Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Supergirl: First Flight

I can’t remember where I read it first, but I’ve seen a similar sentiment from several authors who have written for Wonder Woman and they all say that it’s difficult to write her, because there are so few female characters of her stature, thus she has to be all things to all women, thus she’s really boring because she can’t have any meaningful flaws.

Having seen the leaked first episode of Supergirl, I fear they may be falling into the same trap. It seems like the only flaws Supergirl has are flaws only a protagonist can have.

I had a lengthy exchange with a friend about the trailer, and the conversation evolved into a discussion of first episode after we had each seen it.

My thoughts:

We open with Supergirl expositioning at us in voiceover. She’s thirteen, and her mom is telling her to be brave, because she’s going to have to watch out for Cousin Kal when they land on Earth, because he’s just a baby.

With a spitcurl!

Her escape pod is knocked off course when Krypton explodes, and she spends the next twenty-four years in suspended animation in the Phantom Zone. Exposition, exposition, exposition.

I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, that’s a big chunk of backstory to dump on us all at once, and it’s hard to make it interesting. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of Grant Morrison’s one-page four- panel Doomed Planet/Desperate Scientists/Last Hope/Kindly Couple summary of Superman’s origins. Origin stories are seldom interesting, which is why the second movies in series are most often the best. It lets us hit the ground running.

She lands on Earth, where Cousin Kal is all grown up. She refers to him as the Most Powerful Man in the Universe, but I thought that was someone else.

My friend and I also discussed the merits of including Superman in the show. I think they were damned if they do and damed if they don’t. Don’t include him and he’s conspicuous in his absence, include him and the show becomes about him.

I think that this is probably the best way to go about it, acknowledge his existence, but treat him as a force rather than a character, at least until Kara gets established. He’s only seen in silhouette, and we never hear him speak. I imagine that if we did, he would sound like the adults in Peanuts.


He takes her to live with Helen Slater (80s Supergirl) and Dean Cain (Lois and Clark Superman) and their biological daughter. I like how he holds hands with her on the walk there. It's a little thing, but it probably means the world to a scared little girl.

They raise her and she grows up tall and she grows up right with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights, and we cut to grown-up Supergirl with glasses, who works as a put upon assistant to media mogul Cat Grant, as played by Calista Flockhart.

It’s a small thing, but I bothers me a little bit more every time I think about it. Cat Grant complains that someone took her private elevator, and now it smells of cheap cologne, but I would assume that it would require some kind of keycard for operation. If anyone can use your private elevator, then it’s not much of a private elevator, is it? I mean, that’s what the word means.

I think they’re setting up Cat as curmudgeon with a heart of gold, the distaff Perry White. If that’s what they’re attempting, I don’t think they’ve quite pulled it off, as she seems capricious in a way that White never did. She tells Kara to handwrite termination letters for a bunch of her employees, but to use the cheap paper, but to get some proofs from the new art director before she starts.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, I’m still on the fence about this new Jimmy Olsen. He’s charming, tall, handsome and confident, which are not traits for which the character is known. Maybe he’s the Bizarro World Jimmy Olsen? I think they made the changes because I think they couldn't have Olsen as both the lovable younger brother and the liaison to Superman, so they made him a little more badass, and slotted Kara's costume designing friend in the role that would be normally occupied by Jimmy.I do like Kara’s interaction with him. I hate the word “adorkable”, but it seems to fit here. She’s a bit like a Felicity Smoak with superpowers.

Kara meets with her sister Alex, and talks about how she’s not living up to her potential and then leaves to meet her blind date. He’s goofy looking and a magnificent tool, and he ditches her as soon as he can in order to hit on the waitress. That’s okay, because Kara sees that her sister’s plane is crashing, so she takes to the skies to save it.

The friend with whom I discussed this initially felt that this was a blatant rip off of Superman’s coming out, but as Superman has been rebooted and reinterpreted so many times, that anything they did was bound to duplicate one of his origins. We eventually independently came to more or less the same conclusion about the scene, giving it a pass, because it's a good visual, and it's something that more or less requires the use of superpowers to accomplish.

Kara saves the plane, and I like it so much when she comes out of the water.

Benoist does a great job selling the hope that comes with being Supergirl. I also enjoy her reactions when she sees the news report on TV.

Her sister shows up at the apartment and makes her promise to never do it again. Kara promptly does it again, revealing her identity to her dorky coworker whose name escapes me.

Meanwhile, an alien is gouging the countertop at a diner with his fingertips. He demands a refill, and his waitress apologizes, because she was so caught up with the news report of a female hero. I’ll return to this point later, but A.) “Female hero” is a very awkward phrase, and B.) the series tends to tell us how great Supergirl instead of showing us.

