Image is CBS
Last Monday finally saw the premiere of CBS’s superhero series Supergirl, led by Whiplash and Glee alum Melissa Benoist. And if you visited any entertainment-oriented website in the hours following the conclusion, you probably saw some strong opinions about the show. The thing is, nobody seems to be able to decide on a verdict.
Before I get into the FiveThirtyEight style numbers, it should be noted that Supergirl has dominated the TV-sphere’s psyche for months now. It’s unarguably one of the most anticipated new shows of the year, and with every new picture of its titular star its potential audience salivated in anticipation. And then, in May, came the first trailer. It’s not much more than Supergirl flying around with “Fight Song” in the background. (sidenote: If I could go a week without hearing that song, I’d be so happy.) This is where the divide started. Some people derided it as pandering and far too “girl power” oriented. Others, that it looked like a fun show that wasn’t going to be all dark and broody like the ill-fated movie Man of Steel. It even seems as if most people made up their minds about whether Supergirl was bubblegum trash or empowering fun before the actual episode aired. Nevertheless, the pilot’s release this Monday sparked the debates with renewed fervor. After all, 12 million people watched it.
Now’s where we get to the numbers. Rotten Tomatoes critics loved it. A whopping 97% of critics RT pooled liked the pilot. That’s better than Emmy contenders You’re the Worst, The Affair, Empire, The Leftovers, Homeland, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend… you get the idea. RT’s audience score, however, is a much less glowing 53% and Imdb lists Supergirl‘s score around a 6/10, quite low for them. The A.V. Club and IGN provide voices of reason, giving ratings of a B and a 7/10 respectively.
So there’s a strange dichotomy going on here. Obviously, Supergirl did something right. (Afterall, ninety-seven percent of Rotten Tomatoes critics liked it.) Obviously, they also did something else really wrong. Here at LAS, JA Prentice (Referred to here as JA) and I, (JC) try to get to the bottom of it.
This discussion is a little longer than usual, so I’ve broken it up into sections to hopefully be a bit more readable.
JC: So I guess the best way to frame the discussion then would be this: The internet is getting torn apart over this. Rotten tomatoes critics have given it a 97%, while the audience score is in the 50s. Imdb has it at 6.8 (really low for imdb) and I’ve seen a bunch of people on reddit decrying it as “DOA” or simply “the worst show I’ve seen.” Is one side right here?
JA: I think anyone calling it “the worst show they’ve seen” has never watched the majority of American television. On the other hand, 97% is ridiculously high. So basically, I don’t think either side is right. It’s mostly good, in my opinion, but definitely flawed. My hope is that it improves after the pilot, as a lot of shows do.
GIRL POWER HEAVY-HANDEDNESS
JC: “Good but flawed” is exactly how I put it in the discussion thread on reddit. So before I say my opinion, what were the flaws you saw with it?
JA: I felt the feminism angle was awkward. It felt a little self-congratulatory. Like they were talking about how great they were for finally putting a female superhero on TV, despite the Wonder Woman predating it by a good thirty (?) years.
JC: To be fair, Wonder Woman was apparently so bad they didn’t even air the pilot.
JA: I’m not talking about that Wonder Woman I’m talking about the successful show with Lynda Carter that ran 59 episodes and starting in 1975. So I guess 40 years ago now? (editor’s note: We here at LAS are writers. Math really isn’t our thing.)
JC: Oh okay didn’t know there was two wonder woman shows.
JA: The other one never even made it to air, so I don’t think it even counts.
JC: Well, chronology aside, I do agree that the “girl power” angle was played with all the subtlety of a brick and was my biggest gripe with the show
JA: A big example of it for me was the scene where Kara complains about the Supergirl name. The problem with this is that the Supergirl name has never been sexist, because Supergirl was created as a GIRL- around 16 years old. The show created this problem themselves and then tried to act heroic about it.
JC: Ugh, that explanation was just… not good. Especially when, as you said, there’s a perfectly good in universe reason for it. But for me the scene that was the worst was when that extra went “it’s great to have a female super hero now so my daughter has someone to look up to.”
JC: I laughed because I thought it was a joke at first. And then I realized they actually thought that line was inspirational or something.
JA: The problem is that the clear message is that THEY are being inspirational. They’re trying to make this into a huge victory for feminism when it’s really not that big of a deal.
JC: Well I think there’s a second problem, directly related to this one, that hasn’t been talked about much.
JA: And what would that be?
AN INCONSISTENT TARGET DEMO
JC: The show has absolutely no idea what age its target audience is.
JA: That’s… actually kind of accurate.
JC: It hit me when I was reading through the discussion thread on reddit and someone pointed out “it’s a super hero show I feel fine watching with my nine year old daughter. I’m fine with it.” And then I realized, all the unsubtle girl power stuff, coupled with the way they marketed and hyped the show, make it seem like this is aimed at young girls. Like 7-12, rather than the typical 19-30
JA: I think that there isn’t a problem with the show trying to hit a wider target audience, personally. But I had a vague feeling there was some not-kid-friendly stuff, though I can’t remember what it was now.
JC: Supergirl almost got choked out in the climax.
JA: Maybe. That doesn’t seem that bad to me, though.
JC: There may be something else as well, I think it’s a pretty pervasive thing in the show. You watch the ads and you’re expecting one thing, and you watch the show itself and you get (mostly) another.
JA: Really? I felt the ads reflected it pretty accurately. A little too accurately, since the longer trailer showed a solid 10% of the pilot.
JC: I’m specifically talking about one where CBS premieres the pilot to an audience of girls around 6-12 years old and then Benoist walks out to meet them all. Tried to find it on youtube but couldn’t. But anyway, that one specifically had me thinking “wait, what age range are they going for?”
