Short answer: They left the lights on while filming it.
Long answer follows:
I’m not quite sure when it happened, some point to the success of Batman Begins, but it’s been an growing trend since long before that. Someone decided that superheroes need to be gritty and flawed: more leather and less spandex, more killing and less saving, all rain and no sun. It can make for some great storytelling, but in the rush to be the darkest, grittiest, most brutal deconstruction of the heroic myth, they’ve lost all of the joy once contained in the pages the characters were pulled from.
Supergirl is bringing back the sunshine.
There was a lot of worry when the series was announced that it was going to go too far in another direction and be a “Devil Wears Prada” sort of show. The similarities between the trailer and an SNL parody were pretty striking.
Supergirl does start off playing on those themes pretty hard, but that’s her Clark Kent style persona and it’s mostly a setup for our heroine to get fed up with pretending and be herself. In this case, that means being a nigh-invulnerable crime-fighting alien in spandex.
The first think I noticed about this series is that Supergirl is allowed to have friends and family that she trusts. These are people that she openly tells about her secret identity and they have, thus far, been worthy of that trust. This glows in contrast to the arrogant, grim, misanthropic superheroes littering our screens.
There are other modern supertropes that they’re busting up right off the start. Supergirl is untrained, she’s an amateur and she admits that she needs practice and training from experts. She doesn’t even try to go it alone. She lets her friends help and tries to help her friends. Coupled with that is the idea that she has genuine, open relationships with other people.
That is key, I think. She doesn’t need the people around her. She is capable and clever and, well, super. But she chooses to include other people. I think that’s a theme they’re shooting for. She asks for, considers, and acts on advice. She isn’t an obsessed, antisocial, arrogant loner who refuses all aid, like every other hero out there.
I worry that she’s allowed to be a nice person because she’s a she. ‘Mans must be tough and know everything, and do it all by themselves, but lady people can ask for help, etc.’ Fuck that. This show is about a person who wants to do good, and has the power to do good. DOING GOOD. Remember what that’s like? It’s been an age.
It’s only two episodes in. The third is airing in a country I don’t live in while I write this. It came out of the gate strong but it’s not perfect either.
At the moment it’s really a coming of age story, but that can only last so long and will need to transition into something else. I’m worried that it will be painful, awkward romance drama. They’ve set up two guys as her friends and while it’s all awesome at the moment, I fear that they’ll play up the love triangle to the detriment of everyone involved.
The villains of the week, so far, are completely forgettable. They are setting up a broader villain arc with Supergirl’s Aunt as the main antagonist, but in an effort to be mysterious, they’ve ended up just being vague and nonsensical thus far.
There’s also an alien-fighting government organization that Supergirl is working with. They have a lot of resources, but also very bad planning skills. They have a habit of having all the right tools for the job, and bringing the wrong ones along. The worst offence so far was a trap for an alien strong enough to take on Supergirl. When it took the bait, their plan was to lean out the window of their moving car and shoot at it with pistols. Kiiiind of disappointing.
Finally there’s her boss. She’s kind of cartoonish, almost a J Jonah Jameson level of tyrant boss. She constantly threatens people with their jobs and demands ludicrous levels of performance and loyalty. They have made some efforts to justify this, though, with a backstory that she is expecting everyone to go through what she went through to earn her own success. But that’s a whooole separate analysis.
In the end, the thing that really sold me on Supergirl was impossibly simple: she smiled. I cannot remember the last time I saw a superhero allowed to smile. Smiles and laughs in the grim herotales that plague our screens are cynical or deceptive, never glowing and genuine. It is positively delightful to be reminded that people might actually be happy sometimes, and someone might become a hero because they care.