The latest DC superhero to burst onto our TV screens after Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl is the story about 24-year-old Kara Zor-El who was taken in by the Danvers family when she was 13 after being sent away from Krypton. The Danvers family, particularly her sister Alex, teaches Kara to be careful with her powers, until she has to reveal them during an unexpected disaster, setting her on her journey of heroism even when it comes to protecting National City as Supergirl.
The initial reaction to the concept of Supergirl was met with a somewhat mixed reaction, and whilst the pilot episode can tend to recycle the stereotypical superhero clichés of old (for both good and bad), thank heaven for Melissa Benoist, who brings a charming warmth and likeability to the iconic role, in and out of the cape. The Supergirl in this show is a woman who wants to do good for humanity, like her cousin before her, and she faces a life-changing path of heroism she’s willing to take on whilst overcoming various obstacles and overbearing naysayers. Benoist convincingly portrays that, making you invest in Kara’s journey and her rites of passage and bringing a sense of fun, humour and excitement to proceedings, and doing it all with a smile on her face. Whether it's saving citizens from a falling plane or having newsroom banters with Cat Grant and co., Benoist’s Supergirl has the makings of an iconic feminist symbol, and one that’s full of inspiration and powerful agency.
Despite the fact that Benoist is the star of the show, the supporting cast also provides solid performances. The idea of changing James “Jimmy” Olsen from a thin geeky kid to a big buff alpha-male is going to take some time to adjust to, but Mehcad Brooks has likeable charisma and his chemistry with Benoist is magnetic. Chyler Leigh is the most impressive, however, as the loving-yet-disapproving sister Alex Danvers. The dynamic between the two sisters is a welcome addition, allowing Kara to have an emotional anchor that helps keep her grounded with the real world. Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant is basically Meryl Streep meets J.K. Simmons and even though Grant is more of the unbearable boss-caricature, it’s to Flockhart’s credit for making her interesting. David Harewood’s Hank Henshaw doesn’t really have much to offer in the episode, and Jeremy Jordan’s Winslow Schott Jr. was only just there to be along for the ride, so here’s hoping their roles get expanded upon in future episodes.
One of the pilot’s strong points is establishing Kara’s character and the kind of problems and dilemmas she’ll be expecting to face in the upcoming weeks. When we first see her, she’s the suffering assistant for the cynical and overbearing Cat Grant, desperately trying to earn her respect whilst trying to avoid getting fired by her. Kara’s also trying to break out of her cousin’s shadow, be her own person and find her place in the world. The show does a solid job of portraying that concept in a mostly fresh and intriguing manner, as well as making Kara a character in her own right, instead of being a female carbon copy of Superman. Even though the show doesn’t have the Man of Steel himself in the flesh physically, the episode still does a credible job of showing the impact, legacy and influence he has on Kara and the supporting cast. Also, in most superhero movies nowadays, we usually have the tortured isolated lonely hero dealing with deep internal problems and unable to share their secrets with their loved ones, so having the show apparently doing away with that overdone trope is really a fresh change of pace, and it’s rewarding to have a character that reminds you of the joy of having superpowers.
The pilot isn’t completely perfect, however, which is normally the common case with most pilots. The opening episode did tend to recycle one too many clichés and tropes from the superhero back catalogue of struggling to conceal the secret identity from the public, and the difficulties of fighting super-powered enemies at first before overcoming them in the end. Also, the pacing was horrendous as it zipped about all over the place faster than The Flash; it moves along at such hyper-speed that you are struggling to keep up. Ultimately, this episode would’ve benefited from being a two-parter as it would’ve allowed the supporting characters to make much more of an impact instead of just popping up every now and then, and it would’ve given the opening story some time to breathe and allow the audience to take it all in. Also, the villains here are so generically bland, they are unmemorable and uninteresting. Worse still, both their dialogue and performances are so campy and cheesy that it’s really hard to take them seriously as a real threat. Vartox in particular was piss-poor and as dull as ditchwater. At the end, it sets up Supergirl’s aunt Astra as the principal antagonist, but even she appears to be as generically cardboard cut-out as Vartox, so hopefully this it not the case in the next episode.
However, despite those glaring issues, the pilot episode did a mostly solid job of setting up what’s in store for the show. Melissa Benoist nails both sides of Kara and her bright optimistic personality, and frankly this series exists because of her. The supporting cast is credible and the action sequences with the combined SFX work were as exciting and as fun as they can be on a TV budget. Despite the frantic pacing and the boring baddies, Supergirl’s pilot is an enjoyable start to what is shaping up to be an exciting ride.