Destroy All Monsters: Why The World (Of SUPERGIRL) Doesn't Need Superman
TV's Supergirl (nee CBS, now of the CW) remains an odd beast. It's loud, brash, immature, and often tries to do so many things in a single episode that it half-asses most of them and only lands a few of them. I've come to accept that this is just the show: it's going to be this way forever.
I've also learned that I can take (and in fact, truly want to take) exactly one serving of hot, over-earnest cheese per calendar week, and Supergirl fits the bill nicely. This is also why I can't be bothered with the other DC superhero shows, regardless of how well received they might be. I've tried with The Flash, I truly have. If I only have the emotional patience for one beautiful twentysomething who talks too fast while saving the world, I'm with Kara Danvers.
Still, after an awkward transition onto the CW, things are definitely looking up now that Supergirl is resting permanently on the youth-skewing network, where it arguably should have been all along. The show retains its defiantly sweet heart and optimistic sense of fun, and if it all seems to be aimed at a teens-and-tweens audience, so be it: on the CW, it should be.
One of the major markers coming into this season, of course, was the introduction of Superman. This irritated me. I fully acknowledge that maintaining Season One's status quo - where Kara and her cousin Clark communicated solely by text message, and the potential global threats that Supergirl faced down were not, evidently, significant enough to draw the attention of Earth's other Kryptonian - could not be maintained.
Hiding Superman perennially offscreen was a shell game that could not go on forever, so on one level, the series was wise to finally put someone in Superman's red booties and let the audience see him. If Tyler Hoechlin's self-deprecating charm and million-watt smile (and his genuine sense that being Superman might actually be oftentimes fun) is also a beautiful corrective to the utter mishandling of the character over in the Snyderverse, so much the better.
For a series whose core theme, both within the continuity of the show and out here in the real world, is about a young woman's ability to make it as a superhero without a big, brotherly man around to help her, though - well, that's where Superman's arrival didn't exactly fill me with glee.
Thankfully, the show punched Superman's ticket after a couple of episodes (not mortally), sending him back to Metropolis to do whatever super men do. Supergirl got the dirty business out of the way, and then - aggressively, as is the show's M.O. - started making much more interesting changes.
I'm familiar enough with Supergirl's CW sibling series to be aware of the general approach: multi-racial, progressive as hell, and using superheroics as a plank for some social justice warriorship. If it's all delivered at an After School Special level of subtlety sometimes, well, you can't have everything. Supergirl's changes already feel like a move towards better angels. To wit:
Peter Facinelli's alpha-Trump business tycoon/villain Max Lord is gone, replaced by a Luthor - but not that Luthor, rather his eminently capable, surprisingly collaborative sister, Lena;
Two women of colour added to the cast, while Mehcad Brooks' Jimmy Olsen is elevated to Editor In Chief at CatCo (i.e. Perry White ain't white any more);
David Harewood's wry Martian Manhunter not only owns, but regularly comments on, his choice to appear in disguise as a Black male;
And perhaps best of all, Chyler Leigh's Alex Danvers (Supergirl's sister) has finally come out of the closet.
It would all be table stakes for many television shows in this decade, but the changes happened so swiftly on Supergirl that the effect was one akin to an Extreme Makeover, or more charitably a mission statement: after keeping its politics agreeably pop-feminist for Season One (and highly white feminist at that), going forward Supergirl will build on its successes to deliver greater inclusivity across the board.
The series even introduced one of the great, cheesy tropes of the American fantasy series: the secret dive bar where humans and non-humans hang out. (Like the DEO's alternate headquarters in downtown National City, it's one of those "what, you didn't know this was here?" groaners.)
Episodes have also leaned hard into some much needed subtext (and given Supergirl's generally clumsy writing, text): immigrants, refugees and persons of colour are all regular talking points for the series' fast-talking characters, as Kara and her friends deal with a POTUS friendly to alien refugees, an underground fight club that pits underprivileged superbeings against one another for sport, and whether it's fair to coach someone to come out of the closet and then say you just want to be friends. (Sorry. Alex/Maggie 4EVR.)
With all these wins, the male version of Supergirl seems kind of like an afterthought. He was necessary business at the head of this season, and I'm sure he'll show up again before long, but he's part of a cadre of characters whose storytelling opportunities vastly exceed that of their own glass-ceiling-smashing heroine.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on twitter.