Sometimes these things happen, an upcoming pilot makes its way to the internet, the web blows up, and puppies cry. This is one of those times, minus the puppies. The CBS “Supergirl” pilot was released online, and somehow, I’m not saying how, I managed to see it. Meet me after the jump and I’ll let you know what I think, of the “Supergirl” pilot. Warning – spoilers ahead…
How do you make a Supergirl TV series without ever mentioning Superman? This is the big question, and one that I think crippled the 1984 cinematic version of Supergirl from the get-go. Supergirl is a spin-off of Superman, she always has been, so it’s hard to separate Kara Zor-El’s cousin from the equation. That movie decades ago did it the wrong way with a mention and a distance shot to get it out of the way, because they couldn’t get Christopher Reeve. This pilot takes the same tact, but embraces it.
Superman is mentioned several times, usually in pronoun form or in other obvious references. This could get old and tired as the series continues, but for this pilot, I thought it worked fine. We also ‘see’ him, in distance shots like the movie, but also from behind and with the sun blurring point of view. I like it. I also like that it is Superman, the real Superman, not Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel version or DC Comics New 52 version, but the real guy in a bright colorful costume.
When it comes to secret origins, in almost every interpretation of the Supergirl character, as I said, it’s just about impossible to separate her from her cousin. The origins of Supergirl and Superman are not just linked, they are essentially the same. Planet Krypton blows up, survivors sent to Earth, where their powers make them inspirations and saviors to mankind. Shuffle those cards any way you want, it’s still the same story.
Here they use the concept that Kara’s rocket followed Kal-El’s to Earth, and as the older cousin, it was her job to protect him. Unfortunately, her ship was diverted into a timeless area of space called the Phantom Zone, and she mysteriously arrived on Earth twenty-four years later. A similar plot device was used on “Smallville” with Supergirl. When she got there, Kal was already Superman and hardly needed her protection, so Kara decided it was best to just blend in.
As with “Arrow” and “The Flash,” if you read between the lines above, you know there is a mystery here, elements of which will probably unfold over the season. This Phantom Zone doesn’t quite sound like that of the comics, the movies, or television – this is something different. Are there still Phantom Zone villains? And are there other survivors of Krypton? Just wait. In the comics, Kara’s parents are captured by Brainiac and live in the bottled city of Kandor and they live as well.
And how exactly did she get to Earth? That’s left deliberately fuzzy at first. Did someone bring her? Send her? Again, I’m thinking of the Phantom Zone villains… or maybe Darkseid? There are definitely some shenanigans here, and I’m sure we will find out eventually. And how did Superman choose Kara’s foster parents, the Danvers, who are mentioned as being scientists? On a sidenote, I liked the sweet casting of former “Lois and Clark” Superman Dean Cain as Fred Danvers, and original movie Supergirl Helen Slater as Sylvia Danvers.
My Name Is…
Also just like in their other superhero shows, “Arrow” and “The Flash,” executive producers Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti are using the same “My name is…” voiceover style to begin the episode, and it does work, especially for the very brief origin sequence with the cool special effects. However, when we get to present day, it has a lighter tone compared to the previous humorous but solemn superhero origin vibe. It was more “Sex and the City” or “Ally MacBeal” than “Supergirl.”
The thing is though, it works. Like Grant Gustin as the Flash, Melissa Benoist as Supergirl is also a “Glee” character actor, and she gives off a real nerd girl vibe. It seems like Kreisberg and Berlanti are mining familiar territory as they know how popular the character of Felicity Smoak has been on their other shows. If something wins, keep it. And I like her, when I heard the casting, I didn’t think I would, but I do. In the comics, Linda Danvers was more plain than nerdy or mild-mannered, but this works, and as I said, I kinda like it. And I’m sure we all know, sooner or later she’s going to come out of her shell.
Speaking of “Ally MacBeal,” oh my, is that Callista Flockhart, and has she had work done? Ms. Flockhart plays Cat Grant, at best a two-dimensional foil at the Daily Planet of Superman comics of the last three or four decades. Cat has been portrayed on TV before, in the previously mentioned “Lois and Clark” for instance, and not always in the most pleasant of lights. At least this version of the character is entertaining from a comedically villainous bent. She’s no Perry White but she’s no Morgan Edge either.
Kara plays her minordomo, fetching coffee, organizing her day, and the like, as Cat Grant is the head of Catco Worldwide Media, a communications company that buys up newspapers, TV and radio stations, etc. That’s a helluva step up from gossip columnist, Cat. The series is also set in a fictional city as most DC Comics stories are, however National City is a new one. Fake cities that Supergirl operated out of in the comics include Midvale and Leesburg. One has to wonder where national City is in relation to Starling City, Central City, and… Metropolis.
Meet the New Jimmy Olsen
First originating on the Superman radio show ages ago, Jimmy Olsen, essentially Superman’s best friend, a ‘cub’ reporter, and Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, is a dated character. From the freckles to the bow tie, he is so not hip, and literally out of another age. There have been various attempts to make him cool – from giving him various superhero identities to dubbing him Mr. Action to making him a hacker in “Lois and Clark” to changing the gender of the character in Man of Steel – but nothing seems to work.
Here in “Supergirl,” they have pulled the race card, and made his character African-American, but really, that’s not what has made the real change in the character. Mehcad Brooks, who you might know from “Necessary Roughness” or as Eggs from “True Blood,” brings a maturity and sophistication to the character, without losing the inherent enthusiasm. He’s James, not Jimmy, and he’s damned likable. As much as he puts poor tongue-tied Kara in a fit, he does the same to the viewers. Brooks is truly an Olsen for a new century, and he’s cool, one of my favorite parts of the pilot.
