DC’s latest superhero TV series, Supergirl, is set to debut in November this year but has been leaked/described as leaked in a marketing ploy six months early. There has been a lot of hype for the series from the media excited for a heroic female lead, which is nice given that there hasn’t been a female superhero taking centre stage in DC since 2004’s Catwoman. The least said about that the better. Marvel have beaten DC to it with their recent series of Agent Carter but on the whole, whenever a new superhero series comes out they generally feature a male hero.
This is the first time Supergirl has graced the screen in her own production since the film of the same name from the eighties, and we could bury that in a vault never to grace the light of day again and no one would miss it.
Spoiler warning: This article contains significant plot points from the leaked pilot episode.
Now, if you’re reading this having read our coverage of other DC/Superhero/Superhero TV series you’re probably asking: “Hang on, where’s Chris?” Sorry people, you’ll have to make to do with me this time, because Supergirl is apparently going to appeal to a generation of young girls, to empower them, make them believe in themselves etc and also turn them onto to superhero comics because ultimately DC want to make money, of course. As WASDuk’s resident feminist I watched it to see if it would live up to its hype.
Speaking generally of the show, it was alright to watch. It was pretty standard for a pilot (not great) but showing potential for the rest of the series. There were, as one would expect, lots of establishing scenes telling us the plot and then retelling it just in case we’d forgotten. During the introductory( and obligatory) destruction of Krypton, Supergirl (Kara) narrates to us her purpose and why she was saved. She was to follow her baby cousin Kal to Earth, where she would watch over him and help him grow, at which point her mother tells her that they are putting her in a pod to follow her baby cousin Kal to Earth, where she will watch over him and help him grow. Just in case you’d forgotten in the millisecond between cuts. These are standard pilot problems. The heroes and villains are introduced, the setting is established and the already secretive arch-villain has made her decree that Supergirl must die, from her shadowy power base. Exactly what you would expect from the pilot of a superhero series. This isn’t a complaint, but it is standard superhero show fare. The acting is quite good and much better than that of DC’s The Flash, while the effects are very impressive for a television show. The destruction of Krypton looks great and Kara’s debut rescue of carrying a flaming plane looks very realistic without a hint of the regular jarring when CG is used to this extent.
The plot quickly covers Kara’s origin story so it can place her as a harangued assistant to cold-hearted, impatient, bitchy (but massively wealthy and therefore powerful) Cat Grant at her media headquarters in National City. Because nobody can get a job in a large office building as an assistant in a TV show without being harangued. Unlike her cousin Superman, Kara has not embraced her powers, instead choosing to commit full time to a normal human life with a normal human job. That is until Kara must rescue her sister from a potential plane crash. Elated at both the successful rescue and the thrill of using her powers, Kara becomes Supergirl, fighting crime, saving lives and also saving jobs; as the increased media coverage she generates requires Grant to maintain a full staff complement. Unfortunately her publicity draws out the episode’s villain, an escaped Kryptonian criminal with a grudge against Kara’s mother and the standard shadowy organisation (which is definitely not STAR labs) run by a grouchy man who acts as ‘the man’, continually telling Kara what she can’t do. Kara triumphs over all and the episode concludes with her embracing her powers and role as protector of National City.
Superman’s presence is quite annoying even though he has zero physical appearance after some over the shoulder-because-Henry-Cavill-is-too-expensive shots in the opening sequences, He is, however, continually referred to throughout the episode. This wouldn’t be that annoying if they referred to him as anything other than vague male pronouns. Since Man of Steel decided that ‘Superman’ was a lame superhero name and they weren’t going to use it, every conversation in Supergirl about Superman referred to him as ‘Him’ or ‘He’. Every. Single. TIME.
“What’s HE like?”
“Oh HE’s great. HE’s as good as you think HE is, you look a bit like HIM, actually. I saw HIM just before I left.”
Oh, and while I mention Man of Steel, you know that terrible line about the crest looking like an S, but ‘it’s totally not an S’? Yeah, they used that line as well. Good oh.
