The upcoming Supergirl series on CBS will bring the superhero genre in pop culture to new territory.
While Marvel’s quest for world domination via really cool movies seems like it was fate all along, their main competitor DC appears to have television conquered. The very successful Arrow and The Flash on The CW have built a universe fans love tuning in to, and they’ll get more of that come this fall with the second spin-off Legends of Tomorrow.
But the six-minute preview of Supergirl released yesterday by CBS unveiled a superhero TV show unlike any have seen before, because it resembles a romantic comedy seen a million times already. The show’s lead, Kara Zor-El, inhabits a world that looks like your sister’s favorite romantic comedy awkwardly hooking up with your college roommate’s favorite sci-fi show.
Within the span of three minutes Kara works for an ice cold, uber-rich, metropolitan boss lady, crushes on a hunky photographer, and rejects her nerdy best friend (and future villain, Toyman) to dealing with a paranormal military squad and donning tights with a bright red cape. It’s a tonally jarring mish-mash of genres that no audience ever thought they’d experience in one package.
A recent Saturday Night Live sketch starring Scarlett Johansson had this exact same premise, featuring Johansson’s Black Widow as a fun New York City girl struggling to have it all. The spoof appeared like a bad omen, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Be foreshadowing an unpleasant reality. For many fans devoted to these characters, a genuine effort to be like this was terrifying. Supergirl is set to do this with earnest.
Yet, there’s nothing to fear. Get past the awkward juxtaposition of the distant cinematic genres and Supergirl becomes so much fun. Arrow and The Flash have succeeded bringing superheroes to television because they are in line with what one expects a superhero television show to be; The Flash is the cheerful adventure reminiscent of Saturday mornings, while Arrow evokes the dark, brooding, faux-Shakespearean power plays of modern TV and movies. Meanwhile, the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow will bring blockbuster superheroes to weekly serial television.
With all grounds covered, where would that leave Supergirl? Doing exactly what she needs to in order to stand out from her peers: be nothing like them.
As regressive as it may be to resort to typical, gendered "girly" cinema, it may also be the gateway for anyone who haven't given The Avengers a curious glance. By attracting different audiences via marketable, time-tested cinematic genres, unfamiliar audiences could be introduced into the bizarre worlds of comic books where people in spandex and gods with space lasers punch each other.
Supergirl could be the frontier explorer that brings superheroes into worlds it has never been. If another studio decides to take a risk with their superhero property to explore something totally wacky, it could be because Supergirl was a rousing success. Superheroes have already begun to explore new territory: hard crime in Gotham and Marvel's Daredevil, spy thrillers with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and pulpy sci-fi with Guardians of the Galaxy. Romantic comedy is merely another territory to claim.