Last year, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg brought us The Flash, and immediately won me over with a show that fully captured of the joy of being a superhero, with fun characters and littered with enough DC Comics Easter Eggs to satisfy the nerd in me without being so overwhelming as to turn off a non-viewer. With the first episode of Supergirl, they appear to have done so again.
WARNING: Spoilers for the pilot episode ahead.
In a quick 60 minutes, we are introduced to Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) and given enough backstory for newcomers to know who she is in relation to her more famous cousin, while at the same time leaving plenty enough space from him for the character to be her own person. We are introduced to a good-sized supporting cast, including some familiar faces from Superman lore (both the characters and the actors playing them) and a few new characters. We meet the villains of the piece and are given a solid introduction to what will apparently be the show’s major arc, at least for the first season (a station of Phantom Zone criminals — more than just Kryptonian — came to Earth along with Kara and it’s up to her and the DEO to stop them).
It checks all of the boxes it needed to in order to have an adequate pilot episode.
So why was it so much MORE than simply adequate?
I give the credit for that to Benoist, Berlanti, and Kreisberg.
The latter have already created a televised universe of superhero shows that are wonderfully engaging both for hardcore comic book fans and casual viewers alike. Although “Supergirl” is not technically part of that universe, they’ve brought that same sensibility over to this new series. And that’s a major part of why this first episode worked for me.
But more importantly, I think, is Benoist’s performance. She plays Kara Danvers with utter sincerity. She’s a young woman who feels somewhat intimidated and overshadowed by her world-famous (male) relative, but she’s determined to make something of herself and choose her own path. The fact that she’s this world’s first female hero is of no minor consequence, either. We live in a time where both DC Comics and Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises have come under constant fire for under-representing or poorly representing their female characters in merchandise and popular media. And more than once, the show comes a little too close to looking out at the viewer and saying, “See? We CAN give you a female superhero worth watching.”
But treading the line is not crossing it, and they manage to pull back each time and return to the point of having fun with the premise, including a nice montage of Kara looking for a costume that pokes a little fun at some of the stupider conventions of female costumes, plus what I can only assume is a minor dig at The Incredibles that was totally worth it.
It wasn’t a perfect pilot episode. The final act in particular felt like it went WAY too fast — Allura’s message to Kara is too brief, Kara finds her resolve too easily, and Henshaw relents to let Kara fight Vartox without enough of an argument. If you told me there’s a 90-minute cut of this pilot that expands the ending, I would have to nod and say, “Yeah, that makes sense.” And while the Phantom Zone criminal thing is a good way to bring in a lot of different villains without having to come up with an origin story every time, they need to be very careful not to let it turn into the Freak of the Week formula that hurt the first few seasons of Smallville.
But all that said, it was a wonderful start.
And perhaps more importantly, my sister Heather watched it with her 5-year-old daughter, Maggie, who already loves superhero cartoons. If this show gives Maggie her first live-action hero to look up to, then literally none of the faults I mentioned above will matter in the slightest. This show will have more than done its job.