Supergirl – Mid-Season-1 Thoughts

SG001 853It’s no secret that I’ve been champing at the bit for some female superheroes to helm television shows or movies. Imagine my joy that not only is there now one on a major broadcast network but that it features my favorite: Supergirl.

Supergirl has, rather unsurprisingly, become the show I most look forward to seeing and the one whose scenes I often rewatch. It’s not because it’s the overall best comics-based fare out there (I think that title currently goes to the more seasoned Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but for me it’s hitting a lot of the right notes. My thoughts on the season so far:

Cat Grant

SG002 800I admit that I was a little nervous about some of the tone of the show. While the long preview trailer offered a lot of promise, there was that Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) dynamic that was hard to pin down. Surprisingly, this is become one of the most enticing parts of the show. The interplay between Cat and both Kara (usually mispronounced as Kira or Keerah by Cat) and Supergirl is fascinating. A lot of Cat’s bluster and snark isn’t a facade, but you see moments of connection that seem to surprise even her…and the viewer.

On the down side, the Closed Captioning is very uneven when transcribing Cat’s calls for her assistant. While “Kira” would be the best real-name analog, I’ve seen it with the over-the-top spelling of “Kee-rah”. You know, I’m fine with whatever choice they’ve made other than when they opt for “Kara”. Yes, it’s her real name, but it voids the joke. They really need a style sheet for that.

(Note to the producers: how exactly should it be spelled?)

Family

From the pre-broadcast trailer, it was clear that the relationship between Kara and Alex was going to be important — and it is. The chemistry between Melissa and Chyler is great.

SG003 536Also, since Superman exists in this universe, it’s nice that they managed to work around the 110 kg (250 lb) Kryptonian in the room. It was a little awkward at first, especially in the pilot, but it sort of had to be in order to stop the comments about “where’s Superman” that would have otherwise dominated the conversation. Kara set the ground rule of “don’t help me unless I ask” after he, you know, did, and that actually seems to have worked. The text/chats between Clark and Kara are very organic and touching, but I’d like them better if they weren’t going over company servers (i.e. they are CatCo accessible).

Of course there is mega-love with Helen Slater (also known to fans as Supergirl the first) playing Kara’s foster mother (and Alex’s mother), Eliza. It’s a great match. That they are the same height and similar builds only adds to the super-squee factor. Dean Cain (Lois and Clark‘s Superman) as the girls’ late father/foster dad is also deliciously meta.

But, and this might be even better, having Kara talking to her hologram beloved mother whilst also doing battle against her morally-questionable aunt adds a whole new Kryptonian layer to this multi-tiered family cake Kara is trying to manage.

J’onn

While the show dropped hints early on, it was still a joyful day when J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, revealed himself. Not only is he a powerful character in his own right, but as a fellow alien refugee on a foreign world, he can be a good mentor and friend — and fight buddy when it comes to that.

The Boys

SG004 538Winslow “Winn” Schott, Jr. is the CatCo IT guy who is crushing on Kara. James “Jimmy” Olsen, arguably Superman’s best friend, is the object of Kara’s schoolgirl ardor. Since the pilot, none of this has worked. With Jimmy’s girlfriend, Lucy Lane (Lois’ younger sister), in the mix, it’s just awkward…and not in a good way.

When they are all just friends/allies, it works almost seamlessly. Unfortunately, the creative team keeps trying to force a situation instead of letting it happen organically. At this point, Winn seems permanently friend-zoned. It’s only by being a when-the-chips-are-down friend to Kara in the future do I think the character will have a viewer-acceptable chance of becoming something more.

And while Mehcad (Jimmy) and Melissa have great chemistry together, I wouldn’t mind if their characters just stayed friends — even with Lucy in the mix. First off, Kara has more than enough on her plate being Cat’s assistant by day and Girl of Steel by day and night, so scheduling would be an issue. But more than that, it’s culturally important that this Supergirl, at least for a good while, doesn’t have to deal with any hints of not passing a Bechdel test.

The FX

If the show has an obvious weakness, it’s with the special effects. Arguably, the effects on The Flash and the stunts on Arrow are better executed despite not having the budget of Supergirl. On the other hand, Supergirl relies on both effects and stunts in large parts of the show and with more multi-character set pieces than either of the other shows had early on. There is only just so much time to get everything done with television constraints.

But, even while accepting that it’s still a work in progress, I do grit my teeth with the obviously wrong physics. As with faces, humans can tell when they are shown a physics uncanny valley. Objects don’t fall at the right speeds, or slow down from air resistance, or have the right shadows, etc. Now, I’m not ragging just on Supergirl, this is one of the major headaches for digital effects at all levels, but it is something I hope they put more emphasis on correcting.

…and also the aerial fights between flying/gravity defying beings. Quick-cuts and 70s-era wirework make it seem like there’s room for some choreographic experimentation.

The Cop-out

Perhaps my biggest peeve with the series comes with the increasingly haggard secret identity trope. Kara’s dual identity is currently known to: Alex, Clark, Winn, Jimmy, Eliza, Hank/J’onn, and most of the local DEO (loudly calling Supergirl, “Miss Danvers” and “Alex’s sister” pretty much gave that away from the start). It’s a pretty large list as things go. I can understand the powers that be wanting not to needlessly expand that — after all, it also puts Clark’s alter-ego in danger, too.

