Joining the already crowded superhero landscape is CBS’ SUPERGIRL, premiering this week. In it, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist, Glee), cousin of the more famous Kal-El, comes of age and is ready to take on the bad guys to save the city. To do so, she has a bit of a different approach than Superman (oops, didn’t mean to say the name), and a supportive group around her.
SUPERGIRL dances around the Superman lore, but not as much as past efforts like Smallville have. Viewers will get to see and hear plenty about him; the name just isn’t uttered much, usually spoken about as a mythical ‘him.’
Doing this sets Supergirl apart from Superman. Superman is an alien who is aloof, apart from the human race. Supergirl is someone who is in the fight alongside everyone else. While Superman cares inherently, Supergirl cares because of her adopted sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh, Grey’s Anatomy), and her friend, Winn (Jeremy Jordan, Smash), and others. She’s a part of the population of the Earth far more than he i, and takes what she does very personally.
Right off the bat, it’s clear Supergirl won’t be working alone like Superman does. No less than three people know her secret in the pilot, not including Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, Homeland) and his organization. She does have a secret identity; her boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart, Brothers & Sisters) doesn’t know she has the caped crusader working for her. Yet, it’s not as closely guarded a secret, and it changes the tenure of SUPERGIRL from most Superman incarnations.
Also different, Kara gets in over her head early on. While Superman eases into fighting the baddies, Kara immediately has to fight prison escapees from the Phantom Zone. This isn’t the plot of a single episode, but rather a set up for the series. There are dozens of alien convicts on the Earth and they are focused on her, for good reason, as we’ll find out. So Kara needs these others to be around her.
For fans of Superman who never really got into Supergirl, this program provides plenty of connection to that more established world. As mentioned, Cat Grant, a figure in Clark Kent’s life, is present, as is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks, Necessary Roughness), albeit a bit older than you might remember him. The production also pays homage to past actors of the franchise, much as The Flash does, by casting Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and Helen Slater (1984’s Supergirl) as Kara’s adoptive parents. Not to mention, the messages of Alura Zor-El (Laura Benanti, Go On) will bring to mind similar communications from Jor-El to Superman.
As society progresses, feminism has taken root. As such, some may argue it’s not right to call Kara Super’girl’ instead of Superwoman. The character of Supergirl has a long history, though, and it’s too late to change it now. Thankfully, SUPERGIRL addresses this disparity head-on in episode one, and I’m satisfied with the explanation. I think most viewers will be, too.
Because SUPERGIRL is on CBS, it’s likely to be largely a procedural. I assume most weeks will find her dealing with a single antagonist, whom she defeats by the ending credits. But there is a lot more personal drama going on than in most shows on the network, a la The Good Wife. Should SUPERGIRL follow The Good Wife’s pattern, concentrating more on the characters than the cases, it’ll do well.
SUPERGIRL is a solid entry on the television landscape. It is enjoyable, with a great cast and interesting premise. It will take more than one episode to see if it deserves to hang with its successful DC brethren, Gotham, Arrow, and The Flash, but I’d say it’s off to a pretty good start.
SUPERGIRL premieres Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.