October 26, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Supergirl”


SUPERGIRL:  Monday 8PM on CBS (premiere at 8:30PM tonight) – In the Queue

SUPERGIRL is more thrilling as an experiment in network scheduling than as a TV show.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with the series itself, which comes from the Greg Berlanti factory of DC Comics adventures that’s already given us CW’s Arrow and The Flash, with Legends of Tomorrow just around the bend.  (Berlanti’s shows are usually run by a collective, and on Supergirl his partners are Andrew Kreisberg and Ali Adler.)  In tone, the new show is closer to the sunny action-fantasy of The Flash than the more angst-ridden Arrow, and all things considered, it’s fair to assume that Supergirl would have been a sure-thing success on CW.

But Supergirl is instead airing on CBS, home of increasingly creaky procedural franchises and multi-camera sitcoms.  Will a superhero adventure aimed at a youthful audience, and a female one at that, find a robust home on the network of NCIS (in all its various locations) and 2 Broke Girls, the one the target audience’s grandparents use as their default channel, while they grumble over Dan Rather’s departure?  We’ll find out in the next few weeks, but it’s certainly the most daring move conservative CBS has made in years.

The series itself  is exactly what any Flash-watcher would expect.  By necessity, it’s an origin story, loaded with exposition.  So we learn that Kara Zor-el (played as an adult by Melissa Benoist), elder cousin of Kal-El, was sent to Earth at the same time he was, with the idea of guarding her infant cousin until he was ready to exercise his powers  Unfortunately, her spacecraft took the wrong galactic off ramp and was delayed in arriving.  Thanks to the don’t-ask-too-many-questions rules of the comic universe, she didn’t age at all while she was in limbo, so by the time she showed up as a child (adopted, in a nice nod to the franchise’s past, by a couple played by Helen Slater and Dean Cain), her cousin was already the celebrated Superman.  She decided to hide her powers, and lived as meek Kara Danvers, taking a low-level job at a media empire run by bitchy Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).  Naturally, soon enough a crisis–the plunging airliner carrying her adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh)–requires her to unleash her inner superhero, and from there the sky is literally the limit, with some helpful advice provided by her company’s new ace photographer, James aka Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks).  Add a government agency run by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, from Homeland) looking over Kara’s shoulder, and Kara’s discovery that other, less friendly aliens are on Earth, and the formula is complete.

Traditional superhero fans should be quite comfortable with Supergirl, although only the youngest will be in any way surprised.  Benoist, who played one of the last remaining likable characters on Glee, is charming, and as usual DC/Warners TV haven’t stinted (by small-screen standards) on the special effects, which are handled capably by director Glen Winter.  However, without a backstory like the murder of Barry Allen’s mother, let alone Oliver Queen’s brutal history, Supergirl is the softest of the Berlanti trio.  In the short term it relies too much on Flockhart’s sitcom-like boss and Benoist’s gee-whiz affect.  At times the pilot even uncomfortably recalls the hilarious SNL Marvel parody that turned Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow into a ditzy rom-com heroine to reflect the way the superhero world treats its women.  A climactic reveal in the Supergirl pilot suggests a bigger conflict for Kara is on the way, and it’s desperately needed before the show runs the risk of becoming downright juvenile.

The real question for Supergirl is whether it can fly high enough for CBS, where the kind of ratings Gotham and The Flash routinely earn would be considered low-end.  Will a sizable number of eyeballs who don’t currently watch anything on the network tune in and stick with the series, especially after its premiere, when it loses the superpowered gift of a Big Bang Theory lead-in?  A big win for Supergirl could begin the necessary task of introducing CBS to the next generation, while failure could be kryptonite to the network’s future.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."