Since the announcement that there would be a ‘Supergirl’ series at CBS there has been a lot of discussion about feminism and strong female roles, specifically in the world of superheroes. I’m not sure if it was an actual conversation the audience was having or just one that the media was having with itself. From my perspective, nobody was actively rooting against the creation of a female led hero franchise, as long as it met the same criteria that the audience necessitated other franchises have – which was that it needed to be GOOD.
‘Supergirl’ is not good. Not in the slightest. It’s quite bad, actually. I understand those terms leave very little room for nuance but there is enough evidence packed into the 43 minute runtime to get a clear conviction and possibly the death penalty in a court of law. There is a line delivered to Kara by Jimmy Olsen, who says that Superman once told him, “The biggest risk is never taking any.” Let’s ignore the fact that this is a Mark Zuckerberg quote and recognize the irony in that statement. I REALLY wish the writers and creators of this show had taken this line they thought was a good idea to re-purpose to heart.
‘Supergirl’ is as safe and boring an effort as you’re likely to find on network television, and considering the competition, that’s quite a putdown. There isn’t an element of risk invested in this entire production. ‘Predictable’ implies that there is some earthly method for deducing what would happen next, but after this 1st episode I’d begun to consider soliciting my services as a clairvoyant. One heavy handed beat follows the next as we are shoved through exposition and character development in order to make room for the conflict Kara will be dealing with this season, which ends up amounting to what could convincingly be a side-quest mission in a video game. “The convicts from your home planet have escaped! Round them up before they can hurt the people of earth!”
Now, a flimsy plot would be one thing if we were dealing with characters of substance, but sadly the writers elected to leave any trace of actual personality for their characters on the shelf. Kara (Melissa Benoist) ‘gee-whizzes’ her way through most of the episode when she is not busy being completely inept or selfish. Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) is…handsome and confident? …Okay? Kara’s sister Alex (Chyer Leigh) is stern and parental. And Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), who is a full-time IT grunt co-worker when he isn’t at his part-time job of having a crush on co-worker Kara, is so cringeworthy that I can’t even come up with a bland archetype to describe him.
The tone does not help any of this. By tone we mean the black-hole existing where CBS was supposed to put the show’s personality. Instead of trying something new, CBS saw fit to insert the same personality we get in other network shows like ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, “Once Upon A Time”, “Castle” and CBS’s “NCIS”, “NCIS Los Angeles”, “NCIS New Orleans”, “CSI”, “CSI: Cyber”, “Scorpion” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Tonally, you could argue these are all the same show. We can get into the nitty-gritty details later, but for the sake of this review, let’s just accept they all have more in common thematically and characteristically than they ought to. ‘Supergirl’ will get points for not being “dark” and “serious” and being more lighthearted and fun, like ‘The Flash.’ I’ll concede that it is more upbeat than 2013’s “Man of Steel,” but its laissez faire/cotton candy vibe causes it to blend indiscernibly with every other major network single-cam effort out there.
The episode, from beginning to end, is rife with idiotic scenes that are indicative of a systematic problem with network television on the whole. A few are on display below.
The episode begins with Kara narrating how she came to be on earth. Fine. It’s the sort of expositional kickoff a show like this has to have in order to get anything done. One extremely annoying trait that begins here and extends through the entire series most likely, is the inability for anyone to say the name ‘Superman’, because…you know…copyright. CBS doesn’t have the rights to the character we all wish we were watching, so that starts a fun game of “What other nickname can we apply to this guy that we constantly have to reference?” Entries include “Kal-El,” which I’m actually fine with, since that’s his actual name and all, “Cousin” which just feels creepy somehow, “Him” which is totes disrespectful, “Big-Guy” which is way too erotic, “Mr. Friend In Blue” is very ‘Nick-Jr’, and finally “Man of Steel” which isn’t awful but would get exhausting after awhile.
