This isn’t some easy mash-up of “Ally McBeal” meets “Smallville,” despite the presence of the former show’s Calista Flockhart and the nods to Krypton. Berlanti has a clear vision for how to deliver a superhero series that just might appeal equally well to women and men.
So ahead of tonight’s series premiere (8:30 ET), here are Eight Ingredients That Have Us High on “Supergirl”:
1. The series doesn’t take long to get super.
In his other superhero-TV productions, Berlanti typically likes to slow-roll the build to his crimefighter’s full assumption of the cape, if not the new identity. Over at The CW, it wasn’t until Season 4 that Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen was referred to as the Green Arrow, and Grant Gustin spent much of the first season of “The Flash” being called simply a blur-like streak. But tonight, it only takes 60 minutes for the world to meet Supergirl, Krypton cousin of Superman.
That’s good news for Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), the head of her own media empire, who spends the first episode being offended by the cheap pants of assistant Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) — hello, “Devil Wears Prada” — while reveling in the fact that her city now has a Kryptonian of its own to splash on the front pages of her newspapers and Web sites. Cat doesn’t realize, of course, that the young woman she sends out for lettuce wraps is the same person who she has, by the series premiere, famously named Supergirl.
2. The Super-Elephant in the room.
Almost since the show’s title was announced, the series has drawn sidelong glances and tsk-tsks because a 20something woman is named “SuperGIRL.” The show is smart to address this from the get-go, in meta-fashion. For those who don’t like the name Supergirl — who might prefer, say, Superwoman — Boss Cat’s got some spiky words for them. When Kara herself complains about the name, Cat — who has splashed the headline-friendly “Supergirl” across her pages — contends that anyone who doesn’t like it might be the one who’s got the real problem. Quick of tongue, we’ve just witnessed Cat’s most super power.
3. The genuine awkwardness is endearing.
If “Supergirl” is going to be another hit for Berlanti — no small task on a bigger network than the CW, and in a time slot that already has a DC Comics property (Fox’s “Gotham”) — Benoist is going to have to be equal parts captivating when in the cape and boots, and when the Danvers glasses are on in civilian life.
When the glasses are on, Benoist’s Kara Danvers is a woman trying to find her place. But unlike the Christopher Reeve’s iconic take on Clark Kent, hers isn’t an act. She’s genuinely nervous around her boss. She blushes uncontrollably when first meeting her potential love interest, James “Don’t call me Jimmy unless you’re my mom or Superman” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks). You feel it when her attraction to James hits her like a Kryptonite rock. And when the glasses come off and she’s flying across the sky, Kara clearly understands she’s the most powerful woman on the planet.
In the premiere, “Supergirl” knowingly offers a scene in which Kara’s co-worker and friend Winn (Jeremy Jordan) is awed the first time he sees Kara with her glasses off. But he also asks Kara out early on, when she’s rocking the specs and ponytail. His attraction knows no props.
Winn thinks it’s lame that National City’s own hero doesn’t have a cool suit, as Metropolis’s Kryptonian does. So he gives Kara her super-look by helping to design a costume. There’s a great moment when one of the suits is a little — and by that, we mean a lot — revealing. It’s eerily reminiscent of some of Supergirl’s not-so-recent looks in the comic books. But Kara won’t have anything to do with it. Settling on a classic look and eventually slapping the “It’s not an S” (it stands for “hope”) symbol on her chest.
And looking right, of course, is crucial to comic-book adaptations. David E. Kelley’s recent Wonder Woman project, for example, was marred by a horribly designed, fanboy-derided suit, and that production swung and missed.
“Supergirl,” fortunately, has all-world Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”), and she’s now batting 1.000 when creating suits for superheroes — after designing the looks on “Arrow” and “The Flash.” This Supergirl could walk off the CBS lot and straight into “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” with her suit — it looks that good.
“She’s a Bad Mama Jama” could have felt like a cheesy song to play as Kara begins testing her abilities against the baddies in her new super-suit, as she flies at super-speed and deflects bullets. Instead, though, it works surprisingly well.
So, how do you bring in foes as interesting as Superman’s villains? Well, Kara’s Phantom Zone-delayed trip to Earth brought with it some of the Phantom Zone’s top criminals. They’re out there, and they’re just as strong as she is.
By the debut, Kara appear to be already crushing on someone (James), and someone else (Winn) is already crushing on her.
Kara’s sister is a secret government agent who helps protect the world against aliens — an interesting job, considering that Kara is an alien herself. That causes some tension when her sister Alex tells her she did wrong by saving a crashing plane (that Alex was on) in public. Kara thinks that Alex doesn’t appreciate her. But Alex is trying to protect her alien kid sister because she knows what’s out there.
Verdict: So can “Supergirl” fly to the top of superhero TV? Well, judging only by the debut, Berlanti is poised to have his biggest DC show yet.