“When people see that red cape, they expect to see a certain someone. Someone they know. But this isn’t his story. It’s mine.”
Of course, that “someone” they know is Superman. This is the story of Supergirl. We’ve seen her story on both the big and small screen, as well. Helen Slater put on the tights and skirt in the Richard Donner film made during the Christopher Reeves Superman years and meant to tie into that filmactic universe. When television told the story of a young Clark Kent in Smallville, it was only natural that his famous cuz would show up there. This time it was Laura Vandervoort who played the Kryptonian. It’s nice to see that the new version of Supergirl pays homage to both previous incarnations of the character. Both Slater and Vandervoort have roles in the series that rise a bit above the cameo level.
“My name is Kara Zor-El. Twenty-four years ago my planet, Krypton, was in serious peril. My cousin Kal-El was sent to a planet called Earth for his own safety and protection. You may know his story. The story you don’t know is that I was sent to protect him. Things didn’t go exactly according to my mother’s plan. Krypton’s destruction sent a shockwave that knocked my pod off-course and into the Phantom Zone, a region of space where time doesn’t pass. I slept there for 24 years until somehow I got here. When I arrived, I was still a 13-year-old girl. But in that same time, my cousin Kal-El had grown up and revealed himself to your world as Superman, the most powerful man in the universe. My cousin wanted me to have the same safe human-type childhood that he did. So he placed me with my adopted family, the Danvers, scientists who one helped him understand his own super abilities. They had a daughter, Alex, and despite being born on different planets, we both shared one thing: we knew our lives would never be the same again. My cousin, he didn’t need my protection. I didn’t have a mission anymore. But even though I had all the same powers he did, I decided the best thing I could do is fit in. After all, Earth didn’t need another hero.”
That rather long-winded narration from the pilot episode is a pretty solid description of the show’s setup and allows us to get a good idea of where this show stands in the Superman mythology/universe. Naturally, that’s all just the start.
Kara is played by Melissa Benoist. Benoist is a promising actress, and she certainly has a lot of energy and obvious passion for the part. Unfortunately, she appears to be rather badly cast in the role. She doesn’t carry that incredible presence that this kind of a hero needs to practically ooze with just a stance or a look. Honestly, she looks quite silly in the costume. I get the sense of a fan girl doing cosplay at a comic book convention. Part of that is the actress, but the production design crew share some of the blame here. The costume is not one of the best in the DC television universe, and it has these silly handholds that giver her a bit of a schoolgirl feel. I’m just not buying any of it.
Kara’s day job mirrors that of her cousin Clark Kent. She works as a personal assistant to media mogul Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart. She’s Harrison Ford’s main squeeze, and she actually makes a lot of fun of that relationship in the series. From references to the Millennium Falcon to turning the actor down for a date because he’s married and Cat doesn’t date older men, it’s obvious that Flockhart is poking some fun at the fanboys she knows will make up a good percentage of the show’s audience. Cat Grant is a pretty awful person. She talks down to all of her employees and doesn’t really have a lot of nice things to say to Kara. But it’s Grant who puts the Supergirl moniker on Kara in order to use her to brand her news organization, much as she sees The Daily Planet do with Superman. Yes, this leads to some rather entertaining interactions between Grant and both Supergirl and Kara, whom she makes a habit of calling Kira. You can’t help wonder how this smart, powerful woman can’t notice that Kara and Supergirl look pretty much exactly the same. Another issue with Benoist’s casting is a prominent scar over her left eyebrow. Someone should have hid the mark, because it is too much of an identification reference point for these characters to miss even if we do buy the standard idea that a change in hairstyle and glasses is a strong disguise. We’ve always kind of accepted that with Superman, and I’m prepared to go along with the gag here, but casting should not have given us such an easy tell.
