Same Geek Channel: the ‘Supergirl’ Pilot

Hi, Welcome to Same Geek Channel on Supergirl, with Corrina and, stepping into Mordechai’s shoes, Jim MacQuarrie.

We generally don’t review pirated material here, but it seems pretty obvious that somebody, either CBS, Warner Bros, or some production entity in between, deliberately leaked the Supergirl pilot as an attempt at damage control following the widespread criticism of the first trailer, with a lot of unkind (and not completely unwarranted) comparisons SNL‘s Black Widow rom-com parody. That puts it in something of a gray area, as it’s not officially released but most likely not bootlegged or pirated either. So the compromise is we’ll review it and leave you to your own devices to search it out if you want to see it.

The following will completely SPOIL the entire pilot.

Jim: I mostly liked it, but I have a fairly low bar for TV adaptations of comics material. Generally, every character or series has a few “must have” elements, and, if they hit those, I’m okay with it. I think Supergirl hit the vital points pretty well, at least as far as the lead character goes.

Corrina: I’m stubborn in that I feel the comic medium does superheroes, especially costumed ones, better than any live-action treatment. I’ve changed my mind on that a bit recently with some of the Marvel movies, and especially with Daredevil and Agent Carter, but I’m still on the skeptical side. However, I’m good with changing comic material and the first season of Arrow hooked me on that show until, well, it got worse.

The short version of my reaction to Supergirl: everything positive about this show is in the trailer. That means the show is filled with bad acting, bad dialogue, plus a strange change in character motivation that makes little sense. Also, the office scenes are as if someone watched The Devil Wears Prada and missed the entire point of that movie.

Jim: One thing I really liked is that they gave her a better origin. In the comics (at least the original version), Kara’s city survives the destruction of the planet (cool protective dome over the city), until eventually it faces destruction too, at which point her dad, super-genius brother to Superman’s super-genius dad, says “hmmm, that rocket thing worked out okay for Jor’s kid… hey, Kara! Get in the rocket!” She’s a passive spectator in her own story, rescued and sent to Earth by the decisions and actions of others.

Here, young Kara, showing great courage, volunteers to follow her baby cousin to a new planet so that she can take care of him. The fact that it took her 24 years to arrive and her mission is no longer necessary adds an element of tragic irony and a nice jumping-off point for her choosing what to do with her life.

Corrina: I liked that. It adds pathos to Kara’s journey to Earth that Kal-el lacks. Kara knows that this is a one way trip. What I couldn’t parse was why she simply decided to put her super-powers away. I know, she lost faith because Kal didn’t need her. That might be understandable but then we’re informed that the Earth doesn’t need another hero (I guess the Superman in this universe is just that good), and that she loved flying but let it go. So she did use her powers, loved it, and for some reason never found any use for them?

Jim: Like, for example, being a super-competent executive assistant?

Corrina: But she’s not shown as being a super-competent executive assistant! I wanted some scenes where something magically appeared and her boss just thought, “Ah, that’s why I keep Kara around.” But I didn’t see one.

Not to mention that, with her super-hearing fully functional, this cannot be the first time she’s heard someone in mortal danger. And yet, she’s ignored all of that until her sister is involved.

This could all have been fixed with one simple tweak: she arrives but she didn’t grow up under Earth’s sun and, thus, she has no powers. It’s only recently that she’s begun to realize she has them. This would explain why she wanted to fit in and why she never thought she could do anything else.

Jim: That would have been a good fix.

Stuff I like: The sibling rivalry/friendship with her adoptive sister Alex, complicated by their involvement with the shadowy DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations).

Corrina: Agreed, as the actress who plays the sister (Chyler Leigh, formerly of Grey’s Anatomy) gives one of the better performances in the pilot.

Jim: The co-worker with a crush who becomes her sidekick and confidant. I kind of wish they had just named his character “Jimmy Olsen” and left out the other guy.

Corrina: He’s supposed to eventually be the Toyman. And he’s creepy, a bit. Or maybe I’m completely tired of this type right now, considering he moons after Kara like Barry does Iris. At least Kara isn’t his foster sister.

