First Look: CBS’ Supergirl Flies – If Not Soars!

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Shortly after the Supergirl pilot was leaked, CBS uploaded its new shows for fall onto the network’s press website where I took a guilt-free look (as a guy who grew up with comics and remembers picking up Supergirl’s first ever comics appearance off of one of those ‘Hey, Kids! Comics!’ racks that used to be in grocery stores across the continent, the temptation to seek out the leaked pilot was almost unbearable).

Is it great? No, not quite. But it is very good.

The pilot opens up with Kara Zor-El being sent to Earth to watch over her newly born cousin, but stuff (involving the Phantom Zone) happens and, by the time she arrives, he’s grown and already protecting truth, justice and the American way. He asks Fred and Sylvia Danvers (Kyle MacLachlan and Helen Slater) to take her in (offscreen, obviously – we just see him dropping her off at their home) – where she becomes fast friends with their daughter, Alex (Jordan Mazarati).

Cut to now and the 24-year old Kara Danvers is personal assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Callista Flockhart) – in whose office she meets a newly arrived James Olsen (Mechad Brooks). She has a best friend from work (Smash’s Jeremy Jordan), her sister (now played by Chyler Leigh) has a job that entails a ton of travel, and there’s a clandestine government agency to police dangerous extraterrestrials (headed by Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Dorian Harewood). Also, we meet our first supervillain (The Mentalist’s Owain Yeoman).

The first thing you might ask is ‘how is this a CBS show?’ The clandestine government agency sorta-kinda fills the CBS procedural requirement, but that connection is a bit tenuous. Mostly, it’s a CBS show because it’s on CBS.

There are two aspects to the show as set out by the pilot: Kara’s personal life and Supergirl’s adventures. Here is where the only real problem arises.

The personal life of Kara Danvers is delivered with a much lighter tone (think the Richard Donner Superman, maybe not quite as light), while Supergirl’s adventures are closer to the Man of Steel (though not quite as dark). The problem is the transition from one aspect of the show to the other (and back). It’s not quite as seamless as it should be – but this is the pilot/premiere, so that will no doubt improve.

What makes the pilot work is that Melissa Benoist (Glee, Whiplash, Danny Collins) is perfectly cast. She has the range to pull off both sides of the show. Kara Danvers is as Clark Kent-ish as a secret identity can get without actually being Clark Kent, and she nails it – the insecurity, the doubt, the determination. When she shifts into Supergirl mode, she maintains those traits (she is just learning how to be a superhero, after all), but brings a joy at being, finally, unfettered. Her early flying sequences recall Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker exploring his new powers – there’s that same sort of sense of wonder.

The rest of the cast of regulars is superb, too. Flockhart is a total badass as Cat Grant – a mean girl who grew into power and sees no insult in being called a girl (revels in it, actually). Brooks’ Olsen is a confident, compassionate man who has grown past the ‘Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen’ thing. Jordan is the geek in all of us, and Harewood is a guy with a mindset that can be worked with if you earn it.

When Supergirl premieres in November, it will be up against ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, NBC’s The Voice, Fox’s Gotham and The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. For me, at least, that’s no real competition – I don’t do reality TV as a general rule; Gotham started out well but got really tired by the end of its first season, and while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has tons of potential (and might be a perfect pairing with Jane the Virgin), it will have be absolutely brilliant to pull my attention away from Supergirl.

Based on a single screening of the pilot, Supergirl is closer to The Flash (also a Greg Berlanti production), quality-wise, than, say, Mutant X.