And Lo, Supergirl has Charmed Me

I started watching the new Supergirl series over the weekend and I find myself utterly charmed by the series.

Don’t get me wrong: there a definitely better superhero shows on television. Jessica Jones and Daredevil have the kind of production values that are hard to go past, and they have an advantage in that they’re not fighting for space on free-to-air network TV that frees them up to do things that TV narratives aren’t allowed to do.

Even in this free-to-air space, Arrow and The Flash are pretty hard to beat. They’re both more technically accomplished that Supergirl, in terms of their special effects, fight choreography, and the performances of the supporting cast. As super-hero shows, they have the advantage of two series in which to build up their shared world and character pool, with their new time-travel show on the horizon.

Supergirl doesn’t compete on any of those levels. The scripting is often clumsy and occasionally over-earnest. The FX are…uneven. The supporting cast is not quite there, although Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant is more fun than any of the trailers made her look and Mehcad Brooks delivers the best damn Jimmy Olson I’ve seen in any superhero medium.

What Supergirl has going for it is fun. It’s the story of someone who enjoys being a superhero, whose life is actually improved by embracing her destiny, and with a minimal amount of angst about secret identities and – surprisingly – romantic relationships.

It’s a show that does not fuck around when it comes to plot development. Things happen and they happen fast and the series progresses through a series of milestones and character development like it’s a goddamn freight train hurtling down hill.

Things that would be several episodes worth of angst and subplot are resolved fast. The pilot sets us up for a pretty common villain of the week plot device which comes with a big sense of oh hell, this will get tedious for anyone who sat through the kryptonite mutations of Smallville‘s first seasons, but it immediately takes a left turn with a series of episodes that break the established “typical episode” archetype.

The show is bright and colourful and people are happy. There is no attempt to mute down the colour, as Zack Snyder did with the iconic blue superman outfit in Man of Steel. There is no whiff of Nolan-esque Bat-angst lurking. This is not a show that’s embarrassed by the idea of having the big blue boyscout’s younger cousin as its central character, nor of having a character conceal their secret identity behind a pair of glasses and a small change in hair style.

The good are good, the bad are bad, and there are happy endings. It’s an imperfect show, but it’s sweet and charming in its imperfections. It does little things exceptionally well, especially little throw-away lines that contain multitudes about characters and their relationships. Or the bits where it sets up expectations based on archetypes, then quietly subverts them. Melissa Benoist is great as the titular character, which makes it the first time I’ve seen a DC superhero show where the lead is as interesting as the supporting cast.

Basically, the whole series is adorkable. A clumsy show that’s slowly finding its feet and improving, episode by episode.

And in a world where it’s competing with a slate of superhero shows characterized by slick production and dark, gritty storylines, I find myself looking forward to the next episode of Supergirl far more than I expected.

  2 comments for “And Lo, Supergirl has Charmed Me

  1. 18/01/2016 at 9:37 AM

    Is it on Stan? or Netflix? I did a trial of Stan way back and wondering whether to sign up again. Would value your take on that if you have one 🙂

    • 18/01/2016 at 10:19 AM

      Streamed from Google Play, in this instance, but I have subscriptions to both Netflix and Stan at various points if the year. I like them both, but they scratch very different itches as a viewer.

      Stan is like having a really decent local video store again. Good range of movies, a lot of classic TV series, and a surprisingly good indie/classic film section. It earns my love forever for having a copy of The Third Man in its collection, which I had to import in a Chinese version when I went to order it on DVD. It’s also got a few sleeper hits in terms of content unavailable elsewhere – the Amazon studios stuff (particularly Mozart in the Jungle) and small US network stuff like Neil Labute’s TV project.

      Netflix is more like having a friend with a good DVD collection. There’s some surprising gaps, but also a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect to like but do. Their strengths are the Netflix original content, which is plentiful and really embraces the fact that they’re designed to be binge watched as a series, and the recommendation engine which fine tunes over time. The ability to search for content by creator and actor is great, as well, and the recent decision to open up to all markets mean there is suddenly a plethora of interesting international content appearing.

      Basically, it comes down to what you really want to watch. If o had to choose one, I’d probably have Stan for two or three months, then switch over to Netflix for a month to catch up on the originals in a bulk lot.

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