Jim: I was hoping they would subvert the “friendzone” trope, and have the guy accept that he’s not going to be romantically involved with Kara and be okay with it. If he’s going to be Toyman, then probably not. Another villain driven by his thwarted affections? Really? Sigh.

The headband and hot pants were actually parts of Supergirl's costume, but not at the same time.
The headband and hot pants were actually parts of Supergirl’s costume, but not at the same time.

I liked the little easter egg of their trying to design a costume for her, which references the real-life 1970s effort to update her look in the comics. (I’m pretty sure something very close to that hot pants number actually appeared in an issue.)

And the even littler easter egg of having Supergirl’s adoptive parents be Helen Slater and Dean Cain.

Corrina: That’s cute. They didn’t give them much to do, but that’s cute.

Jim:I hope they will have them back for more episodes.

I like the gimmick that her escape from the Phantom Zone involves accidentally dragging along a whole prison full of the galaxy’s worst criminals, thereby building in a reason for the steady stream of villains to fight. The Villain of the Week this time is called Vartox, but he doesn’t look or act anything like the Vartox of the comics, who was a shameless satire of Sean Connery’s Zardoz character. This guy’s more like the Persuader, axe-wielding member of the Fatal Five–a fairly generic villain.

Corrina: This gimmick could be interesting but points out another huge problem with the setup: if the DEO and presumably Clark knew that Kara dragged a ship full of criminals who hated her mother to Earth, bad guys who would probably want revenge, why didn’t he make sure Kara was trained in the use of her powers?

At the very least, she could have taken some martial arts or something. This Kara feels she has no shot initially at beating Vartox. Why would you leave her untrained and exposed like that, even if you’re going to keep this information from her?

Jim: True. Once we know the baddies are out there, that becomes an issue. I think they wanted to get us on Kara’s side first by making her goofy-cute.

Corrina: Also, if the DEO has been watching her for ten years, why are they suddenly all worried she’s dangerous? And if Vartox can toss around Kara, why does a helicopter firing standard missiles make him run away?

Jim: I got the feeling that it was just Captain Crankypants Henshaw who was worried that she is either A) super-dangerous or B) not strong enough to defeat Vartox. Dude needs to make up his mind.

Corrina: Vartox was awful. Awful dialogue, awful acting, especially the cliched ending with him.

Jim: Everything about him was cliched. We’ve seen the same monster on every show from Buffy to Flash. Standard-issue generic bad guy. They might have gotten away with it with a better fight scene, or some really clever out-thinking on Kara’s part. Having Alex giving orders from headquarters takes a bit away from Supergirl, I think.

Corrina: Uh, I guess I have a longer list of what I didn’t like. Jim?

Jim: The only thing I liked about Vartox is that he wasn’t Kryptonian. They set up from square one that the villains are going to be a varied bunch. I’m assuming that he’s strong, but not invulnerable. He can pick up a helicopter, but getting shot by one might leave a mark. Of course they didn’t really establish what he can and can’t do other than the hitting and the nuclear axe.

What’s not so great:

Kara and Jimmy doing the cute thing.
Kara and Jimmy doing the cute thing.

Jimmy… excuse me, James Olsen, imported from Metropolis. I expect the usual internet rage over the fact that they cast a black guy, but the fact is they cast the wrong black guy. Jimmy Olsen is not tall, cool, and sexy; he’s an excitable, dorky kid who turns out to be surprisingly capable when disaster strikes. If they had cast, say, Donald Glover as Jimmy, I’d have no complaints. This guy NEVER called Perry White “Chief”; he’s way too cool for that.

Corrina: But he’s the best actor in the entire pilot! He inhabits the role far better than anyone else. Granted, it’s completely unlike the Jimmy we know, but I liked him. He’s cool. I bought his character, at least.

Jim: Mehcad Brooks does a great job of playing the guy they wrote, and he is very engaging. I liked him in the show, I’d just rather his character were named something other than Jimmy Olsen.

