Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Supergirl Season 1: Episode 1 Review

Monday night, the long anticipated premiere of the Supergirl television show aired. We had been dealing with a year's worth of hype, teases, and clips. The episode was 'leaked'. It was lauded as a breakthrough, a female-led superhero show infused with feminism and action. It was derided as a 'rom-com', compared to a SNL skit about Black Widow. But throughout it all, I liked what I heard.

So how was it?

Well, I will give it a very solid B+. And most of my quibbles have to do with the pace of the premiere, an issue that shouldn't hamper the show from now on. And it killed in the ratings.

In the future I think these reviews will be more like my comic reviews, recap and commentary. But I think that would be impossible with the premiere.

It became clear that producers Ali Adler and Greg Berlanti wanted to set the stage for the entire season in this pilot, shoving what should have been 90 minutes or 2 hours of story into 45 minutes. Let's review the big beats of the show and be amazed that somehow it was all stuffed in.

1. Review the origin briefly, the flight from Krypton, pause in the Phantom Zone, and Superman dropping Kara off at the Danvers.
2. Establish that Kara has been hiding her powers,  suffers as the assistant for megalomaniac Cat Grant, works with buddy Win Schott and hunky James Olsen
3. Save a plane and feel empowered, realizing a destiny Kara has been denying herself
4. Get scolded by Alex and told to not hero
5. Become Supergirl with Win's help and stop some minor crimes
6. Get branded as 'Supergirl' by Cat
7. Introduce the DEO, Hank Henshaw and give exposition about Fort Rozz
8. Fight and lose to Vartox
9. Have the DEO again tell her she is worthless, have Alex tell her to quit, have Kara doubt herself
10. Have Alex do a complete 180, suddenly telling Kara to become Supergirl
11. Quick message from Alura to confirm the idea of being a hero
12. Back to the DEO to convince Henshaw that Supergirl can be an effective agent
13. Fight Vartox again, this time winning
14. End tease of the big bad, Alura evil sister The General

I mean that is a lot of story for 45 minutes!

But let me concentrate on what works!

First off, Melissa Benoist is perfect as Supergirl. She has such an expressive face and is so solid as an actor. We see the gamut of emotions here. Joy when she is proud of being a hero. Excited to use her powers. Betrayed when she sees Alex as a DEO agent. Sadness when she feels she has failed. Awkward around Jimmy. She simply embodies the complexity of Supergirl, someone trying to live up to the S-shield legacy while finding out who she is. It starts with Benoist and she is charming and strong. I especially like hearing how, even before donning the supersuit, she defends people, asking that Cat not fire the Tribune staff.

The rest of the cast is great. Flockhart oozes as the narcissistic business tycoon Cat. Jeremy Jordan is likeable as the close friend Win. Chyler Leigh shows some range, being supportive, over-protective, as well as jumping into the fray. Mehcad Brooks is as cool as the other side of the pillow. And even briefly, Laura Benanti shines.

The action sequences are big and dynamic. The plane rescue is unreal for a TV show. And the fights with Vartox are high quality.

I also like that Supergirl is at the beginning of this journey. Her fighting style is primitive and crude. She shouldn't be a great combatant after hiding herself for years. She doubts herself at times but always dives back in. She wants to help people. And she knows (even Alura tells her) that her destiny is separate from Kal's. But she also realizes that her being a woman is important. She doesn't want it minimized. These are all the things I love about Supergirl. She is becoming the hero she needs to be. There will be bumps in the road.

I have to admit, the idea that The General being Alura's sister is intriguing. 

And there are also too many Easter Eggs and comic homages that make this Supergirl fan happy. The Otto Binder bridge. The fire at intersection of Gates and Igle. The costume montage including the ludicrous belly shirt and headband initial attempt. The idea of Fort Rozz. Someone who is clearly Despero on the DEO's wanted list. Calling Kara a guardian angel. Slater and Cain as the Danvers. The plane save, echoing so many classic Superman origins and movies. That is a lot of comic knowledge and Supergirl homages.

As a result, it sort of felt like the Gates/Igle run. From the people saying she shouldn't be a hero to those who complained about the rescue to Cat promising to plaster Supergirl everywhere, this felt like that run.

Okay. Enough gushing. On to some criticisms.

To be honest, it felt rushed. I especially think the second half of the show, introducing the DEO and revealing Alex as one of their agents was too fast in execution. Specifically, Alex going from 'don't be a hero' to 'you need to fly' over a commercial break felt too fast. Why the change of mind? She says it is because she realized her own insecurities. But that should have been a slower epiphany. And Henshaw allowing her to go out alone to fight Vartox the second time after belittling Kara and talking about how dangerous she was also seemed a bit ridiculous. Of all the characters, Henshaw felt the most two-dimensional.

I also think given constraints, some of the dialogue felt a bit too on the nose, especially Alex complaining that Hank doesn't think Kara can win because she is 'just a girl'.

