One episode was screened for review.
Back in 2001, television producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar pitched a Superman TV series with a strict “no tights, no flights” rule. For the next ten years, Smallville‘s Man of Steel (played by Tom Welling) was effectively grounded, having to resort instead to his other abilities to defeat a wealth of Kryptonite-mutated baddies and out-of-this-world supervillains. The series relied heavily on dramatic irony to allude to Clark Kent’s caped destiny, and only fully committed to the concept that he was Superman in its final seasons.
Fast forward to 2015, and producers Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler have completely tossed the “no tights, no flights” rule out the window. Kara Zor-El’s Kryptonian origin story is taken care of in the series’ opening sequence, and within fifteen minutes she’s fully established as Supergirl, a bold, exciting new heroine not only for her Metropolis-like town of National City, but for the television landscape itself.
As a series, Supergirl has been facing an uphill battle from the beginning. For starters, how do you make a show about Superman’s cousin without relying on Superman? Can the special effects be effectively created on a television budget? And, above all, can she hold her own on a television landscape dominated by male superhero adaptations?
If the pilot is any indication, Supergirl has managed to leap all of those problems in a single bound, by pulling no punches in adapting the title character and delivering strong feminist messages without overly dramatic or cliched “girl power” sentiments. The series is fun, full of heart, its special effects are (mostly) seamless and impressive, and the Superman problem is handled with such no-brainer finesse that he likely won’t be stepping on Kara’s cape anytime soon.
In typical Kreisberg and Berlanti fashion, much of Kara’s story is handled via a “My name is…” voiceover. That tactic will likely grow old if the duo continue bringing DC heroes to television, but it works wonders here, as much of Kara’s story is quickly doled out in a streamlined way that understands the fact that most everyone on the planet knows Superman’s origin story.
Supergirl’s origin is very similar, so the writers are able to piggyback on what we already know and build from there. Krypton is destroyed, but both Kara (who is a teenager) and her infant cousin Kal-El manage to make it out alive. Kal goes straight to Earth, but Kara’s ship gets veered off course and she winds up in the Phantom Zone – the famous Kryptonian space prison described here as a place out of time, which causes Kara to remain the same age until Kal (now fully grown and already Superman) discovers her ship and rescues her. He brings her to the Danvers (former Superman Dean Cain and Supergirl Helen Slater), who raise her along with their own daughter, Alex.
All of that backstory – which could have easily filled over an hour of screentime in a feature film – is done away with rather quickly, which is refreshing. Audiences today are so familiar with superhero origins that we don’t need to know the step-by-step process that a hero took from mild-mannered citizen to cape-wearing savior. Still, the writers left all of Kara’s childhood with the Danvers unanswered (we only see Cain and Slater for a brief moment), meaning that the series could easily provide flashbacks – a la Arrow – down the line if need be.