Saturday, 23 May 2015

It was more of a drinking team with a rugby problem

Seeing as the pilot episode has been stolen from CBS servers and disseminated by pirates to the web and definitely not leaked in a deliberate ploy to drum up publicity ahead of time as has been the case with the producers' other shows, I gave Supergirl a look because I am basically pirate scum, contributing to the destruction of television by downloading pilot episodes that have definitely been leaked to drum up publicity ahead of time.
To start with, the pilot has one good thing going for it: in having a healthy, sexually attractive lead  who is above the age of consent, it will most likely help fill Google Image search results for "supergirl" with something other than pictures of grotesque waifs and the Superman logo photoshopped onto porn stars.  For this alone I am willing to watch at least four seasons of whatever CBS want to throw at me.

Some thoughts as they come to me (the following may or may not make sense if you haven't seen the Supergirl pilot):

So she has all these powers and abilities, but in order to "fit in" with normal people, she creates this illusion of someone weak, clumsy and servile because this is what she thinks human women are like?  What an elitist snob Supergirl is, and I am literally less than four minutes into the show. 
I know Clark Kent is categorized in popular culture as being the same kind of stumblebum character, but he's never actually been a doormat in the various tv shows and movies in the way Supergirl's alter-ego is - the closest he's ever come to that has been the Christopher Reeve movies, but those have the in-built rationale that Clark Kent spent over a decade in the Arctic learning to control his powers (and to be Superman) and forgetting what it was like to be around people so that when he has to be around them as one of them when he rejoins society, he genuinely is clumsy because he doesn't yet know how to function in this world where he can now knock walls down with a careless sigh, and so overcompensates with politeness that is usually thrown back in his face.  With Supergirl, she's grown up around humans and learning to be human all the while, which makes her alter-ego a conscious choice rather than a consequence of isolation, so this is what she thinks a woman should be like in order to blend in.  And why is she wearing glasses?  Clark wore glasses because he knew he was going to be Superman ahead of time, but Supergirl doesn't know she's going to be Supergirl yet, so why the glasses?  Is that what she thinks "forgettable" people look like or something?  What an asshole.  Okay I am probably overthinking this.
I like Dean Cain as her foster dad, though - partly because I like Dean Cain, so I don't mind such utterly daft stunt casting as this and Helen Slater as her foster mum - but mainly because when he's introduced he just shrugs like he could not give a fuck that an alien demigod has just landed in his front yard and told him to look after his cousin because he has cities to flatten and necks to snap.  Cain is just like "muhyeah okay then I don't care" and without speaking a single word, he is already my favorite character in the show.
Cat Grant is being set up as Supergirl's Lex Luthor or J Jonah Jameson already, and even before she's appeared onscreen I don't like this because it reminds me of a similar setup in the comics where the Cat Grant character was thrown under the bus to put Supergirl over with audiences, which I thought was pretty poor storytelling as the problem there was that Supergirl at that time was a pretty flimsy character who buffeted on the winds of each and every writer who took over her title, so what she really needed wasn't an outdated and embarrassing "mean girl" nemesis but a consistent character for more than two months at a time.  It also did a disservice to the relatively new character of Cat Grant who in the comics had a great deal of backstory compared to most of Superman's backing cast (though only ever broke out of the comics to become a one-note sex addict in Lois and Clark), so to see her reduced to petty jealousy of a teenage girl was actually kind of uncomfortable as a reader because it reminded me of how superhero comics generally encourage us to view women.

Oh hey, now I remember where I've seen this actor who plays Supergirl's bezzie - he was that super-unlikeable prick in Smash.  I'll be upfront and say he might have done too good an acting job on that, as I now instinctively hate this character he's playing, even before he says the line "if there was an algorithm for love I would know about it."

James Olsen is introduced as an impressive specimen of towering manhood - I'm not gay or anything, but yeah, I probably would - which seems a bit off to me as he's more well known as a scrappy gopher with lots of heart.  He's kind of one-note here, to be honest, and not very interesting.  Teen shows are literally choking on characters like this - though to be fair, they're choking on scrappy gophers, too (Supergirl's bezzie from Smash being a prime example).

