Supergirl Review; ‘Pilot’
This show is dangerous. Dangerously cheesy.
I’m going to mostly forego summarizing the plot, because honestly the biggest problem with this thing is that there’s just too much in it. The gist is that Kara El was sent to Earth from the planet Krypton to protect her cousin Kal. For reasons of wobbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, she arrives 24 years late. Unknowingly, she’s dragged a ship full of space criminals along with her who are naturally now threatening her hometown of National City. Yes, it’s seriously called that. She takes the mantle of Supergirl to defend the Earth, and from that very basic skeleton sprawls a mess the likes of which I honestly didn’t think I’d see in today’s media landscape.
I might be being a tad harsh, but honestly this was a 40-odd minute compendium of nothing but flaw after flaw to me. I only even give it a 3/10 because there’s a sense of earnestness to it and at the very least there’s nothing in it that makes me angry.
To start off, this episode is paced almost bizarrely quick. I know that setting up all the major elements of the story is kind of a requirement for a pilot, but it feels like at least 3 episodes worth of content was shoved into one. My little plot synopsis didn’t even go into Kara deciding to become a superhero, her relationship with her sister, her news job and her coworkers there, the DEO (an anti-alien organization that really should’ve been held off more than any other element), Vartox the space criminal, etc. these things wouldn’t be impossible to weave into a television-length story, but the way it’s handled doesn’t do a single one of those elements any favors.
Kara’s character arc for the episode suffers the worst, I think, and it’s what the whole thing was riding on. It’s the standard “trying to fill in my predecessor’s shoes”/”embracing my destiny”/”Girl Power” deal that one might expect, and aI get the distinct impression there were multiple writers/executives/whoever who had separate ideas in their head over which of those three aspects should dominate the episode. The story opens with Kara having decided she wants a normal life and hasn’t used any of her powers at all in several yeas, content to let her cousin handle the world’s big problems…only to then spend nearly every scene afterward yearning for seething more. The implication is that Kara is lost and directionless, her cousin’s presence making her feel unnecessary until she realizes she has a spot to fill, but we never get that in so many words. Instead, it just feels like Kara is unable to decide if she wants to be proactive until suddenly she is.
Kara goes from using her powers to save her adopted sister in a moment of desperation, to embracing the superhero persona with all the bells and whistles seemingly for the thrill of it, to fighting out of a sense of responsibility. Not a bad character arc for a feature film, but pilot or no this is a singular episode of a television show and what would normally take three whole acts of a movie is given just minutes of focus amongst everything else. The episode is an origin story, so a point where Kara changes from ‘girl with superpowers’ to ‘Supergirl’ was necessary, but it doesn’t feel smooth here. I spent the whole episode waiting for it to grab me, and plenty of moments could have had they just been given more time.
Then there’s the feminism angle. I’m of school of thought that the best way to have a female superhero be empowering is to just not draw attention to it. For various reasons it’s been a long while since any live-action female superheroes have gotten a spotlight all to themselves, but I assumed we were past the point where a girl/woman being a star and kicking butt wasn’t something that needed to be commented on with such frequency. I could understand if Kara’s own insecurities were tied to her gender in some way, but the ways the episode finds to talk about it always feel contrived. Wouldn’t it have been better for the story to keep feminism a subtextual issue, while the actual screen time is better focused on things relevant to Kara as an individual?
It doesn’t help that the dialogue isn’t quite the strongest either. That and the acting both are rather over the top. I’m not sure how best to describe it, honestly. Everyone seems to be over emoting, none of the comedic lines really hit, and thanks to the super quick pacing the few overtly dramatic moments never get a chance to sit. The comedy bits especially feel like something out of a teen romantic comedy or the like, and that combined with the whole “National City” thing and the almost religious refusal to refer to Superman by name creates a mood that seems desperate to be “hip” and ironically self-reverential.
Effects wise, things were decent but not too impressive. I can imagine that centering a weekly series on someone with this power set might eat up the budget quite a bit, so I won’t exactly be holding my breath for movie-quality action sequences. The background music, however, only suceeded in pulling me out of things.
The operative word for ‘Supergirl’, in my opinion, is “hokey”. It could and may very well easily improve with time, but the quality of this particular episode feels almost like something out of the 90’s, and not in a good way. The best way to save it would’ve been to split it up, but even then there are problems with the presentation.