‘Supergirl’ Bosses Explain the Major Premiere Villain Twist

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Supergirl’ recap: It’s good to be a hero.

Meet Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), she’s Supergirl and she’s here to save the world (but, she isn’t looking for someone to save her). Several things are abundantly clear in the first episode for CBS’s big swing at the comic book genre: Supergirl is not going to hide its optimism, its sense of fun or the gender of its protagonist for anyone expecting a broody, Christopher Nolan-esque, masculine take on superheroism.

With Supergirl taking flight on CBS tonight, we spoke with executive producers Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) and Ali Adler(Glee, Chuck) in separate interviews to ask some of our burning questions, particularly about the politics of making broadcast’s first female-driven costumed superhero show on a Big 4 network in decades.Melissa Benoist, star of the new superhero series, “Supergirl,” leaped in a single bound into the controversy stirred up after GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush called her “pretty hot.” Shown the cringe-worthy clip of the 62-year-old former governor of Florida, Benoist, 27, displayed a Herculean feat of diplomacy during an interview on “CBS This Morning” Monday. “I don’t know what to think about it,” she said hours before the show’s series debut on the network . “I’m glad he’s excited to watch the show.” Bush seemed very excited by the prospect of watching the “Glee” alum on her new show during a Las Vegas campaign event last Wednesday when he was asked who his favorite Marvel superhero was. “I saw that ‘Supergirl’ is on TV,” Bush told his questioner. “I saw it when I was working out this morning.SERIES: “Supergirl,” debuting Monday on CBS, is the latest series from the super-producer Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Blindspot”).Between new shows like Jessica Jones and Legends of Tomorrow, and the ever-expanding casts of Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and more, you can’t throw a rock at this year’s TV lineup without hitting a brand-new superhero.

STORY: Melissa Benoist is Kara Danvers, a put-upon executive assistant in National City who also happens to be Superman’s cousin. (Her birth name: Kara Zor-El.) She longs to embrace her inner power and when a number of threats arise, she does. When the show debuts Monday night on CBS, she will become the first female superhero to lead a show in nearly 40 years—yes, since Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman went off the air.

Glee alum Benoist is naturally excited about all the buzz her show has generated and willingly embraces the role of vanguard in a new era of female comic-book characters, but she’s also hoping that one day we’ll focus more on the “super” and less on the “girl.” “People are crazy for Kryptonians!” Benoist says of the hundreds of costumed people—men, women, and children alike—who flocked to her panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con this year. Unfortunately, Krypton’s destruction created a shockwave that knocked Kara’s ship into the Phantom Zone, a place where space is frozen and where she would remain stuck for 23 years before getting to her destination. But along with that anticipation comes added pressure, on everything from the overall Superman legacy to that rite of passage for the modern filmed superhero: debuting the costume design online.

CRITICS SAY: The series creators have “smartly fit Supergirl’s origin story to a very current feminist theme: that women must overcome being socialized to say sorry, to put themselves second, to efface themselves,” James Poniewozik wrote in The Times. “It’s a superhero story whose motto could be ‘Up, up and lean in!’” Elsewhere: Fans laud the show’s blend of impressive special effects and heart. Did Benoist think her costume was more heavily criticized than that of her male counterparts, like The Flash’s Grant Gustin or Arrow’s Stephen Amell? “It felt that way.

Wanting her to have a normal upbringing, Superman places her in the care of the Danvers (Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain and Supergirl’s Helen Slater), scientists who helped him understand his powers and who also have another daughter, Alex. “Even though I had the all same powers ‘he’ did, I decided the best thing I could do was fit in,” Kara explains in a voice-over. She reasoned that, “Earth didn’t need another hero.” (Supergirl will spend most of its series premiere fighting back against this idea and making a case that Kara’s story is just as interesting and worthwhile as that of Superman.) The pilot of CBS’ Supergirl is fast-paced, charming, fun, and incredibly self-aware.

