Supergirl Pilot (TV Show Review)

Last year DC/WB announced that Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El would finally be making her way back to live-screen this year, with the character getting an ongoing show on CBS, which is part-owned by CW, the network that airs the hit-and-successful superhero shows The Flash and Arrow with a joint spin-off Legends of Tomorrow launching later this year as well. As a huge fan of the unfairly maligned Supergirl movie with Helen Slater, this was great news for me, especially since I love the character, and because the current creative team on the Supergirl comics is also just totally rocking it right now.

Through all the casting information and plot details that were revealed about Supergirl, it came across as a decent addition to the DC/WB television DC universe, and I was certainly excited by the prospect. And then just a few days ago we had what was an awesome 6-min trailer that introduced Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers aka Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl. The trailer had some flaws, but it was promising, and I couldn’t wait to see more. Which I did last night since the pilot episode got “leaked” onto the internet everywhere, and I saw for myself just how good this show was really going to be, and that the trailer didn’t do the show enough justice.

Following on from Helen Slater’s quite iconic portrayal of Kara Zor-El in the 1984 Supergirl, the next time we saw Superman’s cousin was on Smallville, when actress Laura Vandervoort was cast in that role, and appeared in a number of episodes since. However, unlike in the movie, the first television version of Supergirl didn’t wear her distinctive outfit, with the show’s creative team opting for the colour-combos of blue and red for her outfits, same as they did with Tom Welling’s Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El. And once Smallville ended, well, that left quite a void, and it wasn’t until late last year that it was revealed that DC/WB were looking for a home for a new Supergirl show, and that CBS had picked it up.

Following the “leaked” release of the pilot episode online, and even the trailer from a few days ago, the hype for Supergirl is off-the-charts, and I’m very excited to see that the majority of the response is all positive. If you read my Trailer Thoughts article on the trailer, you’ll see that I too loved the trailer and wanted to see more of Melissa Benoist as Kara, and that while the opening 2 minutes were a bit romcom-y and too hamfisted, the rest of the trailer made up for that. And now, it is time for the pilot episode.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I saw this pilot at this point. Sure, it was “leaked” to torrent sites everywhere, but I think it is also the mark of some savvy advertising. The team perhaps noted the strong criticism of the early bits of the trailer and proceeded to set the matter straight as to what really was going on in the episode, so as to get an unofficial strong word in. That’s not something I take an issue with. I mean, as a fan, I get to partake in double fun since I get to watch the “leaked” episode now, and then again this October/November when it actually goes on air.

And I’m quite happy to report that all those scenes you see in the trailer that remind you of Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada, those scenes are just as brief in the actual pilot as well. The episode starts with giving us a very brief introduction to Kara’s background, about how she was sent by her parents to follow her baby-cousin Kal-El to Earth and keep her safe, but that her ship suffered a malfunction and ended up in the dreaded Phantom Zone, with no way out. Fast forward to some years later and when her ship eventually finds itself out of the Phantom Zone and on Earth, she reunites with Kal-El, now a man and much older than her and a hero to the world, and is placed in the care of the Danvers family, who helped him years ago with coming to terms with his own powers and heritage.

So the stage is set when we finally get to meet Melissa Benoist herself. I’ll admit that the lead-in for her is shaky. She works an average secretarial job at a so-so magazine/paper and she is always trying to blend in. At least, until she ends up saving the flight her sister Alex (the Danvers’ real daughter) is on and becomes an overnight phenomenon in National City.

I liked it. The lead-in not withstanding, the writers of this pilot went in for a quick-burn route by not focusing on the day-to-day tedium of her life and jumping straight to the action. And that’s fine. We don’t need to see all that stuff. Having seen that in multiple movies and shows is enough. Yes, Supergirl is a legacy character and she might not be familiar to all the viewers, but that’s kinda besides the point because the backstory gives us a good idea to what her shtick is and what her relationship with Superman is. We don’t need more than that.

The best thing of all is that Melissa Benoist is perfect as Kara Zor-El. Just like Grant Gustin on The Flash, Melissa does an incredible job on Supergirl by bringing a certain vivacity to her performance. She is genuinely into the role, and one of the highlights of the pilot is when she is watching the news recap of her saving the flight and she is totally fangirling about herself. There’s a certain charm to her that keeps coming out in the pilot, and if the trailer hadn’t already done the job for me, the pilot definitely cements her as the Kara Zor-El I’ve wanted to see on television since Smallville ended. Laura Vandervoort did a good job in her time, but her Kara was very different, with much more high-stakes emotional drama involved. Supergirl and Melissa are very different than that, and the show is all about the positivity of the character.

Sure, yes, there are some cliches involved that go into the typical superhero stories, what with a government agency (the DEO, Department of Extra-Normal Operations) involved, and a powered villain at large as well, so the pilot hits some expected beats. But as I always say, it is all about the journey and not the end itself. In this pilot, Melissa has to convince the viewers that she is Kara, that the character is a hero (albeit a bit dorky at times), and that she has what it takes to step out of her comfort zone and do something really… unexpected.

