The Supergirl pilot that debuted last night on CBS a lot of weight on its shoulders. The show tells the story of Kara Zor-El, played by Melissa Benoist, as she escapes Superman’s shadow and comes into her own as National City’s first superhero. It is the network’s first major superhero endeavor, the first superhero show led be a solo female in more than 40 years and the pilot had a lot of ground to cover, attempting to endear characters to new viewers while also trying to re-envision elements of the mythos without alienating established comics fans. Does it succeed? The Beat is here to tell you.
Alex J.: So what did we all think? My opinion in a nutshell was this: I don’t think the average comics reader is the ‘target audience’ for this. However, I do think that the marketing is a little deceitful. I’m not sure if anybody noticed, but there were multiple trailers that were cut for the show. One was really action heavy, which this ultimately isn’t. Another, and a lot of the press around the show has cited Supergirl as something that can appeal to lots of demographics, and I’m just not sure if this is something I can tune into every week and not be bored to tears.
Alex Lu: Honestly, Supergirl‘s pilot had way MORE action than I thought it would. I suppose that budgetary concerns on genre shows are not what they were during the mid-2000s peak era of Heroes, but I never expect more than one physically thrilling scene in any given episode of a TV show. Supergirl had three– and they all had decent effects work, at that! The opening narrative scene set on Krypton looked very artificial, but Kara’s two fights looked solid, and the plane-catch was incredible.
My issues with this show primarily stem from the pacing. I know that part of the Superman mantra is “faster than a speeding bullet,” but oh my god, this pilot was just overloaded with stuff. It’s somewhat par for the course for series pilots with hefty backstories, but I felt like the emotional moments in this episode weren’t given enough room to breathe. Jumping from Alex advising Kara on what to wear on her date to Alex’s plane being in mortal peril within a minute felt awkward, to say the least.
I haven’t even gotten to the script yet– thoughts on the writing here?
Kyle Pinion: For my part, Supergirl is easily the best of the recent superhero/comic book based pilots that I’ve seen (Arrow, The Flash, Constantine, Gotham, etc), it has a clear statement of purpose, with very little of the leg-finding that occurs with new shows of this type. Take for example how long a road Arrow has taken to figure out what kind of series it actually wants to be. This is a superhero show aimed right at the ladies, and it’s hard not to applaud a traditionally male-leaning genre for making that effort and doing so unapologetically. Every character of impact is a woman (give or take the head of the DEO), from Kara’s sister, to Cat Grant, to the big bad of the season. Even Helen Slater’s adoptive mother character being married to Dean Cain’s is a sign of progressive thinking in that department. You so rarely see an older woman and a younger man in a relationship (granted the gap isn’t that big in this case, but even “age appropriateness” is welcome given how often we see actors that are sometimes twice their co-stars ages in real life play their significant others).
The show also is breathlessly paced, and given how occasionally laconic Greg Berlanti led shows can be, how often do we see Team Flash go for coffee breaks for example?, it was a nice change of pace. Every two minutes held a new plot development, and it was relieving to see a series of this type jump right into its premise without as many of the hills and valleys of the Campbell monomyth, or rather those moments were blown through so fast you barely even noticed them.
Heidi M.: Clearly this show is aimed mostly at women, but the ones who watch Hunger Games and Divergent, Star Wars and other “crossover” hits. I liked how they covered all their bases, from rejecting a sexy costume to explaining why “girl” isn’t a pejorative to he’d of criticism. And sure, if guys can take time off from brooding and being grim to fight crime, why can’t Kara take time off from getting over dating and her boss to do the same thing.
Alex J.: I really like how you mentioned that the show was full of a ton of plot developments within this first hour, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was incredibly frustrated to what a lot off them led towards. Kara’s job setting almost held the most screen time during this first hour and I felt that some of those notions were ripped straight from The Devil Wears Prada which is something that I think is really going to alienate the intended audience here. Also, the action sequences in this first episode really stunk of being a piece of the procedural nature of this show. I’m well aware that this show is going to have a full 22-episode order, but I don’t want to feel the gears of the typical CBS-style freak-of-the-week elements with the random Krypton elements just being tossed in at a moments notice. The Flash set up the Harrison Wells dynamic within the first episode that made that show more than just a superhero procedural, I didn’t feel that here.
Heidi M.: I think all the plot threads and set-up was very necessary to keep the intended audience engaged. A lot of what female fandoms get most engaged with is the mythology behind a show — think X-Files or Buffy or even the comics own Birds of Prey — which was the last time there was a superhero TV show starring females. When a fandom settles in they need a lot of raw material to put in the hopper. Supergirl is still pretty one dimensional in how it approaches this stuff but it will need more than just lady problems.
Kyle Pinion: The two biggest positives on the acting front came by way of Melissa Benoist, who just exudes charm in the lead role and is a capable enough actress that she’s able to relay even some of the clumsiest Berlanti/Kriesberg/Adler dialogue without much of a sweat. As Agents of SHIELD has shown, it’s difficult to pull together a show of this type without a capable lead, but that’s one pratfall easily avoided here. I’m also a big fan of Mehcad Brooks as this new hunky iteration of Jimmy Olsen. His smoother interpretation might put some long-time fans off, but I tend to believe these characters are never served well when trapped in amber. I like where they’re going with this, I just hope he spends a little less time talking about Superman and more focused on whatever the task at hand is in the current episode.
