This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 1 Episode 2
Much has been made of the similarities between CBS’ Supergirl TV show and the early days of last year’s superhero success story, The Flash. The adorably nerdy protagonist, the unrelentingly positive tone, the mysterious mentor, and the villain of the week generator conveniently tied to the hero’s origin, it’s all there. Even the pilot episodes were similar in their remarkable ability to condense an entire origin story and first mission into 45 minutes of screen time.
Well, “Stronger Together” also follows the pattern of The Flash‘s second episode, mostly in that it feels more like the second half of a two-hour episode than a standalone piece on its own in many places. That’s not a bad thing, although it suddenly made me wonder what happened to the two-hour adventure series pilot, which always seemed to be the norm not that long ago.
Anyway, if last week was about the origin story, getting Kara into a costume, putting the cast in place, and facing her off against her first alien menace, this week is about, well…most of that, but also about the initial drawbacks of being a hero. Once again, this is the same pace that The Flash first unfurled at, although Supergirl delivers an additional batch of impressive Superman lore along with the remaining set-up this week.
Oh yeah, and the best small screen special effects and action sequences that any member of the House of El has ever been treated to. “Stronger Together” looks almost impossibly good, from the basic flying effects (which have yet to disappoint) to Kara deploying her particular variation on heat vision, it’s just such a slick looking show. And while the “alien of the week” thing might wear thin by midseason, the fact that unlike every other TV interpretation of Superman (other than the animated versions, of course), it’s unlikely we’ll ever have to deal with Kara spending an entire episode tracking down a bunch of bank robbers before squaring off with a bunch of goons in street clothes. It ain’t happening.
We could have used a better villain than the Hellgrammite, though. It’s good that he wasn’t the sole focus of the episode (and the special effects when he would go insectoid were creepy enough), and even better that they aren’t wasting too much time in developing General Astra and her larger plans. There sure are a lot of Kryptonians running around on this show, though, aren’t there?
“Stronger Together” is more briskly paced than the pilot, and by virtue of some really stunningly good action sequences, it’s a bit more memorable. On the other hand, a few of the typical early TV episode weaknesses are still very much on display, here. There’s an awful lot of talking about stuff that once the audience is more familiar with these characters won’t have to be talked about, and it slows things down from time to time, as do a couple of seemingly shoehorned in bits of moralizing. And I think they’ve hit their musical montage quota for the season, too.
I’m also not as immediately in love with this entire cast as I was with The Flash. Melissa Benoist is virtually perfect as Kara, but I’m not yet sure what to make of Chyler Leigh (Alex Danvers) and Laura Benanti (in the dual role of Alura and Astra), while Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant is still veering a little towards the cartoonish (although I do have rather high hopes for some surprises with that character as the series goes on).
Nevertheless, it’s tough to imagine a network superhero show getting off to as strong a start as Supergirl has in her first two adventures, and whatever formulaic tics I have to complain about are washed away by tremendous production values and a completely unapologetic embrace of the optimism that makes Superman and the world he inhabits a place I’ve wanted to visit my entire life.
Kryptonian Memory Crystals
– The comic book version of the Hellgrammite wasn’t a Kryptonian race of insect thingies. Instead, he was entomologist, Roderick Rose, who basically mutates himself into a big green cockroach with powers. He first appeared in Brave and the Bold #80, created by Bob Haney and Neal Adams. He’s menaced Superman a handful of times. Trust me, you aren’t missing much.
– Holy moley, does this show love the Donner Superman movies, or what? So much of Kara’s opening dance in the desert with surface to air missiles reminded me of Superman’s flight over the desert in Superman: The Movie. You can’t tell me this wasn’t intentional.
The scene with Cat Grant demanding they land an interview with Supergirl felt right out of Superman: The Movie, too, right down to Kara’s awkward outburst.
The “cat in a tree” that turned out to be a snake seemed like it was deliberately teasing STM fans (like this writer), too.
When Kara jokes about all Superman needing to hide his identity is “some reading glasses and a good slouch,” well…it worked for Christopher Reeve, who always seemed to grow about six inches between his Clark and Superman performances. Comic artists like Curt Swan and Frank Quitely have made much of how much shorter Clark makes himself appear via bad posture, too.
While the Superman of the comics occasionally found ways to “return to Krypton” through various story devices, the idea of consulting Kryptonian elders (specifically parents) for answers via technology was really first popularized by Superman: The Movie and Superman II.
Oh, and Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner gets a shout out via “Donner Avenue” (Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel also has a cross street named after him).
– Henshaw’s joke about Superman having “a taste for wanton destruction” sounds kinda like a sideways dig at Man of Steel, doesn’t it?
– We meet future Justice League International svengali Maxwell Lord via TV broadcast this week, but I’ll go into more detail on him when they do a proper intro episode for him.
– Plastino Chemicals is named for Supergirl co-creator Al Plastino. And, of course, there’s a Sector 52 there. All of these shows need to chill with the 52 stuff!
– Kara’s crack about being able to “bend steel with my bare hands” is part of one of the many variations on the traditional “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” Superman logline, having popped up in places like The Adventures of Superman radio show and the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the ’40s.
– I couldn’t help but think of classic Adventures of Superman TV episode “Panic in the Sky” when Cat Grant talks about Supergirl having to fly off to stop a meteor hurtling towards Earth. For real, if you’ve never seen an episode of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV series, you must watch that one. It’s great.
– So…how about Hank Henshaw’s red eyes at the end there? Nice touch.
If I missed anything, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!