By Josh Melo
‘Supergirl’ Review – S1 Ep.1 (Pilot)
Like the plane full of civilians Kara Zor-El saves from a fiery end, the Supergirl pilot is largely carried on the shoulders of its lead, Melissa Benoist. With a great opening half, Supergirl proves it has the potential to stand beside the best genre shows on the air. But a back half mired by a feminist agenda keeps it from reaching the same level of “WOW” the likes of The Flash or Agents of SHIELD have achieved.
For those out of the loop when it comes to the “woman of steel”, here is a quick summary.
Kara Zor-El, cousin to the ever-famous Superman, managed to escape the destruction of Krypton. Sent by her parents as a guardian for her younger cousin, her pod fell off course and into the Phantom Zone. When she finally wiggles free of the wormhole and makes it to Earth Kal-El is already a grown man and established hero. Taken in by foster parents to hone her powers in secret, as Kara comes into her own she must choose to live a life of normalcy or embrace the abilities of her home world.
Now an adult and spending her days as an overworked office assistant at CatCo, Kara is thrust into the realm of super heroics when her sister’s plane comes close to crashing down in the middle of the city. Coming to the realization that she was meant for more than meager office work, Kara embraces her Kryptonian identity.
Alien threats quickly makes themselves apparent, explosions ensue and Supergirl is off to save the day.
As with any other super hero show on the market, whether the show lives or dies is predicated on the likeability of its cast. Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El/Danvers is a perfect fit. The awkward and goofy vibes the character gives off could have easily felt forced but Benoist is purely genuine. Stumbling over her own words in front of her boss, getting anxious when talking to a cute guy and ranting to no end when overly excited. Benoist and Supergirl attempt to show audiences that even the strongest people must deal with mundane issues and they pull it off. There is still a ways to go in developing Kara completely but as far as first impressions go, this was a great one.
Another standout of the pilot episode comes in the form of Winslow Schott (Jeremy Jordan). Jordan brings an equivalent charm to his character that begs audiences not to like him. With both Benoist and Jordan coming from a musical background (as well as Grant Gustin of The Flash) one has to wonder whether or not singing ability is the key to becoming a superhero (or at least their sidekick).
Rounding out the cast are Mehcad Brookes as Jimmy Olsen (a much more confident and handsome Jimmy Olsen), Calista Flockhart as Kara’s boss, Chyler Leigh as Kara’s sister and David Harewood as Hank Henshaw (the eventual CYBORG SUPERMAN!). Most of these characters show up in a very small capacity, offering Kara some sort of motivation or obstacle that will help her choose which path she will take should she overcome it. Olsen acts as a go between for Kara and Superman (who does make a couple of small appearances, though he never speaks or shows his face) and the main source of support outside of Schott.
The first half of the episode is chock full of elements fans will surely get excited over. The plane rescue sequence is epic and visually fantastic (thank goodness TV budgets can handle CG these days), while the emotion and character development feels organic and real. The back half of the episode sees an unfortunate dip in quality however. The main reason for this is due to the fact that they tried to cram an entire origin (rise from an everyday girl into the proverbial super girl) into a single 45-minute segment. Things get glossed over in favor of action sequences (though they are pretty good), which leave us a little cold on some character and story fronts.
The biggest question marks come from Henshaw’s mysterious Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DENO… hehehe). Seemingly out of nowhere it’s revealed that Kara’s sister works for an anti-alien organization and that a strange ship has crash-landed on Earth filled to the brim with intergalactic delinquents.
Almost immediately after Kara makes the decision to use her powers openly an axe-wielding space maniac attacks her. The only explanation for this comes in the form of a line or two of dialogue at the very end of the episode and a shady appearance by face familiar to Kara. While it is hard to argue against seeing the iconic “S” in action and the impressive fight work that follows it but with everything happening so fast it can feel disjointed.
Another major problem that arises in the latter 20 minutes is the overemphasis on addressing a feminist agenda. Viewers can expect a near constant reminder that girls can be just as capable as anyone else. At one point Kara even disputes the name “Supergirl” because the world “girl” implies some sort of weakness (which it doesn’t). Henshaw and DENO (hehehe) even scoff at the idea that a single girl can take on a male alien murderer (she has super strength and can fly… why the heck would you question her?).
Small nods to this theme are perfectly acceptable, but when a show goes out of its way to cram an idea down audiences throats, especially if they go about it through ham-fisted and superfluous dialogue, it undermines the message.
Some interesting story lines are hinted at in this initial episode and some great performances are on display, specifically in the first half, which make Supergirl a show to keep on your radar. However, the back half of the episode keeps the show from being truly great.
With a slower approach to future episodes and less of a focus on “girl power” Supergirl is sure to be a hit.
Overall Supergirl gets a 7.5/10.
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