October 26, 2015

Supergirl: "Pilot"

CBS's new DC Comics adaptation Supergirl aired tonight and all I can say is WOW. I was more impressed with the show than I expected I would be, and my expectations were high. What made this show so great? Classic comic elements, positivity, and subtle relevance.

Source: cbs.com
Probably assuming that most viewers would have a basic knowledge of Superman mythology, the writers kept the exposition at the start of the show brief. (Even briefer was the Dean Cain cameo. It doesn't matter though - even a voiceless five seconds warmed my 90's L&C fangirl heart.) Before the show jumped too deep into the comic book archives, we got to see Kara as she has been pre-this pilot episode - a normal young woman looking to find her way in the professional world. In other words, the writers found a way to make her relatable before she started beating up evil aliens escaped from the Phantom Zone. (And speaking of villains, I was hoping that the General they spoke of would be Zod, but I'll take "Astra" if it means we get to see more of the incredible Laura Benanti.) It seems Supergirl won't shy away from mixing DC canon with new creativity. There you have it - a little mythology, relatable heroes, and a prison full of villains. Add to that better CGI and special effects than I've seen on TV in a while, and you've got yourself a superhero show.

Melissa Benoist, the somewhat unknown star of the show, got the majority of the screen time, but Kara was surrounded by as many friends as foes, including a supportive sister. A little love triangle between our hero, James Olsen, and IT guy Winn may be forming, but if the pilot is any indication, romantic love won't be the center of the show. Instead, the center of the show will be well, Supergirl! A hero whose debut filled her with a radiating joy. I was thrilled to see that Supergirl is a hopeful, positive show with a hopeful, positive leading lady. Someone who seeks to do right, and be true to herself, but also be the person the world needs her to be. Does that sound cheesy? I don't care. This is a feel good show. And that's what TV's audience needs it to be.

While this Supergirl might also be "The Feminist Superhero TV Needs," the show didn't hit us over the head to make a statement. Rather, it let a host of characters make all kinds of points. From the diner waitress who simply said she was glad her daughter would have a female hero to look up to, to Cat Grant's unexpectedly legitimate defense of the word "girl," Supergirl isn't out there to make a statement, but to tell a story. If that story makes a statement along the way, great! But I'm guessing it will be a nuanced, honest statement about what it means to be real and strong, and a woman. Similarly, the show didn't hit us over the head with its modern relevance. The cultural touchstones that made the show stick to our day and age - downsizing of print media, online dating, the ubiquity of smart phone cameras - were subtle, and natural enough to set the story and its characters in what seemed like a real (albeit science fictional) world. Supergirl, who wikipedia tells me first appeared in comics in 1958, is placed neatly and believably in 2015.

The marketing for the show ramped up as the "most anticipated premiere of the season" approached. A "Who's Your Supergirl?" campaign invited potential viewers to shout out to the women in their lives with a personalized image to share on social media. CBS crafted a sweet and inspirational video of mothers and daughters previewing the show. Benoist has been doing the rounds on morning shows, and appeared tonight on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  The show was even strategically aired - immediately following the ever popular Big Bang Theory, whose Tuesdays at 8 PM slot Supergirl will now take over. And the odd 8:30 start time and the omission of the new comedy Life in Pieces were surely meant to keep the TBBT audience from channel flipping and failing to return by 9 PM. In some clever cross-channel marketing, an ad for The Flash on CBS's sister network The CW aired before the final Supergirl credits. In short, Supergirl is a show CBS is banking on to be a hit in their new fall lineup. Tonight's premiere tells me this is a show worthy of their investment - and yours.

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