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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Supergirl: The Importance of Being Kara

SUPERGIRL

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING KARA

Kara Danvers isn't meant to fetch coffee. She isn't meant to blend in. She isn't meant to be anything less than excellent. Because Kara Danvers was born Kara Zor-El on the planet Krypton, and our world has come to know her as Supergirl. Supergirl debuted last night on CBS as everything it was meant to be: the first network television show about a comic book female superhero since Lynda Carter wore Wonder Woman's satin tights nearly 40 years ago. More importantly, Supergirl inherited and proudly wore on her sleeve the legacy of her older cousin Superman, specifically the legacy of Superman's most revered and beloved popular incarnation: Richard Donner's Superman starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. Supergirl did this while forging her own path through the skies, all while remaining charmingly and winningly Supergirl, thanks to the effervescent, character-defining performance of Melissa Benoist. She is Supergirl, now and forever.

In many ways, Supergirl is the fusion and fruition of the sum lessons in recent years executive producer Greg Berlanti has learned from his runaway hit superhero shows Arrow and The Flash. Berlanti and his Supergirl team, executive producers Ali Adler, Sarah Schechter, AJ Kreisberg, and Geoff Johns, with the biggest assist ever from David Rappaport Casting for finding the perfect Supergirl in Melissa Benoist to wear the red cape and coat of arms of the House of El, are blending a frothy super cocktail, mixing equal parts homage to Superman's classic tropes, their modern sensibilities of how to do a superhero show, and a healthy and welcome dose of girl power feminism. Supergirl isn't just for girls, Supergirl is a hero for everyone, but how timely and important is her presence as someone girls can look up to? In a pop culture usually reveling in dark, tormented anti-heroes (the Arrow is even one of them, though he's looking to lighten up after going Green), Supergirl is a shining beacon of optimism. She's a nice person and she's fun -- even moreso than The Flash -- and while the superhero life she chose will bring with it bleak, terrible moments and heartache, Supergirl promises to meet it all with a gee whiz sense of fun and adventure. And, most importantly, with the Hope the S on her chest represents.

What's more, Supergirl isn't alone. Her cousin may be off doing his own thing -- hey, it's a big world, even for flying cousins from Krypton -- but in tried and true Berlanti fashion, Supergirl is a superhero with an all-important support system. Her work life as Kara Danvers may put her in the crosshairs of her tough as nails boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), CatCo CEO and the second most powerful woman in National City, but she has Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer James (not "Jimmy") Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), sent by her cousin Clark Kent himself, to watch her back. Plus she has Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) for extra support, though Winn is already quickly learning that being in Supergirl's Friend Zone may be worse than being trapped in the Phantom Zone. James and Winn, two smart, good looking guys at work who are into her -- poor Kara? CatCo is the 21st century update of the Daily Planet from Superman: The Movie mixed with a winking dose of The Devil Wears Prada, but Supergirl captures the goofy rhythms and comedy of Christopher Reeve knowingly prat falling across the Daily Planet in ways the heavy handed Superman Returns largely missed. Plus if Kara ever wants to go home for advice from her adoptive Earth parents, she need only visit the Danvers played by former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain. The classic Krypton connections run deep on Supergirl, all wonderful nods to the past that Berlanti and his team, superfans themselves, embrace wholeheartedly.

Meanwhile, Supergirl introduced the DEO, the Departmartment of Extranormal Operations, an alien-fighting strike force headed by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) that counts Kara's adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) as an agent. The DEO is an interesting spin on the established backup squads Arrow and The Flash enjoy; unlike Team Arrow and the techies at STAR Labs, who are all ride or die loyal to their superheroes, the DEO isn't necessarily Team Supergirl. Alex Danvers may do anything to protect her Super sister, but the DEO intriguingly blames Kara for inadvertently bringing scores of alien criminals to Earth. The Camp Rozz concept not only brings with it an untold number of baddies for Kara to fight, but it cleverly and immediately gives her a mission and raison d'etre to indulge in superheroics. Kara will have to prove herself, not just to the world, but to the DEO. But the overarching lesson of all this support is one of the hallmarks of the Greg Berlanti superhero shows: no matter how super they are -- and it doesn't get more super than Supergirl -- they (nor we) can't do it alone. We need our family, we need our friends, we need loved ones to watch our backs, to pick us up when we're knocked down, to straighten us up when we're off our path. Just as Alex does to Kara when she doubts herself in the pilot episode. We are the sum total of who we have in our lives. We're super together.

To me, the most important and telling line of dialogue Kara utters is the reason why she confided who she really is to Winn on the CatCo roof: "I really want someone to be excited for me." This is who Kara is: she's extraordinary and she not only wants to be what and who she is, she wants an attagirl. And why not? She caught an airplane falling from the sky, she saved hundreds of lives. She did an unbelievably courageous and heroic thing. Why would she want to hide herself now? In Supergirl, we're about to watch Kara Zor-El become the hero she was always meant to be, not as a shadow or reflection of her famous cousin, but on her own merits. Kara is going into the family business of crimefighting and world-saving, and she really wants us to be excited for her. Her optimism is infectuous, Kara choosing to wear the S on her chest is a meaningful, life-affirming act on her part. It is an awesome thing, to embrace who you are, to take the steps to become everything you're meant to be. Supergirl is here for a reason, to be a new light to show us the way. We're so lucky to have her. 

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