I know very little about DC comics. As a kid I was obsessed with Batman the Animated Series and in the past few years I’ve followed Arrow and The Flash with a healthy dose of mixed feelings and guilty pleasure, but that is basically the extent of my knowledge. In all of those shows, however, there has never really been a female character I identified with that wasn’t reduced to a crappy love triangle or whose main character arc didn’t involve being left in the dark for her own protection. So, a show with a female superhero and leading lady sounds like it was made for someone like me.
The trailer makes me both hope and cringe. The last thing I care about in a TV series is a winking ‘you go get ‘em girl’ attitude about a woman who has it tough because she’s a woman. So, the beginning of the trailer had me hooked. After the necessary serious prologue about why she is special, we cut to current day. Stumbling into frame is our leading lady, looking like Arrow season 1 Felicity Smoak (complete with blonde ponytail and glasses), but who we know has superpowers buried down deep. She’s sweet, geeky, terrible with guys and is supremely awkward. Despite some truly groan worthy dialogue, I’m in.
Two minutes into the trailer we get the basic gist: she’s a gawky personal assistant who wants more out of life. She was sent to Earth for a reason and she wants to find out what it is. She’s a mixture of both Arrow and the Flash. She knows she’s here for a higher purpose and she relishes in that. She wanted to be a normal person as a teenager – when everyone wants to fit in – but now that she’s growing up, she wants to do the great things on earth her alien parents told her she would do.
Part of what sells me is the reason why Kara outs herself as a Kryptonian. Rarely do shows have constructive and healthy relationships between two female characters that are also central to the plot. This is why the Bechdel test is a thing (which, by the way, this trailer passes). In a whirlwind introduction, I know that Kara has a sister she loves and without knowing anything else other than the fact that she’ll drop everything to help Kara with a blind date, I am completely and utterly on board with Kara’s immediate and desperate struggle to master her powers to save her sister.
I know that Kara doesn’t have a sister in the comics, but I am glad they added one here. It’s at once a trope that is recognizable and yet does not feel patronizing. Becoming a superhero to save a family member is a well established origin story and if it gives the audience another interesting female character, that’s great. All of this had me interested and enjoying the trailer, excited about where they might take the storyline of this sweet, naive Supergirl, when the “The Girl” conversation happened.
Is it really necessary to focus this ‘is it okay to call a woman a girl’ conversation as a centerpiece of marketing the series? The whole narrative was chugging along wonderfully before it grinded to a halt in what seems to be an industry “just in case you didn’t realize the show is about a woman” act break. This is where the cringe factor comes in. I have absolutely no problem with this conversation happening in the pilot at some point, because it is an interesting conversation and could be framed quite relevantly around the issue of how people define themselves inside a pilot dealing very heavily with identity. However, its placement in the trailer feels like a ham-handed marketing ploy and ultimately has me worried that this show is not going to exhibit a complex female superhero, it’s going to be a series of lessons about how women superheroes are different than male ones.
From the trailer, I simply can’t tell what this show wishes to be. Is it a show for women like me who like comics and comic shows? Or, is it a cheap studio trick to try and pull in a different demographic? I can’t tell. The ‘It’s Not a Man’ part of the ‘It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane’ build up actually made me roll my eyes. But, around the cringe, there seems to be legitimate and interesting plot points Supergirl wants to deal with: identity, fitting in, what it means to be human, heroism and living up to the image of a beloved and seemingly perfect family member. It’s enough that I’ll tune in.