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.

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.

Alex Danvers (Kara’s foster sister) would be the one that pushes Kara (now 20 or 21 years old) to become a hero. As an agent in the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, Alex would be aware of rising metahuman activity – both good and evil. Realizing that this new generation of metahumans needs a leader, Alex would encourage Kara to put on the S. I imagine that although Kara would be reluctant at first she would eventually accept the responsibility after she learns of Fort Rozz and its connection to her..).)
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.

Fourth, the final scene of the pilot will be a flash forward to several years into the future. With a newscaster’s voice over explaining that an alien attack on Earth was stopped, but now the world is wondering if Superwoman is dead.
This setup and ending provides much of what I feel Supergirl needs as a series. It gives the series a story arc for season one (Fort Rozz) and the entire series (the Crisis coming to Earth). It also solves the problem with calling her Supergirl. She first accepts the name because she’s not attached to the idea of becoming a hero, but the ending flash forward communicates that at some point she grows to see the importance of her legacy and becomes Superwoman. It also gives her a clear arc for emotional growth. Instead of her having to develop her confidence as if she was in a teen-movie, she will grow to see that humanity is worth fighting and dying for..).)

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.


Martin Gray said...

It's not a rant, it's more thoughtful than the piece deserves. Honestly, if he's that convinced the show deserves to die based on the viewing figures, he should sit back and watch it happen. But he shows his hand with his lengthy pitch to get into the writers' room (what, a PHD isn't enough to impress CBS?). And at that point the article ceases to be worthy of our consideration. We can all have a crack at fan fiction.

You are correct, he has no idea of who Kara is. The TV writers do. DC have finally course-corrected Supergirl. Rewriting the show to be about a young woman whose spark for heroism has to come from someone else shows he just has no idea. And the Supergirl name is not a problem - she's a young woman, an aspirational figure, and no one should take that away from your daughters.

Red5 said...

The piece was, as you say, a thought piece -- so best not to get too bothered about it. That said... :-)

I did find it ironic that he begins by criticising the "bad journalism" of commentators who take a selective interpretation of news reports to conclude that Supergirl has already been renewed, then he himself proceeds to take selective interpretations to support his own conclusions. For example: he quotes a CBS press release (or rather its reporting) that renewed eleven shows, but excluded Supergirl, as evidence that journalists should be more careful when assuming Supergirl has already been renewed. But Yanes fails to note that said press release did not relate to freshman shows, so has zero relevance to Supergirl. I'm all in favour of asking journalists to report responsibly, but one has to cite relevant evidence when making a case.

In another example Yanes claimes "[...] Supergirl was billed as a feminist show for today’s audiences", then quotes two editorial pieces which talk about Supergirl's feminism angle. But you'll note that in both cases it is actually the journalists who apply the feminist label -- none of the quotes from people connected with the show actually explicitly claim the show is a statement of feminism. They all (as you very correctly point out in your rebuttal) refer to the show as merely a show where women drive the narrative, and men take secondary roles. And this is how (IIRC) the show was described by the Executive Producers at SDCC round tables, and other press events. (Sure, when explicitly asked by interviewers about the feminist angle, Melissa and other cast members will mutter an answer relating to feminism, but only when explicitly asked.)

Yanes seems to object to the term 'girl'. I suspect he is a feminist of the same generation as myself, who was always told a woman is a "woman" and never a "girl". I sympathise: the current trend among young twenty/thirty-something feminists to reclaim the 'girl' label is confusing for us old-timers. These women (girls?) appear to be doing the very thing we were told was a cardinal sin. But(!!), whether or not Yanes or myself understand it, it is undeniable that the so-called "girl power" banner is a powerful one with younger women, and the show has chosen to align itself with this trendy interpretation of the label -- no matter how much it rankles with us old-timers..!

The final part of Yanes' article is basically just a grumble about how Supergirl isn't dark and gritty and angst-ridden and snarly and depressing (like 90% of DC's on-screen output), followed by some 'armchair executive producing' in which Yanes tells us all how HE would have done things properly -- like the sports fan in seat 33A who always knows team tactics better than the coach..!

Yanes makes a few good points, but they are drowned out amidst too many spurious or ill-researched comments (eg: using editorial commentary as fact, rather than checking the primary sources.) In conclusion, I thought your rebuttal was very fair, and well judged. Bravo.


Anonymous said...

"Teen movie"? What kind of backwards thinking is it that something like trying to be one's best and helping others is considered juvenile?

Isn't gearing something towards adults supposed to mean being more realistic and nuanced? If it is, then the exploration of the characters of the show is definitely "grown up". Plus, most of Yanes' complaints have been already addressed on the show.

Perhaps some people just don't believe that people can be good. TV Supergirl can outrun an ICBM, lift one side of a high-rise building, shoot lasers out of her eyes, use freeze breath for a couple of seconds to create a wall of ice thick enough to survive an explosion... but Supergirl having a fondness of her adoptive home world? That's what needs to change? It's impossible for someone to want to help others because she can? Even in a world where all that other stuff is possible?

Anonymous said...