The rest of the cast actually gives us strong characters and pretty solid actors. David Harewood knocks it out of the park as Hank Henshaw, who we already know is J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter. In the comics he was a detective. Here he heads something called The DEO, which is responsible for protecting the planet from aliens and metahumans. He’s absolutely the strength and heart of the series. This show could just as easily been named for his character. J’onzz is a part of the comic Justice League and is a compelling hero whose story is not as well known. We get to see him finally come out of the closet, so to speak, and learn to embrace who he is. Hank shares great chemistry with Kara, and her performance is certainly lifted when they share screen time together.
Mechad Brooks plays Jimmy Olsen. This is not the Jimmy we are at all used to. Jimmy’s all grown up and prefers to be called James. He serves as the real tie to Superman in the series. Clark has asked him to move to National City and look after Kara as she starts to make her way in the world. Brooks is another really good actor who takes a lot of time getting used to as Olsen. I found I had to kind of think of him as another character before I started to warm up to him at all. For you Upcomingdiscs fans who always wanted to know what our own John Ceballos looks like: that’s him. I think we might start to call him Jimmy around here. OK, maybe not.
Olsen isn’t the only one at the office who shares Kara’s secret. Winn Schott, Jr. is the son of DC Comics villain The Toymaker. It’s not something he likes people to know. He’s an IT guy in the office and Kara’s best friend. It’s a position he would like to see changed, but she has the hots for Olsen, who scoring with Lois Lane’s little sister, Lucy. These two guys provide her with her support on missions when she isn’t doing double duty at the DEO, where her sister Alex (Leigh) is a top agent. That job will end up revealing some secrets that the sisters have kept from each other and add some tension from time to time.
The job keeps them busy. You see, when Kara’s escape pod finally left The Phantom Zone to continue on its way to Earth, it also freed a massive prison facility that Krypton had placed in the infamous zone. It was called Fort Roz, and among the criminals kept there was Kara’s Aunt Astra, who was a general in the resistance movement that tried to warn Krypton of its impending doom. Of course, it was her twin sister Alura who sentenced her to the prison. Actress Laura Benanti takes on both roles in the series. They may look exactly alike, but thanks to a wonderful performance by Benanti, you always know which character is on screen. Astra sees Kara as a way to get revenge on her sister, who is long dead in the destruction of Krypton. She also is part of a group of surviving Kryptonians from the prison who now want to “save” Earth, mostly from us pesky humans. The real villainy behind that group is her husband Non, played by Chris Vance. He’s looking for a war and will stop at nothing to see it happens.
There are some other interesting characters during the first season. We meet General Lane, who is a blood & guts kind of general who wants a tougher DEO. When J’onn J’onzz is discovered, he goes on a witch-hunt for traitors and wants to send J’onzz to a place where they conduct secret experiments and dissections, a place where there is also a chance that Alex and Kara’s father might still be alive. It’s absolutely on the radar for next season. Lucy Lane is also part of his team, and it’s another misfit. She looks pretty silly in that dress uniform and all of those medals. Her best scenes are when she’s more of a civilian. There’s also Max Lord, played by Peter Facinelli. He’s a Tony Stark clone who likes to toy with technology. We never quite know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. His intentions might be good, but that doesn’t always lead him down a saintly path. He’s afraid of Kara and aliens like her with all of their power and wants to be able to stop or control them if they are ever a threat. Non and his gang fit that bill, and Max Lord is the wild card in the deck.
The show does have a series of villains of the week that include comic favorites like Indigo, played by the aforementioned Vandervoort, and Silver Banshee, played by Italia Ricci, who is a slow burn for the season. She starts as a new assistant to Cat who’s trying to light a fire under Kara’s butt, only to have the future villain try to undermine Kara at the office. We also get Livewire, played by Brit Morgan.
