An Ode to Supergirl
Have you seen the new Supergirl? Do you have kids? No? Yes? Girls? Boys? Doesn’t matter. Watch it. CBS. Monday nights. 8 PM EST.
Why? I’m glad you asked.
Here’s why you should watch - whether you have kids or not, but especially if you do have kids.
She is not an overly-sexualized superhero. I applaud the thousands of decisions, some major and many, I am sure, quite minor, which taken together, have created a female heroine who is not asexual at all, but does not lead with sex first. She is earnest, yes. And generally, I kind of loathe earnest, but Melissa Benoist and the creators have managed to give her enough depth that I like her. She is the me I like to think I would strive to be if given the responsibility of power. This is what we want from our heroes. She just happens to be a woman.
There are a huge number of female characters. Like, a lot. And they come in all flavors, abilities and roles to play in the unfolding action. The relationships between these characters are wonderfully layered and give depth to the entire story. I would argue that the most central actors in the storylines other than Supergirl herself are women. And they are not relegated to all the nice roles - there are plenty of villain roles - and women in small parts throughout, creating a balanced feel overall. What is surprising to me is that I realized how interesting/unusual it is to see this kind of cast and how it subtly changes my perception of the action and the story unfolding in front of me.
It’s a great superhero show. It’s fun to watch. There aren’t enough scripted shows for families (or adults for that matter) in an age of endless “Dancing With the Stars” (why 2 nights in a row for hours on end?) and singing, dancing or dating shows. It’s like, really hard to find. (Exception: A big shout-out to another personal favorite “The Flash” on CW.) I like to look forward to an evolving story line, yet one that has *some* resolution to the arc in an hour. I just do. I do not like to watch the Disney channel or Nick. No thanks. I like to watch TV with my kids when we can all enjoy it. In Supergirl there is action and flying and fantasy technology and aliens and the world is ending! That’s some good TV.
The internal struggles ring true. A classic component of the genre is the revelation of a deeper truth or lesson learned through the hero’s evolving personal journey. I like the way Supergirl has introduced their “lessons”. Take anger. Such a powerful emotion. “There’s always anger behind the anger.” This is from the episode “Red Faced”. The episode asks us to question, “what are you really angry about?” It resonated with me, and it also meant something to my 8 year old and my 10 year old. That’s a good lesson. They got it. I got it. Sometimes when you get angry and yell about something silly, there is something else inside of that feeling. There’s other lessons: loss, betrayal, courage, pride. The big ones. Supergirl’s loss of her powers and subsequent struggle with the concept of courage also resonated with my kids. Kids who hear almost daily about some sort of shooting, bombing or terrifying situation in our world. I cannot shield them all the time from news. Asking oneself “what would I do”, even for a kid, gets at the root of why the idea of superheroes is so evocative and enduring. Where does bravery come from? From super powers or maybe from someplace deeper? Are we all heroes? Even girls?
The men are great. I like the male characters too. There are a range of them, and I find them to be balanced for the most part. (I actually think they have given Jimmy Olsen a kind of bum role, but we'll see where it goes.) When someone at CBS decided to keep sex out of this equation as a primary driver (not altogether, because it doesn’t feel like “Touched by an Angel” but it’s not front and center) something interesting happened: someone had to come up with other connective tissue and tension between characters of the opposite sex. I would expect it is much harder to script and showrun this way, but I like it. As a viewer, you focus more on each character individually. It’s a somewhat unusual perspective when you think about it, yet I find it a part of the show that gives it umami.
There are more things I like - and one of those is that it is on CBS. Those people stick with shows to let them find an audience. Then stick with that audience until they are in Depends (um, hello, CSI?). So I think I have some time to enjoy Supergirl. I hope it lives up to the promise with which it has started.