There are other parts that I don’t like so much, namely Winn and Alex, who I found broad and pretty unconvincing in a bad CW-style actor type way. I have a sense that Winn is going to drive me utterly up the wall in their attempt to build a “quirky guy that never gets the girl/Xander Harris” type. And Alex…well, she’s just awful, with a capital A. I think I wrote three separate notes to myself while watching with variations on “Alex is awful, Alex needs to be recast, ughhhh more Alex”. I also thought the DEO plot somewhat stuck out like a sore thumb compared to everything else, and basically acted as an info dump to supply what will be the upcoming “villain of the week” plot structure.
Alex Lu: By and large, I mostly agree with you on these casting opinions, Kyle. Winn felt extraneous and insufferable as the boy-next-door love interest that the lead doesn’t see standing in front of her the whole time. Melissa Benoist excels as Supergirl, effortlessly capturing Kara’s joyful enthusiasm and youthful fire. The script gives Benoist ample playgrounds to showcase her full range, and the strength Kara develops as Supergirl juxtaposed against her initial meekness at her job comes across quite smoothly. She’s really the biggest draw this show has to offer, which means this particular casting choice was a resounding success in my book.
On the other hand, I too, found elements like Alex and the DEO to be more cog-like than personable; assembling the contraption that will be the Supergirl series machine. I’m not a fan of this procedural style of storytelling, though I’ve come to accept that I’m rarely going to get anything that deviates from this on network TV. That aside, I found this pilot enjoyable enough to merit another few episodes at the very least.
I think my other big gripe was Jimmy Olsen. Mehcad Brooks did a great job portraying a suave and sophisticated go-getter, which Jimmy can sometimes be. However, I have a hard time imagining this Jimmy being the one that could also get into funky Silver Age misadventures thanks to his goofy sense of self. I suppose that sort of thing wouldn’t jive with the somewhat dark direction the series seems to be headed in, but it feels like a loss nonetheless.
Alex J.: The calm and cool manner that Brooks added to Olsen was something that was needed to me. He’s a character that I found likable from the moment he touched the screen, and I’m not sure some of the other cast members mentioned above by Alex and Kyle had that ‘it’ factor that made me want to keep watching the show. Perhaps, he’s not the one that some of the big silver age wackiness is going to come from, but I think Brooks is going to add something unique to the show here, maybe some kind of warmth that would be absent otherwise?
Heidi M: Agree that Benoist was perfectly cast, charming and likable in all facets of the role. And right on with the AOS comparison, Kyle. You need a center to hang this kind of show on. Alex and Winn didn’t bother me as much as they did some of the others, but I wasn’t very interested in their characters. I like suave Jimmy Olsen and who doesn’t like Mehcad Brooks? I was surprised that it was not revealed that Henshaw is not an alien himself since he has the ears of a Vulcan.
Alex Lu: Final Thoughts?
Kyle Pinion: Supergirl was largely enjoyable, and by the time we get to midseason, many of its bigger kinks might be worked out. Here’s hoping, while Berlanti is awfully hit and miss in my book, this is easily his best start yet.
Alex Jones: I want see where the show goes from here, but I get the feeling that it is just going to skew younger than we want out of it. I was disappointed that a stronger supporting cast or more threatening villain wasn’t established in this first hour. Supergirl has a long way to go in order to peak my interest, but is it really interested in what I think of it anyways? I feel no matter what CBS is going to have a hit on their hands.
Heidi M.: Since this show airs at 8 pm on the more “folksy” CBS, it’s probably not going to get much smarter than this first hour, which means I’m going to have a hard time remember to DVR it. However, if I had to chose between the turgid grim goings on in Gotham and this light hearted froth, I’m going to go with froth for $400, Alex.
Alex Lu: Dangerous to make a Jeopardy joke in a discussion that already has two Alexs, Heidi! For my part, I think Supergirl will appeal more to a general audience than it does to me. I’ve never been much for network dramas, as I find that they don’t tend to reward investment in the same way a heavily serialized show like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones does. They’re designed for you to tune in and tune out at will, and that’s has its positives– for example, we could still have a Supergirl show 30 years from now! Supergirl was alternately cringe inducing and legitimately thrilling, the latter trait making it a rarity among CBS shows. I hope it finds its footing, because that can only mean good things for superhero shows to come.
Davey N: Supergirl landed on the equivalent of what a modern day Superman family story should be. Instead of riding the brooding trend of running from heroic destiny; this show chose to embrace the concept of hope and what it means to be a protector. Sure it risked contemporizing some noticeable elements of the comic book cannon, but taking risks is what could make this a show with longevity. Having seen the pilot back in June and a few episodes since then; I’m happy with the way the show’s turned out and the reaction its received from the audience at large. The coveted millennial and adolescent demographic need more gateways into comics. Supergirl is in a position to be one and it’s off to a great start.