Supergirl pilot review – did the premiere soar?

Supergirl took full flight in its debut episode and while it wasn’t always smooth, the sky truly proves the limit for the newest prime-time comic book show.

Kara Zor El (Melissa Benoist) quickly narrates her origin. As her cousin Kal-El rocketed off to Earth before Krypton’s destruction, she was supposed to follow along and keep him safe. Unfortunately, her ship was stranded in the Phantom Zone where time stood still and when she emerged, her cousin was already and adult and the world’s most famous hero.

Benoist is immediately likable. Clearly you want the series lead to be someone the audience will connect with and in Benoist, Supergirl has a cheerful and — in a nice departure from the gloomy, darker tones of most comic shows — happy heroine.

supergirl-premiere-kara-trying-on-her-outfitEasily the biggest irritation was how the writers kept going out of their way to reference Superman, but not explicitly saying Superman. We heard ‘Man of Steel,’ ‘my friend in blue’ and several ‘my cousin.’ Real people would just say Clark, Kal-El or even… Superman. Warner Bros. has always made the DC TV licenses needlessly complicated so it’s likely Superman’s various identities are off limits, but it’s definitely something that needs a more organic fix.

The rapid pace allowed the episode to move past a lot of the pitfalls that make comic book series slow starters. Superman took her to live with the Danvers family and Kara remains close with her adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh). In a nice nod to previous Superman/Supergirl projects, her father is played by Lois & Clark Superman actor Dean Cain and Supergirl star Helen Slater.

But the boring pedestrian life of working as an assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) is starting to wear thin on Kara, who yearns for a life of greater significance.

supergirl-premiere-cat-grantI’m a bit worried about Flockhart’s Cat Grant by way of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly is going to get old much sooner than later. Flockhart happily devoured every scene she was in, but Cat is likely to be one of those characters that’s better in small doses.

Faring slightly better is Mehcad Brooks as James “Don’t call him Jimmy” Olsen, the new photo layout editor for Cat’s online site and newspaper. James is the calm, assured presence and seems unlikely to be the constant sidekick in distress more commonly portrayed in the comics. Kara is instantly smitten and it is more than a little weird that James is a tight T-Shirt wearing model in this incarnation.

Kara finds herself forced into action when Alex’s plane has mechanical failure and is going to crash. I would’ve liked Alex to actually not be on the plane so Kara’s first heroic act would have been completely selfless. As it was the segment made it appear as if Kara might not have outed herself and let the plane crash if her sister wasn’t on it.

Creators Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Ali Adler impressively sped through a number of kickoff season subplots in the first outing. Kara’s already got her established superhero identity so we won’t spend two or three seasons trying out various aliases like The Flying Girl or Red Cape. Already out the gate it’s Supergirl.

supergirl-premiere-supergirl-alex-and-hank-henshawVersion 1 of the costume is also in place and she’s got a tech-heavy support staff on hand for enemy breakdowns and the occasional pep talks. Fortunately, it’s a secret government organization the Department Of Extra-Normal Operations run by presumed future villain Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, making another entry to the list) and Alex(!) so we won’t have to call them Team Supergirl.

Henshaw is reluctant to trust Supergirl even when she confronts a former Phantom Zone prisoner (Owain Yeoman) and battles him to a standstill. Turns out Kara’s ship also allowed a Phantom Zone prison transport to crash on Earth unleashing its prisoners on the planet.

And all of them want payback on Kara’s mother Alura (Laura Benanti) for sending them to prison. With Alura dead, Kara will have to suffice for payback. Sounds like a lot of meteor freaks for Kara and company to round up all season. That does bring up the question why these Phantom Zone prisoners haven’t been going after Superman as he’s got the same family crest/symbol?

At times, the script came across a bit too forced with the girl power message. It felt weird as if the writers thought they needed to validate the existence of a female superhero by intentionally calling more attention to it and patting themselves on the back for bringing a headlining female superhero to TV.

supergirl-premiere-kara-and-james-olsenThe exchange with Alex and Henshaw where she questions if he thinks Kara isn’t strong enough because she’s a girl was silly. She’s Superman’s The Blue Guy’s cousin so of course she’s strong enough to handle anybody not packing Kryptonite.

Future Toyman/current friend zoned pal Winn Schott’s (Jeremy Jordan) conclusion that Kara didn’t want to go out with him because she’s a lesbian felt like a 90s rom-com punchline. Kara confides her secret in him, but Winn is no Cisco despite his know-all things superhero demeanor. And given James’ history with Superman, why wouldn’t Kara just make her big revelation to him?

If you’ve been watching CBS at all over the last month, chances are you’d already seen all of tonight’s highlights. I wish they’d left a little for audiences to experience for the first time with the premiere.

Alex confesses part of the reason she wanted Kara to stay hidden was because she didn’t want to be stuck in her super-powered sister’s shadow. This could have been an agonizing subplot to sit through for a couple seasons so I’m glad it was addressed and resolved right away.

Not shockingly, Superman seems like he’ll be a non-presence in the show so he’s asked James to keep an eye on his cousin. Apparently Metropolis has lousy Wi-Fi so Clark can’t bother sending Kara an occasional text or tweet. Arrow and Flash aren’t tied to other heroes, but the lack of Superman’s involvement seems weird.

supergirl-premiere-supergirl-readyThe action sequences were a bit sketchy as Director Glen Winter (Smallville, Arrow, The Flash) had some issues making the effects flow smoothly. Kara’s flying and fighting were herky jerky, but these are growing pains likely to get worked out in future episodes. The blue heat vision was an odd random switch for seemingly no reason.

Like the other Berlanti/Kreisberg shows, we got an epilogue segment where the season’s main foe is operating behind the scenes and fully prepared to take out Kara. In a twist that’s not much of a twist, it’s revealed to be Kara’s aunt, an identical twin of her mother. That’s going to cause some drama.

There was a lot happening here and a few kinks a new series has to work out. With Benoist leading the way, the initial hiccups on “Supergirl” will be fixed quick if not quite faster than a speeding bullet.

Rating: 7 out of 10