Jazz asked in a post last night, “What good is having Supergirl if we can’t politicize her?” referring to the feminist frenzy surrounding CBS’ new superhero series. It turns out plenty of good if you actually watch the show rather than get caught up in the media spin.
Sure, the usual suspects want Supergirl to smash The Patriarchy™ and give rise to the age of female superheroes, and so most of the questions directed at the people making the show have to do with empowering women and the like. The cast and crew likewise respond with obligatory acknowledgments that yes, they hope young women are inspired by the titular hero, but they’re also quick to note that’s not the point here. Their goal is to create a fun comic book series that has a little something for everyone, much like they have already done with Arrow and The Flash over on The CW.
Like the pilots for both of those shows, Supergirl’s does have some problems (as pilots usually do), but preaching the gospel of feminism is not among them. Supergirl’s most prominent scene involving that sort of thing serves as a complete refutation of the social justice argument. It’s also the scene executive producer Greg Berlanti described in the interview Jazz quoted. In it, Kara’s protest that calling her a “girl” would be anti-feminist is quickly and brutally shot down by her boss, played by none other than Ally McBeal herself, Calista Flockhart.
What do you think is so bad about “girl”? I’m a girl and your boss and powerful and rich and hot and smart. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?
It’s only the sudden intervention of Jimmy…er…James Olsen that saves Kara from being outright fired for this outburst. Other than that, the “girl power” stuff is mostly relegated to typical female hero tropes such as the baddie-of-the-week throwing one of those “on my planet, the women are subservient”-style insults. They’re in good company though with the enormous number of other superhero tropes the premiere ran through. Best friend that’s secretly in love with her? Check. Narcissistic, overbearing boss? Check. Secret government organization that doesn’t trust the pure-hearted hero? Check. Unnecessary fight and reconciliation with a loved one due to somebody keeping secrets? Check.
Thus trope-checking in general was one of the actual problems the premiere had. Not only did cramming them all into an hour minus commercials make the pilot feel rushed and choppy, but hitting that many of them in one sitting inevitably results in reviewers like myself reaching for the word “formulaic.” Supergirl really could have benefited from a 2-hour premiere so that it could take its time moving between the various boxes rather than ticking them and abruptly jumping to the next scene.
Fortunately, Melissa Benoist has a natural charm and infectious enthusiasm that really helps smooth over the rough spots. She plays Kara Danvers/Zor-El with that same lovably awkward demeanor that Christopher Reeve brought to Clark Kent, and then she takes to the sky with delight as Supergirl, which is an incredibly refreshing change of pace from the dour, miserable, conflicted guy from Man of Steel.
Benoist is helped into the air by some reasonably decent CGI backing the action. Like the pilot in general, it gets clunky at times, but it’s still above average for a TV show. Since The Flash‘s effects have gotten better and more elaborate over time, one can assume Supergirl will see a similar improvement in the future, especially if its ratings continue to soar along with its hero.
So while they do have some stuff to iron out going forward, Berlanti & Co. have created another fun superhero romp that very much embodies the spirit of the Donnor Era Superman, and it would be a shame for people to pass on it just because the media tries to make every female/minority-led show into a left-wing propaganda machine no matter its actual content.
If you don’t like superhero shows, or you get extremely nitpicky about comic book adaptations, it may not be for you, but otherwise it seems like a good start for a family-friendly hour of television every week.
Thanks to Sarjex as always for her wonderful illustration. Check out her store.
For more of what I think about entertainment and politics, follow me on Twitter @crankytrex or check out my other writing at buzzpo.com.