Monday, October 10, 2016

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Supergirl Gets a Little Help From Superman in 'The Adventures of Supergirl'

The CW's Supergirl - Episode 2.01 "The Adventures of Supergirl"

When a new threat emerges in National City, Supergirl teams up with her cousin, Superman, to stop it. Kara is thrilled to have family in town but it leaves Alex feeling a bit left out. Hank and Supergirl are stunned by the pod that came crashing to Earth.

Supergirl arrives for its second season with more than just a few changes. The most notable, of course, is its change of network. CBS never really seemed like the best place for this show. It provided the first season with strong overall ratings. But it was just this isolated quality that never made a whole lot of sense. The CW is where Supergirl has always belonged and it's great to see it make the transition for this premiere. Some of the other changes are cosmetic while others still aim to address some foundational issues with the story. The first season was okay. It wasn't particularly good or bad. It just never came together in a truly engaging way that made everything compelling to watch. The season only scratched the surface of this story. There wasn't a whole lot of actual nuance. Yes, some character dynamics are great. The sisterly bond between Kara and Alex is wonderful as are J'onn J'onzz and Cat Grant as individuals. But overall, the season was just trying to do way too much. Some of those problems came from the show doing what's expected of it and not what it was genuinely good at. This premiere is a very promising step forward that could signal at a better future for the show.

Of course, the big news of "The Adventures of Supergirl" is the addition of Superman to the actual story. Throughout the first season, the creative team said they never wanted Superman to be a part of this story because his presence would only distract from Kara's journey. And yet, he was always a part of this world. Kara was always living in his shadow as a superhero. The first season was about her figuring out how to be a hero. It was an effective journey. And now, it does feel appropriate to include Superman in the story. It's unclear if the creative team just couldn't use the character last season because their DC bosses were still so skeptical - or wanted the current movie take on the character to be the only one out there. But it's such a fantastic decision to include him in this episode. It's a different take on the character than Zack Snyder's super grim and serious version in the films. It's a welcome change of pace as well. This show thrives on its light and upbeat energy. There's no room for a brooding Superman to come in and complicate things for Kara and her friends at CatCo and the DEO.

Melissa Benoist and Tyler Hoechlin have some terrific sibling chemistry. They pop on screen immediately as the superhero cousins. It's a relationship that works because of the witty banter they have. Both Superman and Clark Kent are important parts of the story of this premiere. And yet, the show never loses sight of this being Supergirl's show. Kara is the lead and everything needs to revolve around her. So, Superman has the fame and attention that comes from years of being a hero. But that never leads to an annoying smugness. In fact, it's terrific when the show highlights just how similar Kara and Clark are. They both want to help people. They say hi to the people who just happen to witness their heroic abilities. They aren't separated from humanity because they come from an alien world and have these amazing powers. They are very down-to-earth and special. They care about the people they protect. Plus, they make quite an effective team on the battlefield. They are strong individually but are even better together. They are very generous as well. They don't need to be the ones to save the world alone. Kara already did that in the season finale. She's more than comfortable asking Clark for help - and vice versa. It's a fantastic take on a world with superheroes.

The actual story that brings Kara and Clark together is a little generic and lackluster though. A terrorist is targeting a company for wrongdoings in the past. In this case though, the company is Luther Corp and the terrorist has been hired by Lex Luther. This premiere establishes that Clark already has his life figured out and has battled Lex in an epic exchange of power. Clark has success as a hero and a man. And now, Lex is serving over thirty life sentences in prison. The target of this attack is Lex's sister, Lena. She's trying to rebrand the family company and become a beacon for good in National City. Of course, that's not an easy thing to do. But Lena is safe because Kara and Clark are willing to protect her. They save her and stop her building from imploding. Plus, Lena proves to be resourceful as well by shooting the bland and one-note terrorist targeting her in the first place. And yet, this story may just serve as a further introduction of Project Cadmus. They were a new enemy established late last season. It was a rushed introduction that didn't mean much. But here, Brenda Strong pops up in the end as a threatening new face for the government program that could indicate things are far from over for Kara and Clark with this bad guy - who becomes Metallo at the end of the premiere.

