Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Supergirl is becoming Supertrain

When SUPERGIRL premiered I gave it a good review. Well done pilot, likable star, nifty action, and the tone was fun. The debut numbers were terrific (for 2015… if a show premiered with those numbers in 1975 it would be yanked from the schedule that week). Since Oct. 26th the ratings have been steadily tumbling. I was curious as to why so went back and screened the subsequent episodes.

I get it now. The scripts are all made of Kryptonite.

Within three weeks the SUPERGIRL series has become seriously stupid.

Clearly, the staff is flailing around searching for what this show is, and it doesn’t take X-Ray Vision to see they haven’t found it. To me, if feels like they’re letting research dictate the direction, trying to satisfy every target demographic.

Since superhero shows traditionally attract men, they’re going out of their way to get women into the tent. It’s not an action show; it’s really about women getting the chance to be empowered. She’s a role model for feminism. SUPERGIRL is important.

Okay, well that didn’t seem to work. SUPERGIRL has not replaced Sheryl Sandberg. So in order to attract women, they hit hard on emotional stories. Working through family relationships. In the sappiest possible way. The Thanksgiving episode was like every bad Lifetime Movie where Meredith Baxter died from the disease of the week.

But to play it safe, women always like romantic comedy. Give them that. Supergirl likes Jimmy Olsen but he likes someone else and the sweet guy in the office (who is probably gay) likes her but she can’t see it. And she goes out on bad dates. Oh, poor Supergirl.

Upscale Millennials must be served if CBS ever hopes to get Lexus on board. So Supergirl works in a slick upscale corporation with sets probably rejected from Nancy Meyer movies. Hmmmm. That might not be enough. What they need is a horrible boss. Yes, Millennials loved those horrible boss movies. Give Supergirl one of those. So they created the Calista Flockhart character who is such a cliché she struggles to be one-dimensional.

But wait. The show still needs male viewers. So throw in monsters, mutants, and miscellaneous rejects from WALKING DEAD with super powers so Supergirl can beat the crap of them. And of course, there needs to be a made-up covert government organization in a secret location that looks like rejected BLACK LIST sets so we can check the conspiracy box. Conveniently, this secret compound just happens to be in the city where Supergirl resides. What are the odds? Oh, and throw her sister in there as an operative because, well… what the hell do you do with the sister?

Stunt casting is a must. Helen Slater (the original Supergirl) and Dean Cain (Superman from LOIS & CLARK) are Supergirl’s parents. What amazing gets! And Superman himself makes cameo appearances. In one episode he saved Supergirl. Touching but it also eliminates a lot of suspense because at any time Superman can just fly in and save her. But I’m sure research said you must include the Man of Steel. Especially on CBS. They had Superman appear on I LOVE LUCY you’ll recall.

Supergirl also has to stay up with the times. And today that means there is a faction that is anti-Supergirl. All she does is avert disasters, save lives, and stop crime but citizens are ready to get out the pitchforks and torches. Don’t they have a Ben Carson rally to attend? Leave Supergirl alone.  It's bad enough she can't get dates. 

By trying to be all things to all people the show has managed to please no one. Pick a direction. Or maybe go in an alternate one. What seems interesting to me is SUPERGIRL as a metaphor for how hard it is for women to have it all. The conflict of Kara trying to maintain a career, having a personal life, and saving the world is an interesting one. As it is now she goes from office responsibilities to vanquishing transformers to checking in at C.I.Alien HQ to baking pies with relative ease. You’d think not all bank robberies would occur during lunch breaks.

I hope they can figure it out. Like I said, I liked the pilot. And it’s not like superhero series don’t work. I’m surprised NBC doesn’t make Carson Daly wear a cape. But more attention must be paid to the scripts than the effects. CGI can’t create good drama. Nor can focus groups.


Peter said...

It's not difficult to get this show right. All they gotta do is put Melissa Benoist in a short skirt for 42 minutes. I'd pre-order the entire season based on that.

Yes I'm shallow.

dougEfresh said...