And in this she is helped by a fairly good cast as well. The most solid performances among the supporting cast are by Mehcad Brooks, who plays James “Jimmy” Olsen and Chyler Leigh who plays Alexandra “Alex” Danvers. Typically, Jimmy Olsen has always been this geekish, dorkish amateur photographer who worked for the Daily Planet, and was also one of the few true friends that Clark Kent had at the paper. He even was one of the few to know that Clark Kent was Superman and he helped the hero on a lot of his cases, and was often paired up with him or with Lois Lane on jobs throughout the city. But Mehcad’s version is very different. In place of the bumbling amateur we have an experienced professional who is hired on as the creative director for her publication by Cat Grant. He has an easygoing and relaxing manner to him, and I really like the switch-up. Mehcad doesn’t get a lot of screen-time in the pilot, which is fine with by, but he does get some important scenes with Kara and I think that’s more significant. We know from the trailer that he is also one of the very few people to know that Kara is Supergirl, and to watch how that revelation comes about for Kara herself is just amazing. I think Mehcad Brooks is going to have a very prominent place on the show.

On the other side we have Chyler Leigh, who has a very interesting role on the show. I won’t go into spoilers because one of the revelations about her character is a turning point in the story for the pilot, but suffice to say that she is not just Kara’s adoptive sister, she is more. She has an immediate impact on the story when she makes her appearance, her cool poise and demeanor contrasting with Kara’s (at the time) harried and frustrated attitude and what I really love is that Kara has a female role-model right next to her. Where Kara is stuck in an everyday job at a typical company, Alex is more… business-like and higher up the ladder. And she is also Kara’s confidant, someone she can be fully open and just be herself, which adds a great perspective to their relationship, something that I would very much like to see explored on the show as it develops further this coming season.

Supergirl Stills 00004As I said before, Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant really doesn’t work for me here. There’s a certain stiffness to her acting, and I’m really not convinced by the performance either. Cat Grant in the comics has worn many hats over the years and she is kind of a… sleeper character in that she appears to be a minor character, but she often ends up having some big influence on events, in one way or another. I’m really not seeing anything in Flockhart’s performance, or the writing for the character to indicate that there is going to be something… interesting here. That could change later down the line and this is only a pilot of course, but I think that Cat Grant is the weakest of them all.

The same could also be said of David Harewood’s Hank Henshaw, leader of the DEO. His was a rather typical performance and writing here, really no different from General Lane in his multiple incarnations over the years, or General Eiling (as seen on The Flash most importantly). He is the resident government special ops jerk whose job is to talk down to Supergirl and pretend to be holier than thou and all that crap. While I don’t particularly mind it, I wanted to see something much more… realistic. He is a caricature right now for everything that is wrong with government types when confronted by superheroes. The fact that the timeline of the show is in an era where Superman has already been a popular figure for a number of years kind of exacerbates the situation too, so that’s yet another angle that the writers really should leverage, so I’m holding out hope on that front too.

If there’s something I really wanted to see in the pilot, it was Dean Cain and Helen Slater. Helen Slater was Supergirl in the film and in the show she plays Sylvia Danvers, mother to Alex and Kara, while Dean Cain was Superman in the Lois & Clark show and in the show he plays Fred Danvers, father to Alex and Kara. We only get to see like 5 seconds of both of them, which is a shame since I love the actors, and would have been ecstatic to have seen more. But, as they say, the pilot can only cram in so much and it already does a good job of laying down all the basics, so perhaps it is better that some things were left to the future. I mean, just imagine it, former Superman AND Supergirl being role models for the current Supergirl. If the writers don’t do something with this angle, then I would be very disappointed indeed.

Acting aside, if there was anything else that was wrong with the pilot, it was in the itty-bitty details. If you recall from the trailer, there’s a scene where Supergirl confronts a group of armed bank robbers head-on and proves she is bulletproof. Except that her cape gets shredded but the rest of her costume doesn’t. No explanations forthcoming, though Kara’s resident tech-expert does later give her a “better” cape that won’t shred to bullet holes and the like, thus ruining her flight aerodynamics. And Kara is in the same situation as Laurel Lance was on Arrow this year, namely that she doesn’t have fight experience and can easily get taken down in a straight up close combat fight. This is something that the show really must improve on, though I understand that at this point the producers don’t have the kind of funding they need to do a better job with the action scenes. As I remarked to a friend the other day, if the Supergirl team can get the Arrow stunts team on board, that would be fantastic because those guys and girls have been doing an amazing job on Arrow for three years running now and they’d be a real boost to Supergirl as well.

That’s all I have I think. To repeat, the Supergirl pilot was way better than I expected, definitely a much better experience than the trailer let on, and a lot of the pieces are aligning really well here. Hopefully, by the time the actual release comes around, the team behind the show can deliver on the promises made by the pilot and do a better job than before!

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Posted on May 24, 2015, in Review Central, Supergirl, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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