Sunday, December 27, 2015

Supergirl - to the moon and back

television series review

The spectre of the Man of Steel looms large over the series, and the inability to actually show Superman (so far) is instantly frustrating 


Starring: Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, Mehcad Brooks, Jeremy Jordan, David Harewood, and Calista Flockhart
Tagline: A new hero will rise.

Between their many cinematic and televisual offerings, Marvel and DC Comics have collectively saturated both the big and small screens with their superhero sagas. Their ever-expanding franchises have taken over the blockbuster and broadcast realms, and given us some of the most entertaining viewing experiences of recent years. From The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Avengers films to the Daredevil, Agent Carter, and Jessica Jones television series, the standout superhero offerings have not only generated massive global interest but have also received critical acclaim. The bar has been set high for any project that follows these notable adventures, which might be why the new television series Supergirl seems so disappointingly unimaginative.

The CBS action drama tells the story of DC Comics character Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), one of the last surviving Kryptonians, who was sent to Earth by her parents, just before Krypton was destroyed, to protect her then-infant cousin Kal-El. But her spacecraft got knocked off course, ending up in the Phantom Zone where time stood still. When she finally got to Earth 24 years later, Kal-El had already grown up to become Superman.

Hoping that she would have a safe childhood, her famous cousin placed her with an adoptive family – father Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain), mother Eliza (Helen Slater), and their daughter Alex (Chyler Leigh). For a while she hid her powers from the world, taking a job as an assistant to Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), the founder of CatCo Worldwide Media, in the hopes of fitting in and leading a normal life. But then an accident forces her to use her super abilities, making her realize that she didn’t travel 2000 light years just to be an assistant. As she embraces her powers, Kara discovers that Alex works for the Department of Extra-normal Operations (DEO), a secret government agency that monitors alien activity on Earth. While trying to master her abilities, she starts helping the DEO protect National City from alien beings and anyone else who poses a threat.

Simultaneously charming and cheesy, Supergirl might have been impressive had it been made a couple of decades ago. In the current environment, the show simply doesn’t have enough creative elements to stand out, and seems to target a younger, less discerning audience. While it is exciting to have another female-led series, Supergirl’s in-your-face female empowerment agenda feels patronizing as it unwisely relies on (constantly, repeatedly, boringly) telling us the things that the series should instead be showing us.

Its cliché-ridden storyline and script as well as a near-complete lack of dramatic tension also don’t help. Instead of being inventive, the writers leave us feeling like we’re watching the same formulaic twaddle over and over again, week after week. Add to that a cringe-worthy love triangle – between Kara, her tech expert friend Winn (Jeremy Jordan) who has a crush on her, and former Daily Planet photographer James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) whom she fancies – and things start to feel forced and sophomoric.

The cast, like the show, is charming but unexceptional. Beautiful but bland, Melissa Benoist makes an affable Supergirl, but while she looks the part and seems personable, she doesn’t have an imposing screen presence, especially in the action sequences which don’t always pack the required punch. The writing too lets her down, as the character of a privileged super-being, who is pretty much a demigod on Earth, gets bogged down by constant teenager-like angst delivered through tedious dialogues.

The spectre of the Man of Steel looms large over the series, and their inability to actually show Superman (so far) is instantly frustrating. Supergirl isn’t for people who enjoy the grittier take on the comic book hero genre, but is more geared towards younger viewers who prefer something lighter, and fans of The Flash and iZombie might enjoy this lively caper. The series can still appeal to a wider audience if it ups the ante in the coming episodes by making its scripts sharper, its gender commentary smarter and subtler, its action sequences more exciting, and its storyline less predictable and more gripping.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 27th December, 2015 *

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