“SHE’S NOT STRONG ENOUGH.”
“WHY? BECAUSE SHE’S JUST A GIRL?”
An actual verbal exchange during the pivotal climax of the pilot for CBS’ new series, Supergirl.
Why? Well, I have been a two-decade-old devotee of universal female ass-kicking since I fell in love with Xena: Warrior Princess (on the now-defunct WB network)‘s battle cry and boomeranging Chakram (also, I dare you to not melt for Lucy Lawless’ azure-blue eyes)–henceforth, I was still rooting for Benoist and her incarnation of Supergirl.
Supergirl, however, is unbearably heavy-handed– woodenly acted by both leading and background players and shoddily written. Well, not so much shoddy as… trite (re: the opening lines of this article), clumsy and roll-your-eyes cheese-filled.
As campy as Xena: Warrior Princess was, the show itself (one of its executive producers was Hollywood darling Sam Raimi) balanced that self-aware comedic tone with sincerely suspenseful plotlines and a topsy-turvy train of nonstop well-choreographed action sequences. Lawless was as convincing at the ass-kicking as she was at embodying Xena as a flesh-and-blood woman… you know, as she was good at acting.
Melissa Benoist, however- Meryl Streep, she is not. Lucy Lawless, she definitely is not.
At this point, I must fully concede that:
- I have only watched the series pilot (although, isn’t the onus on everyone involved to knock it out of the ballpark on this proverbial first try?)
- Ms. Benoist is young and she may, indeed, blossom into a grand actress.
As of now, however, Benoist is only convincing at the action choreography. Her 5’8″, broad-shouldered build makes her feats of flight and striding chest-first into gunfire appear superheroic to the Kryptonian bone.
*For those unfamiliar with the Supergirl/Krypton mythology and the show, Supergirl — a.k.a. Kara Zor-El a.k.a. Kara Danvers (sometimes Kent)– is an alien from the planet Krypton, sent to protect her younger cousin, Kal-El a.k.a. Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman on Earth, when their home planet imploded. Among both their abilities is the power to fly, bulletproof capability, X-Ray vision, super-hearing, super-speed, and super-super-super-strength.
HERE BEGINS THE RUB. In this Supergirl, Kara Danvers is written as what is known as “adorkable (think Zooey Deschanel on New Girl).” After learning Kal-El can more than handle himself on this planet, she’s decided to give up the superhero life for years of stooping to converse with men and hiding her superpowers by overcompensating with a mousy awkwardness. One day, of course, the superhero life beckons her name amidst her civilian life as a bubbly, self-deprecatingly “lovable” journalist.
As Danvers, Benoist seems to have been inspired by Charlie Chaplin in the art of exaggerated facial expressions. Her small, beady eyes suddenly bulge out whenever cued upon to express ANY emotion- be it disbelief, anger, determination…really, anything.
I also thought I had witnessed the worst crier in all of TV history in Sarah Jessica Parker, but OH MY GOD, BENOIST SUCKS AT CRYING. She’s such a bad crier!!! Her face deliberately contorts in a way that suggests she is half-constipated and half…orgasming.
Between the aforementioned and her inauthentic line delivery, it makes you wonder if she was specifically directed to act as obvious as possible at all times:
“Melissa, break into a laugh but make sure it sounds like you’ve never heard anything funny in your whole life.”
The disappointing pilot is hardly all Ms. Benoist’s fault. Supergirl seems to specialize in hackneyed PG-drama archetypes:
a) the friend-zoned male bestie
b) the handsome hunk with whom the protagonist has intense sexual tension right off the bat (In this case, it’s a rebooted version of *SPOILER* Jimmy Olsen).
c) the chauvinistic, hard-headed military guy who doubts and hinders the protagonist until the third act.
There is also an extremely trite feminist motif that feels neither genuine nor well-planned out. As a friend of mine astutely pointed out, the feminist theme appears to have been shoehorned midway into the story.
“The femi-stance feels like they rewrote the episode to please some kind of test group,” my friend said.
It really did feel like a circumstance of copy-and-paste. Kara Danvers never stood up for herself or other women on feminist principles until around the 30:00 mark of the pilot–in which she suddenly sprouts a spine and strongly asserts to her editor-in-chief that “Supergirl,” the title assigned to the titular superheroine in their town, is sexist for some reason and should be “Superwoman” instead.
The opening quote in this article is just one of several randomly inserted femi-stance moments (I have decided to try and make my friend’s makeshift word a thing) throughout the latter half of the episode. The line neither fits in the context of the situation nor befitting of the characters saying it.
“You feeling like less, somehow made me feel like more,” Kara’s sister tells her at one point.
Truly terrible there is not more action. Unfortunately for this show, its runners seem to have decided that the wooden conversation is what is really compelling here. Because of the stilted dialogue and its cliché overuse of montages, the episode’s pacing is rushed, leaving little room for some badass Kara.
For the sake of Superman and, of course, Supergirl fans, I hope the show gets A LOT better. I will not be watching any more episodes but I will, as always, try to preserve an open mind and keep my ear to the ground for positive praise for the show.
My personal feminist stance is that I want to see more women kicking ass more often onscreen. I’m still rooting for you, Supergirl.