That's an ominous tease for the future of the season. Plus, Clark is going to be sticking around for a little while longer as well. His appearance here could play as a big stunt to boost ratings and publicity for the show. But it's actually a part of a meaningful story arc for the season. Kara and Clark's relationship is so unique. He is technically older than her on Earth but she has strong memories of life on Krypton. He can learn as much as he wants at the archives but Kara actually lived there and is way more valuable with information. She can actually tell him what his parents were like. That's a family connection that is poised to only get stronger. It could become quite the asset for the show. However, Kara and Clark may not be the only Kryptonians still alive. The cliffhanger at the end of last season saw a pod crashing to Earth. Here, it's revealed it was carrying a mysterious man from Krypton. It's such a minor part of this premiere. It's not high on the list of priorities for this episode. It's just further setting up another new mystery for the season. It's not as enticing because nothing really happens but it could be interesting once more is actually revealed.

So much of "The Adventures of Supergirl" works because it is just so relaxed and confident with itself. The show seems to be more sure of what it is now that it has moved to The CW. And yet, the retconning of the Kara/James romance is just so forced. They were seen as this epic love story in the first season. It was a big deal when the season ended with the two of them officially getting together. And now, Kara just realizes that she only wants James as a friend and nothing more. It's a realization she comes to solely because the show realizes their romance wasn't working as well as it thought. It's great that they saw that as something that needed course correcting without some kind of outside influence. It took Arrow introducing Felicity to realize that Oliver and Laurel weren't working as a couple. Here, Supergirl just realizes it immediately. It does leave an uncertain future for James though. This premiere spends a lot of time rebalancing things for the future. Winn feels much more natural as a character while working for the DEO. Meanwhile, every interaction between Kara and Cat remains so special and unique. But Cat won't be sticking around for the majority of this season. It's a part of the troubles that come from shifting production to Vancouver and Calista Flockhart wanting to stay in Los Angeles. Kara's work life still has importance. But it's so unclear how James will fit into the show moving forward. Right now, he's the odd man out without a whole lot of actual purpose.

Of course, the show could find some way to incorporate James into Kara's new life at CatCo. She's planning on following in her cousin's footsteps by becoming a reporter. It's a purpose she finds after spending the day with Clark. He is effective in this line of work while still being a little nebbish and awkward. Everyone tells Kara she has the skills to do it as well. That wasn't immediately apparent though. She was largely just along for the ride while Clark asked all of the questions. She's just starting out in this profession. She takes the plunge in the hopes of figuring out this part of her life. She's confident doing so because of the strong advice and confidence Cat gives her. Something is clearly up with Cat. She's not acting quite herself. Perhaps she's not as happy as she used to be despite having everything she's always wanted. Perhaps it's the show setting up an explanation for why she'll be seen less this season. Her absence will definitely change the energy of the CatCo scenes. That could be very problematic and different for the show. Kara works as Supergirl. It's unclear if she works as a reporter.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Adventures of Supergirl" was directed by Glen Winter with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Jessica Queller.
  • Clark and J'onn have their own troubled past. They discovered Kryptonite together. J'onn was the one who actually named the substance. However, Clark wanted to destroy the material while J'onn wanted to keep in just in case of an attack in the future.
  • Clark and Alex have a relationship as well. It's just a minor part of the story but it's glimpsed a little bit. He largely just expresses concern about the potential of her father still being alive and trapped in Project Cadmus.
  • The DEO gets a new headquarters that is in the heart of National City. It's a great upgrade. It becomes more centralized to the action while also embodying the lighter tone the overall show is actually going for.
  • Winn being at the DEO will also lighten the mood of those scenes as well. J'onn seems skeptical but hires Winn anyway. Plus, Winn just has some amazing reactions while around Superman. He has a ton of questions about how he was able to defeat Lex Luther.
  • Cat Grant once sent Clark a "florid" text while drunk. It certainly is fun to see her so flummoxed by his presence. He sure does have some sway with her. But what's the official story for how Kara and Clark know each other?