Sunday, November 1, 2015

Supergirl Pilot Review: Up, Up and Away

By: Nicole D'Andria

I’m not a Supergirl fan, so I originally wasn’t going to watch this show. At least not right away. But after several recommendations, I decided to give it a shot. I was both quietly impressed and loudly annoyed. 

In the premiere episode of Supergirl, we learn the origins of Kara Danvers aka Supergirl. She is currently the personal assistant of Cat Grant (played by Calista Flockhart) at the Tribune, the equivalent of the Daily Planet. Kara wants to live her life without using her powers, but events beyond her control compel her to use her powers and realize what’s been missing in her life, prompting her to become Supergirl.

The story is pretty basic at this point in the show. Kara’s origins are explored quickly and efficiently. There are some annoying parts of the episode where Kara doubts herself and almost quits before she’s barely started, which felt rather pointless because we know she’s going to become Supergirl. 

The most promising plot point is that fact that a bunch of supervillains have escaped from the Phantom Zone and are out for revenge. This is a great excuse to throw a lot of cool villains at us in future episodes and, of all the plot points, this is what I’m most interested in seeing come to fruition. Everything else was your standard superhero story but with a nice twist at the end.

By far the best part of this episode was Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. Her character is written well. She is a very relatable, awkward woman who’s tired of living a “normal” existence and wants to do more with her life. Benoist really sells the character. When she’s acting awkward I really feel it. When she gets super-excited watching a news report and then almost as quickly becomes upset, it really felt like I was going on that rollercoaster of emotions with her. 

The most glaring problem in the show is that a lot of the other characters can get annoying. There’s Cat Grant, Kara’s boss, the least annoying of these characters. She’s a less diabolical version of the boss from The Devil Wears Prada. Then there’s Hank Henshaw (played by David Harewood), a commander of a governmental agency who treated Kara so badly. His attitude towards her makes me want to give her a hug.

The biggest offender when it comes to being irritating was Alex Danvers (played by Chyler Leigh). Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex throughout the episode gets on my nerves because of her actions, which I won’t spoil here. There are several points where I get really pissed off at her, which I think does help make me root even more for Supergirl. She tries to redeem herself by the end of the episode but she still leaves me with a bad first impression that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Another important character who isn’t really annoying but just doesn’t do much for me is Winn (played by Jeremy Jordan). Kara’s friend, it feels like the writers are trying to make him the Jimmy Olsen to Supergirl’s Superman. Which leads me to the character that will probably be the most polarizing, especially among fans: Jimmy Olsen. Or should I say James the hunk Olsen?

This is a very different take on Jimmy Olsen. If you couldn’t tell by his “suave” decision of going with James instead of Jimmy, the writers have transformed Olsen into a buff and confidant character versus the geeky sidekick he was before. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was supposed to be named Winn and Winn was supposed to be James. Honestly, I can’t hate James. Mehcad Brooks does a good job portraying the character and he’s written as this super nice guy who I just can’t hate. I even like the chemistry between him and Kara… though when you think about the fact that Supergirl is left tongue-tied and “saved” by James Olsen, it does take down my admiration for her a peg. The biggest problem with this new interpretation is the fact that they are changing a traditionally geeky character to a cool guy, which I think will definitely be off-putting for fans. Also, I’m hoping the writers are not going to go the love triangle route with Kara, Winn and James (I’m Team James).

Kara Danvers and Jimmy Olsen
Ironically, while I’m more open to this portrayal of James Olsen, I was less accepting of Vartox’s portrayal. I’m probably one of two people who actually remembers Vartox from the comics, and I wasn’t a fan of having him be the one-off villain in this episode. Vartox, despite going through multiple iterations in the comics, is usually a bumbling jerk who can be very entertaining. I feel like this portrayal of him was very generic and his role could have been filled by anyone. It seems like a waste of a character that I’d like to see become a jerky ally of Supergirl. The actor playing Vartox did a decent job with what he was given but it wasn’t a memorable performance.

The effects in the show are impressive throughout. The fight scenes between Vartox and Supergirl had some really great effects throughout and were intense. Then there was a scene with Supergirl saving a plane from crashing that was also a really powerful moment done very well and reminiscent of the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve.

The costumes in the show are another aspect that is very well-done. I love the Supergirl outfit. It isn’t cheesy at all and looks like it belongs in a movie. The scene where Kara tries out several outfits was also an interesting look at the evolution of the character in the comic. This was one of a couple of moments that referenced the comics and I’m hoping to see a lot more of these fun little nods to the source material in the future.  (Can we please see a Supergirl skateboard?) No other characters really stood out in the fashion department besides Cat Grant. Kara’s boss is clearly a fashionista and I enjoyed how her fashion choices really added to her character. I still remember her half black, half blue dress. Or was it white and gold?

I can't imagine why she didn't pick this outfit...
This show seems to be trying very hard to be feminist and while it mostly doesn’t try to shove it down our throats, it could be a little less on the nose about it. From the mother in the diner talking about how happy she is that her daughter has a female superheroine to admire to Cat Grant’s conversation with Kara about the decision to name Supergirl “girl” instead of “woman,” I like how this show is trying to promote the power of women regardless. The argument between Cat and Kara that I mentioned does bring up an interesting point: Why is it bad to be called a “girl”? Though I wish they had also addressed the fact that while this seems to be acceptable for grown women, it’s not acceptable to call a “man” a “boy.” I would’ve liked it if this double standard was addressed.

Ultimately this episode did succeed where it should have. I actually want to see the next episode and pick up some Supergirl comics. The acting and costumes all around were good, the effects were well done and the story was solid (if unoriginal) with a great set-up for future episodes. However, there were a lot of annoying characters and plot points. Because of that, I give the pilot for Supergirl a 6.5/10.

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