Five things that are great about that Supergirl promo
Posted by Seb Patrick at 12:04 on 14 May 2015
Nevertheless, it seems to serve as a pretty good indication of what the new Melissa Benoist-starring series (or, at the very least, its first episode) is going to be like... and it's a very encouraging one, for this Supergirl fan at least. Here are five things that particularly jumped out as giving us reason for enthusiasm...
1. It's not afraid to be a superhero show
And while that's not as rare a commodity as it used to be, it's still a welcome thing to see, especially from a DC property (despite the sterling work done by The Flash, which this generally feels in a very similar vein to). It's all there, front and centre: the show is called Supergirl, not Kara or Last Daughter of Krypton or Strange Visitor or whatever else they might have come up with. Her origins are pretty heavily tied up with Superman, rather than keeping him at arm's length from the concept. The costume, the S-shield, the powers - they're all right there in the pilot episode, rather than having to wait an entire season to get to them.
And better than that, it already seems to want to revel in Kara as a hero. That plane rescue sequence is right out of the Kryptonian copybook (and looks remarkably good for a network TV pilot budget), and there's plenty of punching (including, at one point, a truck). It already looks like in that six-minute video, Supergirl saves more lives than Superman does in the entirety of Man of Steel. But she does so without losing the distinctive sensibilities that make her the Supergirl that we (those of us who already love her) love.
(For more on exactly what makes Supergirl so great, I recommend this lovely post by Colin Smith of Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.)
2. The costume is great...
Specifically, it's not so much that the costume she ends up in is great (but it is, and we'll come to it in a minute), as the fact that the pilot consciously rejects the horrible trend over the last twenty years or so for young/teenaged female characters to be dressed in costumes that wouldn't look out of place in an Axel Braun parody. The Kara of Supergirl is in her early twenties rather than her mid-teens, but even so, to have put her in the Michael Turner-designed costume of her last pre-New 52 incarnation would just have been staggeringly inappropriate (and while I quite like the New 52 costume - which incidentally is a pretty big hit with cosplayers, so it must be doing something right - its "battle armour" nature isn't really right for the version of Kara the show is doing either).
And the show doesn't just steer clear of the belly-shirt and mini-skirt combination: it actually includes a moment where she completely laughs off the idea of wearing anything like it. The message is clear: this Supergirl is not here to be sexualised.
That's not to say that Benoist doesn't look great in the costume she does end up in - in fact, she looks absolutely terrific. But it's not the main purpose of the costume - which is a smart, solid updating of her classic look without going too far into Flash-esque "practicality" - to make her look sexy, and that's the crucial distinction.
3. ... and so is the casting
While we're on the subject of Benoist: I was reasonably optimistic about her casting anyway (despite not knowing her work all that well - she just seemed to look the part, really) but in every moment of this promo, she absolutely nails it. She's likeable, earnest, charming, strong-willed, brave, playful and sincere. While she retains the effortless good nature of Helen Slater's superb portrayal, there's a bit more of a hint of fun about her - and in a rather twenty-first century kind of updating, her alien-among-us naivety is not wan and fey, but instead gawky and dorkish.
(I'd use the word "adorkable", but there's few words I hate more.)
Beyond the lead, however, maybe the standout piece of casting is Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant - who seems to very much be in the "making Kara's life difficult" mode she was in mid-2000s Supergirl comics (rather than the "getting herself caught up with Intergang" mode from her earliest appearances in late '80s Superman). Some have criticised the "Devil Wears Prada" feel of these scenes, and others have compared it unfavourably to SNL's Black Widow sketch - but it's clear that these scenes represent a part of Kara's life outside her actually being Supergirl (and it's not as if the trailer doesn't have absolutely loads of scenes with her actually, you know... being Supergirl), and I don't see a huge problem with them. They look a lot of fun.
A word, too, about the incredibly brief glimpse (you have to pause it around the 25 second mark) of Helen Slater and Dean Cain as the Danvers, Kara's adoptive parents. I love both these actors from their portrayals of their respective Kryptonians, and it's another continuation of the fine tradition that saw Annette O'Toole play Martha Kent in Smallville, and John Wesley Shipp as Henry Allen on The Flash. Long may this sort of thing continue.
4. It's fun
Given the way her cousin is currently being treated over in movies, it's just nice that this doesn't feel in any way grimdark. It's light, and sometimes jokey, and just generally fun - which is not to say it won't have drama, or stakes; just that its tone feels properly reflective of the character contained within. Again, the obvious comparison is The Flash (and not just because Supergirl seems to have a buddy who is basically Cisco with the serial numbers filed off) - and while there's a place for shows like Arrow to do what they do, it's important to have a range of styles and tones in your superhero slate as much in live action as in the comics themselves.
The action and adventure, meanwhile, seems to have a similarly breezy feel to it. I genuinely (mentally) punched the air with joy at the scene of Kara calmly walking towards a hail of gunfire and smiling as she realises it can't hurt her. It's a classically Supergirl - as distinct from Superman - kind of image, and nails the character pretty perfectly.
"It's not a bird. It's not a plane. It's not a man. It's Supergirl."
Supergirl has a pretty fundamental problem when it comes to superhero characters - even more so than any other character that's a derivative of another, she's the archetypal female derivative. You can basically never do Supergirl without some kind of connection to Superman (the only real way you can do it is to make her Power Girl). This can be incredibly restrictive, and can prevent her from establishing herself as her own character.
But at the same time, if you avoid those problems (and it remains to be seen exactly how well the show will manage to do that - certainly, the promo suggests Kal-El skirting around as a significant, but distant presence), then the Superman link can actually be a pretty strong mythological tool. And that certainly seems to be how it's played here. That fantastic tagline - swerving around the most famous piece of superhero announcement there is - sums this up pretty well. It means that in one line, you immediately understand who Supergirl is - because everyone knows who Superman is, so it establishes that she's like him, but still very much her own woman.
And yes, I'm reading quite a lot into a simple tagline. But it suggests to me a certain level of playful confidence that's evident throughout the entire promo. Sure, it's a bit cheesy in places - but it's slick, enjoyable, well-cast and completely in line with the spirit of the character on which it's based.
I'm wary of making too much in the way of snap judgements based on six minutes of hastily-edited footage - but I've got a very good feeling about this show, and can't wait for it to launch in November. In thirty years, we've had two live-action takes on Kara (the 1984 movie and her appearances in Smallville) and neither can be recommended as a wholehearted success. This one might just be the first to do that.