[Review] - DCTV: Supergirl, Season 1 Episodes 1 And 2, "Pilot" And "Stronger Together"

Courtesy of Warner Television Studios

In the future, it will be my intention to fold Supergirl reviews into the DCTV reviews I've been doing for Arrow and The Flash. Or maybe I won't. It'll depend entirely on how crowded I feel those reviews are going to get. But in the interest of giving Supergirl her due, for these introductory episodes I thought I'd single her out, give her the focus she deserves.

And straight out of the gate, Supergirl shares a big similarity with her CW counterparts: it isn't well written. No, wait. That's not fair. It is terribly written. There, that's better. Last week, in my review of Arrow and Flash I mentioned the notion of the performance drowning out the script, when an actor of caliber can elevate themselves above the mediocrity of the material. That is not the case here. The mediocrity of the material is a shiv of kryptonite in the side of this show. The words coming out of these actor's mouths are sphincter-clenchingly bad. Seriously, wantonly, miasma-inducingly bad. And most of the rest of the show falls in line behind that level of quality. The shining juxtaposition to all of that is Supergirl herself, Melissa Benoist, who single handedly makes the show watchable.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't use a cape.

Straight off the bat, the biggest single issue with Supergirl is the writing. Every flaw can be raced back to writing that does not work. But chief among my major complaints is that by selecting Supergirl as the main character of their program, they have backed themselves into a narrative corner right out of the gate. A corner that wears his underpants on the outside, and is referred to in the pilot by every possible phrase, nickname or nonspecific modifier rather than just saying Superman. Yes, Superman. Apparently Berlanti and his team have had so much fun dancing around the fact that Arrow is basically Batman but Batman can never be on the show that they decided to do the same again. Superman will never be on this show. Through the pilot, it seemed that they were even prohibited from using his name. But unlike Arrow, who never so much as hint that there is a nocturnal crime fighter in Gotham that they just can't ever seem to meet up with, Supergirl draws attention to the Big Blue Boy Scout's absence at every available opportunity.

Seriously, it's like a fetish. The writers are unwilling to allow the character and the show to carve out it's own identity in Superman's absence by the simply fact that every single action Kara takes, every single event that happens in National City, and the fact that three of the stars of the show all know the man himself, is compared to Superman. This leaves the viewer in the uncomfortable position of being constantly reminded that Superman is out there, with 25 years of experience being the greatest hero in the world, and yet can't be bothered to check in on his cousin who is just starting her hero career, or put a stop to these Kryptonian terrorists plaguing the city. Just saying that he's busy in Metropolis isn't a great excuse when we know that Superman can fly around the world in the blink of an eye. It would be less of an issue (an issue none the less) if they would stop pointing it out. It's like going on a date with a zit. You don't spend the entire night talking about the zit, pointing to the zit, saying how great things would be without the zit. It reaches a point where the entire date becomes about the zit. Superman is Supergirl's zit.

Superman's existence (if not presence) also highlights how the writers aren't thinking things through when building their world. Clearly, they have a lot of aspects and facets and mythology that they want to build and explore. And yet nearly all of it is rendered moot by the fact that they next city over has a muscly do-gooder with an S on his chest. Fort Roz crashes into Earth years ago, spilling out a host of Kryptonian criminals. Why hasn't Superman dealt with them before? No one in the world knows that aliens exist except for the DEO, and yet Superman is the greatest (only?) hero in the world? Kyrptonite hasn't been known about until now, by either Kara or the Phantom Zoners, and yet, etc., etc. The thing that is buckling this world building is that they've established that Superman is 25 year ahead of the game. In that time he's presumably faced down Lex Luthor, Brainiac, General Zod, Metallo, and the rest of Sup's standard rogues gallery. Meaning that everything that Kara is encountering for the first time, he already has a handle on. Meaning his lack of informing her makes him seem like a gigantic ass.

