16 December 2015
I’ll admit that there’s still a part of me watching Supergirl entirely because I refuse to give up hope for a musical episode. I’ve spent way too much time thinking about “song and dance demon“-type ways to force series stars/powerhouse singers Melissa Benoist, Laura Benanti and (most importantly) Jeremy Jordan into bursting into song. Add recurring guest star/famed dancer Jenna Dewan Tatum and it feels like the casting department is doing this on purpose. Despite being (completely senselessly) on CBS instead of the CW, Supergirl comes from the same team that makes fellow DC-based series Arrow and The Flash which means that the three shows (plus the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, featuring song and dance man Victor Garber) have the potential to crossover for their (definitely not planned, completely unlikely) musical extravaganza, assuming CBS president Nina Tassler has a heart and won’t stand in the way of a duet between THIS and THIS.
It’s an ever-present distraction, this musical episode fantasy, but it’s also an interesting test for the show- make me care more about what you are doing than what I wish you would do. And I think they’ve succeeded. As the first season has progressed, I’ve found myself less and less concerned with the extent to which Benoist and Jordan are being underused as charming, pretty network TV people instead of brilliant Broadway superpeople. Over the course of nine episodes, I’ve started to root for more Cat Grant scenes instead of hoping for that Jesse L Martin cameo. By the time we reached Monday’s midseason finale, I would even go so far as to say that I’d be pretty into Supergirl even if I had no idea that most of the cast has hidden vocal superpowers.
Mind you, there are still parts of the show I couldn’t care less about. Unless it feels really relevant to the larger story arcs, I skip most action sequences. I don’t care at all about the plight of big sister Chyler Leigh or whether or not David Harewood is evil. Nurse Jackie still has me convinced that Peter Facinelli is singularly wonderful so I’m half paying attention to the Maxwell Lord scenes, trusting that at some point that character will deserve his actor. The Flash is really the only superhero show that has managed to get me on board with the actual superheroics of it all; they have me interested in the science and police work side of things in a way that I’m pretty sure will never happen for Supergirl‘s vague intergalactic blah blah blah. I’d watch Laura Benanti in anything so sometimes the Elphaba/Glinda vibe of her gradually-getting-more-interesting twin characters makes the intergalactic blah blah blah somewhat interesting but, for the most part, Supergirl is way better when Kara Danvers loses her cape.
When Benoist takes off the cape, she enters the world of CatCo Worldwide Media, home of thoughtful, relevant stories about journalistic ethics, the commercialization of modern media, and relentless branding. It’s in this earth-bound realm that the great Calista Flockhart does her thing, halo’d by almost comically flattering lighting and the series’ best writing by a mile. As the biting and bitter but always surprising self-made mogul Cat Grant, Flockhart is turning a character IMDB has listed as #TheSixthLead into one of the most indelible creations on broadcast this year.
CatCo is also where Supergirl gets its weekly dose of love triangle subplot goodness. Winn Schott (vague hints at his backstory suggest he might be the son of the similarly named Superman villain Toyman) is Adorable Best Friend Who Loves Her For Her. As anyone who has ever seen a movie knows, ABFWLHFH has to be countered by HUOWMHHGB aka Hunky Unavailable Outsider Who Makes Her Heart Go Boom (#MadAcronymSkills). In this case, the HUOWMHHGB is Jimmy Olsen, whom I’m pretty sure is more unassuming than hunky in most Superman properties but here is going by “James” and is all kinds of dreamy. If you’d told me before I saw the pilot that Jeremy Jordan (of all people) was going to be the boy next door who gets overshadowed by a sexier option, I would have called you crazy but it turns out that Jordan is pretty adept at turning down that effortless charisma and turning up the adorkability as the office tech nerd whose crush doesn’t notice him. It helps that he’s standing next to the tall, broad shouldered, deep voiced piece of perfect that is Mehcad Brooks as James (it also helps that he’s not singing; a lot of the magic is in the singing). James’ perfection is actually so overwhelming it’s a little unconvincing. Winn, though thoroughly wonderful, is a little bit petty, a lot jealous, sometimes the tiniest bit cowardly; he has family secrets he’s trying to hide and deep wounds he’s trying to hide from. It’s not that Jordan has gotten all that much more screentime than Brooks (he might even have had less thus far) but the writers are clearly going somewhere with him and Jordan has plenty to play beyond unrequited love. My fear with James Olsen is that being arguably the most mainstream character stolen from the Superman story might hold him back from developing into a full, new character in this specific Supergirl universe. Brooks has incredible screen presence and his chemistry with Benoist absolutely simmers but I’m not yet convinced there’s much going on with him beyond fundamental good guy-ness in an irresistible package. But that’s a season two problem; maybe even season three. For now, James Olsen in his simple, dreamy decency is pretty good TV.
The midseason finale, like The Flash‘s first season midseason finale, threw the series forward dramatically and dispensed with a key plot that could have gotten very tiresome if allowed to go on too long *spoilers*. The longer Cat went without discovering Kara’s identity, the less I would have bought her as the force to be reckoned with she’s clearly supposed to be. One of the main problems with a lot of superhero shows is the characters (usually women) left in the dark until they just seem stupid. Eight episodes in, the cat (pun intended) is out of the bag. Hopefully this discovery will lend a little of the CatCo magic to the side of the show that I sometimes fastforward through because, as of right now, Supergirl is a tale of two shows- the engaging workplace comedy with societal significance, a killer figurehead and a delightful romantic subplot vs. the dull alien-fighting action drama that would be so much better if it was a musical.