The Girl of Steel Gets It Right in the First Season

by J.C. Macek III

29 August 2016

Supergirl manages to balance a large (and growing) ensemble cast with aplomb, but any show with this many costumed characters can come off as a bit silly.
 
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Supergirl: The Complete First Season

Director: Various
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Jeremy Jordan, David Harewood, Chyler Leigh, Calista Flockhart, Peter Facinelli, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Laura Benanti, Italia Ricci, Grant Gustin, Dean Cain, Helen Slater, Chris Vance, Glenn Morshower

(Warner Home Video)
US DVD: 9 Aug 2016
UK DVD: 25 Jul 2016

It’s a remarkable time for superhero and comic book-based television shows and movies and while DC Comics and parent company Warner Bros. have faltered of late in their big screen offerings, their television properties have formulated quite a remarkable universe that manages to be both true to its source material and its own story as well.

The “Arrowverse” began, of course, with Arrow in 2012 and expanded with The Flash in 2014, the web series Vixen in 2015 and the super team-up Legends of Tomorrow also in 2015. When network giant CBS first introduced its new Supergirl show in 2015 the implication was that this was a standalone program that wasn’t part of The CW’s Arrowverse. But then again, this is based on DC Comics where “Infinite Earths” coexist, so it was hardly a surprise that The Flash himself literally crossed over into Supergirl’s universe.

That’s the key to this show: Supergirl is most definitely DC Comics. I was skeptical at first, it’s true, but the cast and crew (particularly the writers) want little more than to make this show a good representation of its source material and an entertaining program to boot. Oh, sure, purists (and I am that) will find a few things to nitpick (Supergirl uses the name “Kara” both in her secret and public life, for example), but most of the changes are done for the element of surprise, for which this show is excellent.

Melissa Benoist stars as Kara Zor-El, who was sent from Krypton to protect her younger cousin Kal-El (AKA Superman), but she’s delayed in the Phantom Zone on her way to Earth. Arriving after decades of stasis, Kara finds that her baby cousin has already matured to adulthood and is serving the planet as Superman. Adopted by the Danvers family, the now grown Kara Danvers has spent her life hiding her abilities until her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) faces death in a plane crash.

There are a few drawbacks here and there. The conceit that Kara’s craft brought a Kryptonian prison out of The Phantom Zone with her leads to something of a “Monster of the Week” approach to conflict. However, Supergirl seems to be aware of the history of such shows and focuses more on the evolution of its learning main character and the ensemble cast that surrounds her. In deference to past shows of this kind, Supergirl continues the tradition of bringing back familiar actors in new roles. Dean Cain (who wore the blue tights in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman appears as Jeremiah Danvers, Kara’s adoptive dad while Kara’s adoptive mom is played by Helen Slater (from the 1984 film Supergirl). Laura Vandervoort, who brought us the Kara Zor-El character in Smallville, shows up in Supergirl as Brainiac 8 (aka Indigo).

When a show with this much history attempts to bring us established comic characters as diverse as Maxwell Lord, The Martian Manhunter, Hank Henshaw, Reactron, Livewire, Red Tornado, Non, Toyman, Bizarro, Lucy Lane, Maxima, Master Jailer, Silver Banshee, Cat Grant, Jimmy Olsen, Superman (such that we actually see him) and Supergirl herself, there’s the risk of becoming overloaded in the casting department as well as, let’s face it, being a bit cheesy. While the crew of Supergirl manages to balance a large (and growing) ensemble cast with aplomb, any show with this many costumed characters can occasionally come off as a bit silly.

That said, the show neither shies away from costumed characters (as the aforementioned Smallville did), nor does it rely on them. This is a character and actor driven show with the writing to back it up and even when the occasionally less than stellar moments take place (some CGI fails and the overall painted Power Ranger look of the Red Tornado stand out) the engrossing story arcs keep the viewer coming back and surprised.

There are a number of huge questions that come with a show like this. Why do we never see Superman? How is it that so few people realize Kara is Supergirl? Why are so many obvious elements lost on the occasionally oblivious characters? If X character has X powers, why didn’t they just perform X feat and make the episode ten minutes long? Surprisingly, the show manages to answer all of these with varying degrees of success. The point, however, is that they are aware of these potential flaws and instead of burying them and hoping we don’t notice, they embrace them and make them story elements.

Standout characters include David Harewood’s Hank Henshaw who provides some of the more fascinating surprises of the season (different from his character’s arc in the comics), as well as Mehcad Brooks’ James “Don’t Call Me Jimmy” Olsen and Chyler Lee’s Alex Danvers. The guest stars like Glenn Morshower as well as Cain and Slater make for exciting stories.

Lucky for the show and its viewers, the title character as played by Melissa Benoist truly makes the show (and role) her own. While Kara Danvers can be meek and easily pushed around, Supergirl gets stronger and more skilled every episode and simultaneously builds confidence. She’s also angry and frustrated and often prone to excesses as she learns. Benoist doesn’t merely play her role as two sides of the same coin, but as a multi-faceted, fully realized character without whom the show would not be nearly what it is. While Supergirl (the show and the character) does have its dark side, unlike the DC Extended Universe films, they have not forgotten that it is okay to be bright sometimes.

Warner Home Video’s 2016 Blu Ray release of Supergirl looks amazing on the home theater screen and includes documentaries about The Martian Manhunter and Krypton as well as deleted scenes, a gag reel and the 2015 Comic-Con panel that helped launch the show.

It was a rather surprise move to see leading network CBS pick up the show and I applaud the chance. The second season (and hopefully beyond) will air on the Warner/ CBS co-owned network The CW with a slate of other DC based shows. Some cast and location changes are immanent with the production’s move to Vancouver, but like the show’s namesake, Supergirl survives.

Supergirl: The Complete First Season

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