Monday, April 4, 2016
"Why CBS Would Be Right To Cancel Supergirl" - A Rebuttal
I have been doing this blog for some time and I am a lifelong fan of Supergirl and the character has had a resurgence in popularity and much of that is thanks to the CBS television show.
I have said it many times in many episode reviews here - the show runners and writers get the character. They get she is learning. They get that she can fail and pick herself up and try again. They get that she is bright and optimistic and sees the best in people and wants to help. They also get that there is a passion in her for justice and she will fight ferociously to defend people.
At times it hasn't been easy being a Supergirl fan. I have joked about it in the past. I have talked about the low times of the character. I have talked about new incarnations which don't understand who the character is and what she represents. I have seen new articles and think pieces crop up about her, written by people who think that 'traditional Supergirl' means Jeph Loeb's version or the New 52, forgetting her origins. And I have done my best to defend the character and showcase what I love about her.
So when the idea of Supergirl is twisted into something it isn't, I fell I have to speak up.
I read an article by Nicholas Yanes over on Sequart.Org which was titled 'Why CBS would be right to cancel Supergirl: A ratings and narrative analysis". Here is the link. http://sequart.org/magazine/63190/why-cbs-would-be-right-to-cancel-supergirl-a-ratings-and-narrative-analysis/
Now usually when someone has to point out their fan cred before an article, it means something - that they are going to try to destroy the topic of the piece. And then, when academic credentials are sprinkled throughout the article, it usually means someone is saying something that doesn't make much sense and they have to point out their pedigree so you take it seriously. So when Yanes starts the piece by saying he "is a Supergirl fan" and a feminist, and holds a PHD - well, I was wondering where this article was going and worried.
The piece starts as a very detailed look at ratings and, from that viewpoint, Yanes shows why CBS, from a financial point of view, might be justified in canceling the show. And frankly, if Yanes had stopped there, I would have said it was a very good article bringing in hard numbers that I hadn't seen represented so starkly. I was impressed.
But then Yanes decides he needs to pick apart the show he said earlier that he enjoyed. And not just nit pick but cut down to the bare bone.
He brings up old arguments which I feel have been refuted already. We hear about the SNL Black Widow sketch .. again. And we hear about the word 'Supergirl' ... again. As if those elements, from a year ago, somehow are impacting week to week viewing in the spring of 2016.
He writes about how the feminism in the show isn't highbrow. But I get a show where four women are placed in positions of authority - Supergirl, Cat Grant, Alex Danvers, and Lucy Lane. We have a show where the men tend to be the sidekicks and comic relief. The women in charge of their own lives. And trust me, my daughters aren't asking for a thesis statement on feminism. They see what is possible play out on the screen.
Then Yanes argues that Superman has to be present as a deus ex machina, the all mighty answer to be called in. That's right, he wants the man to come in and solve the problems of the woman instead of having the woman solve her own problems. Can you imagine the 'mansplaining' criticism that would be happening if each episode Kara said 'let me make sure Superman agrees with what I am doing' or 'let me tell Superman my problems so he can come and solve them'. The show had Superman say (albeit in IM) that he is around if Kara needs him to be but he trusts her to do what's right on her own. And this is Supergirl's story ... not his.
Ahhh, but things get a little more wonky then that misinterpretation of the show itself. He then says how he would 'fix' the show. It becomes a writer's pitch. And that is where he completely lost me.
Here are some excerpts.
First, I would have explicitly depicted Kara as a refugee. By this I mean that she did come to Earth because her planet was wiped out by a natural disaster and she is one of the only two Kryptonians left. While Supergirl depicts Kara as a somewhat well adjusted adult who has friends and lives a fairly emotionally healthy life, I would have had Kara’s isolation from her people limit her emotional attachment to Earth. Superman was raised on Earth and doesn’t have nearly the emotional connection to Krypton that Kara would have. As such, I would have Kara largely detached from humanity with the only people she’s emotionally invested in being Superman and her adopted family. (The relationship she has with her foster sister is one of the best parts of Supergirl.)
