Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Super Watch: Supergirl Pilot on CBS

So.  Here's where I'm the jerk who didn't like the pilot of CBS's new Supergirl TV show that everyone is so excited about.

Look, sometimes I forget just how terrible 90% of network television truly is.  It's no secret network TV has its formulas, its trope for every situation, and never met a bit of exposition it didn't like.  I get that they had to get the character introduced and get a lot of things started quickly, and in the post-Lost wake, the networks think they've learned their lesson and are absolutely terrified of not giving the audience every detail about a show in the first episode.

And I say this as someone who likes Supergirl.  A lot. I've got Action 252 hanging up in my office in a frame (please don't rob me).  I've read Silver, Bronze, 90's, 00's and even gave the trainwrecky New 52 Supergirl a shot.  I'm not a stranger to the character.  And, while I actually like the general tone of "Kimmy Schmidt as Supergirl", because I was really convinced I'd never see that take again (thank you, Sterling Gates, wherever you are, for giving me that Supergirl, oh, so briefly)...  The show is a mess.

Yes, it is a show for children and for those who don't know Supergirl, and no one is under any legal or moral obligation to maintain fidelity to the comics.  I think Marvel has proved that's all pretty unnecessary so long as you get the basic details down.

But this show was in such a rush to get it all in, and still fit it into an hour, you had the distinct feeling the pilot was supposed to last at least half-again as long, but the network nixed that idea.  Instead we got a series of checkboxes to both push the story forward and create big, glowing arrows that said "Kara is likable and relatable!  See, she's unlucky in love!  She also doesn't see the great guy right in front of her!  She's insecure!  She just wants to get along with her sister!"  And that's all fine, but there's a difference between showing and telling, and, holy shit, was this show insistent on telling even after doing a little showing.  

So, yes, I had a real problem with the show's pacing.  It just felt unnecessarily rushed, blowing right past the wonder of what it would be to have such a thing as a Supergirl appear in your city, and what it would mean to people on the ground.  There's a story there, and I assure you, it's a better one than a truck-stop roid freak with an axe throwing petty insults at Supergirl as your A Plot.

I can deal with the "yes, we've all seen The Devil Wears Prada" take on the workplace.  The show isn't aimed at me, and I get that's a thing.  And it's not like other superhero TV shows have ever handled the workplace terribly effectively.  But, yeesh...  you can hear Calista Flockhart chewing her way through her lines and trying to believe it's going to be worth it to be back on TV if she can just make her way to the end of the scene.*  

From a purely logistical standpoint, the show has already given up Kara's secret identity to the federal government.  So, like, literally thousands of people know her secret ID.  And, apparently, she has no problem telling the guy crushing on her from her office that she's an alien.  A decision she's going to regret in six months when he does blurt out his affection for her and she labels him a "niceguy" on fb. 

To get the plot-train rolling, somehow Superman missed the crash landing of a gigantic Kryptonian fortress in an open field and spilled out innumerable alien menaces, making for our freak-of-the-week villains for the series.  

But, you know, it is nice that at least in this version of the Superman mythos, people actually like Superman.

And, because this is a TV-show or movie version of the character, Supergirl is somehow responsible for the villains that will plague her all season.  She's cleaning up a mess created by herself and her family, somehow.  We got exactly one true altruistic act out of her before we move into mission mode for the DEO and taking care of family business, and lifted from the Phantom Zone villain story already told across two Superman versions where it was a bit unnecessary, so...  yeah.

Straight up, my biggest issues were the absolutely ear-bleedingly terrible exposition-rich dialog, complete to Allura's holographic fortune-cookie wisdom drop and the cloying TV cliches.  Not comic cliches, which, man, I can live with those...  but, yeah, at least until the show finds its own voice, they're going to be wrestling with that issue so many hour-long shows develop, where characters just go about the business of the script rather than acting from a place of character (and when they do, tearfully, explain their motivations, they make only the barest sense).  

Anyway, you can imagine I don't watch a lot of hour-long shows on network TV.

So, what's good?

Well, I think kids will like it.  It's non-threatening, it's action packed, Supergirl herself is likable enough.  There's a ham-fisted but very intact message about girl-power on the show, and it'll pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, I do believe.  The FX are all right.  Frankly, I think they've got a way to go to get everything sorted out on showing her flying and landing in the same shot, but, you know... picking nits.  

The show is making good use of Jimmy Olsen.  He's an older, wiser Jimmy, so we're calling him James, and that's all right by me.  Oh, he knows who Kara is, too, of course.  

The suit looks phenomenal on TV. 

What else?  

You know, yeah, I'm being hard on the show.  Partially because I have high hopes and high standards, and I hope CBS and DC meet them.  Also, because The Flash hasn't suffered from a lot of what I saw creeping up in this show, and they've managed to handle all of those TV-ish sort of problems and even specifically CW-ish problems, much better than I ever expected.  It's possible.

I'm also the guy who thinks Agents of SHIELD, an idea I was totally onboard with prior to the pilot, is more or less hot garbage by dumb people.  And thinks Agent Carter already knocked down a lot of the same doors CBS is trying to open with Supergirl, but with much better writing and earned payoff for the character and, thus, the audience.  Stomping into a room and having your sister threaten to quit in a government office is rarely an effective way to get your way and does nothing much for the character more than seal up the unnecessary sisterly breach that was the tension of the episode.

Young people, girls and boys alike, may not feel empowered, and so they may relate to Supergirl's insecurity in this pilot, but, man, it's hard to imagine enjoying "Supergirl: Everyone's Doormat" after a while.  After all, that was what Smallville did with Clark for 10 years, and it was absolutely painful to watch (and he was punished by the show for showing hubris or a bad temper whenever he was as much of a jerk as everyone else on the show).  Supergirl has potential to show - hey, kids - you can have a bit of agency and still not be a complete jack-ass.  The two ends of the spectrum in life are not the bossy Cat Grant and the morally secure but miserable Kara Danvers.

We'll see.  I'm giving it a couple more episodes to see what they do once they settle down, but I'm also not committing to a season of bad TV just because someone is wearing an "S".  I'm glad so many other folks liked it.  I hope it does okay.  But, man...  it's highly likely I'll be sitting this one out.

*But you know what, I bet by the end of the season, that Cat Grant will have rediscovered she has a heart.


Kuudere-Kun said...

I disagree that it's terrible 90% of the time. I watch little TV lately because I'm not that interested in the Genres that dominate Network TV.

I felt the Pilot was pretty good. But it's only the set up.

The League said...

Well, unfortunately, I find 90% of network dramas unwatchable garbage, but that's just me. Clearly other humans disagree. I agree that it is only the set-up, and plenty of shows have recovered from less than fantastic pilots. I sincerely hope this is one of them. But it's going to take some serious thinking to keep the show from just going through the network TV motions.