In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, 8pm, Sky1
Supergirl has been something of a roller coaster ride. First, there was the trailer, which made pretty much everyone go “WTF?”, given how close it was to the Saturday Night Live Black Widow parody sketch. Then there was relief and excitement as the first episode revealed that the trailer had been deceptive and the show was smarter and a lot more fun than the trailer had indicated. Then we hit the downslope that were episodes two and three.
So I’m going to do something that the show itself does almost every five minutes and really shouldn’t – compare it with Superman. Or at least Smallville (and various other CW superhero shows). Despite being made by Greg Berlanti (producer of The Flash and Arrow for The CW) for CBS, a TV network that can probably spend more per programme than The CW can spend on its entire drama output, Supergirl is inept superhero fare that ignores pretty much everything Smallville and those others shows did right.
Berlanti and co probably thought they knew what they were doing from the outset, having done so well before and working with a reasonably well known property – and that’s part of the problem. Laziness. The show feels like it’s going through the motions. It’s a Smallville monster of the week show, filled with characters from the Superman universe whom we’re expected to both know about and love, despite the show putting in minimal effort.
Despite through necessity being a ‘kryptonite freak of the week’ show, Smallville worked because it obeyed some simple rules (at least at first): don’t insult your audience’s intelligence, provide characters that the audience can love, tease out the mythos but respect it, and if your budget isn’t enough to convince the audience a man (or girl) can fly, don’t try to, but instead do special effects you can afford.
With its micro-budget, Smallville was at pains to make the relationships between its characters fun, interesting and plausible, giving us very little ‘big bad’ action per week in favour of ‘how did you feel about that?’ scenes, all of which could work nicely on Supergirl, too. Instead, we have some of the most painful superhero dialogue committed to our TV screens since Nightman, coupled with special effects that would have looked bad 10 years ago and fight scenes that appear to be performed by people who have never even been to a tae-bo class. It’s embarrassing. Maybe Arrow has used up all the good stuntmen and stuntwomen, but for a show about someone with superspeed, those fights aren’t half slow.
There’s also the constant referencing of Superman, even though we’re well into the third episode. For a show that thought it necessary to bring in Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen from the Superman universe to give the show a headstart, to in the third episode still be making comparisons between Superman and Supergirl and then to bring in Lois Lane’s sister is to be lacking in confidence in yourself. Maybe that’s deliberate, with a character who’s still discovering herself, but it would help if Supergirl really had faith in its heroine and her ability to interest people in her own right, as well as in establishing its own mythos (or using Supergirl’s own comic strip characters).
To its credit, the show does have a lot going for it in its cast: Melissa Benoist is a perfect Supergirl, while Mehcad Brooks is a superior, convention-defying Jimmy Olsen. Calista Flockhart brings the right kind of humour to the role of the Devil Wears Prada-esque Cat Grant, although Tracy Scoggins’ Lois & Clark Cat Grant got better lines and was more believable back in the day. Laura Benanti in the dual role of Supergirl’s mother and evil aunt is normally brilliant, although not in this, so I’m hoping she’ll get the hang of the show in later episodes.
It’s also fun, rather than a gloomfest. True, that fun is at the expense of any kind of pretence at realism in any area, and while the show can obviously play the ‘it’s about an indestructible alien from another planet working as an intern on a newspaper’ card, it would be nice to think that, for example:
- There would be some kind of resemblance to publishing as we know it
- She wouldn’t confess her secret to pretty much anyone within earshot
- She wouldn’t get not just one but two super well-equipped secret bases
- She wouldn’t start running out of a room full of people removing her glasses and letting her hair down as soon as there was any hint at danger
There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s taking the mick.
But it is fun, at least, and although it takes constant references to Superman to show it, it does at least have a feminist conscience, which is probably enough to keep me watching. All the same, this could have been so much better than it is, as the pilot episode partially showed. I’m hoping for a reboot later down the line, or else this will be the second Supergirl who’ll get grounded too soon.
Barrometer rating: 3
TMINE prediction: Despite a record-breaking start, ratings are plummeting quickly, so this could be a one-season wonder in the making