[Review] SUPERGIRL S1 E01 – “Pilot”

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CBS’s Supergirl finally joins the smattering of superhero related TV shows this fall, but is it any good?  CBS has been hyping this show for what seems like an eternity and it finally took flight last night.  So let’s get a brief overview before hopping into the GOOD, BAD and the Meh…

First we are shown a very short origin of Kara Zor-El’s (Melissa Benoist) escape from the doomed planet Krypton minutes before it explodes.  It is explained by Kara’s mother Alura that she is being sent to Earth protect her younger cousin Kal-El (do I really need to explain who this is?).  Her capsule gets trapped in the Phantom Zone for a period of time before finally escaping and landing on Earth years after Kal has reached our planet.  When Kara finally arrives she hasn’t aged a day and Kal has already become ‘The Man of Steel’.

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The Man of Steel’s shadow looms large over this series. Literally and figuratively.

She is taken by Superman to live with foster parents, Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers, played by Dean Cain and MY original Supergirl, Helen Slater and their daughter Alex (Chyler Leigh). Kara explains via voice over that she was brought there by Kal to receive the same type of wholesome upbringing he had upon his arrival.  Kara, now using the surname “Danvers”, grows into a 24 year old young adult living and working in National City as an under appreciated gofer at a multimedia conglomerate run by Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockheart who is doing her best to channel Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.   And this is where our story and review begin.

The GOOD.

  • Melissa plays a great Supergirl with just the right amount of pluckiness, charisma, optimism and she looks damn good in the costume.

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    THE costume.

  • The sets, lighting and camera work in the “talky” parts are top notch and you can tell most of the production is spent here. (We’ll get to the special effects in a bit)
  • I love that Helen Slater in as Kara’s adoptive mother in this series. I had a poster of her on my bedroom wall in the Supergirl costume back in 1984, so admittedly I’m a little biased.
  • The episode was rather light and airy as there didn’t seem to be a heavy cloud of dread hanging over the show. Benoist has a lot to do with this; her happy-go-lucky, always smiling character interpretation definitely sets the tone of the show. Something I hope they keep up without getting overly chintzy during the life of the show.

The BAD.

  • The writing is… well… Ugh. It’s bad.  No really. It’s not good at all.  It’s not quite CW level bad but it’s pretty damn close.  The show whizzes through the opening backstory, which is ok because her backstory is so similar to Superman’s that we don’t really need to trudge through that again, but her transition from Kara Danvers to a full on cape wearing, plane saving, faster than a speeding bullet(proof) crime fighter is so swift it’s blow past you in a red and blue blur.  In the span of 30 minutes she goes from, “Not having flown in years!” to battling an escaped Kryptonian convict with no combat training whatsoever.  It makes the development period (i.e. the time in-between action scenes) purely perfunctory and unsatisfying.

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    The Department of Extra-Normal Operations

  • Still in the writing department, the show introduces two separate love interests in the first half hour. Jimmy, excuse me, James Olsen (yes that very same Olsen fellow from Metropolis; who apparently has personal relationship with Big Blue himself) played by Mehcad Brooks and Winslow “Winn” Schott, Jr., played by Jeremy Jordan.  Kara spends her onscreen time with Olsen making googly eyes at him and fumbling over her words, while Winn spends his onscreen time with Kara outfitting her in her new duds and telling her how pretty she looks without her glasses on.  Barf.

The MEH.

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Supergirl uses her heat vision for the first time.

  • The special effects range from excellent (for a TV show) to just plain bad. In the promo trailers, we see a scene when Kara is saving a plane from crashing, stopping a semi by letting it crash into her, heat vision and general shots of her flying around the city… Well, that’s the triple A stuff right there folks.  The cuts in-between, getting punched through a wall, a high speed flying jump kick and some of the battle with the Kryptonian criminal are not handled so deftly.  There are quick cuts, (very) obvious camera tricks and some animation errors (missing frames of digital Supergirl as she gets knocked through walls) that can ruin the illusion if you’re a nerd like me and look for such things.

Final Thoughts

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Any crash you can walk away from…

So far the GOOD outweighs the BAD and the MEH.  I tried to not spoil the main elements of the show like how and why the Kryptonian criminal is on Earth, who he is working for and their motivation is because I do believe the show is worth a watch and we will cover more of that as the season goes on and in subsequent reviews.

For a show that is and was so heavily marketed, it got off to a pretty shaky start.  However, in the spirit of fairness, a lot of great shows have gotten off to a shaky start and a lot of shows have gotten off to a strong start only to fizzle out in less than three seasons.

If DC and WB want this show to succeed and have a long and glorious life span, they are going to seriously need to tone up their writing and sharpen the animation during the more frenetic action sequences.  If they do that Supergirl will certainly be a long term success.

Hope you like the review, leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the pilot episode and join me next week when I review Supergirl Episode 2 – “Stronger Together”.

Don’t forget to check out my other Supergirl related posts right here!