US TV dramas (especially those on Pay TV in Australia) are flooding us with super-heroes.
A rise in CGI, global threats and a desire for escapism seem to have facilitated an inordinate number of action stars, including several from talented producer Greg Berlanti. The latest is Supergirl, based on the DC Comics character who first appeared in 1959.
In her newest guise, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) borrows the hallmarks that serve her for a modern audience, with new variations. She’s still from Krypton, wears red, yellow and blue, has super-strength and adopts a mild-mannered persona: Kara Danvers.
But instead of existing in Metropolis, she’s at home in a sister-city, National City. She is an assistant to online media CatCo CEO Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). Jimmy Olsen is now a hot African-American James Olsen (True Blood‘s Mehcad Brooks). And she has an Earth half-sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh).
Kara has been on Earth since she was 13. In the shadow of her famous cousin, Earth didn’t need another hero, so she has grown up without utilising her powers. That is until her boss Cat is planning to lay off journos due to a lack of front page news (print media takes a bullet here) and her half-sister is aboard a plane that is about to go down. Suddenly she can solve two problems in one, no need to be asked.
National City becomes abuzz with its mysterious “guardian angel” and Kara is torn about revealing her identity. Like Daily Planet editor Perry White, Cat Grant wants the pictures, insisting, “Besides fatty foods there’s nothing people love more than a hero.” Similarly, she has no idea her headline act is right under her nose. But Alex is less enthusiastic about her sister’s new path.
“Everyone will know about you and you can’t take that back,” she tells her.
“I don’t want to,” Kara replies.
“I didn’t travel 2000 miles just to be an assistant.”
What she will come to discover is that there is another body, the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (seriously), who have been trying to thwart equally-powered enemies of National City. I’m not really sure why they didn’t just call Superman, or why they haven’t been apparent to Kara earlier.
One of the things that defines this Supergirl is her liberation. Kara tells Kat she is uncomfortable, for instance, with the hashtag #Supergirl and not #Superwoman. CEO Kat will hear none of it, she is a proud ‘girl’ who can still be “powerful, rich, hot and smart.” The male villain makes a reference to
‘females bowing before males’ and later Kara acknowledges the importance to “always be true to yourself.” Bless. We’ll skip the questions on the uber-mini skirt she’s wearin’…
Melissa Benoist works in the title role, a fitting mix of action star and geeky comedic character. Calista Flockhart tends to hit one note, as bitchy Devil-Wears-Prada boss, while Jeremy Jordan (Smash) as IT expert Winn has a crush on our gal and sort of acts as a surrogate Jimmy Olsen given the “real” one has turned more alpha-male under Mehcad Brooks.
Greg Berlanti has a good handle on what works for his audience: action, relationships and character arcs are nicely juggled even if the script is at times somewhat earnest. There are also cameos by Dean Cain, and Helen Slater from the 1984 film of the same name.
While these franchises can often launch strong before settling for less, this Supergirl is off to a flying start.
Not every day you get to hear TV characters sigh, “I’m kind of tired. I just carried a plane on my back.”
Supergirl premieres 8:30pm Sunday December 6 on FOX8.