There’s a leaked email from a Marvel executive a few years ago essentially saying, “This is why female superheroes don’t work,” and it listed three examples of ones that didn’t work over a long history of time. Because it’s a girl and because they have different bodies than men I think people were really picky about it.” The muted tones of the Colleen Atwood design are a palette match for Henry Cavill’s cinematic Superman, and there’s nothing about Benoist’s suit that plunges, clings, or hikes up. While the pilot might not be a great episode — it’s a bit clunky thanks to enormous amounts of exposition, a necessary evil — it is effective and makes me want to return next week and, hopefully, for many more weeks to come. Benoist thinks she made out much better than some female superheroes before her. “I think it’s modest in that you can believe someone could fight for their lives in that suit without having a wardrobe malfunction and something popping out. When we catch-up with Kara in the present, she’s working as an editorial assistant at the National City-based media conglomerate CatCo Worldwide Media, a job that mainly consists of fetching coffee.

And, as the show itself notes, it’s a story you’ve already heard, not just because a lot of comic book origin stories have similarities, but because Supergirl (or Kara Zor-El) has the exact same backstory as her cousin, Superman. I’m like, ‘How does she fight?’” The online debate over Benoist’s costume was anticipated by a scene in the pilot, in a montage that recalls the famous “no capes!” scene from Pixar’s The Incredibles.

OK, it’s not 100% the same, but it still involves a child being stuck in a tiny spaceship on Krypton (if they had bigger spaceships so many of their problems would have been solved) and catapulted towards Earth as Krypton explodes. When Kara Zor-El emerges with the bare torso so many costumed female fighters have had to endure in the past, her character says firmly while covering up her exposed skin, “I’m not flying around saving people in this. WHY YOU MIGHT NOT: The pilot manages to make an extraterrestrial law enforcement agency, intergalactic fugitives and exploding semis seem perfunctory and dull. I wouldn’t even wear it to the beach.” Benoist says, “The moment in the two-piece, I think that was our nod to people who might want that, and that was their one chance to see it, and we’re never doing it again.” It’s not the only meta-nod to the conversation around the show that made its way into the pilot.

Over on the opposite side of the personality spectrum we have Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), Kara’s boss who is the complete opposite of mild-mannered and is an obvious foil to Kara. Kara is sent to live with a foster family, including an older sister, and she chooses a normal life, trying to fit in with the rest of the world and not overstep.

After a meeting with Cat, Kara meets CatCo’s new art director, James “Jimmy” Olsen, who recently transferred from The Daily Planet in Metropolis, where he made a name for himself with a Pulitzer for snapping the first photo of Superman. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” It’s a little on the nose, but as Benoist points out “just the fact that Supergirl exists is feminist.” If both Supergirl and its darker Netflix counterpart, Jessica Jones, are a hit with audiences, we can expect them to pave the way for even more on-screen female superheroes beyond the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films currently in the works at Warner Bros. and Marvel Studios.

Tiny sparks start to fly between Kara and James (only Superman and his mother call him Jimmy), and we can already see that the writers are planning to create a love triangle between Kara, James, and Winn. You can take the writers out of The CW, but you can’t take The CW out the show. (ASIDE: The CW passed on Supergirl before it landed at CBS, its corporate sibling.) Tonight, Kara has a date with someone she met online, but can’t figure out what to wear on her date. I wish there were more of a pattern and more of a consistency to there being really strong female-driven stories.” And with that lack of consistency comes the major hype, and pressure, on something like Supergirl, where Kara Zor-El’s gender matters far more than it ever would for Superman. When asked if focusing so much on gender in Supergirl frustrated her, the actress replied, “You know, I hate to say that I do because I consider myself a feminist.

Clad in a blue sweater (it’s her color), Kara rushes into an alley and, after a few false starts, she is up, up and away, literally carrying a 747 to safety with her bare hands. I don’t know if it’s frustrating, but I don’t know the word for it.” As for the future of female superheroes in television, Benoist takes the long view. “Even after this show stops airing I hope that more and more strong females keep coming. After performing her first act of heroism, Kara does not retreat to brood in a cave — she eats pizza and watches herself on the news, booing a reporter for being mean and squealing when her silhouette appears onscreen. You’re a part of a larger thing, and so we already kind of feel that kind of pressure of making sure that it’s really good and that it can live within the really esteemed kind of canon of these stories.

ALI ADLER: If we had a female president, I don’t think we’d be going, “There’s our female president,” we’d just go, “There’s our president.” Maybe the first day in office we’ll talk about that, and after that, she just needs to prove her worth. In a twist on the fashion montages you’ve seen on Sex and the City and the like, Kara tests out a variety of costumes, ditching a midriff-baring option for a sleek skirt-and-cape ensemble (capes are good for aero-dynamics says Winn, and we just go with it).

