Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E01 - 'The Adventures of Supergirl'

Despite its issues, the first season of Supergirl had proved to be reasonably entertaining, overall. Some of its villain may have come across as a bit poorly developed, its special effects may have been a bit shaky at times (though, with notable exceptions), and its seasonal arc may have been somewhat underwhelming – but, to balance that out, it had also managed to quickly establish itself as a series featuring some great characterisation. The true stand-out here, of course, had always been Melissa Benoist – who, even during the first season's weakest moments, had always managed to be genuinely entertaining in the role of Kara Zor-el/Kara Danvers/Supergirl.

Overall, though, the first season hadn't quite been the success that its creator's clearly wanted it to be – with a worrying period of potential cancellation finally resolving itself with a change in network from CBS to the CW.

While, I do have to admit, American television networks don't really mean much to me, down here in Australia, I am still familiar enough with the way that these sorts of things work to know that this is likely to bring in a number of potential changes. For one thing, we have already learnt that the change in filming location is going to result in a reduced role for Calista Flockhart – which is definitely a shame as, despite a shaky start, her character quickly evolved to become one of the more entertaining aspects of the first season. On a similar note, the change in network also seems to have resulted in a reduced budget for this season – which is especially worrying, when you consider that some of the special effects of the first season were already a little shaky.

But, on the plus side, the change also seems to have allowed Supergirl to be brought closer to the CW's other DC shows – with the character already being confirmed to play a part in an upcoming four part cross-over event. With Barry Allen's one-episode appearance standing out as another of the first season's stronger moments, this should definitely be taken as a cause for some hope.

Of course, the most interesting element of the second season's first episode is the fact that this season would also be introducing its own version of Superman – Supergirl's cousin and, arguably, DC's most important character. Of course, beyond the fact that it is always great to see another classic DC character brought into these shows (and, it doesn't really get any more 'classic' than Superman), there are still a handful of potential issues for the audience to consider. For one thing, there is the matter of how well Tyler Hoechlin's performance will measure up others who have played the iconic character – particularly Henry Cavill, who is currently playing the character in DC's recent films. Then, of course, there is the matter of whether having two differing versions of Superman on-screen at the same time would actually be as confusing for members of the audience as some might fear.

On top of that, there is also the matter of how the dynamic of Supergirl, itself, might be changed by bringing in such an important character. Would his presence overshadow that of the series' primary protagonist, for example? Would Supergirl wind up feeling like an supporting character on her own series?

Superman has always been a part of the series, of course – but, throughout the first season, he had been kept entirely in the background. He appeared as a briefly glimpsed figure, and communicated through text-based chat – and, it all felt very deliberate. It felt pretty obvious that the people behind Supergirl were also worried about this potential issue (either that, or pressure from DC's film division prevented them from featuring the character).

But, it seems that something has changed – and, we now have another version of Superman stepping into the spot-light for a few episodes of Supergirl. So, how does the show resolve the issues I've just outlined? Well, regarding how well Tyler Hoechlin's performance measures up to that of others, I would have to say that he did very well. While he lacks something of the physically imposing stature that the character has often been portrayed with (I'm fairly certain that this Superman would look tiny, standing next to Henry Cavill's), he manages to do a great job of embodying that important sense of optimism that the character is, traditionally (when he is not being deliberately deconstructed by a director who does not seem to understand him) supposed to hold. Hoechlin is, clearly, aiming for the endearingly goofy, but also genuinely charming, tone of performances given by Christopher Reeve (and, also, Dean Cain) in his portrayal of the Clark Kent/Superman dynamic – and, while a single episode might not be enough to judge by, he seems to have pulled it off. Most importantly, though, Tyler Hoechlin and Melissa Benoist seem to play well off of each other – with the two quickly establishing a 'family' dynamic that feels convincing.

As for whether having two versions of Superman on-screen at the same time would be confusion, though – well, all I can really say about that is that it isn't an issue, for me. Also, I can't imagine it being an issue for fans of the characters, either. Marvel might already have achieved some success with its conception of a single Cinematic Universe – but, I think that DC's approach of allowing separate takes on the DC Universe to co-exist also has merit.

Of course, the most important issue would have to be whether Superman would come to overshadow his, admittedly not quite as famous, cousin. On that matter, I would have to say 'no' – for me, at least, there was never any sense of Superman taking over the episode. Throughout the episode, though, it was also Superman who often seemed to be playing the supporting role, rather than Supergirl. The two played off of each other very well – and, most importantly, the episode definitely managed to give the impression of the two being equals (even if, obviously, Superman might still be the more experienced superhero).

Of course, there was also more to this episode than just the appearance of Superman – as, we also met Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), a young woman who seems determined to rebuild the reputation of her family, following the actions of her brother, Lex. In this universe, it seems, much of Superman's rivalry with Lex Luthor has already played out – and, Lex is now in prison. But, with a dangerous assassin, John Corben (Frederick Schmidt), focusing his attentions on Lena, it seems possible that Lex is still active – and, that he might not be too happy with his adopted sister.

I think that the most impressive thing about Lena Luthor's appearance on this episode of Supergirl is that, even by the end, there is still a very genuine sense of uncertainty about whether she can actually be trusted. Also, during her brief time on-screen, Katie McGrath is able to make a strong impression – establishing Lena as a strong and determined woman, regardless of whatever her true motives might be.

Overall, the second season's first episode was one filled with great moments. Every scene that featured Supergirl and Superman on-screen, together, was a strong one – but, beyond that, it was also a great episode for much of the rest of the cast. The idea that there might be some lingering tension between Superman and J'onn J'onzz (David Harewood) is an interesting development – and, will hopefully lead to some equally interesting drama, in the future. The idea that Winn Schott (Jeremy Jorden) would now be working directly for the DEO, after his efforts on their behalf in the previous season, feels like a much better use for the character than anything we have seen previously. And, the strong bond between Kara and her own adopted sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), remains just as convincing as it was throughout the first season. Also, despite the reduced role she is set to play throughout the rest of the season, Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant has plenty of opportunities to make a strong impression in this first episode.

James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), unfortunately, remains one of the show's weaker elements – not because of any real issue with the actor's performance, but due to the fact that he is a character who has so often felt poorly utilised. When the series began, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the drastic changes that had been made to 'Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen' – but, I was prepared to see how it played out. Unfortunately, despite Mehcad Brooks giving a generally likable performance, the character's presence on the series has never really amounted to anything interesting – and, that seems to still be the case, here. But, with the not especially interesting romantic sub-plot between James and Kara coming to such an abrupt end, it seems as though the people behind Supergirl might actually feel the same. I can only hope that this abrupt change in dynamic leads to something a little more interesting for James Olsen (and, Mehcad Brooks).

Obviously, there are still plenty of unanswered questions to fill out the rest of the season. Is Lana Luthor really as innocent as she seems? Was Lex truly the one behind the assassination attempts? Is Lex going to put in an appearance, at some point? And, if so, whose going to play him? Most importantly, what role is John Corben set to play, now that he seems to have begun to process of becoming the villain, Metallo?

With the season's first episode doing such a great job of setting all of this in motion, I am actually genuinely interested in seeing how the rest of the season plays out.

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