All of that said, the stage is now set. We have all that behind us moving forward. While 30 more minutes might have let some of these plot turns happen more organically, I think the show is going to hit the ground running from here on out.

I don't think all the mysteries of Kara's early life have been fully discussed. We'll see her with the Danvers. I assume we'll learn what finally shoved her ship out of the Zone. We'll learn more about her aunt. But the foundation is set.

This has all been worth the wait. Much like the Flash, I think this show is going to get better and better as the season unfolds. With all this set-up behind us, Berlanti and Adler can pause, take a breath, and now build on these plot points. Henshaw's suspicions. Alex and Kara's relationship. The multitude of villains and the General's plot to rule the Earth. We now get to explore these at a better pace.

I can't wait!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting up the review, Anj. Glad to hear the ratings were as positive as I'd hoped!

Agree with all your positives, as for the criticism of being rushed, I've mentioned this elsewhere, it could have been expanded to a
2h premiere, but it also ran the risk of being weighed down by filler / boatanchor material, or taking too long to getting Kara into
action. It may not have been a perfect balance... but it got the job done. I certainly hope some of the items (can) become material
for interesting stories in the future.

I'd also add the criticism of some of the dialog was a bit clunky or odd... but nothing that detracted from the overall viewing of
the pilot.

Can't wait till next monday, as it looks like in addition to the DEO testing Supergirl's powers, The General does as well.


Anonymous said...

12 million viewers + making it the highest rated debut show this season!
I'm inclined towards a B+ score myself, Kara seemed at too whimsically attached to her sister's notions "I wanna be a heroine, my sister sez no then sez yes so now I can fly"....that seems like a stumble far more that the whole "why we call her superGIRL" meme.

And I agree with most of the viewers of the prior leaked pilot who complained far too many people know "her big secret" with more scheduled to find out going forward but that much is an ingrained prejudice of Greg Berlanti's given what I've seen on "The Flash".

But given that, Benoist is a wonder, very expressive face, good chops that I think will wear well with the audience, my fave scene with respect to this is her brief "date" at the beginning of the program where she blows off Win then gets blown off herself in the bar then has to save her sister it's just a headlong montage of good acting and good writing....right down to her vexed "you've got to be kidding me!" as she has to flip the jetliner on it's side.
I can see her becoming the USA's "SuperHuman Sweetheart" by Christmas if the writing doesn't falter.

I liked it a lot, I think I will learn to love it ere long....and as I said on Monday "The Adventure Begins Again!"

JF ("Tomorrow Belongs to She!")


Anonymous said...

Got to be honest-thought it was awful.

Kara is now nothing more than a gender-bent Clark Kent-instead of starting as a teenager like in every comic version of her ever she waits ten years until she's an adult and it no longer makes sense to call her 'supergirl.' Then she becomes a reporter and does the whole glasses/meek persona thing that are Clark's trademarks. Then 95% of her cast is just characters from Superman with precisely 0 who originated in any of her series.

So this isn't a series about Supergirl. It's a series about Superman if he was a woman.

What makes Kara unique? The fact that she wasn't raised on earth from early childhood, the fact that she remembers Krypton and her family there, the fact that she is used to a culture completely alien to ours. Unfortunately this show ignores all of that and skips the phase where she adjusts to life on earth and mourns her lost world, which means that the majority of her character development-the most interesting parts-have already happened offscreen. And that is a waste.

Even then, the writing was bad. Very few jokes were actually funny. Telling Mr. friendzone her secret was just stupid. The aliens waiting 10 years to strike is dumb, and it looks like it's just another 'Kryptonite freak of the week' setup.

Bad writing is pretty common for pilots, and part of it is probably their putting 3 episode's worth of plot into 1 episode, so that aspect may well improve. But this was the last chance to sell me on a character who has a lot of potential that has never come close to being realized, and they flubbed it by ignoring everything that makes her Supergirl and turning her into a carbon copy of Clark. It will not be getting a second look from me.

Unknown said...

I hope to see Livewire soon, is one of my favorites villians!

Supergirl's Pal said...

I would give it an A because it hit all the high notes for me, and I didn't see anything that detracted from the show overall.

The positive reviews and high ratings have vindicated what we Supergirl fans have known all along. After years of wandering the wilderness we true believers have finally led the general public to the promised land.

KET said...

As usual, some people still want to foist their own ideas of what Supergirl should be, instead of what she is: a young woman who's eager to find herself through being a superhero. Granted, in some recent comic book revisions of the character, Supergirl has been portrayed as some angst-ridden loner from another world pining for what's gone, which is why those versions always fail. That's not the essence of the character.

I greatly enjoyed the pilot for what is was: a good starting point, if a little heavy on exposition for time constraints. For those looking for more flashbacks to Kara's past life, I believe that those are coming (Helen Slater did mention in a recent interview that the Danvers would be back for episode five, I think).

