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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Supergirl S1

Series 1

I won't lie, at this point the words 'Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg write a series based on DC comics' are enough to sell me on a series. There's a good reason for that as well: Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow have all been a lot of fun, after all. It is a bit of a shame that Supergirl isn't on the CW and so isn't fully part of the Arrowverse, but that's just one of its many problems - all of which, it seems, arise less from its writing, characters, or production values, and more from the fact that it's on CBS.

Set in National City, Supergirl follows Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin who was sent to protect him, only to be knocked off course into the Phantom Zone, arriving on Earth only after Superman had already hit adulthood. Now in her early twenties, Kara works at Catco professional media while carrying on a double life as Supergirl, a superhero who works with the DEO, a government agency dealing with alien threats, to fight crime and the forces of evil. With National City beset by attacks by alien escapees from the Kryptonian prisoner of Fort Rozz, Kara must battle against them - and their leader, her aunt, General Astra.

So, once again, I feel like Berlanti and Kreisberg have managed to capture the sense of fun and whimsy and lightheartedness inherent in superhero properties while also managing to have serious plot beats. Supergirl never feels oppressive, or grim, or like it's embarrassed about its comic book origins (looking at you, every live-action DC film) - it's bright and chirpy and happy, and it balances that well with both action-adventure arcs involving evil aliens and some pretty serious arcs about the nature of the law, shifting public opinion, and family.

It also has a great cast mostly composed of women and ethnic minorities,
which is always nice.

It has a pretty stellar cast of characters, as well - Kara is a joy to watch, with enough depth to easily carry the show, but her supporting cast are also all charismatic, interesting, and layered, and - perhaps unusually for a Super-family show - they're all regularly useful, often even instrumental, in dealing with the villain of the week. The show's biggest misstep with characters comes with its villains - specifically, the writers made a terrible mistake when they killed off Astra, having her replaced by her far less engaging husband, Non. 

(There's also a smaller misstep in that sometimes Cat Grant's 'real talk' goes from 'charmingly stupid' to 'actually quite alienating and wrong', but luckily she stops doing that after about four episodes.)

The pacing is good, the action scenes are strong, and the soundtrack is superb, with Blake Neely (who composes for Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow as well) clearly having a whale of a time composing tracks that draw inspiration from the Richard Donner Superman films.

Laura Benanti pulls double duty as Alura Zor-El and Astra.

So, it's a pretty strong series, and it doesn't have many flaws for me to pick at. It's biggest flaw, really, is that it can never seem to figure out where it fits in a wider superhero universe. Superman is referenced constantly, but is conspicuous in his absence, with episodes occasionally having him show up in blurred form, or having him appear in the distance (or, at one point, showing only his feet), which just makes all of his appearances very frustrating for the audience. Batman is briefly, obliquely referenced and then never brought up again. The show is oddly skittish about defining Kara's place in the larger world, and that doesn't work in its favour.

In this respect, having the series actually take place in the Arrowverse would have worked out a lot better for her. As a very public superhero who endeavours to be a symbol of hope, she would have stood in sharp contrast to the relatively secretive Flash and the relatively dark, unapproachable Green Arrow. It would have allowed her to be defined against those two characters, and since Legends has hinted that Superman and Batman were once heroes in that universe who are now absent, it would have been easy to set up Superman not being an active hero anymore, thus keeping him firmly out of Kara's business.

Cat has a pretty good character arc.

(It doesn't help that Supergirl did get a crossover with The Flash, by way of 'oh no I crossed into another universe', and it was one of the best episodes of the series, much as it did feel like well-written fanfiction.)

So, I did really enjoy this series - I'm certainly enjoying it more than I'm enjoying Arrow this year, and I'd say it's most definitely the equal of The Flash, which readers of this blog will know is one of my favourite television series. That said, it would have benefited greatly from being an Arrowverse show, and I'm a little disheartened that it isn't.

We don't know yet whether it'll be returning for a second series, but forecasts are good, and we'll find out for sure in May. I'm deeply hoping that it does. 

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