Supergirl: where a Y chromosome is basically kryptonite

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Supergirl is no Kryptonian rom com, but it’s full of goofy charm.

How many superhero shows are on TV these days? Last spring, SNL aired a spoof of Avengers: Age of Ultron that roundly mocked how Marvel — and, by extension, much of Hollywood — might approach stories about female superheroes.When Supergirl finally takes flight Monday night, its heroine Kara Zor-El will have already endured months of derision for everything from GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s boneheaded “she’s pretty hot” comment to her show’s early resemblance to a girly girl-parodying SNL skit. Well, there’s The Flash and Arrow over at the CW, Gotham on Fox, Heroes: Reborn on NBC, Marvel’s Agents of Shield on ABC, and Daredevil, Jessica Jones and three other shows in the works on Netflix, so the short answer to your question is: a lot. The sight of a Kryptonian bustling through crowded streets carrying coffee for her Miranda Priestly-lite boss, apologizing frantically to grumpy Earthlings for bumping into them, was a sign of clichéd inferiority, we were told. (Though, it’s worth noting, no one leveled this claim at Barry Allen in CW’s The Flash, who is introduced as an adult onscreen in almost the exact same way.) But Supergirl, to its infinite credit, never shies away from its charming, bubbly protagonist’s hyper-femininity, even in a culture that still, somehow, perceives girlish women as intellectually inferior and frequently condescends to and underestimates them.

So it didn’t help at all when the first trailer for CBS’s Supergirl seemed to indicate that the show would make all the same limiting assumptions about what audiences wanted from the property. In fact, the show makes a spectacle out of directly answering accusations of anti-feminism, in everything from its choice of villain to Kara’s costume to a pointed meta exchange between Kara (Melissa Benoist) and her boss, high-powered media magnate Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). “I don’t want to minimize the importance of this,” Kara says after learning that Cat has branded her alter ego Supergirl. “A female superhero! Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman? … If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?” Cat, sporting stilettos, a form-fitting dress and a killer blowout, answers, “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl?’ I’m a girl.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (8 p.m., CW) – Despite a childhood fear of hosting parties and a lack of social connections in West Covina, Rebecca plans a housewarming party. Supergirl, which premieres tonight, opens by intentionally checking off each of those “chick-flick” beats in the first 10 minutes — and then proceeds to turn the tropes upside-down. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having (10 p.m., UNC-TV) – Phil travels to Barcelona, where he has a world-class breakfast of foie-gras and eggs, participates in a tapas crawl and visits a vermouth bar.

Our pop culture universe is dominated by two phenomena: superhero movies and TV shows, and female singers belting out bubblegum feminist self-esteem anthems. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” The dialogue is almost painfully on the nose, but then again, it needs to be. Putting a woman in a cape on TV for the first time in 13 years is an inherently political act—even long after news of yet another supermale-driven movie or TV show has become old hat. Going a step further and asserting that said woman-in-a-cape can fly in bright, sunny skies with a smile on her face (a superhero actually enjoying her gifts?!), wear cute skirts to work, and go on dates—all while wielding enough power to shoot heat rays from her eyes and stop a speeding big rig with a single punch?

Kara (played by Melissa Benoist) is no longer content to be thought of as “his cousin”. (Superman is only ever referred to as “him” or “my cousin”; the sole glimpse we get of him are a pair of red boots shooting into the sky). Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El, the older cousin of Superman who, in a more modern take on the character, was originally tasked with watching over him moments before Krypton’s destruction. Executive produced by Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash), Andrew Kreisberg, and Ali Adler, picks up with 13-year-old Kara the moment she blasts off the planet Krypton to look after her baby cousin Kal-El on Earth.

He gives her a foster home with a California couple (played by former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain) who have a daughter about the same age named Alex (Chyler Leigh). But after Krypton explodes, her spacecraft is sent careening into the Phantom Zone, where she’s kept in suspended animation for 24 years — just enough time for Kal-El to emerge as the Man of Steel. Her mother, a scientist named Alura (Laura Benanti), bids her a tearful goodbye and perishes, but her memory looms large over the rest of the episode. When she finally makes it to Earth, stripped of her original purpose, Kara sets out to do what any normal, Midwestern girl from space would do: try to make it in the big city as a personal assistant.

