Supergirl Premiere Plot Summary:
Sent to protect her younger cousin Kal-el during the destruction of Krypton, Kara Zor-el’s (Melissa Benoist) arrival on Earth is delayed when her ship gets caught in the Phantom Zone. With her cousin now older than her and world-famous as Superman, Kara questions if she’s wasting her time as media mogul Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) assistant. When her adopted human sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is caught on a malfunctioning plane, Kara flies to the rescue and soon everyone is talking about the hero the National City Tribune calls “Supergirl.”
There’s no shortage of superheroes on television. The CW has Arrow and The Flash, Fox has Gotham and ABC is stuck with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now, CBS has Supergirl, the only female-led superhero show on television (Agent Carter‘s titular hero has no powers outside of being fabulous). The promotional materials and the show itself make sure the audience is well aware of that fact. And while Kara–with her sunny disposition and view of superhero-ing as a privilege rather than a burden–certainly feels distinctly different from her screen rivals, she’s not as unique as she seems at first.
Though Superman never speaks and only appears in silhouette or as an iconic blur of red and blue in the sky, his presence is felt throughout the episode. Intrepid photographer Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) insists Kara isn’t beholden to her cousin’s legacy, but the only reason he’s in National City in the first place is because his good friend Superman sent him to look after her. And not only is Kara a mild-mannered, glasses-wearing media company employee like Clark Kent, she repeats Superman’s first public act of heroism and saves a plane. Though that’s not to say the sequence isn’t spectacular. In fact, it’s the episode’s most thrilling. However, it’s just one event in a packed hour of television and not everything else works as well.
Benoist–who viewers might remember as Marley on Glee–is wonderful. She plays Kara with such boundless optimism and excitement, it’s impossible not to at least like the character. Her relationship with her sister Alex is also one of the show’s biggest strengths. Sisters are often portrayed as closer to adversaries than family onscreen and the support between them is really refreshing. Still, Alex does feel slightly extraneous even if the episode sets up a separate, somewhat bizarre, storyline for her. Where the show really runs into trouble is with its other supporting characters.
Brooks is handsome and charming, but there’s something about the difference between Jimmy’s and Kara’s (social) power dynamics that makes a potential romance between them less appealing than Kara herself might think. Even more difficult to contextualize is Jeremy Jordan’s Winn Schott. The character, with his obvious crush on Kara and nice-guy persona feels very similar to the way Olsen is typically portrayed. The biggest problem, however, is Cat Grant.
The character is very clearly modeled on Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada, but she’s neither as clever–or frankly–as well-acted. The show does itself no favors by recreating a subpar version of that character’s famous “cerulean” monologue. Bristling at the nickname bestowed upon her by her condescending boss, Kara demands to know why the moniker ends with “girl” instead of “woman.” Cat argues that Kara’s discomfort with the word “girl” (and by extension, any viewer’s problem with Kara’s goofy, girlish energy) says a lot more about her than it does about the name itself. The essence of the point is a good one. The problem is that it’s delivered with so little subtlety—as are many of the show’s larger points.
I probably sound like I like Supergirl a lot less than I actually do. Like its protagonist, the show is fun and bright. You want to come back every week to watch Kara succeed. But the show also has issues. The pilot sets up a lot of potential storylines (including a last minute reveal that feels somewhat soapy instead of intriguing), so it has lots of room to grow and nurture the things that work. Hopefully it does.