Sorry to say I totally agree. Last night's episode was the stupidest yet. She saves 27 school kids from getting killed by two guys racing on a street and everyone hates her because one of the guys hurts his hand when he takes a swing at her. Sure.

And the whole thing about her having anger issues was so poorly written I was embarrassed for the writers. Amazed the actors could deliver some of those lines with straight face.

404 said...

This is a problem that seems to kill a lot of shows. I was really excited about TERRA NOVA several years ago (remember that one?). The premise of humanity going back in time to colonize the past was interesting and original, but the writers effectively killed that show by trying to inject too many things (government conspiracy? military? family drama? renegade factions out of control?). The premise itself was interesting. Everything else just bogged it down and turned it into an almost insufferable show.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Not watching this show, myself, but...the solution Ken describes sounds an awful lot like BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.


Bill Avena said...

These "high concept" programs give melty cheese commercials a bad name.

CamrioKid said...


The callback to Superman appearing on I LOVE LUCY was brilliant! I still remember George Reeves looking VERY uncomfortable in the PJs...I mean superhero costume...they had him wear while in character.

McAlvie said...

I think one of the problems is that they have fallen into the "long arc" trap. A lot of series do this now, and it mostly just annoys the audience. They drag it out of the life of the series, or at least a season. NCIS had one arc that must have lasted 5 episodes. I was starting to cheer for the bad guy. It is really bad when it's a long running show doing it, because they ought to know better what it is their audience has been tuning in for all along.

Back to SG, I found it totally unconvincing that the 'alien hunters' don't realize they have a pointy eared Vulcan in their midst. Or maybe they finally did - I haven't watched the last few episodes.

On the topic of earlier reviews, Ken, I'm wondering if you have checked in with Life in Pieces recently? I was right there on the 'this is lousy' bandwagon that first episode; but I recently found myself getting caught up in it before I could change the channel. Maybe they just finally found their footing? But I've been wondering if you've seen recent episodes, and if you've found it improved as well. And if so, what do you think they are doing different?

Peter said...


Are you sure George Reeves didn't just look uncomfortable from the fact he was a tubby Superman?

Sorry to George Reeves fans.

AlaskaRay said...

I've watched from the first episode, but it's just more of the same boring stuff week after week. Unless Supergirl starts having nude scenes, I'm about done. Ray

A. L. Crivaro said...

Almost all your criticisms were evident in the pilot. Watched it. Disliked it. Disregarded it.

Herschel said...

I've given the show four episodes via "On Demand" so far because my little eight year old girl likes watching Supergirl. I'll sacrifice my time for her so she sees a girl hero in action. However, if the show gets too adult my little girl will tune it out and so will I because for me the show doesn't work from a logical perspective.

1) Why does she have to work at a newspaper just like her cousin? Since she is a Super Hero and her sister works for that top secret alien hunting team, why wouldn't she actually WORK for them?
2) Why does she have a crappy boss? And to be honest with you, I've never bought off on the Superman disguise of just adding glasses and people would recognize him or Supergirl.
3) They have this "secret" room at the newspaper building to meet and educate the audience? Last time I checked, my company and most companies that pay big bucks for office space have a facilities coordinator who knows every nook an cranny of the office...

Additionally, the whole premise just seems to be a knock-off of the Superman story-line except in another city. Is there really room for two Super Hero's from the same planet?

The reason this show doesn't work is because the Superman story lines have given audiences so much information over the years that it is hard from them to logically fit in Supergirl's story. And by the way, her outfit could be so much more cooler/awesome (not 1950's) - if I were fighting killer aliens I wouldn't be wearing high heels!

Smallville worked so well because it told us the story of Clark Kent, not Superman, but Clark the regular guy who was dealing with becoming Superman.

This storyline just throws the whole kitchen sink at us and it is too much to deal with.

YEKIMI said...

@ Peter Are you sure George Reeves didn't just look uncomfortable from the fact he was a tubby Superman?

That's because he had fallen victim to the sneakier cousin of Kryptonite.....Kryptopie.

Mark Fearing said...

