You know how there are those shows that are kind of structurally or ideologically broken, but you sort of don’t care because the banter is so good?
Supergirl is kind of the opposite of that. On a script level, it’s pretty mediocre; the dialogue often clunks and the characterization can be inconsistent and the plots rarely have clever solutions. But I find myself just not caring, because it’s doing so many other things to make me happy. It is the candy-colored cheerful superhero show that I wanted The Flash to be for me, without all the problems that made me bounce out of that one.
Case in point: the first season of The Flash basically had two female characters, Iris and Caitlin. Neither of them was particularly interesting; Caitlin’s plot revolved around her dead boyfriend and Iris was a pawn, lied to for no good reason by her best friend, infantilized by her father, rarely if ever given a chance to affect the story in a meaningful way. Supergirl, by contrast, is so stuffed with women they’re coming out at the seams. This is not one of those shows with a central female character and then a bunch of dudes. You have Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister (and if you love rock-solid sister relationships, dear god this is the show for you); Cat Grant, her prickly and influential boss; Astra, her aunt and antagonist; Allura, her mother, appearing in both flashback and computer simulation; Lucy Lane, Lois’ younger sister and Jimmy Olson’s ex, who the show is smart enough to give a role to beyond “Jimmy Olson’s ex”; the villains Livewire and Indigo and Silver Banshee, who all play a role in more than one episode; Eliza, Alex’s mother and Kara’s foster-mother, a biologist who nerds out when she meets another alien; Miranda Crane, a senator with anti-alien views; they even have the (offstage) president be a woman (and if the show’s writers weren’t thinking about Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop). These women talk to each other. They talk to each other so much that they get to have nearly every kind of relationship; they’re family and friends and rivals and co-workers and mentors and allies and enemies. (Not lovers, though — I can’t recall any lesbian relationships, at least not in the first season.)
The show is overtly feminist, too. I wouldn’t call it a triumph of complexity in that regard — see above comments about the writing being not all that good — but from time to time it goes straight at the familiar issues, the way that women’s achievements get downplayed relative to men’s, the way that women are held to standards men don’t have to meet. Clark Kent is an offstage presence, only appearing briefly a couple of times (and then always in silhouette), or conversing with Kara in text messages. In this canon, Kara was supposed to be the protector for her younger cousin, but circumstances caused her to arrive on Earth years later and younger than him; the growth of Kara from feeling like she’ll never live up to Kal-El’s reputation and achievements to someone who wins his praise and respect is really satisfying.
AND LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ETHICS. As in, this show has some. You may recall that ethical failings are a big part of why I wound up noping out of The Flash; I just about punched the air when this show made a point of addressing those issues. You literally get one of the characters telling Kara that due process and human rights matter, and that running a “secret Guantanamo” (actual phrase from the dialogue) is 100% not okay. And Kara acknowledges this! And then they do something about it! I called Astra an antagonist; I chose that word instead of “villain” because her situation isn’t black-and-white, and the show is capable of acknowledging that she’s pursuing good ends via bad means. There’s another antagonist in a similar position, too. I love that kind of thing, and seeing it here makes me really happy.
It still has shortcomings on a higher-than-script level, mind you. The racial diversity is just barely better than token, and queer representation is basically absent. And while the show nods in the direction of the problems posed by having superpowered people around, it doesn’t really delve into them. But I can watch it and have fun without constantly being frustrated, which is exactly what I was hoping for. And every so often it rises above itself with some really good dialogue or a great plot development — which leaves me hopeful that season two will improve on the first.
Behind the cut there be spoilers!