The plot isn’t terrible, the effects are very good and the acting is decent. However the glaring and inescapable problem with Supergirl is the obvious, over the top and horribly blatant pandering to what the writers perceive as ‘feminism’, which is completely unnecessary in a show that already has a strong female cast. The immediate female cast provide varied and rounded characters. Kara herself is young (though older than she is in the comics) and newly discovering her powers, which makes her somewhat naïve when it comes to her own limitations and inexperience. Her sister, Alex is protective of her sister but also works with an organisation that wants to suppress her, and there’s also a nice conflict as to whether she got her job because of her actual ability or because her sister is Supergirl. Finally, Cat Grant is the typical head bitch trope of the business world, barking orders, demanding a coffee that has more prefixes than a hot drink has any right to have, and generally being a stone cold, impatient C.E.O, and unapologetically so. She knows exactly what she is and revels in it because it has made her successful. Kara’s mother also makes a holographic appearance to guide her daughter (Russell Crowe Man of Steel style) and the series overall villain is Kara’s aunt who seems to run some kind of supervillain cabal. All of this would have been enough without all the annoying girl power references.
The art of subtlety is alien to Supergirl. When the head of insert-secret-organisation-here tells Kara that she isn’t strong enough to take down a super villain, it would have been enough for her to have just done it. We would be able to see that she proved him wrong by dint of her doing something that he told her she couldn’t do. But no. That’s not in your face enough for the writers. Instead they have said head honcho, who of course is an imposing and well-built male figure standing in for ‘the man’ towering over Kara shouting about how she can’t do ‘a thing’ because she’s too weak, and how she should leave it to the (undoubtedly male) professionals. Kara’s response is to whine about how she totally can do ‘a thing’ because she’s emotionally invested in the outcome. When she does ‘a thing’ her sister turns to the guy and gloats about how she sure showed him and how she obviously isn’t as weak as he thought she was. ‘The man’ refuses to acknowledge her success and instead sulkily walks away after claiming that next time she won’t be so lucky. It’s not enough for her to become a strong character in her own right, she has to prove the token misogynist wrong.
Naturally, the two male support characters are in love with her, because a lead female character has to be the love interest for absolutely everyone. Her token Jimmy Olsen is openly infatuated with her and spends a great deal of time talking about how he wants to go out with her and/or how pretty she is, while the real Jimmy Olsen is the actual love interest from the get go, complete with love interest music and slightly-too-long stares in her direction. All of the villains and criminals she subdues are men, and she is made all the more a strong female character by virtue of the men around her being so weakened. It’s a cheap manoeuvre to pull when she could have been just as strong as part of a strong cast.
Perhaps the most ham-fisted moment occurs during a conversation between Kara and Cat, where Kara rails against the name ‘Supergirl’ and actually asks, “doesn’t this make us anti-feminist?” claiming that the suffix -girl is apparently demeaning to…uh…girls? This provides Cat her own little soap-box moment where she talks about how “girls” are strong, proud, independent, successful, etc. and that she herself is a “girl”, so it is Kara who is being “anti-feminist” for not wanting to take the term back.
I can’t even.
It feels as though, while sitting around the briefing table, someone on the writing team said, “what if someone on twitter thinks the name Supergirl is offensive to girls?” after which they engage in a paranoid brainstorming to pre-emptively insert the most inorganic scene to grace television just to justify their decision to not call her ‘Superwoman’. Supergirl is so called because in the comics she is younger, a teenager, so it is their decision to cast her as older that causes this apparent ‘issue’ with the name. but it’s a non issue, and to lever it in to curtail an imaginary tide of potential comments on a possible future Facebook post is cringe-worthy at best.
I find it ironic that the worst part of the show were the obvious ‘feminist’ reactionary scenes. They’re unnecessary and detract from what was otherwise a fairly decent pilot. Kara is a likeable, enthusiastic character all on her own. The thrill that she experienced when she saved people was nice to see, as was her occasionally vulnerable side (though as a Kryptonian this side was less apparent because her freaking skin deflects bullets). It’s a series that has potential, providing they don’t make her ‘strong’ at the expense of the other characters. They don’t need to hammer home the fact that they want Kara to inspire young girls the same way Batman or Superman might inspire young boys. If she’s a strong character, girls will naturally want to emulate her, and if she isn’t a strong character and needs a supporting cast to pander to her and make her appear more ‘powerful’ then she isn’t worth emulating.