After the intro gets us caught up to modern times we get to see that Kara is just a small person in a big world! The show would like to draw comparisons between Clark Kent and Kara in regards to the jobs they hold. Both were/are grunt workers at a news conglomerate. The large difference here is in the way that they do their jobs. Clark Kent is humble and modest and soft-spoken, never giving any reason to draw attention to himself in any way. But, within the first 30 seconds of interacting with her media mogul-control hungry-cutthroat boss, Kara is lecturing her on how she shouldn’t fire people from their jobs and then ridiculing her for the way she runs her company by saying “They don’t have to downsize at the Daily Planet.” You’re reading that correctly. There’s no way to deliver that statement without sounding like a jerk. Trust me, Melissa Benoist tried and failed to sound her sweetest and concerned, but there’s no amount of goodwill that makes it ok to tell the millionaire for whom you are an assistant that she isn’t doing a good enough job to keep her staff employed. For some inexplicable reason she isn’t fired immediately.
In a later scene she goes home for the evening to get ready for a blind date. There we meet her grown up sister and get the opportunity to listen to Kara complain about a life that Clark Kent chose willingly.
“I went to work for Cat Grant because I thought working in a media company run by a powerful woman who actually shapes the way people think would be the way that I could make a difference. But, instead, I just fetch layouts and coffee.”
Uh, yah, you stupid millennial! You’ve got a job that every other 20-something has right out of college. Get over yourself!
Her sister consoles her in a very bland and unmemorable way and then leaves to catch a flight to Geneva for a business conference.
Later in the epsiode she reveals her identity to Dweeibie McFriendzone to basically get selfish validation for her actions.
“Um, I just… I really want someone to be excited for me.”
So she now has a helper who can do nerd stuff for her. He starts by saying and doing things like “I hacked into the NCPD.” & “All right, the new cape is made from a structured polymer composite.” Because apparently managing a WordPress website gives you the tools to hack into a city’s police department and fashion indestructible cosplay.
Armed with a new costume, Kara starts fighting crime in montage form, taking on car chases and bank robbers in scenes with CGI the likes of which you haven’t seen since you left in the middle of ‘Eragon.’ One minute the graphics are holding up and the next clouds of pixelated dust are filling the screen and digital figures are noodling at great speeds towards and away from one another. Some people would tell me to go easy, that it’s just a TV show. But no. CBS has the money to make it happen and they can cough it up just like HBO does to make a halfway decent product.
Perhaps the most irritating and on-the-nose scene in the episode happens when Kara goes back to work and finds out that her boss has named her unknown superhero alter-ego ‘Supergirl.’ And thus we traipse into a very stupid exchange. Kara first shouts “We can’t name her that!” Somehow she is not fired immediately once again. She takes the opportunity to suggest ‘Superwoman’ and thinks it could be anti-feminist to call her anything else. Her boss tells her that “I‘m a girl. And your boss, and powerful and rich and hot and smart. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” Which makes no sense. The difference between Supergirl and Superwoman is the exact same difference between boy and man….not excellence, but maturity. Sure Kara and her boss are both “girls” by gender in the same way that Superman is a “boy” by gender (alien DNA notwithstanding). The difference has to do with being perceived as competent and up to the task not by gender but by maturity. “Girl” sounds amateur and inexperienced and “woman” sounds capable and developed. So really it is a valid concern…and as far as I can see, she should be called ‘Superwoman.’ Besides it’d be far more interesting to see Kara try to live up to that title and deal with self doubt that she’s not as up to the task because of her inexperience instead of naming her ‘Supergirl’ which basically confirms that “Oh- she’s new here” perception.
But at the root of it, this is all superfluous. Because ‘Supergirl’, as a character, is completely pointless. She’s essentially Superman, but a girl. Not only does she not have the benefit of being a unique character, she’s totally lifeless with no reason to exist on her own terms. She basically gets to take care of the issues that are too menial for Superman to waste his time doing, which is incredibly anti-feminist in my view. There’s simply no reason for this show to exist other than making money off of filling a void of female heroes. Shows with abysmal writing and hackneyed acting are bad enough but creating a show for the sake of its own virtue is not only wrong, it hurts whatever agenda or good could possibly have been accomplished under different circumstances.
‘Supergirl’ is bad television, first and foremost, because it is unoriginal, poorly written, poorly acted, cliched, underfunded and tonally deaf. But its worst offense is that it doesn’t even know why it should exist.
I find that more than a little sad.
This show should be an embarrassment to those who thought it was a good idea, but more than likely we haven't seen the last of efforts like this unless there is a massive trail off in the ratings.