DC Comics may be having a slightly bumpy ride building a cinematic comic book universe, but it’s certainly having plenty of success on the small screen. Arrow was joined by The Flash, which last season was joined by Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow, all taking place within the same universe (and there’s also Gotham slightly off to one side).
As you may have noticed, Supergirl is the first of those that has centred around a female hero. She’s a character that hasn’t had much luck on the screen before, partly because there’s previously been a tendency to treat her like the pretty damsel in distress, even though she’s got lots of superpowers. This new series tries to reverse that, and early on spends a bit of time commenting on the potential sexist problems, from that fact she’s a Super ‘girl’ rather than ‘woman’, to journalists asking her whether she’s going to start a family.
It also has Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Michelle Benoist) having to deal with people’s expectations of her and her expectations of herself. After a bit of an introduction to how she got to Earth as a girl, we meet Kara when she’s grown up and is now the assistant to top media executive Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). She’s been hiding her powers, but when she sees a plane that’s about to crash, she decides she has to save it, in the process revealing to the world that Superman isn’t the only Kryptonian around.
Although she’s only just starting out in the world of being a hero, she has a lot to learn and little time to learn it, especially as she soon discovers there are plenty of aliens running around Earth who’d like her dead. As well as her own pod crash landing on Earth, so did a Phantom Zone prison ship, full of some of the nastiest criminals in the galaxy, which includes Kara’s aunt. Supergirl must battle these baddies, as well as plenty of human enemies (superpowered and otherwise), while trying to prove to both herself and others that she is every bit the hero Superman is.
Kara begins to work with the DEO, a government department dedicated to stopping alien threats, which she is surprised to discover her human sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), works for. Interestingly the show also follows the Smallville route of getting actors to play Kara’s human parents who have a Kryptonian link, with 1990s TV superman Dean Cain as the dad and 1980s movie Supergirl Helen Slater as the mom.
There’s a feeling of Supergirl being something new and yet also rather traditional. While it tries to deal with the sexist elements, in other respects it fits in some fairly old-fashioned aspects. Kara pines over a man she can’t have, James/Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), while a slightly nerdy guy, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), pines over her. She struggles with mixing her normal life with her hero life and we get plenty of monster/baddy of the week types. So far, so very typical.
That certainly doesn’t mean it’s bad, but while Arrow had a grittiness and sense of humour that helped set it apart, and The Flash tapped into a lightness and joy, Supergirl feel like a safer superhero series that isn’t too far from what we’ve seen before, despite having a woman at the centre.
That may start to change, as the first season was made for CBS in the States, but it’ll be moving to The CW alongside the other DC shows from Season 2, which may give it a little more freedom. Despite being on a different network, Season 1 does feature a crossover with The Flash, although things are going to get ramped up next year, as a Supergirl/Flash/Arrow/Legends Of Tomorrow mix up is already being planned. We’ve also had the promise that Supergirl will be getting a gay character in Season 2, with Floriana Lima playing DC Character Maggie Sawyer. And while Season 1 treats Superman as a bit of a mythic figure, only seen out of focus and from behind, he will be introduced properly in Season 2.
The above isn’t to say Supergirl – Season 1 isn’t worth watching, as it’s entertaining, well-made and often a lot of fun. Michelle Benoist was a great choice for the central role, as she’s got the perfect mixture of resolve and tenacity, alongside a tendency towards forgetfulness and seeing the good side of things. When binge-watching, it does have a slight tendency towards feeling very episodic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and could be said of most of the DC shows. A female-led superhero series is certainly a welcome addition to the fold, and we’ll just have to hope that the DC movie universe takes a few lessons from it for Wonder Woman, so that in her standalone movie she doesn’t come across in the slightly lascivious eye candy way she did in Batman v Superman.
Overall Verdict: Supergirl is certainly a fun show. While it doesn’t particularly feel like it’s pushing the envelope – beyond having a woman as the superpowered hero – it’s certainly entertaining.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac