Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Supergirl: A Second Chance [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

(Warning: This piece contains big spoilers.) I have a few confessions to make first. I slammed the pilot of Supergirl pretty hard back in June of last year. I avoided the series like the plague while I had Daredevil to watch on TV and several superhero movies to look forward to like Deadpool, Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War. But eventually I ran out of excuses and had to sit down and watch the finished first season. I had heard it was cancelled and then not cancelled. I wasn't sure if I cared or not?

Let me recall what my gripes were with the pilot:

1. The pilot lacked pace. They threw everything at you so fast.
2. Because of this we didn't get to know the characters or care about them.
3. The villains were all cardboard.
4. Each week they'd throw another villain at Supergirl.

The first complaint I am happy to say is no longer a problem. With twenty episodes to fill, the pace has improved greatly. Kara Danvers can now take time to worry about dating, or be jealous of Lucy Lane, while other characters got story-lines and scenes that fleshed them out. Callista Flockhart as Cat Grant, who I found repulsive in the pilot, becomes this hard-edged, but worthy mentor. Hank Henshaw, who seemed superfluous and annoying, becomes an intriguing character as Martian Manhunter. All the peripheral characters such as Winn Schott Jr. and James Olson (along with future villains like Siobhan McDougal/Silver Banshee) all get time and purpose. This in turn gets rid of problem #2.

Problem #3 still persists. Non (played by Chris Vance), the husband of Kara's Aunt Astra, has about as much depth as Snidley Whiplash. His wife is killed by a kryptonite sword and he grinds his teeth and gets angry (but he always talks like that), but never really comes across as a grieving husband. Instead he hooks up with the Mystique-wannabe, Indigo (played by Laura Vandervoort) and leaves when he fails. He should have been a linchpin character who cast any ever-present pall of dread over Supergirl's life, but he comes off as tacky and boring. Let's hope next year they come up with a better big bad.

The last problem, the weekly villain or monster, is systemic and not only part of Supergirl's set-up, but any other superhero show, such as The Flash. (The "World's Finest" crossover episode featuring Grant Guston as Barry Allen was fun and a nice break from the main story line.) Even Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer had this problem, as do all episodic hero shows. Supergirl makes fun of this in episode 19 ("Myriad") when Max Lord says, “We’re way past ‘Villains of the Week’ and kittens stuck in trees.” This shows that writers are well-aware of the nature of the beast. So what do you do about it? Better writing. And we've seen that with Season One. "Red-Faced" (episode 6), where Kara has to deal with an invisible, intelligent robot and her anger issues, had some real pathos, though not quite enough logic for me. (Why would the Army spend billions on a prototype, then decide to destroy it on a whim? And who doesn't put a safety protocol into a billion dollar project?) The episode with the red kryptonite (episode 16) invented by Max Lord, Supergirl's Lex Luthor, that made Kara turn evil, also has Kara's sister Alex reveal that she killed her aunt. Some very good acting by Chyler Leigh and better writing showed that the series has soul.

Other problems I never mentioned before include "teamism." All the superhero shows have teams. Arrow has Felicity Smoak and John Diggle, while the Flash has Cisco and Harrison Wells and Kaitlyn Snow. Supergirl has two teams! Her buddy team and the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO). I understand that TV shows are filled with people talking to each other, and the teams allow this dialogue. But one of the things I loved about Netflix's Daredevil was that he didn't have a team. And if it gets to the point where DD is talking to Foggy Nelson on an ear piece while Karen Page works the monitor, then I give up, and will start watching reality TV (shudder). Again, I loved the movie, Unbreakable, because Bruce Willis' character was alone. It's limiting, but I love it.

So is the show cancelled? It appears not, just moving to the CW, where I think it will be quite at home. How do I feel about this? I'm glad and I will watch Supergirl next year. Partly because the show has embraced the old spirit of the Supergirl comics, which featured weekly complications ad nauseum from writers like Otto Binder and Mike Sekowsky. This is one side of her comics. Not all stories have to be galaxy-wide punch-fests (though some of these are good too). I want Supergirl to be something different from The Flash (which I still watch). I understand network superhero shows can't be as gritty as Jessica Jones, my second favorite after Daredevil, but perhaps on the CW Supergirl can survive long enough to find its way, and we can enjoy that Kryptonian universe Siegel and Shuster created 78 years ago.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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