Two weeks ago, I tuned into the pilot episode of CBS’ Supergirl with pretty low expectations. I’ve never read a frame of a Supergirl comic, but I wanted to see what the show had to offer. And I was blown away. Then last week, I was blown away even harder by the second episode. This show had everything I’d ever wanted and never gotten from Superman. Namely: feelings. Kara is excited and bubbly and conflicted, and it’s a total joy to watch her explore her powers. And while I know not everyone is a fan of all the supporting characters, I do love the Harry Potter feel of Kara’s friends being her greatest strength. There’s no moping in a Fortress of Solitude, just motivational speeches about the power of teamwork.
Even beyond its “Friendship Is Magic” heart, the show has a lot more going for it. It’s got a solid feminist angle, not shying away from feminist messages or the word itself; it’s chock-full of 90s stars (Calista Flockhart and Peter Facinelli), plus a recurring cameo from Perd Hapley; I also don’t feel all that shallow in saying that Supergirl’s super hot Jimmy Olsen isn’t a minor selling point. In short, I was freaking loving this show.
And then this week they had to go and mess everything up by bringing Superman into the fold. Kara had spent the last two episodes struggling to come out from under the shadow of her cousin, and was making great progress in scaling back, learning and honing her abilities, and finding ways to set herself apart. Kara had been doing well staking her own claim and forming an identity separate from her more famous cousin. So WHY did the show feel the need to spend the third episode having Kara battle Reactron, a Metropolis villain, and having cheesy iChats with Superman (who is apparently a big fan of smiley faces).
Supergirl was doing great without Superman. By bringing in the big guy now— especially when they can’t even show him, and only give us glimpses of his boot or cape— it makes it seem like the show doesn’t have faith in its own heroine. And in trying to bolster her up with the assist of a big hero (while fighting an underwhelming villain), it only makes the her, and the show, look weak. It’s the same thing Agents of SHIELD struggled with early on: how to establish yourself as a small part of a big universe. SHIELD found its footing once it scaled back and stopped trying to compete with the movies. (And once Winter Soldier made their role in that universe clearer.) Like Supergirl, its strength was that it was telling stories of people who happen to live and work amongst heroes. Sure, Kara IS one of those heroes, but its her humanity that makes her interesting to watch. Ratings have already dropped to about half of what the show premiered at, but if they’re already resorting to Superman cameos, it’s not a big surprise. I’ll be really disappointed if it turns out this show only had two good episodes in it. Hopefully they’ll ditch the Reactrons and give us more Calista Flockhart speeches about feminism. The show works so well when it’s as far from Superman as possible.