Supergirl has just thrown herself on the sofa of her UTTERLY MASSIVE apartment saying "I don't think I'm living up to my potential", because we're not going to beat about the bush in Supergirl pilot land, we're just going to straight-up read our own character description from the show's PR material.  You know what?  I don't care.  It saves time.  But that apartment - Jesus.  Clearly this city doesn't suffer the same problems with housing that the rest of the cities of the Western world do.  An asshole and a contributor to the social cleansing of the modern urban environment - she needs to save puppies or something real quick, because I am not liking this woman so far.
I think the record will reflect that I am totally on board for superheroines doing plane rescues, but it is 2015 now and outside parody, I think we can do better for an origin story.  Before flying, Supergirl also throws away a perfectly good coat for some reason - more evidence she is stinking rich!  She was also wearing this huge overcoat while on a date in a nightclub for some reason - or was it a restaurant?  I literally could not tell what the set designers were going for just by looking.  Also I am not sure what to make of her clearly only taking an interest in a crashing plane when she thinks it has someone she knows on it.  Oh wait, I do: asshole.
Some of the effects work in the plane rescue sequence are quite good, but sexist pig that I am, I cannot help but notice that the CGI artists have lovingly crafted quite the CGI arse for Supergirl - a CGarse, if you will.  I like that they retain the old warhorse effect of head and shoulder shots of the actor in front of zooming backgrounds, too, though her hair doesn't seem to move very much for someone flying as fast as a plane.  I'm also not sure what her plan seems to be, as she grabs the wing and starts pushing - won't this just make it turn faster to one side?  Then she tries pushing it from below and instead of just making a Supergirl-shaped hole in the fuselage, this actually seems to work, which I have no problems with, as it happens, because despite nitpicking like a jerk, I like this bit of comic-booky logic in a superhero show.
What I do have a problem with, however, is the tremendously tasteless visual of the plane's wing scraping across the bridge.
The show doesn't seem to have any theme music, or they haven't bothered putting any in the pilot.  I suppose Supergirl doesn't really have any close association with any particular theme music, though it's a shame Jerry Goldsmith's superb Supergirl Overture never caught on, as I always like that it was identifiably a riff on John Williams' Superman score, but mostly lacked the militaristic undertones and replaced them with a sweeping sense of scale fitting for a credits sequence featuring light years of space travel.  They might give it a nod in the show proper, though.

Supergirl hugs someone and nearly breaks their spine, so I am expecting they will address The Sex at some point - specifically how she can have some with a normal human male or female (it's 2015, no reason the dramatic potential should be limited to one gender).  I picture her attempts to mate with a human man to end up with something like that time I accidentally stood on a slug when I was taking out the bins.
Supergirl has a 50 inch HDTV in her UTTERLY MASSIVE apartment, I'm just throwing that out there.  Supergirl's sister is all like "don't help people", fulfilling a role usually occupied by the imposing parochialism of Superman's dad in the various media adaptations of the Superman mythos such as Man of Steel and Smallville.  These characters usually serve a narrative purpose in holding the hero back from heeding the call to adventure, and in his dissection of the heroic monomyth, Joseph Campbell saw this as a necessary resistance that helped inform the character of the hero: "Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and (...) life feels meaningless" but I think the writers are just doing this because this kind of character is in every superhero show.  Her sister really just comes off as a dick, to be honest - an ungrateful one, at that (she was on the plane Supergirl saved from crashing).
Oh shit they are calling the place National City.  On one hand I like comic booky logic, but on the other hand fuck off.
"James" Olsen is totally dropping his friendship with Superman into conversation now.  What a cock.
Now he's saying Superman saved a plane.  Dissing the originality of the show he's on is a total cock move.  And also my job.

Her bezzie says Supergirl must be gay because she's not into him.  My personal theory is that she's seen Smash.  Her bezzie is also now sliding prickwards in the characterisation scale.
I could have done without that clumsy flying FX and the comedy mugging to the camera.  Also evil truck drivers are making some astounding leaps of logic and deduce within seconds of speculation who Supergirl's mum was out of all the millions of people on Krypton - they just pull it out of the air.
Supergirl is going on about her family's coat of arms being a giant "S" because they're "the house of L", and I quite like the idea of non-nerds being utterly stumped trying to figure this out.