SG005 640Still, when Cat confronted Kara with her belief that “Kee-rah” was Supergirl, it seemed right. Just think, for once a superhero would have a media-mogul ally instead of someone like Spider-man’s  J. Jonah Jameson. It’s practically unexplored territory. But by the end of the next episode, Kara very predictably enlisted J’onn to shapeshift her way out of suspicion.

It’s amazing how many commenters feel, as I do, that this was a cop-out. It would have taken more courage to go the other way. No, not necessarily by Kara completely outing herself to Cat, but perhaps in some way getting Cat to realize that it’s better, and safer for Cat and her family, to not know for sure but to assume enough. This gives Kara a little more freedom to be absent (she doesn’t have Clark’s “chasing down a lead” excuse) while also not spilling all the beans. Everyone wins. It can still be done. It’s just a few lines on a page.

Villany

The roughest waters for this show, as with any comics show, are the villains. As often as not, what works on the ink-and-paint page doesn’t translate well to the stage.

SG006 530At present, Kara’s aunt, General Astra, and her merry band of criminal Kryptonian escapees are providing a lot of the intriguing antagonist muscle. There are not only the elevated stakes of “monsters” vs humans, but very personal stakes with Kara taking on not only the few remnants of her species, but a (once? still?) loved family member as well.

As for characters such as Reactron and Red Tornado…not so much. This is probably due to them not having the in-show history or emotional connection combined with some iffy adaptation liberties. Given that Kara has only been leaping tall buildings for a few months, I think it’s fair to give her a little time to develop a usable rogues gallery.

Of course it doesn’t have to be the villain of the week. While easier to syndicate in the future (assuming the show garners enough episodes), it becomes almost beside the point. There is always the tech angle, refugees from other worlds, natural and being-made disasters, and whatnot. Having some story arcs across 2-3 episodes might help with raising the stakes while still having stand-alones to give everyone a breather and a chance to do something different — comedy, psychological, empathetic, dark, off-world, etc.

Miscellany

I do hope that someone figures out a way for Supergirl to fly out of her apartment in some manner other than in full view of several surrounding skyscrapers. It’s convenient and amusing, yes, but even Barry Allen griped about how hard speeding in and out of his apartment was becoming without anyone noticing.

Also…what’s the deal with Alex telling Kara that her Closet of Solitude at the DEO could only open for Kara, and then a couple of episodes later an entire squad of DEO agents is in the room talking to the Alura hologram? Did I miss a meeting?

The producers opting to make this world more like the bright and hopeful Donner-era Superman: The Movie was a good decision. It is audience-friendly (especially for CBS) and more in the vein of silver-age comics. It’s always sort of uplifting, in a street-level long shot, to see Supergirl flying through the skyline on her way to help someone. It’s sort of like a hopeful bat-signal. The dark, gritty, and deprived of sore-throat lozenges settings so often used in the movies is a style that is becoming tired, although it definitely works better for the more human, ground-level, detective-y heroes than the extra-normal, high-flying, tights and capes crowd.

Melissa does a good job making assistant Kara, friend/sister Kara, and Supergirl distinct. The last is an in-charge alien, the first most definitely is not, and the second is perhaps the true Kara, the one who isn’t pretending. On many other shows, the differences aren’t quite as perceptible.

Despite the predictable comments from misogynist trolls, the strength of Supergirl is that she is a woman. Kara gets to display a larger range than many other heroes. She’s strong, empathetic, sad almost to the point of despair, full of hope and optimism, stoic, unsure, is a hero, a sister, a friend, respected, dismissed, and so much more. It naturally adds more dimensions to a larger-than-life character than we typically get to see.

Perhaps the biggest sell for the show is that Kara is an alien refugee. While Clark Kent is basically a Kansas farm boy with superpowers since he has no firsthand memory of his home planet, Kara knows what she’s lost (having left as a young teen) and is still pissed about it. This makes her different than Clark and in some ways still lets her be a mentor to him.

And I could go on and on, but this post has already gone past the point were I’ll get TL;DR nonsense sent to me.

In Conclusion

Suffice it to say, I love that this show is on the air. If I were once again a young screenwriter, I’d be submitting spec scripts in the hopes of landing a gig in the writers room. Yes, it has its share of fixable flaws and is currently going through its first-season self-discovery of what the show is vs what they thought it was going to be, but the product as-is is still very enjoyable.

I don’t have a crystal ball or insight into their creative plans, but I hope they bring Cat in as an ally, even if without full dual-identity knowledge. It would give the show a dynamic that’s less conventional. Making Astra an impediment but sometimes still a reluctant ally could be a nice long-term thread. Mostly, though, I think they are building the show nicely and about as fast as they can (we are now only nine episodes in, after all, and there’s a lot of mythic infrastructure to build). And if they improve the effects physics, I’ll be very grateful.

In any event, the show is an oasis to me and is one of the only shows I actually watch live whenever I can…and that’s saying something for this inveterate time-shifter. I’m looking forward to more, more, and (yes) more.

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