In other words: Look out, pre-Batman. Come November, your DC Comics rival may just get the upper cape.
Now, to be sure, CBS is pitting “Supergirl” against some mighty tough conditional foes. Had the show been placed on sister network the CW, with its younger demographic, the series could have been twinned with DC’s “The Flash” and flown at lower elevation/expectations to significantly easier success. But all indicators point to CBS’s going all-in with its new superhero series, at nearly the highest stakes possible.
Here are Comic Riffs’ five takeaways from today’s “Supergirl” trailer:
1. “CSI” now means “CBS’s Supergirl Inspires.”
As ol’ veteran “CSI” cracks its last case, the network’s new crimefighter is markedly younger and upbeat. Right from the outset, Supergirl-to-be Kara Zor-El (“Glee” alum Melissa Benoist) lets us know – by marking the years since her child-flight escape from her home planet – that she’s 24. Krypton may have been extinguished with a big bang, but the message is clear: This is the kind of character that “The Big Bang Theory’s” Sheldon would watch, regardless of network.
2. The anti-Gotham
In a bold move – though one that must be a bit distressing to DC Entertainment – “Supergirl” will go head to head against Fox’s established DC-property hit, “Gotham.” But while “Gotham” lurks forever in the Bat-loving dark, toiling in the shadows both physical and psychological, “Supergirl” beams with a lighter-and-brighter look as the turned-blond, now-costumed Benoist proudly wears the red and blue, as well as her pearly whites.
3. Flying the “empowerment” flag
CBS is pitching this narrative not simply as an interstellar alien finding her way as Earth’s new superhero. This is also the supernatural spin on every “young, aspiring careerwoman aims to make it in the big (Apple) city” story – as if Anne Hathaway, instead of pivoting from the high-fashion world to Christopher Nolan’s noir-dark Catwoman, had traded in Meryl Streep’s Anna Wintour for Calista Flockhart’s swanning, sometimes-frosty boss.
So when Kara says, “I have embraced who I am, and I don’t want to stop” (after her plane rescue), and when her friend says, “The world needs you to fly. And so do I,” the soar of a “fight song” score begins to take thematic flight.
And when Kara says, “I didn’t travel 2,000 light-years just to be an assistant,” we have landed warmly into the world of “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “The Superhero Wears Krypton” – as we glimpse her surviving home-planet blanket that won’t shred.
4. Getting a jump on the critics.
Every attempted female-superhero project (including David E. Kelley’s scotched mission to get his “Wonder Woman,” with Adrianne Palicki, to air) faces criticism of costume and, in some cases, of name. So this trailer knowingly aims to anticipate and disarm both those jabs by turning the tables via verbal declaration. When Kara (standing in for a healthy segment of the audience) says of the Supergirl moniker: “We can’t name her that! … Shouldn’t she be called, Super…WOMAN?,” it’s older boss Cat Grant (with Flockhart’s long-past “Ally McBeal” gravitas) who deflects the jab (“What do you think is so bad about “girl”?”) and then tops her with self-congratulating logic that hits, like a bull’s-eye dart, at any potential carpers of the decades-old name in 2015: “So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem…YOU?”
The same deflection unfolds with the costume, when Supergirl says of an early incarnation: “I’m not flying around saving people in this thing.” And when she proudly dons the “House of El” family coat-of-arms on her chest (and the reflected mirror image looks more like an “E” than an “S”), her sartorial victory is complete.
5. By the book – and yet not.
At first glance, “Supergirl” looks as though it will be strongly influenced by the comic books – but beyond the back-story, perhaps not so much.
She is indeed the cousin of Superman, and Kal-El looks as though he’ll be mentioned frequently on the show through an already established friendship with his pal Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) — though, in the “meet cute” moment, Olsen here goes by a more manly, lower-register “James.” If the trailer is any indication, any time we see Superman. he might be heavily shadowed or moving faster than a speeding bullet. This is Supergirl’s show, after all, and no need to try to go up against Henry Cavill’s cinematic Man of Steel.
And as for Jimmy/James Olsen, he doesn’t come off as the type who will forever need Superman’s help by way of a secret-signal watch. “Supergirl’s” Olsen exudes confidence, even making Supergirl a little nervous.
There is that indestructible Kryptonian fabric (yes, great for capes) and that strong declaration that the “S” doesn’t stand for super. What we don’t get is a Supergirl who lacks affection for the people of Earth (diverting from her character in the DC Comics/New 52 reboot). The show presents Kara as an all-American girl who initially wants nothing more than to just blend in and be as normal an Earthling as possible – despite being an alien.
Cat Grant has always been a newswoman who demands that things be done her way, no matter the comic-book or TV version, and that doesn’t appear to have changed here.* But one development to watch will be Supergirl’s relationship with Hank Henshaw, who many fans of Superman comics know to be the Cyborg Superman. Henshaw seems to be looking out for Earth’s best interest and is not too trusting early on of Supergirl, given her alien origins. Will that be how Henshaw stays during the show? He doesn’t appear to be a “bad guy,” but we’re just getting to know him – so that will be something to look out for.
It’s not a bird.
It’s not a plane.
It’s not a man. (The trailer’s theme has just come full circle.)
It’s (a-hem) Super-GIRL.
*[Note: Bonus trailer points for such journalist-bait as: 1. referencing the White House correspondents’ dinner; and 2. actually pronouncing “Pulitzer" correctly.]