Its a 'thing" among comic book critics to radically overwrite and overthink their topics....sometimes because their "Mary Sue" is that they very badly wish they were writing within the industry.
I see this all the time from other critics and I will cop to indulging it myself. The chief fallacy here is simple the author reasoned backwards from "I don't like the show because I am not writing it" and cherry picked his arguments accordingly.
Like sports fans, comic book fans project....they project a lot.
There is also something weirdly intimidating about "Supergirl" her very monicker gives people pause, she is a "Legacy Female" who keeps trying (metaphorically speaking) to escape that very secondary status.


Martin Gray said...

I'd argue that she's not a 'legacy female' - she is, as DC legalese currently has it, a 'derivative character' - spun from the cloth of Superman, but being just a few years younger (physically, at least - have I mentioned how much I hate the modern 'twist' of Kara having been born before her cousin?), of his generation. She's his equal, not a daughter or kid sidekick.

Anonymous said...

> 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.

Amen Hallelujah Peanut Butter, to that Anj. Every so often, I sneak back and reread your essay "Why Supergirl?" just to remind myself
why I love Supergirl, and anyone who intrinsically "gets" this portrayal of the character. I don't need this Wash, rinse, repeat another
9000 times that SOMEhow SOMEone SOMEwhere thinks by retreading this path a different outcome may happen, we as (comic)fans of Supergirl
have seen this enough.

As for how Yanes would write things with Supergirl? Well, Yanes has his (digital) pencil, and a will to see it through, go ahead and write
that; all the power to him. I don't have to watch / read it, though.

Best to all Supergirl fans alike, be it comics, movie, animated, TV, or all of the above!
And hoping for a FORMAL announcement of Season 2 renewal soon!


KET said...

I'm kind of surprised that you bothered with the obvious concern troll who was merely posting click bait for suckers. You pretty much outed his own 'secret identity' by noticing that he put his 'nerd credentials' right up front in the article, as if that somehow justified the sloppy and inaccurate results of his essay. The rest of the article is just the usual substandard, unsubstantiated troll nonsense dressed up as a pretend 'analysis'. In essence, it's just chauvinistic garbage by someone with no credibility whatsoever.


Amul Kool said...

I know this blog was converted .
I thought the admin wants to give supergirl a little break.
So he started focusing on kole.
But now he is being anti-supergirl that gives me a reason to think
Someone else is operating this blog !!!

Godzylla said...

I agree, Martin - Kara is not a legacy character (she doesn't replace Kal), she's part of his franchise. :) And I'd argue that a show that features several women as the leads with the male characters all taking secondary roles by nature is a feminist show. It's entertainment, not a video textbook.

Supergirl may have its problems, but it's a good show, and should get better if it gets the time. I hope it does.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.
I suppose I could have ignored the piece but I felt it got som much wrong about Supergirl that I had to write. I can't let that stuff linger.

People don't watch Marame Secretery for discourse on Political Scence. They don't watch CSI to get lectured on the actual forensic science. So why should Suoergirl be held to a higher standard.

I feel The show is better than how it is portrayed in the article.

Thanks again!

Jay said...

What's "highbrow" feminism anyway? If something portrays a female in a positive light, isn't that enough?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm very disappointed to see so many Supergirl fans giving attention to this piece of crap from Sequart. He got what he wanted: page views. That was the ONLY thing going on his mind when he wrote this. A reader comment on that very article pretty much proved how everything he wrote was unfounded.

Anj said...

Sorry to disappoint.
As I said I debated writing something. Yes, it is click bait. And yes, Supergirl fans know better.
But people who aren't fans might be swayed by something like this. So I thought I should rebut. Not that everyone who read that necessarily comes here or knows I exist.

In the end, I just wanted to defend a character I respect.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand, that article is obvious click bait. And it was obvious since the first line when the writer needed to explain he is a "big" Supergirl fan and resort to the Authority Fallacy. It does not merit attention.

On the other hand, if no one replies this article, midguided and misinformed may think this person has valid points.

I would not call your rebuttal a rant, Anj. You were polite, logical and never resorted to personal attacks.

I find interesting this person thinks Kara needs everyone to make her choices for her. He -or she- complains about the show's feminism not being highbrow -whatever it means- and the word "Supergirl" and then he wants to strip Kara from agency?

IMO, an isolated, detached Supergirl CAN work... for the first story arc. And as long as she grows up, accepts Earth, bonds with her cousin and more people... otherwise it becomes a mess.

I think "Cosmic Adventures" is a good example of it being made right. Yes, Kara was an immigrant. Yes, Kara felt insolated and lonely. however she wanted to fit in, she wanted to make friends, she wanted to help.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Agreed completely.

I found that article no long ago. It's biased trash combined with wishful thinking and uses skewed data and suspicious logic to reinforce his "argument". A click-bait article. And his "analysis" was certainly disproved by facts and History.

I don't like the "Sequart Organization" site, either. SE's writers pretend they are expert and knowledgeable when they are anything but that, and they disregard the existence of opposing points of view.

Look up articles where Supergirl is mentioned and you'll find they think her only good story was -you guessed it- COIE 7, and they never covered the Gates or Bedard's runs.

Look up articles where Batgirl is mentioned, and you'll find they think she had no good stories under her belt until the Joker shot her. Back in 2011, one of them wrote a long article complaining about Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again. He's entitled to dislike that editorial mandate, but he pretended no one liked that development -which is false-, and failed to acknowledge there's an opposite -and valid- argument which states Barbara getting crippled and remaining crippled is damned sexist.