On classic television shows like Will & Grace and Frasier, characters like Stan Walker and Maris Crane are often spoken of, but never seen.
The pilot episode of CBS’ new series Supergirl uses this TV trope, frequently name-dropping Superman throughout the hour-long premiere like he’s a higher power. But while the invisibility of Stan and Maris is inherently the joke, Superman’s virtual presence honestly just makes him look like a jerk who has better things to do in Metropolis than waste his time on a Sticksville CBS show.
Fox’s Gotham has been called “Muppet Babies but with Batman” by Tim Surette at TV.com, and one questions whether the teenage origins approach would have been beneficial to Supergirl, since so much backstory is packed into the 45-minute premiere.
The pilot opens with 13-year-old Kara (Malina Weissman) being launched from her home planet, Krypton, so she can watch over baby Superman as he heads to Earth. However, en route to babysit Kal-El, Krypton is destroyed and the shock waves push her pod off path into “The Phantom Zone,” a region in space where time doesn’t pass. She gets stuck in this limbo for 24 years, without ever aging (every woman’s dream superpower, amirite?). Once she finally crash lands on Earth, she’s saved by her ghostly baby cousin, who has now surpassed her in age, and he places her in the hands of his adoptive parents the Danvers (played by former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain). We never actually see Superman, just his arms and shadow.
(We haven’t even hit the three-minute mark of the episode yet.)
For the next 11 years of her life, Kara hides her identity. The audience is cheated out of seeing Kara in high school or college, impressing her friends with her death-defying skills or drinking to excess without poisoning. We pick up with 24-year-old Kara (Melissa Benoist) working at CatCo, which sounds like an off-brand PetCo for felines, but is really a media conglomerate founded by Cat Grant (played by Calista Flockhart), Miranda Priestly wanna-be. If you missed the opening alien sequence, you’d swear you’re watching a TV reboot of The Devil Wears Prada. Even with superhuman powers, Kara is still a lousy assistant.
Flockhart has the funniest line of the episode, though:“Cancel sushi with my mother. Oh, and cancel my therapist. I won’t be needing it if I’m not having lunch with my mother.”
One day, after a bad e-Harmony date at a trendy bar with local news coverage, she decides to reveal herself and save her half-sister’s plane (Chyler Leigh) from crashing. (By the way, Kara wasn’t on Earth in time to save the United States from 9/11, but she could have helped Sully Sullenberger with the “Miracle on the Hudson” back in 2009. What other disasters did she sit on her hands for and watch in vain?).
In typical sexist fashion, after Kara saves the plane, a KPJT news correspondent calls into question whether the woman who saved the day is a guardian angel or human wrecking ball for all of the damage she caused in National City (Superman’s needless destruction has yet to be called into question).
There’s so much going on in the pilot that it often felt like the Cliff Notes version of four or five episodes. There’s a mid-point twist, but most welcome, an upgraded Jimmy Olsen, oh I’m sorry, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks). No longer is Jimmy the nerdy, annoying supporting player (that role is actually filled by Jeremy Jordan’s IT character). James is sexy, talented, and may be a love interest for Kara (although he definitely gives some mixed signals when he compliments her eyes and says she looks just like Superman).
Supergirl isn’t as interesting as Marvel’s Agent Carter, which debuted on ABC earlier this year. Nor does it push female characters forward in any fashion (the only way she can survive in the real world as a normal “human” is to be viewed as meek). And while Superman gets frequent shout-outs in this series, it’s doubtful that Kara and the struggles of National City will have cross-over appeal in Batman v. Superman out next year. Sorry, cuz.
CBS’s Supergirl premieres Monday, October 26, at 8:30pm.