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Thursday, November 5, 2015

TV Review: Supergirl is Simply and Sublimely Superb

First appeared on Blogcritics.

supe1 I have been complaining for a long time that I am totally turned off by superheroes of late. The Avengers series has gone way off track, the new Fantastic Four was a disaster, and the Superman reboot Man of Steel left much to be desired. I guess after Christopher Nolan’s amazing Dark Knight trilogy, there was just a void for me in the superhero zone.


I am happy to say that the kick-ass new CBS TV series Supergirl has changed all that. After watching the first two episodes, I am impressed with its trajectory and smitten with the star, Melissa Benoist. If future episodes can keep up this pace and round out the supporting characters, CBS has a real hit on its schedule.

supe3Benoist plays Kara Zor-El, cousin of Superman who is sent as a twelve-year-old in a spaceship to watch over and protect the baby Kal-El. Somehow things go awry, and Kara is suspended in time and space for decades. By the time she makes her way to earth, the Big Guy is all grown up and needs no protecting, but he takes her to the Danvers family home where she can be raised and safe.


supe2
  Flash forward and we get the cute Benoist as flustered Kara Danvers, assistant to Cat Grant, a powerful woman and head of CatCo, played with vim and vigor by Calista Flockhart, who is as lovely as when she played Ally McBeal, but now has a decided edge that makes every scene that she is in exciting to watch.

In the first episode (“Pilot”), we are introduced to assorted characters that get some development. Her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) pops in before a business trip, and then there is Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), who works alongside Kara and is as taken with her as I am with Benoist no doubt. He clumsily tries to get a date with her, but Kara tells him that she has a date arranged on the Internet, which ends in disaster.

Also on board is a reboot of Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a crossover character from Superman, who just happens to have relocated from Metropolis to National City. Brooks is a far cry from Jack Larson, who played Olsen as a bow tie wearing nerd on the original TV show, or the character we know from the comics. He is tall, muscular, and black – he also becomes a confidant to Kara and wants to help her alter ego Supergirl. We also learn that the Big Guy sent him to keep an eye on things.

The show starts with a great cold opening sequence of a plane about to crash over National City. Kara realizes Alex is on that plane, and she flies up in the air after a faulty start (she apparently hasn’t flown in years) and saves the plane, with Alex spying her through the window holding onto the wing. Grainy cellphone images of the hero go viral, and of course the next day Cat wants to make this her superhero.

sg_explosions_1The series also ups the ante with Alex belonging to a CIA type group – the DEO – led by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), and their mission is to deal with aliens coming to earth and disrupting things. The twist here is that somehow or other Kara’s ship brought all these aliens with her when she came to earth. Now the DEO is recruiting Supergirl to help combat these pernicious fiends, and Kara does feel it’s her responsibility since she inadvertently brought them here.

The whole feel of the series (after two episodes) is fresh, energetic, and original. Not only is it refreshing to see a female superhero be so positive and proactive, but it is also to the credit of all involved that the issue of her being female is explored honestly. When Kara complains to Cat about the “Supergirl” label (why can’t she be Superwoman?), Cat shoots Kara down with the old rags to riches story – it’s clear that Supergirl is going to have to go up the ladder like everyone else.

supe4Benoist is adorable when playing Kara (wearing eyeglasses just like her cousin Clark Kent), but she becomes radiant when wearing the Supergirl costume. It is a huge difference, but one that makes it clear that when she is wearing that suit she is not just super powerful but fulfilling her destiny, and that is a beautiful realization.

In the second episode, “Stronger Together,” Kara is on board with the DEO and undergoes training which includes dodging missiles. After successfully avoiding them, she doesn’t get affirmation from Henshaw but a more cautious nod to continuing to get prepared for the real thing.

When Kara and Alex go into a Kryptonite room, Alex engages her in a fight without the benefit of her powers. The sisters have a nice little altercation, with Alex besting Kara and explaining that the aliens (with comparable powers to Kara’s) won’t fight fair. This is a difficult lesson, but one Kara sorely needs if she is to succeed against the big baddies out there.

Later in the episode Kara gets to use that experience as she encounters her biological auntie General Astra, who is here to take over the earth. A great battle between the two ensues, and we can take it from this that Kara Zor-El is not going to have an easy time of it in future episodes with so many opponents with equal or greater power to face.

One pleasant thing that the series does is similar to what Nolan did in his trilogy – it allows the villains their screen time but not at the expense of Kara’s character development. We are getting to know and like these people in the Supergirl universe, and that is a key for this show to succeed, but the most essential and necessary thing is we are watching Kara grow and become what she was meant to be.

kara_glassesI originally thought Benoist just came out of nowhere (kind of like Kara herself), but a little research revealed that she spent two seasons on Glee (a show I never watched). She seems an ideal choice for the part, and after two episodes I am in love – with the series, of course.

You will not be disappointed if you invest some time in this show each week. It has a strong female protagonist, a great turn by Flockhart who is a welcome sight back on TV, a nice assortment of supporting characters, and enough villains to keep things interesting and Kara/Supergirl busy.

Just one question – why does Henshaw have red alien eyes at the end of the episode? That will keep us guessing until next week.

Klaatu Barata Nikto!

Photo credits: CBS.com    

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