Editor’s note: This series of recaps of episodes for “Supergirl” occasionally will contain spoilers, especially as the season goes, and may be written to an audience that’s watching the series. Expect a full-season review once the first season concludes.
‘Supergirl’ doesn’t surprise, but its engaging star does
If you thought Superman, that paragon of American heroism, was the only super-powered child sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton, you have much to learn. Luckily for you, “Supergirl,” the latest entrant to the TV superhero pantheon, takes a few minutes to explain some of that lore to the uninitiated. And then, for the rest of us, we get planes falling out of the sky, super-villains with crazy weapons and an empowerment story that has no problem poking fun at (and basically just subverting) modern gender norms.
A quick recap: Kara Zor-El, a young teen on an about-to-explode Krypton, is sent to Earth both to survive and to protect her baby cousin, who will grow up to become the Man of Steel himself. However, in a twist, her ship is sent to the Phantom Zone, a space-time prison, where she stays in hypersleep for 24 years. When she somehow, mysteriously, finds herself on Earth, her younger cousin is fully grown and a hero to the planet. So she’s given to a human couple to raise, with a big sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), all her own. Fast forward a few years, and Kara (now known as Kara Danvers) is running around National City as an assistant to the powerful media mogul Cat Grant (a steely Calista Flockhart).
Her goal these days: to fit in, and let her more famous cousin do all the heroics.
Portraying this hero-in-waiting with a self-esteem issue is Melissa Benoist of “Glee” fame. And let’s just say it upfront: Benoist is above and beyond the highlight of “Supergirl.” Her relentless upbeat attitude is surprisingly refreshing, joining decidedly more humorous fare such as “The Flash.” You want to cheer on her coming-of-age antics because you can see yourself in them. It doesn’t hurt that she’s utterly charming, especially when she’s challenging gender stereotypes — hopefully her costume montage is the first of many jabs as the role of women in superhero roles.
So, donning a familiar pair of glasses, Kara pretends that she’s someone different than who she is. That doesn’t last long, though, as her first superhero test confronts her: to save a plane that’s suffering engine failure from falling out of the sky. For extra motivation, her sister is on the plane. With that save under her belt, Kara begins her entertaining journey from meek little girl who constantly apologizes to a woman worthy of donning that iconic red-and-blue cape.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Supergirl” takes its charge of challenging gender roles seriously, consistently prodding long-held norms of power and heroism. For instance, Kara’s boss, Cat, scathingly rebuts Kara’s indignation when she dubs Kara’s superhero alter-ego as Supergirl, saying, “I’m a girl. And your boss and powerful and rich and hot and smart. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” It’s a theme that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and that’s OK.
Along for the ride with Kara are friend/wannabe boyfriend Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and the famous Daily Planet photographer James “Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), both of whom work for CatCo Worldwide Media. Both clearly serve as foils for Kara’s journey to becoming the hero she always was meant to be, but in different ways. It wouldn’t be surprising if they become “Smallville”-style confidants capable of saving the day just as often as Supergirl herself.
Not as helpful or entertaining, however, are the first episode’s villains. Deciding to use “A Villain A Day” system, Kara’s first challenge involves an alien convict who had an ax to grind but no personality to speak of. It’s understandable that story arcs sometimes requires lesser characters to confront the hero (not every villain can be Lex Luthor or Doomsday), but they should at least be interesting. This first guy is anything but. The ending, however, gives hope that that may change here soon, introducing a serious twist right from the get-go.
In the end, the pilot episode of “Supergirl,” created by Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, doesn’t do a whole lot for the superhero genre, but it does remind us of how entertaining Benoist is. Solidly cast and replete with potential, a lot is resting on the super-powered shoulders of CBS’ newest hero. But no worries: She seems more than capable of carrying that weight.
Four “Look, I can fly!” stars out of five.