Supergirl finally debuts in her fancy costume and is immediately kidnapped and tied up.
A character refers to Supergirl as an "immigrant", which just gets me wondering why she doesn't have an accent if she came to Earth as a 13 year-old.
I genuinely laughed at the "escaped space prison convicts" thing being Supergirl's fault, as it is exactly the same monster-of-the-week plot enabler used by dozens of other superhero shows too lazy to give their lead characters the virtue of altruism.  Lazy, unoriginal and stupid - they'd already got the character in costume and committed to being a hero, so why does that character need any kind of motivation now?  Why not move this reveal to before she becomes a costumed hero?

A character has just decried the power of coincidence.  I can't tell if this is a sly nod to the viewer about the quality of scripting or a Freudian slip.
A character is asking why the character is called SuperGIRL if she's a grown adult.  Again: nod/Freudian slip=?
I know I have been a total jackass about this show so far, but these bits where she just tears her shirt open and flies at top sped while the music blares - WAS THAT REALLY SO HARD TO DO, AMERICAN TELEVISION?  YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU, 10 YEARS OF SMALLVILLE.  These bits are awesome.

I am assuming these super-vision effects are at the unpolished stage and will be refined later, because they are kind of underwhelming as they are right now.

Supergirl has her first fight with a supervillain and is immediately beaten up and has to be rescued.
"Before you came to live with us, I was the star, but HOW COULD I COMPETE WITH SOMEONE WHO COULD TOUCH THE STARS?"  Holy shit - someone wrote that down.  Let it out of their head and wrote it down on a page.

Sadie Stone from Nashville!
 God she really looks like she thinks she made a terrible mistake in taking this role - and yet also looks bored at the same time.  I don't care, I love her, even if her spouse abuse storyline in Nashville felt like it went on forever and they never made more Go On.
You've probably seen the truck-scrunching bit in the trailer, it's fab.
It's the third act, so Supergirl is much better at fighting now.  Because.

But still gets beaten up.

Which was so inevitable that the characters who are supposedly on her side factored this into their master plan.

Like TV's The Flash, Supergirl needs someone to be talking to her over a radio telling her to do stuff that is both blindingly obvious and also the only possible course of action to take apart from "stand there like a fucking lemon."
Basically, this advice amounts to "use your powers."  So she does.
This is supposed to be a really tense scene where she's holding back a space axe that might kill her, but the makers really need to take a good look at re-cutting this somehow, or at the very least looking up "no sell".  Is it a nerdy complaint to say that "heat vision" shouldn't be blue?  I am pretty sure this is a subjective opinion, but I am also pretty sure it's one that will travel.
"Blah blah big bad threat is coming you have no idea" - tv pilot writing by the numbers.
Also what is it with teen shows and stabbing-related deaths?  Is it a sexual thing people over twenty don't understand?
James Olsen delivers a message from Superman to Supergirl about being proud of her, despite what can only be called a total absence from her life.  Isn't aliens wandering around a major city with a laser axe the sort of thing Superman should take a more active hand in, rather than leaving it to someone who's never even been in a fight?
 Also there's this bit where he makes it clear that he knows Supergirl is really Supergirl and then says "meet me on the roof" and the elevator doors close and Supergirl has this look on her face that says "if we're both going to the roof why didn't he let me get in that elevator with him?"  So now it's not just me attempting to skew events onscreen so that they support humorous hypotheses anymore, "James" Olsen is an in-canon straight-up prick in this show.
I genuinely laughed at Sadie Stone from Nashville playing the evil twin of Supergirl's mum - literally her twin, who is evil.  I cannot decide if this is brilliant or awful, but either way it's amazing that a writer in 2015 would put it down on paper and be like "Sadie Stone from Nashville's evil twin will totally be our show's Thanos."

