of National City is a bit klutzy by day, but not kitschy by night, wearing a short skirt and an 'S' for spectacular. From the Phantom Zone, some weird aliens, "monsters,
abominations" have escaped from the sideways realm of Krypton's super-max prison Fort Rozz, and these sundry components provide the punch-bags and public menaces for Supergirl to the gain
confidence to win battles and save lives on a daily-planet basis. The show has plenty of soap operatic support from a network of best friends and Kara's adoptive sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh),
a government secret agent for the DEO response team that's obviously copied from Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Every new incarnation of Supergirl for the screen has always faced the same daunting challenge as Wonder Woman. How to manage a characterisation that is beautiful and yet powerful without becoming
just another sex object on a pedestal or a bitchy threat to fragile male egos? Attractive feminism is this show's neatest trick of creativity, with a strong commitment to preserving the Super-mythology
while updating the aspect of charm which can make this DC comics' character succeed as a sci-fi role model. Helen Slater (Supergirl, 1984)
makes for a nifty in-joke as Kara's foster mother, Eliza, while Dean Cain (Lois & Clark) portrays Supergirl's foster dad Dr Danvers. The trouble is a tendency for them to bring only dumb soap
opera to any given situation. Lois & Clark (aka: The New Adventures Of Superman) solved this problem by making the caring and supportive Kents mainly sitcom ciphers and that worked
perfectly in a TV series centred on romance. Here Kara, or Supergirl, has no obvious boyfriend, but Jimmy Olsen is routinely played by a hunky black actor (Mehcad Brooks) who adds nothing fresh or
very interesting to a traditional photo-journalist role of Clark Kent's pal.
As ever with these genre TV shows (like Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham), a narrative focus on the supporting characters (presented as what Cat Grant calls "attractive yet
non-threatening racially diverse cast of a CW show"), and their usually-boring lives, and non-super family problems, dilutes the value of the series as sci-fi action and/ or serious drama.
After a couple or three episode of this domestic hiss, from overacting by underachievers, savvy viewers are likely to wish the show's makers would hurry up and follow the cheap mythos-bending
tricks of Smallville and The Flash by giving the rather pointless sidekicks some meta-human powers of their own.
Red Tornado is a US military robot that Supergirl has to fight simply to test its wind-making powers. Glenn Morshower (from
24) rattles cages as Lois' dad, General Sam Lane. Supergirl loses her powers in Human For A Day,
just as an earthquake strikes the city, and a psychic villain escapes from custody. Supergirl's evil Aunty Astra is an especially troublesome adversary. The eventual Supergirl versus Astra punch-up,
in the episode Hostile Takeover, copies from the sky-fighting of Man Of Steel (oops, he got a mention!), albeit of shorter
duration, and that's only an diversion from Krypto-fascism that descends on National City. Some baddies exude only panto evil but still add to the fun. Humans using Kryptonite to torture aliens (as
if swords and artillery shells of Kryptonite were not bad enough!), exposes the nastier aspects of humanity.
Schott the Toymaker is one of those off-beat oddballs that seem much better suited to the delirium of 1960s' Batman, but then many DC super-villains have always revelled in a degree of
absurdity that borders on surrealism. The Bizarro version of Supergirl is manipulated by Maxwell Lord, a Luthor-lite exploiter of resources with "deranged science projects" and stereotypical
delusions of being mankind's saviour from threats of humanity's first contact with ETs. Where as the original comics have usually played Bizarro doppelgangers for comedy, this show tries, and almost
succeeds, in becoming an horrific tragedy.
Smallville's Supergirl, Laura Vandervoort plays the blue-skinned super-hacker Indigo who brings dual threats of a digital and nuclear apocalypse to National City. She's like an alien Mystique
(from the X-Men franchise) clad in blue latex, and she makes Supergirl face a missile launching crisis just like Kal-El had to
tackle in Superman The Movie (1978). There's manmade red kryptonite that turns Kara into badgirl, so the DEO agents, including Kara's sister Alex, must fight her. Once Kara is cured, Cat Grant
becomes more than ever like Kara and Supergirl's den-mother, a pivotal character and mentor delivering some wisdom and moral guidance needed to face the end of the world.
The last surviving Martian shape-shifter is revealed to be in hiding amongst humans. When immortal shape-shifter J'onn J'onzz's identity goes public, in Manhunter, the episode is centred
upon xenophobic paranoia. World's Finest is a welcome crossover with The Flash, as the fastest man alive, Barry Allen, meets and saves Kara. Siobhan the Silver Banshee is a shrieking
nasty with loud Halloween appeal in broad daylight.
Unlike the hi-tech dungeon that features in The Flash, the DEO's own secret Gitmo in Supergirl is presented as a troubling and inhumane aspect of US government spooks' unethical
amorality and an unacceptable injustice, a straightforward fascism without any of the good humoured satire of Men In Black. Will a
philosophy that idealism will doom this planet prove to be true?
With a proper Fortress of Solitude, and an ultimate mind-control scheme for the total enslavement of National City, in a master-plan that is likely to prompt global warfare to save the world
from human stupidity, this is overall a hugely enjoyable series that's a match for the best genre TV of this decade so far.