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, I have to say that the pilot for Supergirl (Monday, 8:30/7:30C then weekly at 8/9C)) was something I was definitely looking forward to seeing.
Is it great? No, not quite. But it is very, very good.
The pilot opens up with Kara Zor-El (Malina Weissman) 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 (Dean Cain 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 Hank Henshaw (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Dorian Harewood). Also, we meet our first supervillain, Vartox (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.
Kara’s first effort at being a hero comes when a plane carrying her sister loses two engines and she has to remember how to fly to get to it – and then has to really work to save it (property damage does ensue – and a tabloid news anchor ignores how she saved a plane full of people to blame her for that damage).
London is delightful as her best friend from work – a straight guy who’s into fashion (and superhero costume) design – a guy she feels she can trust with her secret. Brooks is a genial and very together, grown up Olsen, who is broadening his horizons by coming to National City.
The Kara/Alex relationship feels genuinely sisterly and Chyler Leigh is solid as the older Danvers sibling. Flockhart is, essentially, what Ally McBeal might have been if she’d been a mean girl – and provides completely brilliant reasoning for dubbing National City’s new hero Supergirl.
Yeoman, unfortunately, has a very limited range to play with as Vartox – a sort of intergalactic chauvinist pig of a bad guy – but sells it as well as possible in the brief time he’s given.
It’s hard to extrapolate what a series might be like from a single episode that had a big budget and the time required to get it just right, but based on the premiere, Supergirl is closer to The Flash, quality-wise, than, say, Mutant X.
Final Grade: A-