I was happy to see the production design take its cues from the Richards Donner vision, just as Smallville had. Most of this comes through in the music and the design of the Fortress of Solitude, which uses the crystal technology and overall look from those Superman movies. Much of the production is first-class. The sets are pretty amazing and fit into the DC television universe pretty well. That’s an extra good thing, because Supergirl is about to become more closely tied to those productions. The show is moving from CBS to The CW this fall, and I expect to see some of the issues I have tighten up a bit. How it will fit is yet to be seen. Barry “The Flash” Allen makes an appearance at the end of the season, and they actually shared pretty good chemistry. It was the first time all season Benoist looked natural in the role. It was made clear that Supergirl takes place on a different Earth than the other CW/DC shows. But with Barry’s increasing ability to cross over through these dimensions, I expect to see more of this next year, and I expect it to include other characters. There’s no question that Grant Gustin brought an ease to the show that made all of these characters much more natural. Richard Donner told us he would make us believe a man could fly. Gustin’s guest spot made me believe that the show can work with this cast and that the writers and directors can give Benoist a chance to grow into this role after all.
The episodes use perhaps too many of the requisite Superman/Comic Book Show tropes. There’s the expected exposure to red kryptonite that brings out the worst in Kara. It’s actually a good episode, but it came too early in the character’s run. I think it would have been better to allow Kara to settle into her new role in National City more before throwing this standard ploy out there. The same can be said for the real standard go-to of having Kara lose her powers for a few days. Every hero show does this, and again it was too soon to throw this out there. We have the alien creature capturing Kara inside her mind where she believes she’s still on Krypton and everyone’s OK. Alex has to join with her mind to convince her it’s not real. It’s too early to go for the standard plays. Same thing for the too-early use of a Bizarro version of Supergirl. There are aliens in lockup that we skipped over the story of how they got there. More of the “monster of the week” would have been a way to get us to feel a little better about Benoist in the part. We have a prison for super-beings, so what do we have to do? There’s gotta be a jailbreak. Been there, done that.
My final complaint with the series has to do with their stunt department. I don’t know who to blame, but the powers that be need to find out why the wirework is so horrible. The action scenes are a glaring weak link in this series. The wire is so obvious. Of course, it has been digitally removed, but the poses and mechanics of the action just scream wires. It ruined a ton of the fights for me. It’s a little hard to actually explain, but I promise you that you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about when you see it.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Warner Brothers is making a huge mistake with their disc setup here. I’m not happy that they routinely squeeze six episodes plus extras on each disc. This set has them cramming seven episodes on the first two of three discs. I’m sorry, guys, but a show like this deserves better treatment. Spring the extra six cents a release and include a fourth or even fifth disc here. The bitrate often falls below 10 mbps, and that’s getting into DVD territory. There should not be compression issues on a Blu-ray at all. It doesn’t matter that they’re minor. There’s simply no reason for them to exist at all. It hurts everything from detail to sharpness and most certainly robs us of any kind of nice textures in the show. There’s a lot of money spent on this production; don’t skimp pennies on the delivery system.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is much more dynamic than the video presentation. The score is very uplifting and pierces through even when it’s not overly loud. You still always hear the dialog with clarity and perfect placement. The surrounds complete the immersive experience with wind while she’s flying and sweet sub range during the more explosive scenes.
Deleted Scenes on select episodes.
Supergirl -2015 Comic-Con Panel: (14:50) Cast and crew field questions right before the pilot is going to be screened for the first time.
The Man From Mars: (9:30) This is an appropriate profile for The Martian Manhunter. He’s a highlight of this series, to be sure.
A World Left Behind – Krypton: (10:41) Krypton truly is a character on this show, as it well should be. Here’s a look at how it’s used and how it fits into the show’s mythology and look.
Gag Reel: (4:05)
The show is about to air on its new network soon. I expect there to be a few important changes. It is my hope that the executives learn from the success of The Flash and find a way to smooth out the show’s wrinkles. There’s potential here. I may never really like Benoist as Kara, but I believe the show can be better tailored to make it work. I saw flashes of that particularly when The Flash made his appearance. I’m looking forward to seeing how the change makes this show better. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s not impossible. “This sounds like a job for Supergirl.”