As I expected, Melissa is extremely engaging and personable, and this will help to carry the show over any rough patches it may have in the future. However, some folks are clearly missing the fact that nearly all the female characters in the show are portrayed as pretty strong-willed, which provide great sounding boards (for better or perhaps worse) for the main heroine as she begins discovering her true destiny. Kara will most likely be depending on her already experienced sister Alex in order to be brought up to speed on combat techniques and defending herself.

Some references to the Donner Superman flicks were telegraphed in advance by the producers, so that was expected. However, Kara in her secret ID isn't really aping Chris Reeve's Clark Kent persona, outside of the obvious glasses. She's just naturally socially awkward as most people when they're trying to fit in. Yet I just think that it's funny when some critics mistake cleverly subtle characterization for bad writing. The only part that I found mostly ham-fisted was the 'twist' ending with Aunt Astra. But hopefully, this 'family connection' will be more fleshed out with new episode installments.


Anonymous said...

I have to say it was more of a C grade. Benoit was wonderful, as were the characters of James Olsen and Cat Grant. The show was skewed to beat the girl power way too much. Did Kara have a dad in Krypton? Did she care? "On my planet women bow to men" oh come on! Isn't it enough she is a girl working hard at self actualization? Hank says she isn't strong enough. He said that' because he is a chauvinist or the fact that Kara was getting beat and clearly wasn't strong enough? If they keep this fake feminist tone up, it isn't a show about Kara, it becomes an unbalanced political agenda show. Let the show naturally tell her story in a real world and don't try to make the real villain all men everywhere. Many of us love our daughters and want to see them succeed and we would be there for Kara too if she needed it. Sadly we were portrayed as too primitive to get that. One more episode and if the tone doesn't rise up then forget it. Too fake for me.

Anj said...

I agree that some of the 'because she's a girl' and 'what's wrong with girl' talk was a bit ham-fisted. And yes, Vartox was an outright misogynist.

But I would take a step back and look. It is clear that Jimmy and Win are not 'enemies'. I would say Cat is a 'frenemy'. And the big bad is her Aunt. I don't think things neatly fall into 'women good/men bad'.

It is clear that Alura plays a bigger role than Zor-El here. But I would say that Jor-El often plays a bigger role in Superman's life than Lara. I think I'll just roll with that/

Hope you like the next episode more.

Uncle Screensaver said...

I've been in love with Supergirl Kara since I was 7; I'm 39 now. While there were moments that made me cry, especially considering how she had been killed off and thrown away 30 years ago, I won't be watching this series.

I'm sorry but it bugs me way too much they can't get her name right (Supergirl volume 2, # 14 letters pages it is confirmed that it is NOT carr-a) but I also have to agree that this comes off as a gender bent Superman. When she is a determined Supergirl, I see her as such, but otherwise I don't.

It was rushed, and I somewhat understand that but it was ridiculous that Alex, for one, never ever says thank you for saving me, two, she has betrayed Karrs and that's forgotten about quickly because somehow she's suddenly "you were born to save us!" The dialogue at times was terrible, "BECAUSE SHE'S A GIRL!" "I was going to say because she's not strong enough and hasn't been in the field before, but ok there." Also, why was Karra not angry that Superman sent JAMES to babysit her AND reveal who she was. Also, why did Karra say only three people knew about her secret when Superman would have been number four? Why didn't Karra call her parents? Are they dead? While it's great that Helen Slater and Dean Cain are her adoptive parents, why was what we saw in the trailers the only scenes of them in it? I think they lost a lot of ground by not giving more interaction with her parents/ a Kara growing up (unless they did this to avoid it being "Smallville." Also, why Jebediah and Elisa or whatever they're called in here? Why not Fred and Edna/ Sylvia? Pre-Crisis Fred was a scientist for S.T.A.R. Labs. The General being Alura's twin sister has potential to be good "the villain with my mother's face," but I hope by season's end she will be out of the picture. Also, this has been marketed to young kids and yet we have Vartox killing himself ... then again we have Barry Allen killing villains in "The Flash."

The special effects were amazing and it was awesome seeing Supergirl kick butt. When she marched forward, bullets bouncing off her, it was fabulous! However, if I watch this at all, it will be when I can fast forward through the Karra Danvers parts. I don't like being negative. There have been so many incarnations of Supergirl and Kara that it shouldn't bother me so much, I've even warmed up to "The Flash," but I just can't seem to shake off the sick feeling that this show gives me. I almost wish this was Matrix or Cir-El on screen instead, *shudder*.

In any case, tonight will be a determining point for the series because a big series opening doesn't translate to success, I'm afraid to say. "Birds of Prey" had a massive opening, but once people saw Batman wasn't in it and that it wasn't the greatest, the numbers dropped sharply. Anyway, my mom and brother like it so they'll be watching, but I'm actually going to change my schedule so I don't have to. Something anyone who knows me would not believe I'd ever say. *Sigh*

Anonymous said...

"As usual, some people still want to foist their own ideas of what Supergirl should be, instead of what she is"

That's false. "Some people" were concerned about Supergirl being portrayed as a female Clark Kent instead of who she is.