“Pilot” – airs 10/26/15 – ***** stars
Written by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Ali Adler
Directed by Glen Winter
*Spoilers are contained within.
The timeless adage good things come to those who wait was proven true this past weekend at Wizard World Pittsburgh. While covering Wizard World’s first time in the Steel City, I was presented with the opportunity to watch the pilot episode of CBS’ upcoming series Supergirl. The pilot episode for the latest DC Comics based series leaked some time ago this summer; as a fan of everything Superman and family, I chose not to view the episode as I wanted to wait for its proper release. I had noticed on Saturday, September 12th that CBS would be presenting Supergirl along with an introduction from Superman of Lois and Clark fame, Dean Cain. I made sure to make my way to the meeting room #304 where the Supergirl panel was being held and prepared myself as I realized that the adage of good things and waiting was about to come true!
The meeting rooms at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center aren’t huge. They feel primed for presentations of the business sort more so than a television or movie screening. I’m not sure of how many are allowed to occupy the rooms, but I can say that room #304 filled up quickly for CBS’ Supergirl. There were fans of all ages, along with boys and men dressed as Superman along with girls and women cosplaying as Supergirl and Lois Lane! Members with The CW and CBS handed out Supergirl temporary tattoos to everyone right before Mr. Dean Cain took the stage. His genuine charm and likability has not worn off since his time as Clark Kent/Superman. The actor, who is featured in the pilot episode of Supergirl, went on to introduce the series as more of a Superman family show in the vein of Lois and Clark than 2013’s Man of Steel, along with praising series star Melissa Benoist. After he concluded, in a taped video, Melissa Benoist took to the screen to thank the fans and hope that they’re having a fun time at the con.
Supergirl begins immediately with the destruction of Krypton. While it’s the longest time spent on the planet for the opening of a “Super” show considering that Lois and Clark and Smallville began on Earth, we’ve already seen the scene in its entirety through the various trailers and tv spots for the upcoming CBS series. We’re told that Kara Zor-El, through voice-over narration by Benoist, is the cousin of Kal-El aka Superman. While she was sent to Earth only moments after he was, due to the explosion of Krypton, it sent her ship through the Phantom Zone where it took her 2,000 light years to reach Earth. While she’s older than Kal, when she landed on Earth, he had already aged into an adult while she was still just a young child. Despite it being her role to protect him, things have changed and now Kal needs to look after Kara while allowing her to choose her own destiny. The opening works in establishing Krypton and the fundamental building blocks of their world, especially in using the Phantom Zone. While certain dialogue reminds us of 2013’s Man of Steel, CBS’s series is already far different in tone and style.
The series, after quickly showing Superman bring young Kara to the Danvers Family, (it’s here that we get a cute cameo by Helen Slater, the original Supergirl, and Dean Cain, who utters not one line) we see Kara as a 24 year-old working at CatCo, a news conglomerate run by Catherine Grant (Calista Flockheart). The series quickly changes tone and becomes wildly different from what we’ve come to expect from DC series such as The CW’s The Flash and Arrow. CBS’s Supergirl has more of a The Devil Wears Prada and Morning Glory tone and approach than anything else. One might consider this worrisome, but it couldn’t be farther from the creative mistake that so many naysayers are hoping for it to be. As Kara’s time as an assistant to the “media mogul and fierce taskmaster” Cat Grant is shown to provide one of the better examples of a young, independent working woman on television. The character of Kara Danvers, as played by Melissa Benoist, is probably one of the strongest portrayals of a woman on television since ABC’s first season of Agent Carter. Not that I take issue with the characterizations of women on shows such as HBO’s Girls and Comedy Central’s Broad City (I happen to like the latter very much), there’s a shifting of focus on a more timeless sense of class and poise that we’ve gotten away from over the years. Melissa Benoist is a natural in presenting Kara as a young woman working in a bustling metropolis called National City. She’s very likable and if the series chose to focus on just her as Kara instead of Supergirl, I would not find it hard to believe that the show would still be an immediate success.
While work at CatCo does seem exaggerated and very The Devil Wears Prada, the cast never betrays the story and dialogue given to them. In fact, some of the best scenes in the pilot come from the time we spend at CatCo. First and foremost, Calista Flockheart is terrific as Catherine Grant, a perennially underused character in the Superman comics and television series. While she’s different from the Tracy Scoggins version on the first season of Lois and Clark and the Emilie Ullerup & Kerri Lynn Pratt versions on Smallville, she’s actually a far better version of the character than of what we’ve seen before. Calista Flockheart’s best scenes come from when she’s playing Cat Grant as someone who couldn’t be farther from Alley McBeal. Here she is supremely confident and provides a perfect foil to Melissa Benoist’s Kara. The rest of the cast that rounds up CatCo such as Jeremy Jordan as Winslow Schott and Mehcad Brooks James Olsen also make for an entertaining and likable group that helps elevate Kara’s time not being spent as Supergirl. I’d like to mention that both actors make for great additions to the cast of Supergirl. Mehcad Brooks plays a much different version of Jimmy Olsen, and goes so far as to mention wanting to be called James. He gives a fresh new take on the character and provides the series with a possible love interest to be explored for Kara.
