“Can you believe it? A female hero!” That exclamation, uttered by a diner waitress in the pilot episode of CBS’ “Supergirl,” serves as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that, while costumed crimestoppers have proliferated on the big and small screens, the bulk of them have been men, and not one of the women has yet been trusted to carry her own project. A standalone movie featuring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was scrapped, DC’s “Wonder Woman” is scheduled for 2017, and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” pushed all the way to 2019. But Greg Berlanti, who has built a miniature universe on the CW with “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and the upcoming “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” has brought Superman’s distaff cousin to TV, and not a moment too soon.
The “Supergirl” trailer shown at upfronts in the spring — produced, it’s important to note, for advertisers, not comic-book fans — was a disaster, presenting Melissa Benoist’s Kara as a dizzy, lovestruck dame, and coming perilously close to “Saturday Night Light’s” parodic version of a chick flick-ized “Black Widow” movie. But Comic-Con reaction to the full pilot was enthusiastic, and that’s been repeated in the first round of reviews, although a few critics are reserving final judgement until they see more than a single episode. Not surprisingly, given “The Flash’s” record-setting run on the CW, “Supergirl” hews close to that show’s template, with a charismatic “Glee” alum taking on a modestly klutzy civilian identity to hide her superpowers. The difference, of course, is that Kara’s had hers from birth, and she’s got a substantial shadow to step out of — the one that belongs to her cousin, Kal-El, whom “Supergirl” avoids explicitly naming. Given that Superman has several dates with a cineplex in the near future, there’s little chance we’ll be seeing him pay a visit to CBS any time soon, but the device stops just short of being too cutesy here.
Where “Supergirl” most resembles “The Flash” is in its conviction that being a superhero is, among other things, fun: With great power comes great responsibility, but it’s also pretty darn cool. One of Berlanti’s keywords for “The Flash” is “joy,” not a term you’re likely to hear invoked as The Avengers fight to save the universe one more time or Batman mopes in yet another dark alley. There’s a good deal of light comedy in the pilot, much of it involving Kara’s interactions with her imperious publisher boss Calista Flockhart, who’s very much channeling Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” It’s she who insists on the “-girl,” giving some kind of muddled post-feminist rationale that goes by quickly enough to assure us we’ll never have to hear it again.
“Supergirl” has its rough spots, as every pilot does. Perhaps the most worrying is its last-act proposal for the series’ overarching plotline, which promises an endless supply of hot-and-cold running supervillains but not much in the way of emotional stakes. But Berlanti and co. so nail the tone they want that there seems to be a better-than-even chance that the kinks will work themselves out soon enough. It’s certainly worth watching to find out.
Reviews of “Supergirl”
Brian Lowry, Variety
Good casting (including Mehcad Brooks as Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen — now hunky, African-American and going by the grown-up moniker James) and Benoist’s deft handling of her dual role create hope for the show going forward. So does the manner in which the producers and Warner Bros. have generally sustained the level of special effects and action on “The Flash.” Once again, there are also nice homages to the past, such as Dean Cain and Helen Slater as Kara’s adoptive parents.
That said, this is still a considerable gamble for all concerned, and an enthusiastic response from comic geeks alone won’t be enough to propel “Supergirl” into the sort of orbit CBS will need — even in an age of diminished expectations — to justify this dice roll. (In a shrewd move, the network is leveraging its most popular geeks, “The Big Bang Theory,” to help its fellow Warner Bros. Television offering achieve liftoff.)
Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter
A lot of the skepticism about “Supergirl” has stemmed from the awful promotional reel that CBS threw together for upfronts in May, a teaser that accentuated Kara as an exaggerated bumbler and utilized song choices that suggested a conventional rom-com approach to the material. To the second point, it needs to be emphasized that all of those soundtrack choices were for marketing purposes and not for the show itself. This is not She’s All That and a Cape, nor How To Lose a Guy and Fly in 10 Days, though I won’t deny a certain amount of brightly lit corniness. To the first point, it’s notable that Kara is play-acting at being mundane, she’s hiding her light under a bushel of bulky sweaters and nerd-trendy glasses and stuttering uncertainty because she’s been under the impression that this is the best way for her to live life without attracting attention. Here’s a little secret for you: Kara Zor-El, like her cousin, doesn’t need glasses. She sees wicked well already. But, like her cousin, she imagines glasses as the easiest path to being overlooked, which is probably symbolic in some really obvious way. This isn’t the story of a nerd who suddenly discovers she has power, but rather the story of a woman with powers who realizes that denying your excellence is the best way to deny yourself happiness. And guess what? That’s a lesson that applies equally to extraterrestrials with x-ray vision, girls who are timid about raising their hands in math class and boys who want to try out for choir. Yes, “Supergirl” is feminist, but it’s also rather universally exceptionalist, if you fear the “f”-word.
Cliff Wheatley, IGN
The most appealing aspect of “Supergirl’s” pilot is the palpable sense of excitement and fun that Benoist brings to the role. She plays Kara as a woman that knows she has a greater destiny and is only just learning to overcome her obstacles and naysayers to embrace it with a smile on her face. From her first heroic act to her last, Benoist imbues “Supergirl” with an addictive sense of humor without losing her inspirational and powerful agency.
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post
A credible entry in TV’s superhero sweepstakes. There are some bumps in the road as the show lays out its premise, but “Supergirl” has a number of things going for it: Melissa Benoist is convincing and charming in the lead role; the supporting cast, which features the likes of Calista Flockhart, Chyler Leigh, Mehcad Brooks and David Harewood, is very good; and the leaders of the writing team behind it — among them Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler and Andrew Kreisberg — have earned my trust via solid, generally enjoyable shows like “The Flash,” “Arrow” and “Chuck.” Though I need to see more before trusting that CBS will do right by this kind of property, “Supergirl” is the new broadcast network program with the most potential, in my book.
Dave Trumbore, Collider
“Supergirl” aims to be about more than just girl power. It’s going for “girl empowerment,” to the point that a full scene is dedicated to the merits and drawbacks to ascribing the name “Supergirl” to the new hero of National City. Kara at first finds it offensive and demeaning, but Cat spins her own interpretation of the word, giving it additional power. “Supergirl” can certainly hang with the boys of “Arrow” and “The Flash” and should the occasion arise, could provide a powerful ally in a potential network crossover.
Angie Han, Slash Film
At the end of it all, “Supergirl” feels less like a pilot episode and more like a Wikipedia summary for one. It’s all tell, and no show. In fairness, a lot of great shows begin with shaky pilots, which bear the burden of establishing an entire universe. And there are some promising elements here. If “Supergirl” ever slows down long enough to let them interact naturally, we might eventually have a winner on our hands. For now, though, it mostly just proves that super-speed is a power better left to superheroes.
Mike Cecchini, Den of Geek!
In general (and bear in mind, it pains me to write this, as you’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves a good Superman story as much as I do), the general public seems to have lost their taste for the kind of earnest, “truth and justice” storytelling that goes into telling tales involving Kryptonians. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see that there is no “deconstruction” of the mythos on display in “Supergirl,” and I found its earnestness (like that of “The Flash”) endearing. Unlike “Smallville,” for example, “Supergirl” makes sure Kara is in full costume early and often, and there’s no soul searching about the meaning of heroism or her place in the world, which is noticeably different not only from the most recent small screen version of the Superman legend, but the current big screen incarnation, as well. Superman fans tired of seeing their hero dragged through the existential mud will find much to love about how Kara behaves here, and how the world of the show views her more famous cousin. Audiences less inclined towards heroes in red capes might feel differently, though.