And this is the inherent problem with using Supergirl as the main character. Because Supergirl is a fine character, a great character even when done well, but doing her origin story pretty much requires also using Superman as a mentor figure. Because Supergirl's whole shtick is about being the person who was meant to help Superman become the hero, and is now the teacher has become the student. Knowing going in that Superman is completely off limits should have informed the writers decision on how to structure the show. Its not like they're writing from scripture here, they could have done anything they wanted. And what they settled on was a format and origin that apes Superman's story entirely (right down to the glasses) and screams for Superman's presence at nearly every moment and can't deliver. I'm amazed that they showed enough restraint not to set the show in Metropolis itself. With these limitations, why not pick literally any other female character from the DC catalog. One that doesn't come with such an obvious leash. Stargirl, Starfire, Zatanna, each just as obscure to the general public as Supergirl, and each just as interest to explore, and each disconnected from any character currently costarring with Ben Affleck. Hell, if they still wanted to use a Kryptonian, why not Powergirl? They wouldn't have even had to change the structure of the show, just replace Cat Grant with Powergirl (if their long term plan if for Kara to grow from underling to boss under Cat's mentorship, than this will essentially be the end result of the series anyway).

Once we move away from the Super issue, we come next to the overwhelming millstone around the neck of the series, the DEO. Everything about this side of the show is poison. From the monster of the week format that it creates (which, to be fair, Arrow and Flash also use) to the deus ex machina resolutions that it supports, to the Mary Sue character of the step-sister, to the plot holes that the organization plugs and creates. But the biggest issue with the DEO is that it hampers Supergirl's maturation. Either she's a gung-ho amateur learning her way into hero-hood by trial and error, supported by a network of friends, or she's a professional hero being trained by military experts to be the strong arm of a global defense task force. Being both is disingenuous to the character. She jumps from one montage where she is discovering herself by accomplishing small tasks slowly, than to another where she is outrunning missiles and learning krav maga inside a kryptonite cross-fit room. Building up her public persona, her ability to work as a team, and eventually as a leader, should be something that evolves over time as she encounters dangers, gains confidence, and earns respect.

Perhaps my biggest issue with the series in these early episodes is that rather than learning what worked and what didn't on the other two series, Berlanti's team is just repeating the same mistakes while trying to repeat the successes. Felicity and Cisco are popular characters, OK we'll have one of those. And some USD, yeah a sprinkle of that. Secret, seeding government facility, sure why not. Cold mentor relationship with the only adult in the cast, throw that at it and see if it sticks. But they are rushing into things far faster than they should be. The DEO should have been held back half a season at least, maybe even a season or two. It is not enough to inform the audience of the sister's betrayal, the writers need to establish their relationship (and a relationship with us) before a violation will have an effect. Likewise everyone figuring out that she's Supergirl. I hate it when series beat around the bush, but practically everyone that could know her identity did by the end of the pilot. The pilot felt they a stampede through half a season's worth of revelations, arcs and character development. And because it was the first episode, and because it was heaved on us, it isn't development, it's a lead foot at the start line.

One aspect of the show in which I really am pleasantly surprised is in the choreography of the action sequences. the show uses a lot of CGI, as might be expected, and its not all great, mostly passable, same as the Flash. But when blocking the fight sequences, they have embraced Kara's full power set. Unlike Smallville, which did everything it could to avoid using Clark's powers, this show leans 100% into the full range, and uses them to full effect. Especially flight, resulting in some damned fine wire work. Her punch up with Astra actually featured mid-flight combat, something not even Man of Steel attempted. And the results are pretty impressive. I gave Arrow shot last week for their fight sequences looking childish, but they are bringing their A-game to Supergirl. And unlike any filmed version of Superman, for once we get to see what it looks like when a Kryptonian both lets loose and acts strategically. Eye lasers have never looked so good.

In the end though, Benoist saves the show. She's working at an entirely different level to those around her. She's giving the material far more respect that it deserves, and she's coming into each scene as though it were the truest and most honest thing she's ever dealt with. There is a scene in the pilot, after she saves the plane, when her sister basically grounds her, telling her in no uncertain terms that Kara cannot be a hero. Benoist's reaction is subtle and understated and stands out because it runs counter to the campiness that the rest of the show is dragged in to. Like Gustin Grant on Flash, having Benoist in almost every scene salvages a lot of the show's watchablity, because Benoist obviously gives a shot about doing the best job she can. The writing might get better, or if the other shows are an indication, it might just keep getting worse. But so long as Benoist doesn't become apathetic, there will at least be something worth getting excited over.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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