I don’t know much about the character of Supergirl. She is Superman’s cousin, is blonde, and wears a skirt. We’ve seen a few appearances from her in some animated shows. I toyed with showing my daughter the 1984 Helen Slater movie, but I remember it being terrible.
But Supergirl – as a concept – has been an easy shorthand to help my daughter to engage with superheroes. She is familiar with Superman, mostly from the Donner movies and the 90’s animated series, and the concept of a female version inspires her. If she puts on a cape, her default hero to be is ‘Supergirl’. If she wears a top with the ‘S’ insignia, again she is ‘Supergirl’.
Given this, I was excited by the prospect of a Supergirl TV show, so she could engage with the character directly. When I saw the first photos of Melissa Benoist in character, she certainly looked the part. She also had a warmth to her expression, that went against the prevailing darkness of most superhero adaptations these days. This would hopefully be an uplifting show.
An early trailer left me feeling a little wary, as it was rather close to this viral Black Widow rom-com parody.
This week we finally got to check out the TV show, on Sky 1 in the UK (minor spoilers ahead).
The set up is that the teenage Kara flees the doomed planet of Krypton right behind her baby cousin Kal-El (aka Superman), but as is the way with these things, she arrives long after him – so long that while she hasn’t aged, he is now Superman. She was supposed to protect the baby, but now she is the child who needs his help.
She grows up choosing not to follow him into the heroic business. We find her stuck in a dead end job working for Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart plays her ‘Devil Wears Prada’ like boss Cat Grant). Her life is going nowhere. She seem unfulfilled, until circumstances lead her to use her powers to prevent a plane crashing, and a hero is born.
Much set-up follows, including her costume (trying to justify the short skirt and cape), name (trying to justify the use of ‘girl’ over ‘woman’), and who the villains are (no spoilers).
Being a) the female version of a male hero, and b) being called ‘girl’ means this probably isn’t going to be the definitive strong female superhero many are clamouring for. But despite this I am happy for my daughter to engage with Supergirl (like Batgirl before her) because they can still be excellent, empowering characters when handled right. Plus, my daughter is proud of being a girl, so the name is one she likes.
As this is a primetime US network show, I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be suitable for my 3-year-old daughter to watch with me, and I was right. While there was a little cuddling up to me while Kara faced down the bad guy du jour, this is nothing compared to how upset she gets with other more overtly kiddie fare – such as the scrapyard denouement of Toy Story 3.
Will we be watching more? Absolutely. While the Devil Wears Prada aspect was there, it didn’t dominate. It’s being set-up with potential love interests for Kara, bit that didn’t drive the plot. It passes the Bechedel Test. And the superhero action was for the most part well staged. My daughter likes the character interplay as much as the superheroics, and spent the whole episode engaged and full of questions about the unfolding story.
This was a pilot episode, that had to shoehorn in a lot of exposition and set up. I trust that it’ll settle into a more streamlined show, and even if it doesn’t – showing my daughter a female hero save crashing planes, throw down with a villain, or take out a truck hurtling towards her, is enough for me. And probably for her too…