She spends 24 years there before being miraculously dislodged and sent back on her way to Earth—along with a floating space prison full of the galaxy’s deadliest criminals. Here, in the tradition of other Greg Berlanti superhero shows like Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl tries to have fun with its characters, and above all is invested in making you feel the wonder and amazement they feel when they see a woman fly. Back on Earth, we’re introduced to Kara’s adoptive family, the Danvers, her co-worker/confidante Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), and the new, impossibly handsome Jimmy Olsen—er, sorry, James Olson (Mehcad Brooks), Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and Metropolis-to-National City transplant. Also the non-powered crush objects, both Jimmy and co-worker Winn (Jeremy Jordan), have little agency in the story, a role usually reserved for sidelined female characters. Then there is the whole sister dynamic between Kara and Alex, who just happens to work for the DEO, the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, which is sort of like the CIA for alien stuff.

We watch her choose a costume with the help of Winn who, naturally, has a hopeless crush on Kara. (In one of the episode’s most pointed and funny moments, Kara tries coming out to Winn as a superbeing, only to have him interrupt her and scream, “Oh my god, you’re a lesbian! There’s plenty for those who loathe liberties being taken with their favourite made-up characters to bemoan, principally cool, black, hunky reporter James “Don’t call me Jimmy” Olsen. Where’s my cape?”) in favor of long sleeves and a miniskirt—a more sensible ensemble representative of Kara’s personality and Supergirl’s history. But this show is silly, so much so that it’s hard not to roll your eyes or groan at the action onscreen. (Some slipshod CG here and there doesn’t help either.) Whether or not that’s a strength or a weakness, however, is something that will be decided by fans.

Kara’s boss Cat demonstrates that there is a lot of power in the label “girl” so if anyone has a problem with it, maybe that’s their own issue. For instance, during a montage of Kara developing her costume, the scene shifts to her walking through a hail of bullets to the tune of Carl Carlton’s “She’s a Bad Mama Jama.” It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and my eyes rolled right out of my head, but I couldn’t help but be swayed by the moment’s hyper-earnest charm. Not every show can sell its campy side so deftly, but Benoist and her supporting cast, all so full of determined smiles and a willingness to chew a little scenery, make it work throughout. The pilot suffers from a number of other flaws—CBS ominously provided critics with only the pilot—involving sometimes-clunky dialogue, cheesy special effects (Kara’s heat vision so strongly resembles the possessed schoolboys in “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that I had to laugh), and an irritating reliance on Kara’s lack of self-confidence to raise the dramatic stakes.

Still, The Flash—the Berlantiverse show most similar to Supergirl in its hopeful, optimistic tone—managed to recover from like flaws and is now the most purely enjoyable supershow on TV. And, 40 years after Lynda Carter first took up the mantle of Wonder Woman—and one month before Marvel premieres its own first superheroine-led title, Jessica Jones—broadcast TV has been graced by the image of a 24-year-old woman, striding forward confidently as bullets bounce off her chest. Unlike Gotham, which is taking a bit of a different approach with the “Batman as a kid” angle, most of these shows are stuck in very familiar formats. There’s a villain each week and an overarching threat for the season (which is revealed at the end of the pilot and could make for some great conflict). Most other shows are about a dark brooding hero who is so tortured he has to help others (Arrow) or a do-gooder just learning about his powers (The Flash).

It’s about a young woman trying to figure out her purpose in the world and wanting to do the best, not only for herself, but also for all the people she could be helping. There must be something involving the image rights to the character at play, because they don’t even utter his name and we only see him as a baby and in silhouette.

I’m afraid those who watch all those other shows might reach a little bit of fatigue with the genre and I would say skip this one unless you are really a diehard fan.

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