Human-shaped basket of kittens Melissa Benoist took her show Supergirl from the far-off and scary lands of network television, where it never quite found its footing, to The CW, home of angsty, pretty, twenty-something people with superpowers and extravagant problems. And right out of the gate, it’s obvious that the teamup of show and network is a good fit. Everything suddenly feels a bit more “right” for a show called Supergirl. We think it was when they did the super-powered version of the “trying on clothes before a date” montage that Tom turned to Lorenzo and said, “Our girl is home.” Only The CW – and Benoist herself – could make such a silly and cliched scene work. The CBS house style didn’t seem like a good fit for that kind of light heartedness.
Our interest in the first season of Supergirl fizzled out about halfway through and to be honest, we’re not even sure we could articulate why, except that feeling that it was on the wrong network. No one loves a girl-hero more than us and as we noted, Benoist is more or less flawless in a role that calls for sweetness over muscle-flexing and posturing. Show runner Greg Berlanti has had great success translating superhero characters to television, with Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow all minor to semi-major successes for The CW. The question of whether CBS was a good fit for a formula that worked extremely well at The CW, which has a much younger demographic, was practically built into the show’s DNA at the start. There was plenty about the first season that charmed us – not just Benoist as Supergirl/Kara, but Calista Flockhart as mentor/Miranda Priestley stand-in Cat Grant, Chyler Leigh, who manages to keep a lot of the silliness of the show emotionally grounded as Kara’s sister Alex and Jeremy Jordan as permanently friend-zoned Winn. But there was too much of a feeling that we were watching a semi-typical (except for the super-powered girl in the cheerleader costume) CBS procedural drama with a bit of workplace and light romantic undertones. Every episode, when the show was forced to deal with pure comic-booky melodrama and villainy, it tended to feel tacked-on and perfunctory.
Contrast that sense with the scenes of Supergirl and brand new special guest star Superman, doing their heroic bit and saving that space shuttle whatchamathingy in last night’s episode. Pure, joyous, old school superheroics. This is what the show always lacked – and what the other CW superhero shows tended to have in spades from the beginning: a sense of old school heroism and adventure, coupled with a bit of angsty young adult soap opera antics. That’s what a Supergirl show should be, not a criminal investigation procedural or a workplace drama, but the adventures of a young, female superhero and the classic story of how she tries to juggle that with her attempts to make a life for herself. Benoist was always up to the job, but with this opening episode, it now feels like the rest of the show is too.
Tyler Hoechlin is a delight as Superman, returning the character to its charming, Boy Scout-esque, Christopher Reeve roots, after so many years of the public suffering through Henry Cavill’s mopey, self-absorbed version of the character. Even better, his presence in the story hasn’t done a thing to take away from the obvious fact that Supergirl is the star and lead character. Even their superheroing scenes together had a refreshingly equitable feel to it, with neither character treating the other like the one in charge. She’s not his sidekick, as the show makes clear over and over again, but the cousin who changed his diapers back on their home planet. It’s a smart take and does nothing to dampen the show’s clear attempts to position its story toward a female audience and keep it focused on a female character’s point of view.
There’s some shuffling of chairs as certain characters and story elements experience the kind of rapid shifts that can only come when a show overhauls itself for a new season. Winn works for the DEO, which only makes sense, although it might tend to render him indistinguishable from The Flash’s Cisco Ramone. Kara breaks things off with James before they even get a chance to start, and while it was abrupt, we can’t say we’re sorry about it. He’s dull. Cat seems to have made some life-changing decision, which will no doubt be a reflection of Calista Flockhart’s refusal to follow the show full time into its Canada-based production. Superman says he’s going to stick around for a while, which seems like a fun idea but could get old quickly. A lot of that will depend on Hoechlin, who has great chemistry with Benoist so far. In fact, he appears to be taking a lot of his cues from her. And the DEO gets a brighter, shinier headquarters, which were probably cheaper for the show somehow, but has the added benefit of taking it away from the “NCIS” look of last season.
We can’t predict a perfect season or even that the energy of this past episode will continue forward to the next one, but for now at least, we’re happy to see that the character is living in the right house and seems to have some good ideas about how to decorate it, so to speak.
For more discussion on your favorite shows, check out our TV & Film forum.