Tony Fyler almost loses his heart.
Origin stories are tough.
They have to get all the necessary backstory in to make you interested enough to watch the next instalment. They need to hook you with characters, hint at an arc or some questions to drag you forward and engage you in the fundamental philosophy of the show.
Does Supergirl, Episode 1, do all of that?
The opening is huuuuuuugely exposition-heavy – narration from Supergirl about her original mission: as a young teen, to look after the baby Kal-El (that’s Superman to you and me). It seems to invent a whole additional reason for watching this particular series though – no bottled city of Kandor in this retelling. Nono, simply an unexplained diversion to the Phantom Zone for a couple of decades, followed immediately by a statement that, without knowing why, she suddenly woke up and was able to escape to Earth – Ohhhhkay then.
Result: her original mission’s all to cock and pointless, and a grown up Superman places his 13-year-old niece with a man who used to be him and a woman who used to be her – sorry, with the Danvers family, Fred (played by former Superman Dean Cain) and Sylvia (played by former Supergirl Helen Slater, and their thoroughly earthly child, Alex. All with it so far?
Good – cue modern media hub, little Kara all grown up and almost ordinary, the rather more innocent Bridget Jones in an office run by Ally McBeal’s evil elder sister. Think Rupert Murdoch in a skirt and you’re there (although apologies for the image of Rupert Murdoch in a skirt – sweet dreams…). Cat Grant, the boss, is about to fire a bunch of people at her little local paper, because they’re dull and costing her money. They need a super-scoop to save them – but they don’t have one, so bang goes that idea.
It’s not really until the arrival of Jimmy Olsen, looking blacker and hotter and a hellulvalot eye candier than he ever did in the comics, that Kara from Krypton puts two and two together and thinks it might be time to try not being quite so godawfully normal as she’s been for the last thirteen years, under the influence of scaredy-cat sister Alex. But really speaking, it’s when the same scaredy-cat sister is put in mortal danger that Kara is left with no option but to reveal her Super-origin and make with the plane-saving (No spoiler, surely – you’ve all seen the trailer, right?)
The USP about Supergirl was always her innocent enthusiasm for life and people, and be under no illusion, that’s abbbbsolutely made it through into this modern version intact – Melissa Benoist imbues the new Kara with both a ‘girlish’ giggly enthusiasm, and an itchy sense of the desire to make the most of her powers and stop just being somebody’s assistant. You not only believe a girl can fly, you believe in the girl who can fly, and in her getting coffee for an unappreciative high-flying boss. The ‘Super-friends’ – and however much she insists they’re not calling themselves that, you know they will – are made with the kind of speed that pilot episodes demand, though the scene where she proves who she is is endlessly cute.
So all’s good in the world for the Supergirl reboot, right?
Well, yes, it probably is. It’s actually the reason it probably is that bothers me.
While Marvel has been creaming its competition in the movie theatres in recent years, DC has been stealing back the night in episodic TV adaptations. Full disclosure, I have yet to see Daredevil, though people tell me it kicks Ben Affleck ass. One to watch, certainly. But in some other cases, the back and forestories of the heroes are a little formulaic. In Arrow, the hero becomes a hero, gains some super-friends, has inside knowledge on his enemies, and things come back to bite him in the ass as the series progresses. In the Flash, the event that creates the Flash also creates a bunch of monster-of-the-week type mutants for him to fight, he gets some super-friends with a kickass secret lab, and he fights the good fight etc etc. In Supergirl, Episode 1, she reveals her hero credentials, gets some super-friends, makes contact with some other friends with a kickass secret lab, and, as it turns out, her arrival also provides a bunch of monster-of-the-week style villains for her to fight.
It’s probably pointless to rail against a formula that a) is at least as old as Knight Rider, and b) continues to be used because shows at least that far back continue to be awesome stay-at-home popcorn-munching entertainment. And make no mistake, Supergirl, Episode 1 will entertain the ass off you if you can get past that exposition-heavy opening, which you probably can. I just really want it to develop into something more than that, something better, something that really gives its own unique spin on the genre and gives girls watching something to respond to in a positive way – rather than just DC’s latest re-tread of a multi-million dollar formula.
Will it? Well, let’s find out. It does at least give the viewer some hope that it might – Kara, as written in this version and played by Benoist, has that combination of essential Supergirl innocence and a modern sensibility that almost begs you to love it. The super-friends for the most part are believable and fun (Alex in particular has a great relationship dynamic with her Kryptonian sister). It’s in this dynamic – the new Supergirl and her super-friends – that hope lives for the Supergirl series to be more than ‘the female Flash.’ Being Super has never been easy in recent decades – there’s something essentially boy and girl scout about Superman and Supergirl which has frequently flown in the face of the modern social vibe (even Christopher Reeve frequently played it for laughs, and succeeded, while Brandon Routh played it dead straight and for the most part, bombed). What Benoist and DC have achieved in Episode 1 of the new Supergirl is preserved that girl scout vibe, without making it overly righteous or preachy, and balancing the humour finely.
So there’s definitely grounds to hope this could become the Supergirl we’ve all been waiting for for decades. Was it love at first flight? No – almost, but not quite. But it was definitely good enough to breed hope, and to make me tune in when it arrives in earnest.
Supergirl debuts this Monday, October 26th, on CBS.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk