Well I’m not going to say this post has some “harsh truths” or anything, but it will contain some truth, and if you find anything less than glowing praise for this show to be harsh, you might not want to continue reading…
There’s a thing I’ve seen called “the wonder woman paradox” which equally applies to religion and more, so I think it might be more accurate to call it the “expectation trap.” The way I heard it first put is that any Wonder Woman movie is bound to fail because the expectations thrust upon it by those invested in the property and those invested in her symbology will either make it impossible for anything to ever be filmed, or so bland and generic that it is a total flop. Religious movies have the same issue where you’re talking about a subject which is VERY important to a lot of people who also have strict standards so you end up with a story making the most generic theological points involving villains that aren’t that bad and heroes who make little in the way of real sacrifices.
At first glance from the trailers I wondered if Supergirl was going to fall into this same trap. How did the season pan out? Well… it didn’t get crush completely, but the expectations were enough that the season definitely tripped and stumbled in places. Which is odd because the team did such a good job on Arrow & Flash season 1.
Then again maybe that is the problem. Now that they have been established, Arrow & Flash are in the more fun zones of storytelling. Having done this twice (well, 4 times all told by this year) it is understandable that the creators may want to try and skip over the first season set-ups and get right to the fun stuff. It would explain why in several spots the show acted like it was on S3 by now instead of S1 (especially when dealing with Kara’s reputation). More than once it came off feeling like it was talking about Supergirl’s reputation in our world, not the world she actually lives in. Heck that could have been a storyline there where everybody treats her great because of her cousin and she has to try and earn her own great reputation. (an example of overcoming… privilege perhaps?) It says a lot when the two most captivating characters on screen are Kat Grant and Max Lord (the two characters who don’t suck up to Supergirl).
My other big issue with the show was how protagonist-centric it frequently was, to the detriment of the world building. Like Red Tornado is seen as such an affront because it’s against Kara in initial testing, never mind that multiple kryptonians have been established as a threat to Earth and we might want more helping Superman and Supergirl fight for us (else they’re losing based on sheer numbers). Maxwell Lord is painted as a villain for his weapon development even as the DEO packs plenty of their own anti-ET tech. Just imagine had all of this been allowed to be examined in more complex ways? Like what if the DEO had the tech it did because Max was the developer and supplier of it? What if “Bizarro” wasn’t a kidnapping victim but an eager & willing volunteer? Yeah there may be reasons why the heroes don’t kill, but why don’t we? Maybe a US or even UN/humanity style tribunal for things like the White Martian. The necessity of this was proven at season’s end when there was nearly a mass prison break by the bad guys! Instead we got a sense that the people we would see one week did not live in the same universe as the people we saw the previous week. Repeat after me: it’s not just continuity in the big things, but the little things.
And I still will never accept that man as Jimmy Olsen. Make him Steel if you want and I would believe it a heartbeat, but that many has no more in common with Olsen than Kat Grant.
But it’s not quite all bad. I remember at the time Lois & Clark originally released hating the show because it was 45 minutes of talking, 5 minutes of Superman action, then 10 minutes of more talking (yes I was also at the age where plot was a secondary concern) and telling anybody who would listen (about 40% of my imaginary friends) that if the show was only a half hour long it would at least be marginally tolerable. Supergirl thankfully does not do this and tries to break up the show with semi regular intervals of action. Even if the effects aren’t the best, my inner 8 year old is satisfied enough. The cast at least seems to be there if the writing could just give them stronger material to work with. Filming in LA does give the show a very different look to it (even if the cost is so high they’re going to have to go to Vancouver) making it easier to believe it’s in a different universe. It was also nice to have a show generally upbeat with a happy hero since Flash had taken such a dark turn this season.
All in all… it’s not the worst season of television ever, but it has a LOT of room for improvement (seriously, I could keep going on and on with nitpicking if baited in the comments) which is surprising after the solid freshmen seasons from the other shows created by Berlanti. Here’s hoping next season they get things together and let the show soar.