I find it a little intriguing that Yanes' first option is to go the 'isolated' Supergirl route. Fans of the character will know that this never ever works. Whether it is Loeb's Kara that didn't want to be a hero, or Joe Kelly's Supergirl who was sent to kill Superman and wanted nothing to do with her family, or Michael Green and Scott Lobdell's 'hell on wheels' Supergirl who just wanted to be alone, or Michael Nelson's Kara who wanted to sit in solitude on the bottom of the ocean, or even Jeff Lemire's 'bullheaded loner' who was the contrast to Stargirl's optimism, one thing is true. A brooding, isolated, disconnected Supergirl never works.
It never works because the basis of her character is her desire to want to help people and to see the best in people. She personifies hope. The show has played up the refugee angle Yanes brings up, using the word throughout the season to describe her and J'onn. But that status doesn't make Kara shy away from being a hero.. It compels her to be one, so others won't have to suffer the way she has. To think that Kara would be better without emotional connections is asking that she be a completely different character. And if that is what you want, write a new show with a character that has 'woman' in her code name.
The lure of making Supergirl something different than who she is? It's a trap. It has never worked. And it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of who the character is.
But there's more.
Again Yanes, would have Supergirl idly sitting by while a rising tide of evil threatens the planet. It is only at the insistence of Alex that she decides to do something. Because that is what we want from our lead character. We want her to not make her own decisions on doing good. We want her to be goaded into doing what's right.
And then he would end the show with Supergirl being 'killed' in a Crisis. And become Superwoman. That is how people will be inspired by her ... by her dying.
He is a fan of Supergirl and would kill her off, sort of.
But does Yanes really think that the impulse to become a hero and the growth in confidence she has had as a character this season is the equivalent of a teen-movie character's motivations? That is an insult to the writers and to Melissa Benoist's performance. Does he think that lessons in 'For the girl who has everything' and 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way' (to name two episodes) would work in a teen movie?
He starts the article saying he likes the show. But I really don't think he does. But he continues.
So here’s how I think Supergirl should be brought to the Arrowverse. A villain decides to create a device that will bring all the aliens and creatures trapped in the Phantom Zone to Earth. In the process of stopping this villain, the device becomes unstable and will blow up. Supergirl grabs the device and flies far enough above the city so that when it detonates no one is injured. Unfortunately, Supergirl disappears and is presumed dead.
Similar to The Flash’s explosion at Star Labs, this explosion exposes dozens of people to exotic matter that causes them to become metahumans. Realizing that metahumans are appearing across the world, Alex (Supergirl’s adopted sister) and the DEO decide to find these superpowered beings and train them in the use of their powers. The show will feature a montage of Alex finding people who have used their new powers in heroic ways. Asking why they acted like heroes they all (boys and girls, and men and women from all races) respond with the same statement, “because I want to be just like Supergirl.” Cutting back to Supergirl as the bomb goes off. We see her scream in pain and then begin to fall back to Earth. Kara crashes near a sign that says “Welcome to Central City, Home of The Flash.” Kara, grateful that Star Labs took her in, could take on the last name of Starr for her new identity, and become Karen Starr – the civilian identity for Power Woman (not Power Girl) of Earth 1..)
It is one thing to deride the characterization of Supergirl in the series, the characterization that most long term Supergirl fans say is spot on. It is another thing all together to decide to make her into another character. He wants a device to make metahumans on Kara's current world, a plot point he admits he stole from the Flash. And then he wants Kara to be on the Flash's Earth as Power Woman. Because he assumes that Kara and Karen are the same character.
Look, Yanes piece is a thought piece, his subjective evaluation of the show. So I guess I should have read it and moved on. So I apologize if this feels like an attack. I don't want it to be.
I just want to point out where I believe some of the fallacies of his narrative analysis are. I don't know if he quite understands the character of Supergirl. And when that happens, I can't sit idly by.
Sorry if this was something of a rant.