Fall TV Preview
Supergirl Review CBS

Supergirl Review: CBS Drama Powered by Smart Casting, Sense of Awe

TV Review Grade B+When CBS’ Supergirl officially and finally takes flight (Monday at 8:30/7:30c), it will have been a full five months since the superhero series’ pilot first leaked online.

A second episode has not yet been made available to press, so there’s nothing groundbreaking left to say about the freshman drama. But a fresh viewing of the latest, double-secret official, for-broadcast pilot did affirm where and how it absolutely flies, and the one or two places it proves to be not impervious.

Supergirl (which starting with Episode 2 will air Mondays at 8 pm) stars Glee grad Melissa Benoist in the title role, and a series such as this can rise or fall based on the casting of its hero. The good news is that Benoist, just as fellow Glee alum Grant Gustin did with The Flash, inhabits Kara Zor-El/Danvers with a contagious exuberance, once she has cause to let fly with her powers in the course of saving a crashing airplane. The Gustin comparison is important, because two years ago there were those who stomped feet and deemed him “wrong for the part” (based on this, that or the other superficial thing) — but when he made his debut, they were proven wrong in a… jiffy.

Still, there’s a key difference between Kara embracing her powers and how Barry Allen did same, for the kryptonian hero has possessed yet concealed hers for years. As such, there’s a joyous release she feels upon getting to demo them in public, even as her human sister, Alex, chides her for doing so. NBC’s original Heroes showed us again and again how “sad trombone” it can be to see people horribly, horribly conflicted by the gift of powers. Luckily, The Flash and now Supergirl put the “Gee-whiz!” flip-side on vivid display.

Among the cast, Mehcad Brooks, as Jimmy “I’m James, Now” Olsen, brings a maturity (and yes, tall, chiseled presence) to Kara’s CatCo workplace brethren, whereas IT guy Winn Schott (Smash‘s Jeremy Jordan) fills the role of awed fanboy. As media maven Cat Grant — heretofore the most powerful woman in National City — I urge you to watch for the tiny moments, the fleeting looks, that Calista Flockhart winningly brings to what could have easily been an off-putting bosszilla.

Grey’s Anatomy alum Chyler Leigh plays Alex, and the problem here is that her most interesting scenes are when she butts heads with Kara over the decision to go public and her lack of readiness in assuming a hero role. Once Alex, an operative for an alien-hunting government organization, is sold on her sis as Supergirl, I have the concern of: So, who is Alex now? Elsewhere, guest star Owain Yeoman does his best to make Supergirl’s first foe, Vartox, a fierce one, but the pilot might have been better served to showcase a more colorful baddie, instead of what is little more than a bull-headed brute.

Among the pilot’s action-oriented set pieces, the plane rescue is a sharply directed, thrilling sequence, and Kara’s “test runs” as a crimefighter play to the series’ more light-hearted tone. Kara’s face-offs with Vartox, meanwhile, all take place in remote, generic locations — either as a means of controlled destruction or merely a practical production decision.

Akin to Smallville and The Flash, the pilot clearly lays the foundation for Monsters of the Week, though that in turn raises the question — which I believe the producers have said will be in some part addressed — of why Kara’s “cousin” aka “the big guy” aka the “superlative man” aka James’ “friend in blue” aka the “Man of Steel” (aka, you know, Superman), though glimpsed in the prologue and often mentioned, won’t be summoned to assist. And the episode’s final coda, though “twisty,” just as equally screams, “We wanted to have this actor on the show!” (To be clear, we want that actor on the show as well!)

As conceived for this TV take, Kara’s backstory echoes her Smallville origin: a kryptonian sent to watch over her cousin Kal-El, yet detoured by a stretch of suspended animation. While that of course bumps up against a more embraced DC Comics canon, it’d be boorish and pointless to dwell on the storytelling decision. Instead, Supergirl should and will be measured on its own merits, within the conceit it established — and at first blush CBS’ atypical foray into this territory looks like a super-fun one, a possibly brilliant pick for a family friendly Monday lead-off spot.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: “The world needs you to fly,” Kara is at one point charged. And fly, Supergirl should.