A glimmer of hope for CBS’ “Supergirl”

This TV season’s new “Supergirl” TV show confuses me.

Over on the CW, producer Greg Berlanti has nailed both “Arrow” and “Flash,” but where those shows feel fresh and exciting “Supergirl” is forced and whiney.

“Supergirl” oscillates between action and soap opera, rarely integrating the two. There’s too much talking among the characters but not nearly enough wit — the show is the anti-Buffy. Every character is earnest to such an extreme degree that I wonder what jokes get cracked in the writer’s room. Even Calista Flockhart’s media magnate Cat Grant can barely get a snicker out of her celebrity lifestyle.

But in the most-recent episode (#8, “Hostile Takeover”) I saw a glimmer of hope.


Towards the end of this episode  —  which whiplashes between Supergirl fighting renegade Kryptonian villains led by her evil aunt Astra and trying to stop the ouster of her boss, Cat Grant, from her media company  —  Ms. Grant finally figures out that her long-suffering assistant Kara Danvers is also Supergirl, and proves it when she demands that Kara take off her glasses.

Thus, in one deft move “Supergirl” does away with 78 years of unbelievable super tradition that anybody with more than that many IQ points would be fooled by a pair of glasses.

Suddenly, Supergirl’s secret has been revealed to a media tycoon who must wrestle between her desire to help Supergirl and her desire to drive viewership to her network. Suddenly, Supergirl’s secret identity is more than merely at risk, it’s a leverage point against her all day, every day.

Now this conflict has potential. I just hope that Berlanti/CBS exploits it.

In fairness, the Super Family is hard to narrate. Even a relatively depowered version of Superman or Supergirl is so, well, super that it’s hard for merely mortal criminals to do anything that poses a challenge. That, I think, is why the show has aped the back story of “Man of Steel” where good Kryptonian goes mano a super-mano against many bad Kryptonians: it’s the only way to have a fair fight.

It’s also boring.

The structure of “Supergirl” combines Kara’s “why can’t I be a real girl?” soap opera against the alien of the week arriving in town from a defunct Kryptonian prison, complete with slightly upscaled Doctor Who makeup.

There’s no real challenge in any of the aliens, and no season long “big bad” (like Tom Cavanagh’s complicated and compelling Harrison Wells in the first season of “The Flash”) to absorb the audience’s attention, and that means that the interest has to come from the soap opera.

For those of you curious about this show, the pilot reruns tonight.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

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