So them's my impressions of the Supergirl pilot that was definitely not leaked deliberately - by which I mean it totally was leaked deliberately.  By which I mean it's only a possibility and I use phrasing to suggest it as being the case purely for the purposes of humor in case you're reading this Supergirl's producer's lawyers.
Overall, I thought it was at best average.  It lacked focus and a lot of elements seem to be there purely because they're staples of these kinds of shows rather than because they contribute anything at all to what I just watched - like the bestie played by the guy from Smash, who contributes literally nothing to the story beyond making an inappropriate costume for Supergirl to wear so meninists can reassure themselves that the female lead is still there to be ogled now and then and won't accidentally empower any female children that might be watching, but this is not actually contributing to the story so this bestie character is pretty much superfluous.
Supergirl is also kind of boring as a lead.  She doesn't seem to have any identifiable personality traits beyond what's needed for any given moment in a pretty rote superhero storyline.  The only relationship Supergirl seems to have with anyone at all is with her sister, which is a dynamic that Frozen has already proven to be doable in popular media without going over people's heads or lapsing into pantomime or parody territory, but here it seems pretty confused and doesn't go anywhere.  The dynamic with her boss seems to be getting compared to something women and gay men call "The Devil Wears Prada", but I've not seen it so can't comment upon the similarities, though it also goes nowhere in the end.  Nothing is resolved, really, it's just some stuff that happens and then it's over, but then it's maybe asking too much for a superhero tv pilot to be self-contained when superhero movies can't even manage that trick.
 I liked the overtly comic-book logic of a lot of it where they just don't bother explaining things and get on with it, like the plane rescue, the alien space prison that just lands fully intact in the desert and people walk out the doors like it ain't nothing, the evil alien trucker that needs an articulated lorry just to move his phone around, Supergirl deciding to be Supergirl for no discernible reason at all, the alien conspiracy having a top agent who works in the shadows to keep their existence a secret by attacking superheroes in broad daylight with a giant space axe made of lasers - this works for me because it's not supposed to make any kind of real-world sense, it's the right kind of goofy escapism, and for all my nitpicking, I like to see this kind of thing if only as an antidote to the usual teen show wangst.
When they try to overexplain things or create character logic, that's when it seems to me to fall apart a bit more than I'd like, and that bit with Supergirl's sister doing the "I believe in you" speech is beyond painful to watch and disintegrates at the point the writers give up and turn the chore of plot progression over to the Superman staple of holograms of dead parents, leaving the character elements unresolved in favor of Supergirl doing a crying bit that I am not sure would fly were we dealing with a male character.  It also brings up a recurring trope in superhero media where a lot of superheroes are orphans, but they have surrogate parents in their story (Uncle Ben, Alfred Pennyworth, etc) that they love just as much as anyone might be expected to love a parent, so the disregard for Supergirl's human family the moment she sees a hologram of her biological mother seems a bit of a disservice.
I don't like the costume, either - it seems too busy for the sake of being busy, because if you take the disparate elements it has, it's just the same Supergirl costume from the 1984 movie but with lots of unnecessary texture and piping and all the primary colours muddied down until it may as well just be black with a red logo on it.

I also liked the explodey stuff, like the refinery fight, which was well done even if you could see the joins between FX and live actors, and speaking of actors, Faran Tahir should get a medal for playing the same character in so many shows without snapping and going on an entirely justified murder spree of half of Hollywood, because he has a ton of presence and as usual it's wasted on a subordinate role - although I grant you any actor would be subordinate to not just one Sadie Stone from Nashville, but the two Sadie Stones from Nashville we get here.

So a resounding "meh" from my critical faculties for this one, though it'll probably get a pass for its many faults because it's a genre show and/or aimed at teens, both of which usually have pretty low standards as audiences.  It'll also likely get a free ride because it's the first costumed female superhero on USTV since Wonder Woman and female genre fans are treated so poorly that I can understand why they'd be happy enough being tossed a bone like this, as even if the show isn't much good and features a character derived from a male, it's still a lead female superhero on the screen, a feat that Marvel haven't managed in 11 movies - though to be fair to Marvel, they know what they're doing and I'm sure every last one of those billions of dollars their superhero movies made came exclusively from male cinemagoers.

No comments:

Post a Comment