Midway through the Supergirl premiere Monday night, a waitress voices what CBS hoped would be parents’ thoughts on the debut of Superman’s Kryptonian cousin.
“Nice to have someone like that for my daughter to look up to,” the character says.
She’s actually a wonderful role model for any child, and that about wraps up CBS’ goal with Supergirl: a smart, strong, successful, and overall independent female superhero with a feminist message who can lift the ratings up, up and away.
Instead, Supergirl’s suppressed superpowers are an awkward metaphor for her modern-day oppression as a woman–a ditzy girl concerned with what clothes to wear for a blind date or barely juggling her secretarial duties instead of unleashing her inner “powers”–liberated through a pilot episode alarmingly identical to Saturday Night Live’s satirical trailer for a Black Widow movie, which criticized lead women’s portrayals in Hollywood.
After Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), whose birth name is Kara Zor-El, effortlessly launches herself into the night sky for the first time in nine years and, of course, saved the day, the episode produces what were actually some strong moments.
In one scene, the 24-year-old “Supergirl” debates with her stubborn boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), about the difference between being labeled a girl or a woman. Another scene also shares a nod to long-time comic book fans, combining and modernizing 57 years of Supergirl’s many impractical and sexualized outfits.
Even the villain of the week, a fusion of DC Comics characters Vartox and Lumberjack (Owain Yeoman), descends from a planet where “females bow before males.” Supergirl overpowers the escaped alien convict using the lame and overused overcome-any-obstacle gimmick of self-confidence, but the literal defeat of a monster male supremacist seems blatant and uncreative. Especially when the now supposed strong, independent woman constantly paralleled the Man of Steel himself.
Aside from a brief glimpse of his blue-sleeved arm and flapping red cape at the beginning of the episode, Superman did not and will not appear in Supergirl completely, but his heroic influence no doubt exists. Wearing unnecessary black-rimmed glasses at her newspaper office and, according to one character, debuting her superpowers exactly like Superman by rescuing a plummeting plane, X-ray vision was not necessary to spot the pilot episode’s reliance on the classic superhero. Some characters could not even finish a conversation with Supergirl without connecting her to Superman.
“Anyone ever tell you that you look a little like him right there?” ex-Daily Planet photographer James Olsen (Mechad Brooks) said, vaguely waving his hand at Supergirl’s face, confirming she actually didn’t resemble Superman at all.
Borrowing from and associating with Superman’s story seems contradictory and counterproductive. Ultimately it just differentiates Supergirl very little beyond an unoriginal female Superman. In a strange way, Supergirl relies a lot on a man just to prove herself to viewers.
The show knows what it wants to say, but much like the main character, the pilot episode lacks any confidence in itself, failing to support its progressive message with assertion and capitalize on the opportunity to truly transform Supergirl into something more and drive its positive message home.
In short, random waitress character, there are better heroines your daughter can look up to, and they don’t even fly.