The Blind Date
After getting dumped on a blind date, Kara sees a news report of a plane with engine trouble coming down over the city. A quick x-ray look reveals it’s the plane her foster sister Alex is on. She immediately knows what she has to do and saves her. It takes a few jumps to get her rusty flight powers back in control, but despite obstacles (like threading it through a suspension bridge) Kara does it.
The scene is reminiscent of the plane rescue in Superman Returns, one of the few watchable scenes in that movie. Making the sequence so thrilling would have to be the heroic score of Blake Neely, known for his work on “The Mentalist” and The Last Samurai. Kara’s exuberance at the successful rescue is contagious. This is a character I want to see more of.
Alex and Tobey
Sister Alex, played by Chyler Leigh, who you might remember from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Practice” (while I remember her from the short-lived but much loved “That ’80s Show”), may be bucking for the recurring heavy role of the piece. Notice how ‘lex’ is part of her name, and she reminds me of a thorn in Supergirl’s side from the comics named Nasty, who was also related to Lex Luthor. Alex is sooo not happy to be rescued and reprimands Kara for exposing herself, instilling paranoia in the new heroine. Whether this is concern or malice, time will tell.
On the other hand, at work, Kara finds Cat wanting to promote the mystery super-girl and Jimmy/James supportive of the idea of this new heroine following in the footsteps of ‘the big guy.’ Kara turns to her friend and colleague Tobey, who is into metahuman phenomena, sort of the Chloe Sullivan for the show. He’s not just Chloe, let me amend that, he’s also Cisco from “The Flash,” helping her with her costume and getting started as a super-heroine.
Serving someone called the General, probably Zod (or is it?), who else, we meet a trucker type called Vartox. This is not the Vartox of the comics who was more or less a rival hero from outer space who occasionally crossed paths with Superman, and embarrassingly dressed like Sean Connery in Zardoz. This guy is definitely alien and wields an axe like the Fatal Five’s Persuader.
The bad news is that these baddies that run Vartox know that Kara is the daughter of Alura Zor-El, who seems to have had some secrets in her past we’re not aware of either. It gets worse. Vartox is not alone, soooo not alone. He also has a ridge on his head with gills that are pretty creepy.
Brought down by kryptonite darts on her way to stop a fire, we learn what the stick up Alex’s butt really is – she’s a DEO agent, part of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations. In the comics, the DEO is one of those secret government organizations that means good, but in the end always gets in the heroes’ way. Here their stated purpose is the monitoring and control of extraterrestrials on Earth and invasion prevention.
Alex’s superior is a man named Hank Henshaw. If that name rings a bell, it’s because in the comics he started off as a Reed Richards knock-off and evolved into the deadly villain known as the Cyborg Superman. He is super bad news, and worse than that, he has bad news for Kara. She’s the reason they exist. They gave her ship, and it’s her ship that brought the big bad.
When Kara’s ship entered the Phantom Zone, somehow it pulled a Kryptonian prison called Fort Rozz with it, and eventually when Kara crashlanded, so did Fort Rozz. The prisoners escaped, and have been in hiding ever since. The DEO have been keeping watch, and now they are afraid that Supergirl’s public appearance may bring them out as well. They have been planning something, the DEO just don’t know what.
This isn’t the first appearance of Fort Roz as it’s been around in the comics for decades. Originally an ancient city, later the name was attributed to a holding facility for criminals awaiting trial on Krypton. This was where they would be held before being sentenced (if guilty, even the Kryptonians had a decent sense of civil rights) to the Phantom Zone. Later however, when a riot broke out at Fort Rozz, an explosive accident caused the entire prison, and everyone on it, to be sent into the Phantom Zone.
Like Mother Like Daughter
When Vartox finally calls Kara out, we find out what Allura Zor-El did that was so bad to all the prisoners of Fort Rozz. She was their judge, their jailer. Oh boy. There are a whole lot of angry bad folks who are going to want to put the beat down on Supergirl. Her mother did the right thing so now Kara wants to do the right thing, whether the DEO likes it or not. Vartox takes Supergirl down pretty quickly the first time, but thankfully Kara has family.
As it turns out, Alex isn’t being a bitch out of malice, but concern. She really does love her sister. To help inspire her to fight harder Alex brings her a holographic projection of Allura found with her spaceship. Her mother urges her to find her own way, that unlike what I talked about at the start of the review, she has her own path beyond that of her cousin. Encouraged by her mother and her sister, Kara is able to defeat, if not capture, Vartox in an intense battle. This episode has some serious superhero action, maybe more than “The Flash” even.
Things I loved include that even as a baby Kal-El had a spit curl, that Jimmy/James thinks Kara looks like Superman, Alex thinks blue is Kara’s color, the Otto Binder Bridge, the crime-fighting and costuming sequence set to Carl Carlton’s “She’s a Bad Mama Jama,” Cat Grant’s discussion of the word ‘girl,’ and the chemistry between Kara and Jimmy/James. There is a lot to like here, and quite honestly, not a lot to dislike. I was excited when I first saw the trailer and couldn’t wait to see more.
There were things I didn’t like however. I wasn’t fond of Vartox finishing himself off rather than allowing Supergirl even the small victory of apprehending him. And I really hated the fact that Superman sent Jimmy/James to check up on her. Is it just because she’s a ‘girl’? Or doesn’t he trust her? This puts bad light on both the unseen Superman and the cool new Jimmy Olsen. I didn’t like it. Of course, there’s a whole season to make up for it, and let’s hope they do. “Supergirl” officially premieres in November of 2015. See you then!