TV Review: Supergirl: “Pilot”
The Supergirl pilot was a hot mess – it would take GOP levels of gall to deny this. The creative team behind the show seemed to have almost no (or too much) control over the amount of information that needed to be included in this opening act. This is a persistent problem throughout the episode, but the introductory sequence, wherein we learn the origins of Kara Zor-El, does its very best to bring viewers up to speed. Long story short, Kara Zor-El is Superman’s older cousin. During Krypton’s final hours, an infant Kal-El is jettisoned into the far reaches of space in a desperate attempt to preserve the last remaining vestiges of the dying planet. It is soon revealed that Kara, a young adolescent at the time, is meant to follow her baby cousin on his journey in the hopes that she would offer some kind of supervision for him.
Unfortunately, things don’t quite go according to plan and she ends up trapped in the Phantom Zone. This not only keeps her from aging, but it also delays her arrival on Earth by about two or so decades. During this time, Kal-El has matured swimmingly and adopted the mantle of Superman. Their roles now reversed and her mission effectively pointless, Superman decides to pawn off his kid cousin on the Danvers (played by former Super-persons, Helen Slater and Dean Cain), a scientist couple that once aided him in honing his own abilities. Oh and they have a daughter, too: Alex Danvers. Anyway, some undefined period of time later, an adult Kara decides she is going to do her best to live a normal life despite possessing the same wondrous abilities that her more famous cousin does. This restraint does not last long, however.
Early into the episode, Kara is alerted via a news broadcast that a commercial airliner is slowly crashing into the city. Prompted by a conversation she had with Alex earlier that night, Kara realizes that her adoptive sister is trapped on that very plane. Unsurprisingly, Kara decides that she must put her abilities to use in order to save Alex – which she does. And this, I presume, is when the episode is supposed to take off (pardon the pun). Really it’s just the beginning of a series of pretty clumsy missteps.
First and foremost, with the exception of a brilliantly cast Melissa Benoist, the characters on this show are just godawful. A good many deal seem completely unnecessary. Let’s start with Cat Grant. Played by some woman who I think was once Calista Flockhart, Cat is a stereotypical mistress of industry who can’t wait to let you know how much more urbane she is than you. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so awful if it didn’t seem like she were channeling a discount version of Meryl Streep anytime she’s on screen. I honestly can’t decide whether or not she was phoning it in or trying too hard – it could go either way.
Part of the problem, however, lies in the sub par dialog she is given to work with. At one point, for example, Cat tries to deliver a quip about Kara’s wardrobe by informing her that she is unable to hear over her “loudly colored” pants. This would have been “clever,” I guess, if Kara hadn’t been wearing some pretty dark pantaloons at the time. It just didn’t make sense.
The show also introduces a bewilderingly capricious military commander by the name of Hank Henshaw. Appointed to the head of an anti-alien task force by the US government, I think, Henshaw first makes an appearance after incapacitating Supergirl with kryptonite and then detaining her in an underground bunker. It’s never really made clear as to why he decides to capture her, but it does give him an opportunity to inform her that he doesn’t like aliens. After this pivotal revelation, he releases her and gives absolutely no damns about it. This seems like a grossly unnecessary waste of resources.
In addition to this, it is also revealed that Alex Danvers happens to work for Henshaw in the capacity of alien expert or some similar nonsense. Not much is said about what her duties consist of, but the point is that she is wicked smart and empowered. By extension, and you’ll know what I mean if you decide to watch the pilot, it appears as if the Danvers have completely betrayed every single bit of Superman’s confidence. Perhaps this will be addressed in future episodes.
Then there’s Jimmy “It’s James” Olsen. A staple of the Superman universe, this iteration of everyone’s favorite bumbling sidekick is anything but. Played by an unnecessarily suave Mechad Brooks, the character is unrecognizable from absolutely any other version that has been portrayed to date. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but whether this characterization will work within the context of the show remains to be seen. Off-hand, it just seems very awkward. Forced, almost.
Ultimately, the gripes I have with the characters are really just a manifestation of the horrific script at work in the pilot. There are just so many strange choices. From a sibling rivalry that seems to surface simply for the purpose of creating some kind of artificial gravitas to really clumsily introduced sexism, the entire thing is shoddy. Also, for some incomprehensible reason, the characters spend the entire episode referring to Superman strictly as a pronoun. It may seem like a minor gripe, but after an hour of tantric obfuscation it becomes downright annoying. Were the writers forbidden from using Superman’s name more than once for litigious reasons or did the Man of Steel impose some kind of Voldemortian control over the good people of National City? Perhaps it’s this fascist regime that has Batfleck so irked in the Batman v. Superman trailer.
I alluded to it before, but about the only good thing this show has going for right now is its lead, Melissa Benoist. I think she does a fantastic job in the role and gives us a female hero who is not a ninja/assasin/hyper-bad ass femme fatal. She’s just a nice, sincere girl who is jazzed about being a superhero. You don’t see that anymore. It’s refreshing. I found myself really rooting for her and genuinely invested in her success. This shining spot only serves to make the weak script that much more of a let down. Still, despite this, I feel like Supergirl has the potential to deliver some really great TV. I sincerely hope it is given the chance to try.
You can stream the full pilot from here.