Is it a bird? No. Don’t call Supergirl that. She’s a female superhero, here to remind us that girls are every bit as good as boys when it comes to saving the world and getting things done and she’s not doing a bad job of it either.
There’s just ONE teeny tiny problem: the characters seem to think we need reminding of that fact at every possible juncture in the first episode – and it gets a little grating.
If you were ever in doubt that women were capable of running the world (have you not been listening to Beyoncé?) Supergirl will reassure you, via both Kara (Melissa Benoist of Glee and Whiplash fame) and her boss Cat Grant aka Ally McBeal’s Calista Flockhart.
Grant is a Devil Wears Prada style media mogul, who rules her newspaper empire with an iron fist. Described by Kara as the most powerful woman in National City, she’s not afraid to put the foot down and demand nothing but the best from her workers. It’s just a pity “powerful woman” has to equal catty tyrant.
“I went to work for Cat Grant because I thought working in a media company run by a powerful woman who actually shapes the way people think would be the way that I could make a difference” Kara laments as the show opens, while being told that being pretty and having the kind of alien DNA that helps her avoid pimples is all she needs. Y’know, that standard non-empowering guff.
But it ultimately inspires her to take the powers she’s been using to find out what her blind dates are up to when her back is turned and show the world that she’s every bit as capable as her cousin Kal-El (you know, that bloke with the cape and the S that’s not an S but actually the symbol of the Kryptonian House of El) when it comes to landing doomed aeroplanes in rivers and kicking alien ass.
Especially when those aliens are ones that remind her “on my planet, females bow before males”.
“Can you believe it? A female hero” a waitress in a dingy café marvels. “Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.” Well, actually, yes, yes I can believe it. And the fact that the show even has to ask that question makes me inexplicably angry.
Supergirl is, after all, a remake of the 1984 film of the same name. And while her newest incarnation may be the first female superhero the fictional National City has come across, she’s one in a long line of role models for girls in the real world.
From Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Agent Carter, Avengers Scarlet Witch and Black Widow to Rogue, Jean and Storm of the X-Men, Sakura from Cardcaptors and the Pink and Yellow Power Rangers, this child of the late 1980s and 90s never felt short of superpowered women to aspire to.
And the fact that they were female superheroes felt, to me at least, like a non-issue. It didn’t need to be mentioned because it was just accepted that girls were every bit as good as boys.
Has the next generation missed the memo?
Getting back to Supergirl, who Kara reminds us is “a female superhero” – just in case we’d forgotten at this stage. “Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman?” she nervously asks big boss Cat.
“If we call her “Supergirl,” something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist? Didn’t you say she was a hero?”, says Kara, asking the BIG question while pointing out the issue for what feels like the millionth time.
“And what do you think is so bad about “Girl”? Huh? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot and smart”, Grant barks back, chiding her female employee while giving a speech about female empowerment. “So if you perceive “Supergirl” as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”
Maybe the problem is me, Cat. Maybe I just assumed that the world had – for the majority – accepted that women are superheroes too. I don’t think that’s the problem here, though. And it’s not necessarily Supergirl either: the first episode is as decent an opener as any show in the genre has had.
It’s just that the constant references to how unfathomable it is that a GIRL could be doing such things is so tiresome that by the time we realise everyone powerful in the show IS female it begins to seem like some sort of ‘token powerful female’ gag.
Of course it’s part of the narrative. Of course Kara’s finding her feet in a fictional world that thinks the only people who can get capes, wear capes and fly are men. But if she really wants to inspire women on this planet, why not make her sex a non-issue?
Here’s hoping she can drop the clunky verbal baggage – necessary to establish characters in any first episode – so we can all be carried up, up, and away by the rest of the series.
Supergirl airs on Sky1 on Thursday nights at 8pm