May 23, 2017

TV Retrospective: "Supergirl" - Season 2

Scene from Supergirl
When Supergirl first premiered, it seemed like a novelty show geared towards female comic book fans. Large portions of the first season even felt like the familiar sentimental and upbeat stories that balance action and angst in a way fitting for the modern superhero TV show. It's only shining light that it was usually fun. Cut to a season and network later, and Supergirl has done the unthinkable. It has managed to become one of the most relevant comic book properties on the small screen. Even with stunt casting in former Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter as the president, the show became socially conscious and borrowed a lot of its jargon and plots from current events. There's no denying that the arching plot line regarding the extermination of aliens wasn't in some ways pulled from events premiering alongside the episodes. Supergirl may remain a show full of heart and whimsy, but it has become so much more and in the process became one of the best shows on TV.
One of the series' smartest moves was creating a shake-up in the general Supergirl line-up. Kara's (Melissa Benoist) boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) was out, replacing her with a more stingy boss that made Kara question her principles. Meanwhile, Supergirl had to learn to fight with others. Over the course of the season, supporting characters such as J'onn J'onzz a.k.a. Martian Hanhunter (David Harewood) and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) got their own extended fight scenes. In some cases, Supergirl needed the help, and in the process helped to create a deeper community within the established line-up. Add in the presence of other noteworthy characters such as Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) and even Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), and the show has not only established an interesting world beyond Kara,  but it is one of the most upbeat and fun worlds yet.
Without putting much focus on it directly, the show also became an allegory for America in the way that the original Superman comics were about the American dream. As the season progressed, there were threats to exterminate aliens that would hide out in bars and keep their real appearances hidden. Even the presence of Kara's sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) forming a lesbian romance was a heartwarming touch that was played for human stakes. In an era where Marvel produces shows that exist solely to move a grander plot forward, it is a relief to have characters that feel more human, even if they shoot lasers from their eyes and can fly. By placing the central class as the underdog to the social elites, the show perfectly sets up an allegory that adds weight to the otherwise flighty show. This isn't just a battle against baddies now. It's about protecting rights of entire groups of people that fall outside of the societal norms.
This could even be seen in the way that characters talked. While it may seem a bit contrived, the choice to directly quote lines from the 2016 American presidential election helped to show the real life parallels of the fiction. In the penultimate episode, Cat Grant even gives a rallying speech that wouldn't be out of place in an Anti-Trump movement. The desire to be stronger together is a concept that has become popular in light of the election, and it's why the show litters itself with buzz words. Even as the season came to a close, it couldn't help but make a joke about "Fake news." This is a show that knows where it exists. It is entertainment, but it is also a chance for general audiences to creatively express their frustrations with the current political climate. Most of all, it does it while finding ways to turn each character's emotional struggles into grander themes of society. 
In several ways, it is still a TV series and has a visual effects look on par with that type of budget. Even with that, the show has developed a handful of memorable characters that manage to turn this third tier franchise into a surprising hit. It's fun and poignant without ever getting too wrapped up in a liberal agenda. By being allowed to air on the CW, Supergirl also has the advantage of having guest appearances from Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow characters. It's expanded into a world beyond the limited appeal of a female superhero. Now it's an entire universe (or multi-universe), and TV is better for it. Where DC movies have become too depressing and dark (until The LEGO Batman Movie at least) and Marvel has become too centralized around a brand, Supergirl is a breath of fresh air that feels singular and stands for something.
Even if the show never manages to get the respect it does for Benoist's great performance, the show will at least go down as one of the few superhero shows that was aware of its time. It existed to discuss more than sequels. It wanted to be about the rights of minorities and gays, and did so without creating contrived circumstances. It explored the modern landscape by editing 2016's tumultuous climate into something both fun and touching. Even if the show will only be perceived as pulpy and silly, it's not a bad way to go. Supergirl is the most indicative of a progressive era, and one that superhero culture has been complaining about for years now. It meets all of the demands of modern representation and even improves upon it in several ways. Supergirl doesn't need to change to be important. Everyone else needs to change to be as important as Supergirl.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

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