2 November 2015

Supergirl S1E1 "Pilot" review

Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Young Justice, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series, Arrow, The Flash. DC have consistently proven that they are far more capable at creating a great TV show then they have so far at showing that they can make a great movie; at least, one that doesn't star Batman. Their TV shows can capture what makes a character iconic and fully represent the best parts of a comic book experience.

Their recent live action shows have shown a steady improvement embracing the fantastical elements of these universes: growing from the dark realistic Batman-like world of the first series of Arrow to the light-hearted dimension hopping and always entertaining world of The Flash. Riding the wave of the critical and commercial success of these shows we now have the latest live action show, Supergirl, developed by a team including two of the main producers who worked on both The Flash and Arrow (Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg) that shows confidence and sets a very promising precedent in its first episode.



Supergirl follows the story of the titular hero, also known as Kara (played by Melissa Benoist) cousin of the biggest hero of all, Superman. As you may expect, Kara’s story closely follows and shares similarities with his origin. Raised on Krypton she has to flee when the planet is doomed to explode. While she is sent off planet at the same time as Superman, due to an unforeseen shock wave she ends up stuck in the phantom zone for 20 years and appears on earth after Superman has grown into the recognisable hero. She grows into a person who has all the same powers as him but less experience on earth and more knowledge of her alien heritage.

The first episode assumes that the audience will already be familiar with these ideas as the story of Superman, his origin and the planet Krypton are all quickly established and shown within the first five minutes of the show. Within this first episode Supergirl’s costume, superhero identity and powers are established and ready to develop. It took Smallville 10 seasons to get that far. Learning this lesson from The Flash, it doesn’t waste any time trying to play it safe with the idea of superheroes and superpowers diving in head first into the action. This results in an episode that gives more time to focus on Kara and establish her personality and relationships as well as leaving enough time for some classic hero action. Due to the amount of story and characters it tries to fit in it feels very rushed at times and keeps a fast pace throughout the episode. The constant speed sometimes lessens the impact of big plot points but I'm sure that the show will start to move a more gradual speed as it progresses and finds its groove.

Kara herself comes across as likeable, charismatic and optimistic. It’s refreshing to see a character to actually enjoy their powers rather than worry or brood. A re-imagined Jimmy Olsen stands out as a strong supporting character and gives the show another link to Superman. Unfortunately, on the whole, the side characters so far have been pretty weak relying on clich├ęs and stereotypes to move the plot along, from the grumpy boss to the worried ‘you shouldn't reveal yourself’ family member. Admittedly, this is understandable for a pilot episode that wants to set up its world and focus on the protagonist.

After the initial trailer for the season was released, some people were concerned that the show would go in a direction that would appeal to a more traditional female audience with a focus on her relationships and position at work. I'm pleased to say that while these are present, these moments are far less intrusive than that initial trailer would suggest. It definitely hits all the tropes yet due to the pacing and fun tone, these Ugly Betty moments are well integrated into the episode and don’t detract from the overall experience. It’s an admittedly unique take for a superhero show and one obviously aimed towards a specific audience.

The DC Extended Universe (the DC version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for those not in the know) is currently stuck in a world of grey, so it’s great to see this show embrace so much colour. Everything from the location to Supergirl's costume is bright and colourful. Her costume in particular looks fantastic and looks straight out of a comic book. It’s probably my favourite costume to come out of a superhero TV show yet. And yet it’s not only the costume, but her superpowers that look great too. X-ray vision, heat vision, flight, super strength and super hearing are all shown and all work. 

Speaking of super strength, the action shown so far looks very promising. Don’t expect Man of Steel levels of carnage but we do get shown a good amount of people being punched through buildings. It’s fast, packs a punch and looks pretty good even for today's standards. What’s surprising is that in one episode they've show Kara display more acts of super-heroism than in the last couple of Superman movies. Speaking of, the character is mentioned a lot in this episode but is never clearly seen, appearing as a silhouette or as a blur in a photograph. This is probably an indication that the character will be used more to set things up in the beginning but not be as central a focus as the season progresses.

There was a lot riding on this pilot, to carve its own identity and to prove to people that Supergirl isn't just a superman show with a girl on the poster and in that regard this should be classed as a success. Kara is likeable, the action is fast and any small problems can be easily overlooked due to its strengths. It shows some growing pains but overall it's a confident start with a good handle on its character and world, that displays strong action and, most importantly, fun.

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