It’s become a bit of a social media minefield — as Joss Whedon discovered with Black Widow in Age of Ultron — that if you make a perceived misstep with a female superhero character, you could be in for the biggest backlash of your career. She takes her new outfit out for a test drive, but is ambushed by the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO) and is knocked out using kryptonite tranquilizers. Later, she wakes up in the DEO’s underground base and meets Hank Henshaw (Homeland’s David Harewood), the agency’s head, who explains that the DEO protects Earth from extraterrestrial presence and/or invasion.

The not-so-subtly dismissive leader, Hank Henshaw, has no time for Kara, and blames her for the landing of a much more dangerous alien ship: a prison that landed at the same time as she did and unleashed the universe’s worst criminals on Earth. One of those criminals, the also not-so-subtly misogynistic Vartox, was the one who tried to crash the plane, and after learning about Kara’s existence, he calls her out to try to kill her.

So because Kara has friends, and this wider range of emotion, she has a different origin story, and grew up on Krypton, she knows two worlds, she’s just got a wider range of emotions we get to use. There’s definitely more to it: Based on his concerns about Superman’s presence on Earth, it’s clear that he also doesn’t trust Kara because she’s an alien. The next day, Kara returns to work and learns that Cat has christened her alter ego “Supergirl” in the press. “I don’t want to minimize the importance of this,” Kara says as she objects being called “girl” instead of “woman.” Becoming a voice for the producers, Cat defends the name. It’s a telling scene that reveals the show is definitely aware of how important it is for the genre as it’s one of the first female-led vehicles in the most recent wave of superhero franchises. Cat and Kara’s argument is about to end with Cat firing Kara, but James interrupts with an exclusive, clean photo of Supergirl and gives Kara all the credit for acquiring it.

She brings Kara a present in the form of a holographic message from her biological mother (the always-lovely Laura Benanti) which has just the right amount of love and inspiration to get our Supergirl back on track. Impressed, Cat tells Kara that she needs to start speaking up for herself and taking credit when she does something good or else she’ll never get anywhere. The scene at the beginning of the episode where Kara saves the plane is a stunning action sequence for sure, but this final fight is more a taste of what we’re going to get week-to-week, and it is seriously thrilling. BERLANTI: It wasn’t so much a hesitation as much as it was everyone wanting to… When we do this audition process on our end—just so you know, because I think nobody realizes this — we see a thousand people. They have these pictures in the comics of a massive wave of a blonde mane, and she’s been drawn different throughout the years, with an emphasis on her chest, or legs.

If Whereas if you’re casting Superman, everyone’s going to go like, “How much does he remind you of Christopher Reeve?” But we had an idea, just from the storytelling in the script, of who inspired us and who we wanted to write for. It’s hard enough trying to make these things what they deserve to be, let alone try to make them something different, and I knew sometimes the corporate people and executives can get nervous or scared about certain things. The version that leaked on BitTorrent was, from what I’m told, a higher resolution than anyone peripherally involved in the show actually had access to, leading some to think that it must have been deliberately leaked as a way of generating interest in the show since The Flash did so well after that pilot leaked.

BERLANTI: I get upset, and I write the studio and the network, and we talk to legal, and we talk to press and publicity about where it may have come from. And then at some point over the next couple of days, I kind of relax about it and just kind of let the chips fall where they may, because there’s nothing I can do about it.

I thought, “Oh gosh, maybe there really is a need for something like this if they’re already making a skit about it.” Clearly people are wanting to talk about why there’s not more female heroes represented. BERLANTI: What I’ll say about the network element crossover is what I always say, which is, “Never say never.” And then in terms of the connection to the feature side, we are writing a Superman who is not the same as the one that’s represented in the film. So we have nothing to do with them, because we reference him quite a bit on our show in different ways, and my sense of it doesn’t line up with that film.

Ours is a different Superman. “Stronger Together” — When Kara’s attempts to help National City don’t go according to plan, she must put aside the doubts that she — and the city’s media — has about her abilities in order to capture an escapee from the Kryptonian prison, Fort Rozz, when SUPERGIRL moves to its regular time period, Monday, Nov. 2 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

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