When Supergirl transitions into a more superhero based series, it does so in an exciting way with the special effects to compliment the high-stakes heroics. Very similar to The CW’s The Flash, many of the action scenes are well staged and feel as if they belong on scale with something larger than television. The production value is rich and during Kara’s first flight, in which she saves a flight heading to Geneva, the scene very much brings to mind the plane rescue from 2006’s Superman Returns, along with the 80’s John Bryne Superman run and Bruce Timm animated series. While it is a rather formulaic scene, especially considering that Kara’s adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is on board, it is a big enough sequence that screams “This is Super___!” It’s such a well directed and choreographed scene that to complain about it would be just to take the fun out of Supergirl. She carries and brings a plane safely to water! At the conclusion of this scene, I don’t know if there was anyone not clapping.
Melissa Benoist, much like the actors that have played Superman, and very much like Grant Gustin of Glee and The Flash, gives so much to the character of Kara Zor-El/Supergirl. Soon after she rescues the plane, Kara begins to speak with Alex and Winslow Schott about her being Superman’s cousin. She tells Winslow that she just wants someone to be excited for her after all these years of keeping it a secret. We feel for her and we too are just as excited as she is! Kara is not just the cousin to Superman, she’s Supergirl! She’s very much her own hero and helps exemplify the message we hear later on – “Be strong and always be true to yourself.” There’s a montage scene in Supergirl that quickly shows off Kara learning how to use her powers to help. She attempts to stop a car chase and foils a bank robbery. With the scene set to Carl Carlton’s “She’s A Bad Mama Jama”, it would be sloppy of me not to say how much this scene reminded me of 2008’s Iron Man scene that finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) developing the Mark II armor.
Having a star like Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl is essential to the audience actively rooting for her and wanting to be a part of her journey. At The CW table at Wizard World Pittsburgh was a sign reading “#MySupergirl” and having just seen the pilot, I’d have to agree. While many have already seen CBS’s Supergirl and many more to view it at this year’s New York Comic Con, it looks as if the 26-year-old actress will soon join the likes of Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, and Henry Cavill. She’s made the character her own in a defining way while still preserving the integrity of the hero Supergirl should be. That’s one of the reasons why the character is so well suited to a network like CBS. There’s much earnestness, and “truth, justice, and the American way” in Supergirl. It’s a quality that’s long been missing from more recent super hero stories and while I do enjoy the more real-world approach to the Henry Cavill Superman series, I very much enjoyed the lighter take on Supergirl. It also says so much when Supergirl makes The Flash seem as dark as Arrow.
There are many great moments within the pilot. Despite the episode falling into the traps of over exposition as many pilots do, I only state this as other critics have pointed this out. For viewers looking to watch the CBS series through a more open and innocent view, Supergirl is a perfect introduction to a new hero, world, and characters that we will soon be in love with by the time season one has its first winter hiatus. If I had any issues with the series it was more to do with questions over character development (Winslow Schott has to eventually become The Toyman, right?) and where exactly the series fits into the grander scheme of shows. It’s safe to say that Supergirl will be operating independently of the DC Extended and Television Universe, and I’m fine with that as they have their own tone that works. As a Superman fan I’m all for seeing those characters represented in any way possible. Supergirl is filled with Easter Eggs and references to the DC Comics mythology, such as the appearance of Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), kryptonite, and the clever possibility of a revamped “General.”
I greatly admired the pilot episode for CBS’ new series Supergirl. The series is off to a great start and it’ll be interesting to see how the show progresses. Those involved have equated the formula of Supergirl to be more closely associated with that of The Good Wife and Veep. With the careful handling of Superman’s appearance in the pilot, they have made sure that they haven’t handcuffed themselves creatively and have opened up more of a window to freedom. If Kara/Supergirl takes on a mystery and villain of the week while having an over-arching story weave together, this might be a refreshing take on the superhero genre for television. Supergirl is also a spectacular hero and role model for many. As I prepared to leave the presentation at Wizard World, I couldn’t help but overhear a particular Lois Lane cosplayer make mention that she wished she had Supergirl on when she was younger. If that doesn’t warrant the hashtagging of #MySupergirl across social media, then I don’t know what else can. Supergirl soars!
Supergirl premieres October 26th at 8:30 ET on CBS. Check your local listings.