Supergirl Tries at Being Progressive, But Doesn't Quite Succeed

By J.J. Ulm

CBS’s new Supergirl series, about Superman’s equally super younger cousin Kara, touts itself as a girl-power take on the superhero genre, to the point of using Rachel Platten’s already-overplayed “Fight Song” in its commercials. But while it’s certainly a fun departure from the grimness of most modern takes on DC Comics’ superheroes, it trots out equally-overplayed girl power tropes while seemingly oblivious to some cringe-worthy writing.

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The first episode is an origin story of sorts, though one that just gives a quick summary of the whole space alien in an adopted family thing.  It then cuts to her current life as Kara Danvers, the assistant to a powerful (Female! Look, girl power!) media mogul in National City. When her sister’s plane nearly crashes, she decides to use the powers she’s been hiding to leap to the rescue.

Which is where things unravel. Her sister is livid that Kara’s exposed herself, even though the mysterious heroine can’t be identified. Looking for support, Kara goes to, of all people, her skeevy coworker who clearly has a friendzoned boner for her. And then for some reason she has him help design her costume, including a montage over a song about looking sexy.

It’s remarkably tone-deaf. Does Kara have no female friends? Does she not know to never, ever trust a guy who clearly has a friendzoned boner for her?

Follow that with her getting captured by a secret government organization that her sister happens to have only gotten in with because of her connections, an awful faux-feminist discourse with her boss over the use of “girl”, needlessly misogynist banter from the villain, her sister’s admission that she’s always been jealous of her, and fawning over an inexplicably hot James Olsen, and it feels more like something trying to be empowering in the 80s than something modern.

So while Supergirl succeeds at being a fun superhero show, it falls flat at being particularly progressive. Women bickering at each other may technically pass the Bechdel Test, but it takes more than that to be empowering.

- J. J. Ulm

Next episode: "Stronger Together" - review by J.J.

See another take on the Supergirl pilot by Ryan Freeman.