Cat Grant’s Calista Flockhart isn’t working for me. Cat Grant has usually been a pretty awful person in the comics, but she’s much more the “princess” who manipulates and charms people into giving her whatever she wants; Flockhart’s dinner theater version of The Devil Wears Prada can’t compare to either Meryl Streep or the comics version of Grant.

Cat Grant berates an underling. It's what she does. She draws sustenance from the crushing of their souls.
Cat Grant berates an underling. It’s what she does. She draws sustenance from the crushing of their souls.

Corrina: To be fair, she’s given some lousy lines and setups. Hey, I’m just firing people today. Kara, write some hand-written notes for me.

That’s the kind of decision that requires many people involved, and underbosses to get on board, etc. Meryl Streep ran one magazine in Devil Wears Prada, and the movie showed exactly how she did that job and who she relied on. Andy (Anne Hathaway) kept her schedule and ran odd jobs but not once was she given the job of writing “you’re fired” cards. That’s just ridiculous.

Jim: Yeah, it seems all of Cat’s scenes are primarily intended to establish her as this nasty nightmare boss from hell. Which kind of makes her whole “if you think there’s anything wrong with girl, then you’re the sexist” speech a little bit of a false note. Is this really the character we want delivering the meta-messages to the audience?

Secret identity 101: After rescuing people, don't pose under a spotlight.
Secret identity 101: After rescuing people, don’t pose under a spotlight.

Corrina: Here’s the other problem with the setup: Kara’s personality makes no sense. She’s 24, not 16, yet she’s all goofball with Jimmy, and just forgets stuff while, at the same time, she’s supposed to have been sharp enough to be hired by Cat Grant as her assistant, which is clearly a big job.

Andy in Prada is out of place not because she’s not smart or competent but because she’s intimidated at being in a world so different than her own where the rules are different. Kara’s been at this job for a while, obviously, yet she doesn’t even know how to get the coffee hot? Why hasn’t she been fired by now, and how would someone supposedly as powerful and competent as the Cat Grant character have even hired her in the first place?

Jim: That’s a good point. She’s trying to do a Clark Kent riff, but (hey, gender politics!) it doesn’t work for a woman. What’s endearingly klutzy on a 6″4″ guy comes off as juvenile and incompetent in a young woman.

Plus, since she doesn’t yet have a secret identity to protect, why would the world’s most competent girl pretend to be anything but? Why isn’t she the assistant who multitasks like crazy, seems to be everywhere at once, is always a step ahead of the boss, anticipates every need, and can even keep the coffee hot with a little heat vision when need be?

Corrina: I watched all those segments and threw up my hands. She didn’t have to be uber-competent, she could have been sweet, likable, and fun but without this doofiness that would clearly make her unfit for the job.

Jim: There are a lot of legitimate complaints, and a lot for the producers to improve, but I think Supergirl mostly achieved what it set out to do; it expands the DC-TV universe (assuming National City exists in the same world as Starling and Central), and hits a lighter-brighter tone than even the Flash, primarily due to a very likable lead actress in Melissa Benoist. It may not be the best superhero show ever, but we’re certainly a long way from what I had to sit through in the ’70s.

Corrina: I’d rank this lower as the Gotham pilot. Of course, Gotham‘s pilot was the best episode of the entire season, so there’s that.

Jim: I lasted like three episodes with “Batman Minus Batman” before I packed it in. I’m willing to give Supergirl at least that long to demonstrate an upward curve.

Supergirl being heroic and awesome. More of this, please.
Supergirl being heroic and awesome. More of this, please.

Corrina: Yet between the stilted dialogue, the over-the-top acting on the part of just about everyone, save Kara’s sister and James, and a characterization that makes no logical sense, I’m disappointed.

I’m not even sure it’s better than a good episode of the cheesy Wonder Woman show of the 1970s, and it’s certainly not as good as one of the better episodes of The Hulk or The Bionic Woman.

Jim: It beats hell out of Nicholas Hammond’s Spider-Man. And let us not speak of Electra-Woman & DynaGirl... Like I said, I have a pretty low bar. I’m happy to raise it, and I hope Supergirl can at least get better than the last season of Arrow.

Corrina: I want this show to be good. I guess the good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up. (But hopefully not away.)

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