Supergirl is an upbeat, feel-good television series that follows the story of Kara Zor-El, cousin to the famous Superman, as she struggles to balance her newfound hero status with her life as Kara Danvers: sister to Alex Danvers, assistant to Cat Grant and love-interest to both James Olson and Winn Schott. Despite becoming Supergirl sometime after her cousin had already become the fully-fledged hero of Metropolis, Kara by no means lives in his shadow. The first series, as any opening gambit for a superhero programme does, finds Kara coming to terms with her powers, establishing herself as a hero and learning who she can and cannot trust. In this sense it might seem a little generic, but what makes Supergirl such an interesting show is precisely the traditional style of its protagonist’s story.
Nowadays it would seem that everything needs to be ‘gritty’ and ‘dark’, especially in the world of DC adaptations, to be impactful. Supergirl, however, shines out of this as a bright beacon of hope. The Kyrptonian heroes have always been a little too perfect. With a whole array of supernatural powers and with the strength of Gods, there’s only really two ways that they can be dealt with on screen. Zack Snyder has got the gritty, ‘God who is a threat to humanity’ approach covered with Batman v Superman, so it would appear that the producers of Supergirl choses to go in the complete opposite direction. Supergirl is warm, kind-hearted, and is always fighting for good and justice in the world. There are moments in the show where she doesn’t have the trust of the people, most notably at the very beginning of the series as she learns to use her powers and after the events of ‘Falling’, even though in the case of the latter it was only after she had been exposed to a mind-altering substance created by Maxwell Lord. Not exactly her fault. Quite often her rogue gallery is full of one episode villains, but that just helps create the sense of self-containment that used to come with older comic runs. Supergirl can certainly be defined by its classic generic purity.
Just because it is brighter and pluckier than, let’s say, Daredevil or Jessica Jones, does not mean that Supergirl does not handle genuinely difficult issues. From the very beginning of the show, it particularly tackles feminist concerns of today. “[Supergirl?] We can’t name her that”, Kara says to her boss Cat Grant in the first episode, “Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman?” Cat Grant, an all-round strong female support character and matriarch of CatCo is swift to claim the term “girl” for herself, suggesting that she identifies as a “girl” and she is “smart, powerful and hot”. The show highlights issues such as this continually, without ever once being preachy or one-sided. Who is right in this situation: Kara or Cat? It is down to the audience to decide. We are to bear this in mind throughout the series, as Supergirl becomes a household name and Cat Grant continues to handle her public image.
As much as its premise was quite appealing, however, that was not enough to save series one of Supergirl from its shortcomings. Without a big Hollywood budget, it is understandable why the special effects were a bit lacklustre. Some of the fight sequences were pitiful and J’onn J’onzz was downright laughable. There’s no wonder why they kept him in Hank Henshaw form for the most part of the series. It was never going to be perfect on the small screen, especially when films like Green Lantern somehow still manage to get extra-terrestrial creatures so wrong. At times it felt like you were watching an old-school sci-fi flick, which just goes to show that Supergirl really just needed bringing into the 21st century.
What is a little less forgivable about the show, however, was its poor plot structure. In the final few episodes, for example, Non wanted to use Myriad to manipulate humanity into saving the environment (not the most ‘evil’ of intentions, except for the whole mind-control thing). However, when that fails, he and Indigo decide to throw caution to the wind and destroy the entire human race. The ‘villain trying to wipe out humanity’ trope is all well and good if it is developed properly, but here it didn’t seem to fit. Perhaps this stems from the almost complete self-containment of each episode? This approach came with its own benefits and sure there were smaller recurring threads between episodes, but arguably not enough. When ‘Livewire’ and ‘How Does She Do It?’ could be easily switched in order to avoid controversy with the Paris attacks and for there to be no disruption to the overall narrative, something seems slightly off. Disappointingly the writing was a bit sub-par, but hopefully that was just the show finding its feet and all being well, series two will be much stronger.
In summary, Supergirl occupies an interesting space in the realm of superhero adaptations. It has all of the optimistic charm that can attributed to superheroes, whilst also tackling real world issues. The plot is a bit lacklustre, but that does not mean that the show was unenjoyable. Series two has real potential and after the recent rumours that Supergirl might be moving networks to The CW, joining Arrow and The Flash, maybe more episodes like ‘World’s Finest’ will be on the cards. Here’s hoping!