About halfway through the pilot for Supergirl, television’s latest adaptation of a comic book property for prime-time, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) designs and creates several costumes for his friend, coworker and crush Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist). The ensuing montage features Kal-El’s Kryptonian cousin’s first attempts at crime-fighting, just enough visual gags, and a feminist fist-bump for all the fans who — like Benoist — want the show “to do right by women.” It’s a great scene, but it also presents one of the biggest hurdles the show must overcome in order to appease fangirls and fanboys alike.
The episode follows the extreme normalcy of Danvers’ day-to-day life, which includes working for Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), the head of a media empire. Her job keeps her busy, but Danvers finds it all a bit too boring because her name is actually Kara Zor-El, and she’s the older cousin of Kal-El, otherwise known as Superman. Because of a detour through the timeless Phantom Zone, Kara fell to Earth many years after her “younger” cousin had already started working as a superhero. He finds her a home with the Danvers family, who warn her against showing off her powers. But when her adopted sister Alex nearly dies in a plane crash, Kara reveals herself to the world as Supergirl.
All of this setup happens within the first 10 minutes, but because it’s a pilot, Supergirl can’t be faulted for jump-starting the plot as quickly as possible. However, where things get tricky is during the aforementioned montage, especially because many have promoted the show as a pro-women program.
“I’m not flying around saving people in this thing,” Kara tells Winn when she tries on the first costume. “I wouldn’t even wear it to the beach.”
The outfit in question — a barely-there costume reminiscent of the character’s midriff-revealing comic book incarnation — isn’t the kind of thing one of executive producer Greg Berlanti’s superheros would wear. After all, the protagonists of Arrow and The Flash on The CW are almost entirely covered up in protective, true identity-hiding gear. So, Supergirl‘s heroine should at least be able to don something she wouldn’t be ashamed of.
Unfortunately, Kara’s refusal to show off too much skin is undercut by the montage’s musical selection, the R&B classic “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” by Carl Carlton. It’s a groovy jam, no doubt, especially because the chorus drives home how “bad” the song’s female subject can be. And though a bit cheesy, some reviewers thought Carlton’s tune worked quite well. Then again, subsequent lyrics about “body measurements,” “anatomy” and “all the curves that men like” seem to downplay the scene’s otherwise empowering elements, including a bank robbery scene that highlights just how great Supergirl could be.
After an unsuccessful car chase, Winn finds a bank robbery in progress for Kara to tackle. When he asks her if she’s actually bulletproof, an unsure, but confident superhero smiles: “Hope so!” Not only is Kara bulletproof, but she’s also enough of a badass that she can simply walk up to two robbers armed with automatic weapons and disarm them without breaking her stride. It’s a rousing moment, especially when she smiles briefly at the realization that she is bulletproof, and that she can stop the two robbers. Seconds later, her face transitions from relieved smile to serious business.
It’s moments like this that confirm that a 60-second clip from an ’80s song isn’t enough to undo what works in Supergirl. Overall, the show’s really good. Besides, Berlanti has proven himself time and time again with his other DC Comics television properties, and will get another shot with the forthcoming Legends of Tomorrow on The CW. At this rate, he’ll never have to apologize for Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern again. But with reactions like Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s “pretty hot” comment (and Benoist’s understandable reaction), Supergirl‘s showrunner will need to be a bit more careful if he really wants the show to do “right by women.”
Otherwise, the pilot demonstrates several of Berlanti’s recognized tics — a young hero discovering his or her powers and purpose, establishing or finding a large support group, interpersonal drama with said support group, and so on. It’s quite a lot to jam into a single 45-minute episode of television, actually. Then again, it’s a pilot, and if recent promos for the series’ next episodes are any indication, the show looks like it will find its footing soon.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7 p.m. EST/CST on CBS.