What to expect from “Supergirl” on CBS

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Putting ‘girl power’ in ‘Supergirl’.

Bright, bouncy and very, very Comic-Con, “Supergirl” seems at first glance a huge departure for CBS, which generally prefers the tensely roiling tones of police and law procedural. “Hawaii Five-O” is about as bright and bouncy as a CBS drama gets.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.That’s pretty much everything you need to know about “Supergirl,” a standard-issue comic-book story with a brilliant piece of casting at its center.Kara (Melissa Benoist) is originally from the planet Krypton, and she is burdened and blessed with the same superpowers as her cousin, Kal-El, also known as Superman.

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). — On Friday in Tuned In I wrote about CBS’s “Supergirl” (8:30 tonight, KDKA-TV), which begins with a strong pilot episode that introduces an optimistic title character and plays up “girl power” bonafides as it addresses the fact that’s she’s Supergirl (Melissa Benoist, above) and not Superwoman in a speech by Kara’s boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). “Sometimes there’ a temptation there by executives to alter things that I think is part of the DNA of what was so great about the comic book,” Berlanti said in a teleconference with reporters last week. “We wanted to be protective of the name of the show and have a conversation with out characters that we believe the audience would be having as well. But she has chosen to hide her formidable light — being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound — under a bushel and pass as human. It’s the first cinematic narrative, on flat screen and in theaters, to revolve around a female super-hero since “Wonder Woman.” Which debuted in 1975.

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. Kara Danvers is a shy, bumbling romantic-comedy lead, while Supergirl is brave and full of resolve; Benoist makes them seem like natural parts of one whole person, a rare feat in the superhero-acting business. She’s an adult woman, why isn’t this called ‘Superwoman’?” “One of the things I love about this show is it’s a real celebration of girl power,” Flockhart said at an August press conference. “ And I was really attracted to this show because I think it’s a great show for moms and daughters to watch together. She’s a timid 24-year-old who, like many women in the world of TV superheroes, and in the world of human beings, too, have excluded themselves from typically male power roles. “After all,” Kara says, “Earth doesn’t need another hero.” And so “Supergirl,” which premieres on Monday at 8:30 p.m., sets its path as not just a show about a female superhero, but a show that knows it’s about a female superhero.

At one point in the first episode, Kara, who finally decides to use her powers to fight evildoers in National City and not languish in her cousin’s shadow, stresses over the fact that she has been dubbed by the media “Supergirl” rather than “Superwoman.” At another point, a waitress expresses her excitement about the appearance of Supergirl: “Can you believe it?” she says. “A female hero. With shows like “The Good Wife,” “Madam Secretary,” “CSI: Cyber” and even, bless its heart, “Code Black,” CBS has been quietly cultivating an army of super-females (albeit still in an exclusively Caucasian palette).

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. 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. She’s like, ‘I’m a girl and I’m awesome, and I’m not going to apologize for that,’ and I love that about the character.” Executive producer Ali Adler said the relationship between Kara and Cat will be a key component in the story as will a friendship that develops between Kara and Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum). “As long as Kara and Supergirl are enjoying themselves and finding the joy in geing a hero, the joy in using her powers finally after so long, everything stems from that,” she said earlier this week. “I just always keep in mind her bravery and hope and positivity and strength and I think that will be hard for girls to not look up to that.” Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.” The show, from busy TV producer Greg Berlanti, who is also responsible for “Arrow” and “The Flash,” is filled with such bits of self-awareness, most of it conveyed light-heartedly, cleverly, and charmingly.

Taken that way, “Supergirl” is a natural fit, not just for a new generation of millennial feminists and their younger siblings (many of whom attend Comic-Con) but for CBS — let Tea Leoni’s Bess McCord save lives through diplomacy and Patricia Arquette’s Avery Ryan through super-hacking. 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.

Calista Flockhart does offer a bit of sharp comic relief as Cat Grant, Kara’s boss, but everything else is forgettable: rote supervillains, the obligatory secret government agency and a set of superpowers for Kara that conveniently are just enough to solve every problem. “How to Dance in Ohio,” 9 p.m. In Kara’s earthbound life, she is the much put-upon assistant of Cat Grant, a media mogul played by Calista Flockhart with more than a dollop of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s cold and stiff as she tosses insults and demands at Kara. “Cancel sushi with my mother,” she orders, “and cancel my therapist.

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.

Even those suffering from mild-to-severe super-hero fatigue will be instantly charmed by Benoist’s initially uncertain Kara Zor-El and the slick and witty world Greg Berlanti has created for her. 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).

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? A&E The trend of live stunts takes a turn toward the gimmicky with this special, which feels like an awful lot like a live edition of “Fear Factor.” Three people agree to be sealed in coffins and buried underground, with cameras monitoring their reactions. Depending on your provider, you may be able to catch this genuinely live at 5 p.m.; otherwise it will be taped for the West Coast, but presumably not edited. Kara also has a few breezy co-worker friends who help her survive the boss abuse, one of whom is a photographer named, ahem, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks).

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. What could undermine the show’s likability is too much emphasis on the crime plots, as Kara goes up against a population of alien criminals who’ve come to our planet to take over.

Those special-effects battles, and some of the mythology involving Kara’s past and her parents, need to stay peripheral for “Supergirl” to continue to fly so effortlessly. Kara’s ship, you see, was derailed from its Earth-bound course by a shock wave from her exploding planet, which landed her in an area of the galaxy called the Phantom Zone, where time doesn’t pass.

Unwittingly mirroring her famous cousin, Kara doesn’t just disguise her superpowers, she hides her beauty and intelligence — messy bun, unflattering clothes, bumbling manner, bad glasses. 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. Amnesia having already been claimed by “Blindspot,” Kara’s extreme self-effacement may have seemed necessary to explain why Supergirl isn’t already flying about saving the world, but it’s an irritating distraction in the pilot. 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.

This insecurity seems intended to make Kara even more adorable (impossible!) but also to serve as a metaphor for any woman who chooses to limit herself through self-doubt and fear. 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.

As the hour rolls out, a bevy of intergalactic bad guys appears — no mundane human crimes for Supergirl! — and soon Kara’s only dilemma is cape or no cape. (Edna Mode of “The Incredibles,” we miss you so.) What with the whole “Overcome Your Fears” storyline, the pilot of “Supergirl” can be forgiven for producing a fairly lame first villain, though one hopes it will not happen again. 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. Villains make or break a super-hero tale, and we have come to expect conflicts that are fraught, clever and between equals; an evil general lurking in the shadows seems promising. Meanwhile, it is easy to delight in Benoist’s infectious enthusiasm and the show’s A-list accouterment: Flockhart’s hilarious performance, the new version of Jimmy Olsen (played by Mehcad Brooks and going by James), the obligatory but still enjoyable evolution of the costume and the possibility that Supergirl was actually sent to Earth to save newspapers (“What the Tribune needs is a hero,” Cat tells Kara, when Kara asks why the Tribune has to fold when the Daily Planet is going strong, causing at least one critic to weep in agreement).

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.

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