Tackling a project like this one must've been hard to crack. I mean, Supergirl has gone through so many comic book incarnations, some of which were incredibly silly. There was even a version of Supergirl that was a shape-changing alien that had absolutely nothing to do with Krypton. Plus the last live action version was, shall we say, less than spectacular. So where do you start? What should be canon, if anything? Is Superman all that relevant to her story beyond a basic set up?
All important questions, which probably should've been answered over the course of the first few episodes. This pilot wasn't so much as packed, but it did feel a touch too full of answers and reveals. At least there weren't so many characters that it was hard to follow, and thankfully our lead makes up for almost all the shortcomings the episode had. I just wish they hadn't felt the need to tackle all of them in the pilot episode.
What saves this pilot from being a mess is Melissa Benoist, who is very likable as Kara and Supergirl. She is easy to invest in, and to root for. She has a quirky, fun and friendly personality, which comes across as genuine and endearing and also a bit self-effacing. More importantly, she manages to pull off the requisite strength of the character. When she takes off the glasses, I can believe she is as powerful as her cousin. That's a hard balance to capture, especially since Benoist is really only the third actor that has tackled this character (no offense to the voice talent behind the animated versions).
I was a little worried at the beginning of the episode that Alex would be just an antagonistic and/or overbearing presence in Kara's life, but in a nice little turn around it seems like she is instead going to be a primary source of support and love. I think a good, positive family dynamic could be a major boon for the long run of the series, so I'm glad it looks like there is a solid basis for it here. It helps that Chyler Leigh is also a very relatable actress, so even when Alex was kind of scolding Kara for revealing herself to the world, it never felt malicious.
Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, or James as he likes to be called now, is also a good choice. Elevating him from nerdy sidekick to wizened mentor is both an interesting move and a fun change for the character. I have liked Brooks since his time on True Blood, and he has a nice bit of chemistry going with Benoist. I am glad that the romantic angle wasn't pushed on us too heavily here, and the stuff that was put in worked pretty well. It is also a smart idea to have him in on the secret. Actually, come to think of it, is there anyone in Kara's personal life that doesn't know her secret? That's a nice flip from the traditional superhero nonsense of lying to protect their loved ones.
I wish I could say the rest of the characters worked as well for me. Perhaps it was the focus on feminism that felt off, or maybe just too on the nose, but Cat Grant rubbed me the wrong way. She is a far cry from Perry White, who might be curmudgeonly but was never as mean spirited as Cat seems to be. Kara's friend Winn Schott also bothered me, and not just because he shares a name with a famous Superman villain. His crush seems almost forced, and a bit creepy. Maybe that's intentional, and he did get some of the best lines, so maybe he'll get better.
Then there was Henshaw. What a sanctimonious ass. He's xenophobic and sexist, and apparently that makes him an excellent choice to run a covert operation designed to do something about the 'alien' threat. Except, wouldn't that kind of guy just shoot first and ask questions later? I mean what if some of those prisoners aren't actually bad people? What if Kryptonian law made jay walking a jailable offense? I guess the government is afraid of aliens. There is an obvious political jab I could make there, but I won't.
Dean Cain (Superman from Lois and Clark) and Helen Slater (movie Supergirl) were in the episode for about a minute as Kara's adopted parents. Nice touch. Could we see more of them, please?
I wonder if Chyler Leigh was having flashbacks to the last time she was on a crashing plane?
The baby blanket given to Kara at the end of the episode was a nice nod to the comics.
The villain was so cringe-worthy that he didn't deserve mention in the main body of the review. Which is a shame because Owain Yeoman is a decent actor and did what he could with a role that wasn't the best. I mean did they have to start with a sexist, women must bow before me, villain? Subtlety, writers, have you heard of it?
The ultra tight spandex costume was a nod to some of Supergirl's more revealing costumes of the past. Her more classic costume looks quite a bit better than the promotional image that was released months ago.
I won't get into easter eggs here, but there were several nice nods to comic mythology. Although I was a bit disappointed that "Superman" was never spoken directly except in narration.
The final reveal that Kara's aunt Astra is in charge of the alien underground kind of works. It means we have a Kryptonian big bad, which could be interesting in the long run.
Kara: "I'm not flying around saving people in this thing. I... I wouldn't even wear it to the beach. Where's my cape?"
Winn: "Capes are lame. Tell your cousin I said so. Actually, never, never do that."
Winn: "Uh, if... if I believe the comments on the website, they mentioned a 'female/reptilian boxing in the desert'."
Kara: "I'll tell you all about it in the next crime-fighting lunch hour."
Winn: "Wait, so the Super-Friends are back?"
Kara: "We're not calling ourselves that."
Like both Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl had a major case of pilot-itus, but Melissa Benoist's title character made it better all around.
3 out of 4 costumes.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.
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