Thursday, October 20, 2016

Super Watch: Supergirl Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2

When I started watching Supergirl last season, I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and letting my disappointment in the formulaic, color-by-numbers approach take me to a dark place.  But then, probably earlier on than I'd admit, the show started doing something different from what I expected.  Rather than setting up petty jealousies between characters, rather than turning Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant character into a caricature, rather than turning Kara into a hapless dope that everyone loves only because that's what the show insists must happen despite the fact the character is an idiot ruining everyone's lives...  someone stepped in and started turning the show into something I quite liked.

From the mission statement of "Stronger Together"* - which they actually stuck to as a concept! - to the introduction of Martian Manhunter as a key character, the show seemed to really hit a promising stride, one I wasn't sure it would ever muster on a major network (most of whom make shows I find nearly unwatchable.  I don't know how you people do it.).  We saw a Supergirl who wasn't in competition with her boss, nor overly belittled by a powerful woman quashing anyone who could be seen as a threat.  The show, instead, decided that in Cat Grant, Supergirl found a mentor.  She had strong ties with her sister and adoptive mother (the actually pretty good Chyler Leigh and always lovely Helen Slater).  She even had ties with her homicidal aunt.  And the show ended the unrequited romance storyline with a hearty handshake rather than let their character become a textbook "nice guy".

The Kara Zor-El of the TV show reflected the joyful approach of a Pre-Crisis Supergirl with the pain of remembering the Krypton she'd lost and less certainty than her cousin.  Mix that with borrowed characters from 70-odd years of Superman comics and new characters that fit into the world of Superman/Supergirl pretty seamlessly, and you had a show.  And one that was going to make sure the world saw a superhero who had troubles, who has struggled in day-to-day life as well as in her cape, but who - as the "S" should mean - at the end of the day looked for the best in people, who wanted to do good for her adopted planet.  Who was glad to be there, and remembered that even when things went poorly.  And you have to tip your hat to actor Melissa Benoist for making it work.

When the show was announced as renewed but moving to The CW, I was a step up from cautiously optimistic.  The dumb-CBS-Network stuff intended to make the show palatable to an audience who wasn't going to be ready for Martain Manhunter in primetime anyway was going to be jettisoned (David Harewood is just terrific and is EXACTLY how I've imagined J'onn since about '99), and while we'd see some budget cuts, we'd see more of what made Supergirl shine when it was at its best in Season 1.

Then came the promise of seeing what DC's TV division - who made Barry Allen a favorite TV character (once considered "too boring" to live in comics) - would do with Superman.  Superman!

For two episodes, Kara's cousin joined her in National City and on the small screen, and it was the best version of Superman we may have seen since Superman II.

No offense intended to Mr. Routh or Mr. Cavill, but - while I like many parts of Superman Returns, it's a weird set up with dour implications, with an unbuyable premise of Superman just taking off for five years, just because that's what the story needed to explain how he didn't know he had a young son.  It leaves Superman in a strange situation, alienated from his own friends/ supporting cast, and to what point, exactly?  A set up for a sequel that never happened?  Meanwhile, Cavill's Superman spends his days just feeling really bad about what he does while his mom tells him he doesn't have to do anything that makes him feel uncomfortable.

So, yes!  It's a heck of a refresher to see a Superman/ Clark Kent with echoes of the first two Superman films, a Superman who likes putting on the cape, who can smile and shake the hand of a stranger in the way you wish a celebrity would.  Whether it's genuine graciousness at meeting people or if it's part of the job, he does it easily and without complaint.

Further, this isn't a Superman rushing in to worry over his cousin.  It's a team-up in the best sense of the idea in comics (and without a punch-up between the heroes before they find common ground).  Superman starts from a place of trust and belief in his cousin despite her youth/ inexperience, and THAT is a Superman that I want to see on the screen.  The Superman I want to see sees us as all in it together, not feeling the weight of having to cover for everyone else.

I don't know if Tyler Hoechler is a better actor than Henry Cavill.  In all fairness, all Cavill is ever given to do is look glum (even when presented with a naked Amy Adams.  And if you can't find joy in that, I can't help you.), which, frankly, is a bit of a betrayal of Superman as a character "realism" or otherwise.  I don't even know if this was great television or not.  But after Superman Returns, 10 years of Clark moping around Smallville, and whatever it is we're supposed to like about the Zack Snyder movies' version of Superman, it's actually cool to see something harkening back to a more idealistic version of the character.  I genuinely think the world can use that right now.

The show is going through some changes.  It looks like we lost our version of Maxwell Lord (which is fine) but we're also getting fewer appearances by Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant now that the show is filming in Vancouver instead of LA.  And I'm a little shocked I'll miss her.  The DEO seems like it might actually make sense this season, and I'd guess we've got Mon-El on our hands.  They got Metallo very right, and Cadmus is always a good shadowy super-science bunch to bring into the picture.  We'll see how Lena Luthor works in practice.

Coming up we'll be seeing a guest appearance by Lynda Carter (yes, I am as excited about the prospect as you'd expect) and a deeper dig into the DCU doing more than recycling names of characters from DC's IP Farm.  It's a promising second wind for the show, and a chance I'm glad the cast and crew received.

I don't have high hopes that DC/ WB will allow Tyler Hoechlin to get his own show, but for now, this will work.  An appearance once or twice a season is more than welcome.

As per the suit - I think it works better in motion than it does in stills.  And as someone who thinks the current movie costume looks a bit too ornamental and illogical, I don't really think this TV one is actually any worse.  But all of them suffer without just making the red trunks work.

*cribbed by the Clinton campaign in late summer

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