JA: Well, Superman shows (The ones that aren’t Smallville) have a tendency to go for a family/all-ages audience. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had a similar tone, although it wasn’t as good.
JC: Well that makes sense, and I think thats a good transition into what WAS good about it, and why those people who were saying it’s the worst episode of television ever are wrong.
JA: I like the light-hearted tone. I’m glad they didn’t force Supergirl into being a dark character. It’s been tried in the comics. The results were not pretty.
JC: I did as well. It was pretty fun. Also, the casting department absolutely nailed it when it came to Melissa Benoist.
JA: She was so good I got over my annoyance that it wasn’t Molly Quinn. (Who I suppose is busy with Castle anyways.)
JC: Especially now that Molly has something to DO on Castle. But god, I love Melissa Benoist.
JA: The cast in general seemed to work fairly well. They did a good job setting up a good dynamic for all the different characters and Kara’s ‘two worlds’- CatCo and the DEO.
JC: The one cast member I wasn’t a fan of was the CatCo CEO. Forgot her name.
JC: Hence the name CatCo, I guess. But yeah. Didn’t care for her. Don’t doubt a good deal of it was the writing.
JA: She was a little over the top, but I didn’t have a big problem with her. I had mixed feelings about Jimmy/James Olsen. He’s a good character, but he’s nothing like Jimmy Olsen. Not because he’s African-American, but because he’s cool and over six feet tall, which is kind of the opposite of the young, geeky everyman that Jimmy is supposed to be. I’ll forgive it since I like the character, but it will continue to bother me a little.
Roles have reversed from The Martian
I see. I’m again tempted to mention the CinemaSins mantre of “The books don’t matter.”
JA: Like I said, I don’t have a BIG problem with it, but it bothers me that the character is literally the opposite of what they’re supposed to be.
JC: Maybe he’ll turn around and end up with a geeky personality that he doesn’t show or something
JA: That wouldn’t surprise me, actually. Like we’ll see a flashback to his time in Metropolis and he’ll be a small, nerdy kid when he meets Superman. That could work.
THE KTYPTONIAN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
JA: Speaking of Superman, how did you feel about how they handled the Kryptonian elephant that wasn’t in the room?
JC: I kinda liked it actually. I know it’s ripe for “superman is voldemort” jokes but I think it worked to build Superman as this enigmatic dude who Supergirl feels inferior to. (Also I think they don’t actually have an actor cast for Superman yet. Could be wrong.)
JA: I had mixed feelings because I felt it was a little awkward that Superman would have so little involvement with his cousin, who’s also probably the only other surviving member of his species he knows of. But at the same time I like the idea of Superman being this huge presence that’s never seen.
JC: I also kind of feel a jealousy that National City has towards Metropolis. Not sure if they intended it or not, but I feel it.
JA: It makes sense. Metropolis is the Big City that has a personal alien protector. National City is just another city. Jealousy would be only natural, since this isn’t like the comic book world where almost every city has it’s own superhero.
JC: This is the sort of “show don’t tell” that for some reason flew out the freaking window when it came to the girl power angle.
JA: I kind of have to wonder if it was a network mandate, considering how much they used it in advertising.
THE EFFECTS/SET DESIGN
JC: Maybe. Wouldn’t be surprised. Also, before I forget, the one other big criticism I’ve seen around the internets that doesn’t have to deal with the empowering stuff is the effects. I, however, didn’t have much of a problem with them.
JA: I thought the effects were fantastic for TV. The flight scenes were really dynamic compared to the flat green screen shots I was expecting.
JC: Supergirl on takeoff was kind of hit or miss. I wanna say she took off four times in the episode and twice it looked great and twice it looked shaky. Everything else, especially the plane, looked great to me
JA: The only thing that looked a little iffy to me was Krypton at the beginning. Although that was as much the design as the actual effects.
JC: The set design wasn’t great. Maybe we’re spoiled after this season of doctor who, but yeah…
JA: Frankly, the set design was better in the Adventures of Superman pilot from the 50s.
JC: I’m gonna take your word on that since I’ve never even heard of the thing
JA: It probably only looks better because I have a soft spot for cheesy 50s sci-fi designs, so please do take my word for it. Also, If we’re done with the good and bad discussion, I have a crazy theory to make. (If not, ignore this.)
JC: I just want to say how much I liked Benoist one more time. We said more bad than good, but I did like the pilot overall and 90% of that was how good she was. So I’ll say that twice. Okay, theory time.
JA: Alex Danvers is also adopted. And the real last name of Supergirl’s sister, who is jealous of her, has the first name aLEX, and is a scientist is Luthor. She’ll be Lex’s daughter or sister.This concludes Insane Theory Time.
JC: That seems crazy and silly enough to be true.
JA: I think the pathos of her being actually related to Superman’s arch-enemy would be a likely plot for TV. It could either be great or awful depending on how they pulled it off.
JC: Well, that’s true for almost any plot. Except sharks falling from the sky of course. 10/10 can not mess that up.
OUR VERDICT- UP UP AND AWAY
JC: What’s your grade for the pilot then?
JA: Hmm. I’d put it at a 7, I think. It had flaws, but it was enjoyable and I’ll definitely keep watching. I strongly suspect that the show will improve as it continues, so this was a promising start.
JC: On our Doctor Who scale I think this is a 6 or 6.5 for me. Also think the show will go up (up and away) from here. Just the herculean feat of getting me to watch a second episode of a superhero show is impressive enough
JA: I am really annoyed you made the Up, Up, and Away joke and not me.
JC: I was pretty sure you’d think of it eventually. I saw that opportunity and I freaking took it.