CBS’ ‘Supergirl’: An Average Superhero Offering with Hints of Promise

Supergirl already has a hell of a lot of preconceived notions. It’s the newest entry in the onslaught of superhero narratives/comic book adaptations on television. It focuses on a woman hero instead of the typical male that we’re so used to seeing. And it had a pretty ridiculous, cringe-inducing and somewhat reductive preview that did nothing to help its case. 

Good news first: Supergirl is much better than the previews make it seem. It’s a little smarter, it’s more modern, it’s less “rom-com” and more The Flash. Melissa Benoist is charming and fun, able to both convey the bumbling antics of Kara the assistant and the dramatic danger of Supergirl the hero. Calista Flockhart is great as Cat, the dead-serious, head bitch in charge; Mehcad Brooks as James Olson only has to flash one smile before he’s everyone’s new television crush. There are plenty of promising moments in the pilot: cheap laughs and prime shipping opportunities, cool effects and big-budget explosives, quiet introspective scenes and a daring plane rescue — all culminating in a fairly interesting twist that sets up the season’s (or series’) overall “big bad” arc. The pilot is fine.

The bad news is that the pilot is fine. It’s not amazing, it’s not memorable, and it’s not groundbreaking. For a person like Supergirl, you want something immediately gripping. Supergirl is strictly average. The pilot quickly sets up some exposition (Kara crashing to earth to protect her cousin only to find out he’s doing just fine, her decision to not use her powers and instead be a normal person, and her current job as an assistant to Cat) and introduces the characters that will be in Supergirl’s circle of trust: photographer and friend-of-Superman James Olson, adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh), and lovesick coworker Winn (Jeremy Jordan) who manages to be both frustratingly undeveloped and overwhelmingly obnoxious.

Framegrab: © 2014 WBEI. All rights reserved.
Framegrab: © 2014 WBEI. All rights reserved.

There are the requisite bumbling antics, the fetching of coffee, the swooning over James (I would hate this giggling/stuttering girl-with-a-crush trope but, well, I assume I would be the same way in Brooks’ presence), and the job frustration. But that quickly gives way to the actual heroics: Alex’s plane is about to crash and Kara can’t help but fly — for the first time in forever — and use her super strength to save everyone on board. It’s here where the episode picks up the pace and momentum, and where it displays the potential that the series has.

One of the best aspects of The Flash, also from Greg Berlanti, is how much fun Barry has as The Flash. Berlanti uses that idea here, too, to a certain extent. In one of the best scenes in the whole episode, Kara is positively overjoyed and enthusiastic after saving the plane — you can see the exhilaration, the sudden realization of what she was sent to earth to do. Kara excitedly talks about how good it feels to fly again. She shows off her powers to Winn, who helps her choose an outfit (with a proper cape that can withstand all the damage) and sends her off on most life-saving challenges, each one filling Kara with more confidence and more determination. You can’t have a hero without a villain, though, and the pilot gives us both a disposable bad-of-the-week and an overall bigger problem that Kara will have to face throughout the season.

The problem, however, is that even when Supergirl gets good, it still doesn’t make a case for itself. It’s not enough to be a pretty good comic adaptation when you’re surrounded by stellar adaptations, and Supergirl fails to stand out. The potential is certainly there — I can see the  show getting really watchable around midseason, or maybe seriously finding its footing in Season 2 — but as of right now, it’s too average to make a dent in the ever-expanding world of superhero stories.