Supergirl: A Look Back at The Girl of Steel's Debut Season
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's a joyful, inspiring, hope filled super hero show for a new generation!
When it was announced that the team behind Flash and Arrow would be bringing Supergirl to the small screen, I, like many fans, was excited and nervous. Would it be more Man of Steel or The Quest for Peace? However, from the first episode of Supergirl, I was won over.
The overarching story of the first season of Supergirl, an evil Kryptonian with connections to Supergirl, attempting to create a kind of New Krypton on earth, is one of the weaker aspects of the show. After the initial triggering of this plan at the hands of Kara's aunt, a misguided antagonist with a strong relationship to Kara, things get handed over to her crazy boyfriend - a far more traditional bad guy with an English accent who wants power, power, power. Villains gotta villain.
Where Supergirl really excels is in the development of the core characters and their individual stories. The Big Bad is a backdrop to these more personal, interesting narratives. Season one introduces us to Kara/Supergirl and her Devil Wears Prada life as the PA to Cat Grant, powerful media mogul and secret mentor. While it feels initially that Cat is going to be a fairly two dimensional work place foil for Kara as she tries to live her double life, the depth and sophistication that is very quickly shown to exist in her character and relationship with Kara becomes one of the highlights of the show. Throughout the first few episodes, which are a fun but rocky start to the season, we learn about Kara's sister Alex, from her adopted family, her dead father’s mysterious past, Hank Henshaw and the DEO as well as a slew of supporting heroes and villains.
One of the more interesting developments is the reveal that Hank is in fact J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. We get a few episodes until we find this out with the narrative leading us to believes that Hank is a clandestine villain, perhaps in keeping with his comic book roots. The slow reveal and exploration of Hank/J’onn, his growing relationship with Kara, Alex and the discovery of his past connections with their father (played in flashback by everyone’s 3rd favourite Superman, Dean Cain) provides depth and compassion as the series progresses. For season two I’m very excited to see where this leads – Martian Manhunter has, with Smallville’s take and now Supergirl’s, had two strong live action incarnations and with it looking unlikely we’ll see him up on the silver screen anytime soon, this seems the outlet to really explore and develop him for a wider audience.
Perhaps it’s biggest sticking point, or if you like the shows one character flaw, is in Jimmy Olson. In an attempt to make Jimmy more interesting and relevant they've moved so far away from the source character that it becomes near pointless that it’s Jimmy at all. Jimmy is not six foot tall with a chiseled jaw and perfect abs bulging from his strategically too tight designer shirt and by making Jimmy (sorry, James) so sexy and so cool and so perfect they've lost part of the dynamic in the Jimmy/Supergirl relationship. For the super powered, god amongst mortals Supergirl to have a crush on and a relationship with geeky, bow tie wearing Jimmy Olson, the only person people notice less than Clark Kent, shows both their strength of character. Kara going goo-goo eyes over this stunningly perfect (and Mehcad Brooks is a beautiful man) version of Jimmy, undermines that. Throw in the oddly Jimmy Olson like Winn and we're left with a predictable ‘geek likes awesome girl who likes awesome guy’ love triangle. Personally I could have let this slide as a slightly boring reimagining designed to sex things up for an uninitiated audience, except James is a douche. He’s passive aggressive, needy, whiney, condescending, entitled (not to mention treats his actual girlfriend like crap when he finally gets the hots for Kara) and undermines Kara’s strength and need to help others in favour of his own selfish needs. In a show so full of strong women, from Cat to Alex and even Kara’s evil Aunt, having a guy with such unpleasant character traits presented as the perfect boyfriend is a little disappointing. Let’s hope he either lightens up or backs off in season two!
The first season was always at risk of being over shadowed by Kara’s better known cousin. Not because of the Man of Steel himself but because of what he represented. There was always that feeling of ‘where’s Superman? Why isn’t he helping out?’ plus the show had a habit of using elements from Superman’s wide and, to be fair, better known back catalogue of adventures, with several stories and episode titles being variations on famous Superman titles and a lot of Superman iconography being utilised. There was always a fear that the show might fall into feeling like it was simply a Superman knock off, the next best thing to the actual Big Blue Boy Scout. It’s a huge testament to the series that it never felt like that, though it skated close at times. With Superman being introduced in the next season I feel this will help address the Kryptonian elephant in the room and allow Kara a little more breathing space to explore her own, comic book inspired or original stories. The shift of network, bringing Supergirl closer to the Flash/Arrow group of shows, can be nothing but a good thing for a series that revels in its sense of family. As this family grows it opens up new and exciting opportunities for story, character and straight up fun!
Over all this is a superb show and I can’t wait for the second season to start up this week. It can be a little cheesy in places and we have to make allowances for its TV budget visuals at times but it kind of gets away with it thanks to its almost goofy charm and superb performances, especially from its central star, Melissa Benoist who embodies all that it is to be a member of the House of El. There is so much heart and hope and joy in this series, a show that aims to offer little girls and boys a female hero they can look up to and aspire to be like, regardless of what general society may be telling them about gender. Supergirl (the character and the show) preaches a message of faith; faith in hope, faith in friendship, faith in love, in family and humanity, in helping one another and being the best you can be for the good of everyone. Bottom line, this is a show that stands for truth, justice… all that stuff.
Supergirl returns to Sky 1 on Monday 24th October.