She works with cyber-nebbish to assemble a costume for her, going through several iterations at first, including the 80s hot pants and headband version.

We get a bit of a montage until they settle on the final version, which I happen to really like.

I recall something of a kerfluffle a while back, with some fans becoming upset because a writer established that Supergirl wears bike shorts under her skirt, for the rather obvious reason that she doesn’t want everyone on the ground looking at her underpants. I’m sure that this Supergirl wears bike shorts. It just makes sense.

When she goes to put out a fire, she’s ambushed by DEO agents. Dick move, people! I don’t think they set the fire as bait, so are we to conclude that they did the calculus and figured that it was worth letting a couple people burn to death in order to give Supergirl a scowling at and talking to?

She wakes up in custody, shackled to a table by kryptonite handcuffs. Her sister comes in and unlocks them, and Hank Henshaw, director of the Department of Extranormal Operations explains that a Kryptonian prison was pulled along with her ship to earth, and there are a bunch of alien convicts out there. They’ve been laying low, but in recent years they’ve become increasingly bold, to the point where some of them stop what they’re doing in order to mug for the camera.

Supergirl is pretty mad at her sister, and rightly so. Either Alex ratted her out to the DEO, or she had knowledge of the operation and did nothing to warn her. I get mad when my mom uploads unflattering pictures of me to Facebook. Supergirl storms off.

Back at the Daily Planet CatCo, Kara bursts in at her boss and yells at her for naming this hero “Supergirl”, an my criticisms from the earlier post still stand (Girl is not a phrase a third party should use to label an adult woman), though Cat’s explanation is slightly expanded and slightly more convincing than the one given in the trailer. Cat is in the process of firing her when Jimmy intervenes. I kind of think she deserves to get fired, because that is an awful lot of sass to direct at an extremely prickly boss.

Kara is talking to Jimmy, when she hears a high frequency broadcast. If you enjoyed Gene Hackman doing this trick forty years ago, you’ll love it when a bald alien lumberjack does the exact same thing. Gaw! If this is intended as an homage, it’s a really sloppy one.

She departs to fight him, pulling open her short-sleeved shirt to reveal the long-sleeved Supergirl costume beneath it. They fight, and she’s losing when an attack chopper pulls up out of nowhere and starts firing missiles. What is this, Prototype?

Strike Package Alert! Strike Package Alert!

A masked figure rappels down a rope from the helicopter and removes her helmet, showing herself to be Alex. The two sisters reconcile.

Back at the DEOs underground base, Henshaw mansplains to Supergirl how terrible she is at superheroing. There is some merit to that argument, but as she says, she’s new at this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the first time she had thrown a punch in anger.

Back at her apartment, Kara is ready to give up when Alex shows up at her door, with a plan and an alien artifact. Kara notes that the writing on it is “Kryptonese”. I would have gone with the more traditional “Kryptonian”, but whatever. Kara activates it and gets a brief pep talk (in English) from her space mom, and then she’s off to beat up the lumberjack.

She land in the path of his big rig and takes the impact without flinching. They fight, with the DEO watching through their monitors. Henshaw declares that she can’t beat him, and Alex’s response is just short of a sneer. “Why? Because she’s a girl?”

Ugh. No. Never say that again.

Listen, CBS, I know you leaked this episode so you could get some feedback before the premiere, so here goes.

The problem with the girl power aspect is that it doesn’t flow organically, and further, Henshaw’s concerns seem to be justified, and he should have replied "Because she's doing the exact same things she was doing in the first fight, which she lost so decisively that she had to be bailed out."

Alex had analyzed the axe, and now I'm not sure if she's a field agent, a metallurgist or a biologist, but hey, whatever's clever. Supergirl wins the fight by overloading his axe with her heat vision. It blows up and he commits suicide by stabbing himself with a shard, though not before issuing an ominous but predictable threat.

At the end Jimmy meets Kara on the roof and gives her Superman's baby blanket, and while I am ambivalent about Sexy Jimmy, I do have to admit that the pair has quite a bit of chemistry together. As I mentioned in the review of the trailer, I like that Superman inspired Kara to follow in his footsteps without pushing her to do so.

After that, we get a coda with a woman talking to the guy who was giving the space lumberjack his orders. It looks like Laura Benanti is playing two roles? That's corny, but kind of cool at the same time. You really can't go wrong with an evil twin.

Final thoughts: I really like what they're attempting, but the execution needs a little work. I think the show would be ten times better if they would just have a little faith in the viewer. Show us how great Supergirl is, don't tell us. If the show were a tiny bit more understated, I think it would be a vast improvement.

Also, this needs to happen:

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