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Supergirl: Pilot episode makes little sense, but offers tons of action

Kara Zor-El is appealing in CBS action-hero pilot.


"Shouldn't she be called Superwoman?" asks Kara Danvers. "If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn't that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?"

Danvers — aka Supergirl in CBS' new primetime hero-drama — makes a reasonable point.

She's talking to her newspaper-chief boss who has dreamed up this idiotic media-friendly name for the mysterious new superhero in town. But Kara's tyrannical boss (Cat Grant, played flawlessly by Calista Flockhart) doesn't enjoy being questioned by her lowly assistant.

"What's so bad about 'girl'?" replies the most powerful media executive in National City, as she stalks around her palatial office. "I'm a girl. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything other than excellent, isn't the real problem ... you?"

Having gotten that awkward conversation out of the way, we can concentrate on just calling our hero Supergirl, even though she's a grown woman in her 20s.

Of course, her grown womanhood is merely a physical matter. Emotionally, Kara seems to be about 16 years old. She just wants to fit in. But, "gosh" (an actual quote) wouldn't it be swell to find a way to make use of these unlimited super-powers in a way that doesn't involve fetching lattes for a bully?

Calista Flockhart as Kara's mean boss Cat Grant

Here's Kara Zor-El

Many years prior to this confrontation, Kara Zor-El was a 13-year-old girl dispatched from Krypton to keep an eye on her baby cousin Kal-El, also on his way to Earth and also escaping a doomed planet. Unfortunately, Kara's transport spent 24 years in a time-free zone, before resetting its course and getting to its destination.

Arriving on Earth, Kara is still 13. Her cousin — now the fully formed Superman — delivers the girl to a nice family, which includes an older girl, Alex.

Superman fans should know that the caped one is mentioned at least a dozen times in this pilot but never referenced by name. Maybe this slightly odd routine is based on legal exigencies or it's some long-lost comic-book in-joke (I have no idea), but it gets old really fast.

"I feel like I'm not living up to my potential."

The other thing that's really fast in this show is the plot. Kara grows up and for reasons that the writers don't bother to explain, she decides to just never use her powers. She wants to be a regular human, albeit a dorky and shy one, living in a place called National City.

"Even though I had the same powers [Superman] did, I decided to just fit in," monologues Kara. "After all, Earth didn't need another hero."

This is self-sacrifice on a galactic scale. Kara selects herself for obscurity because there are already too many do-gooding superheroes on the loose (precise total: one).

But Kara is beginning to suspect that her career choice may not be optimal, given her particular skill-set.

"I don't know," she tells her dependable and serious sister Alex, who knows of her powers. "I feel like I'm not living up to my potential." There's little call for lifting buses and stopping bullets in the media-executive assistant game.

Supergirl's sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and agency overling Hank Henshaw (David Harewood)

Kryptonite Guests

Opportunity knocks twice for Kara. For one, the boss is planning to axe a bunch of jobs. Unlike Metropolis' Daily Planet, National City's Tribune doesn't have a popular superhero to write about, so downsizing is inevitable.

Also, a plane carrying Alex is about to crash into the city.

Kara runs down a damp alley, takes to the air and saves the plane. Luckily, in the media frenzy that ensues, her identity remains uncompromised.

This happens in the 12th minute of the show. After that we get the opening credits and a sense that, even if this show's set-up is nonsensical, at least it's brief. Here we are with the fun superhero stuff already.

CBS doesn't disappoint. There follows a series of daring-doings as Supergirl foils bank robberies and potential traffic jams while figuring out the best costume to solidify her identity.

Super-powered ex-cons are at loose on the planet

Meanwhile, Alex is mad because Kara ought to have just carried on being anonymous, rather than saving her life. Later, we find out that Alex secretly works for a scary government agency dedicated to protecting America from aliens.

It turns out that Superman and Supergirl aren't the only refugees from Krypton. There's also an unspecified number of super-powered ex-cons at loose on the planet. One of them goes after Supergirl and almost kills her before (improbably) being chased away by a scary agency helicopter.

Alex is played by Chyler Leigh (Grey's Anatomy) who supplies one of the show's few genuinely emotional moments when she confesses to deep-seated jealousy about her super-sis.

Alex shows Kara a hologram of her real Krypton mom saying something inspirational about being the best person you can be.

Kara with James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks)

Oh hey, Jimmy Olsen

Anyway, Alex comes round to the idea of Kara being Super when the nasty Krypton-crim pops up again in an attempt to kill a bunch of humans. He is foiled by the big end-fight in which multiple high damage punches are landed and Supergirl uses laser eyes to finish the job.

Kara comes to understand that her sense of fulfillment can only really be satisfied by being Supergirl. This, it turns out, was foreseen by her cousin, who already sent his old mate Jimmy "James" Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) to keep an eye on the fated transformation.

Supergirl has decided to use her powers in order to self-actualize her own potential. This is a more modern motivation than for other heroes like Superman (guardianship), Batman (vengeance) or Spider-Man (duty) but it feels like the writers have given her a comparatively unworthy driving force.

Unlike other superheroes, she is propped up with all manner of support mechanisms including Olsen / Superman, her sister, the agency and a doting, dreamy lad at work with whom she confides. She is, in short, treated rather more like a teenager than an adult. We'll see how much independence she manages to carve out for herself in coming episodes.

That said, Supergirl is a fun show that gets off to a zippy start. If it lacks shadow or subtlety, it offers plenty of family entertainment.

In a final twist, there's a deliciously nasty super-villain, a relative of Supergirl's. With any luck, we're in for some super-fueled Revenge-style inter-familial drama as well as action comic pyrotechnics.