Supergirl: 201 “The Adventures of Supergirl” Review
Reviewed by Ben McClure.
Supergirl is back!
There’s a moment in the season premiere (The Adventures of Supergirl) where Kara tells her friend that last year was all about figuring out how to be Supergirl, but this year is going to be about figuring out how to be Kara Danvers. And right there, the show clarifies its story thrust for the year, just in case we hadn’t picked it up already.
In much the same way that the lead character is sorting herself out, Supergirl the series is also settling on what it’s going to be. Much of this initial episode is devoted to the show re-establishing its status quo and reorienting its sense of direction. I remember reading a criticism that was levied on another plot-heavy genre show, that it was more of a series of explanations than it is a story. The Adventures of Supergirl has to work hard to avoid that accusation, but for the most part, it succeeds. We get some fun character stuff and a decent little plot about an assassination attempt, as well as hints of a creepy government agency up to no good. But man, there is a lot of exposition.
Let’s see, Kara has a new career path. Winn has a new job. Cat Grant is about to have a new direction. The DEO has a new office. Hank Henshaw (J’Onn J’Onzz), has a new attitude. Earth has a new alien. National City has a new power player. Supergirl has a new enemy. And Kara and James have a new relationship status.
Phew! But like I said, the episode manages to avoid getting bogged down in all of this thanks to a number of key elements. First, there are a lot of rip-roaring action scenes with the awesome displays of superpowers that are almost worth the price of admission. And second, there’s Superman.
Yeah, that should really be the headline here. Superman is here, and he’s kind of terrific. He’s not just a speck in the distance, or a silhouette, or a text messages icon, or just a pair of boots. He’s a fully present, completely well developed character.
Tyler Hoechlin plays Superman, and this Man of Steel is neither a brooding tortured soul lost in a world of angst, nor a simplistic boy scout just busying himself with good deeds. This is a man who at a distance is an icon of power and courage, but up close is friendly and approachable. This is a Superman who knows how to smile, how to wink, how to make jokes and how to laugh, while he also proves he knows how to save people. He’s also a man with a girlfriend and a job and a life. He’s full of hope, and he inspires hope in return, which means that he’s basically the Superman that most comic fans have been clamoring for for years, if the internet is to be believed.
It’s not like it was all that complicated a formula, really. All you had to do is have someone who is both really really powerful, and really really good at the same time. Seriously, it’s not rocket science.
But, cry the detractors, doesn’t making him perfect make him boring? Well, it could, I suppose, but this Superman is far from perfect. Indeed he has some very understandable flaws and quirks. He is quick to judge Lena Luthor just on the basis of her name (although I don’t think it’d surprise any of us one bit if she turned out to be eeeeevil later on this year). He is resentful of J’Onn J’Onzz for keeping kryptonite, even though you’d think the events of last season would have proved that’s a good idea.
There are also some nice moments about how Kara is actually older than Clark, or at least she was before they left Krypton. The scene where he asks if he can stick around so she can tell him more about his home world–a place she remember but he doesn’t–is quite touching. It all helps to make him the most interesting Superman we’ve seen since…well, since a long, long time ago.
Ultimately, it’s a pretty impressive feat that the show can use Supergirl’s more famous cousin in such a major role but still have him not overshadow our lead. This is still Kara’s show, and she looks like she’s having fun and enjoying her life, even as she figures out what direction it’s going to move in. Melissa Benoist continues to bring the charm as Supergirl, and she invites us to enjoy the ride with her.
We don’t get much with the supporting cast this week, although Chyler Leigh’s Alex Danvers does get one great fight scene to remind us how tough she is. With all that’s going on, there’s really not much time for anything else (aside from some fun in-joke references to the old Superman movie). The exception is Cat Grant, which is good since she won’t be around as a regular this season.
Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) is definitely someone we’ll miss, as her relationship and interactions with Kara were a highlight of the last year. Hopefully she’ll make some semi-regular visits to National City on whatever day-seizing adventure she launches out onto in coming episodes. I’m suspicious of how that’s going to work out for the show, and how well Kara’s new career as a reporter will fit into things. But if the show can handle these changes with the same deftness it has with (most of) what we saw in the first week, we should be in for some fun times.
On the other hand, the episode does have a giant weak spot, and its name is the “James-Kara Relationship Subplot.” Kara’s attraction to James was a big deal last year, along with his internal conflict about how to respond. But this week we found out that both Kara and the producers had done a huge 180 degree turnaround and decided it wasn’t a good idea.
The scenes where this happens are of astonishing shallowness, which is only justified because their romantic build-up last year was just as trite. I mean, Supergirl has managed to surprise us all many times with its emotional depth and thoughtfulness, but never when it was dealing with romance. With this latest manoeuver, it seems clear that the writers had no idea where to take things, and were scrambling as quickly as they could to get out of the corner they’d painted themselves into.
It’s a big mark against the episode, but it’s not a fatal one, and the episode still earns a high rating thanks to the good points mentioned earlier. Frankly, it’s a relief that the whole storyline is behind us. The show is made of better things than the most obvious love-story possible. It’s too bad it took them the production team a whole year to figure that out, but now that they have I’m looking forward to moving onto greener pastures, hopefully starting next week