Superman was always my second least favorite 'super' person. And that has to do with the drama lost when your main character only has one weakness and it's a chunk of space rock that's hard to find.

This series is pretty obviously done out of a desire to cash in on the 'super thing' going on. And it seems like your ideas are right on to me, but it would take a cable station or a 'new media' production company like Amazon or Netflix to do it Justice. Networks have embraced being the So Broad It's For Everyone mantra and they will carry it to their death. Which will be in about 5 years. When they deliver less views than anything on You Tube advertiser may finally catch on. Networks may not even be able to hold onto sporting events in time. Then they are dead.

Johnny Walker said...

Take away the "we hate Supergirl" protest movement and you've got all the ingredients of Buffy -- which balanced them perfectly. I'm not sure what SG's character is like, but what made Buffy work was that she was a hero. She behaved like one, and had a great friend group that you loved as well. (Except in Seasons 6 and 7 which are brutally depressing to watch.)

Greg Ehrbar said...

"Who can save the world with just one smile?
Who can have a rotten dates or suddenly wrestle a crocodile,
You're franchise and you should know it
And with test groups and every little pie chart you show it

Network notes abound, no need to fight it,
Based on the research they must rewrite it,
You might just make it till next Fall,
When Ted McGinley comes to call."

("Ba-da-bumpahhhh-BOMM! Tinkle, tinkle...ding")

MikeN said...

Maybe they should have done the Almost Perfect pitch instead?
The day she become Supergirl, she receives a marriage proposal.

Rob Hoffmann said...

This was what I feared when I saw the pilot clips.

They threw all the good stuff into the clips, and the rest is standard issue Bad 21st Century Television.

It's probably not hard to write people to act like... you know... people...?

Richard Y said...

"CBS tacked seven more episodes onto its Supergirl order, for a 20-episode season. The freshman drama is averaging 11.24 million viewers and 2.8/8 among A18-49"

jcs said...


I once read that for the filming of a few DS9 episodes "shutters" were written into the script. That way space wasn't visible during interior shots of a spaceship in flight. As an upshot the production company could save on special effects and make due with a lower budget,

What's the most ridiculous cost-cutting measure you experienced yourself?

On a different note, Kevin ALMOST PERFECT Kilner was on THE GOOD WIFE last Sunday. I hope his character will hang around.

Adam said...

I can't argue with your opinion. Don't know why, but it seems the trendy thing to do these days to drain as much fun as possible out of being a superhero.

One question. What does "Supergirl is becoming Supertrain" mean?

MikeK.Pa. said...

Funny, I was scanning the channels last night and saw SUPERGIRL listed and kept scanning. I watched parts of the first two episodes (mainly on your enthusiasm for the show) and lost interest. Too many people already knew her identity (sister, two co-workers). Part of the appeal of a superhero is that he/she is alone, in their civilian identity, in knowing their powers and unable to confide in anyone. SUPERGIRL could start a chat room.

Given your level of interest, you would think one of the show runners would give you a call to come on as a creative consultant (a la Ronny Graham on MASH).

Gary said...

Cheap jokes about the greatest Superman of all time, George Reeves, will not be tolerated! There will never be a better portrayal of that character. I'll take episodes of the 1950's Superman TV series over any super-hero show or movie since. (And get off my lawn!!)

Stephen Marks said...

Helen Slater, Supergirdle

Mike said...

What seems interesting to me is SUPERGIRL as a metaphor for how hard it is for women to have it all. The conflict of Kara trying to maintain a career, having a personal life, and saving the world is an interesting one.
Almost Perfect Girl. Amazing Spider-Man #50 (July 1967):
Fearing for his aunt's health and tired of being hounded by Jameson, Peter gives up being Spider-Man and concentrates on being a simple college student; A kid finds the discarded Spidey suit in the trash can and brings it to the Daily Bugle where Jonah proudly puts it on display; Pete's personal life starts looking up but crime increases as the Kingpin gathers the mob under his leadership; Feeling guilty about the crime wave, Peter remembers the lessons taught to him by his uncle's death and decides to become Spider-Man once again.
This is classic Spider-Man territory.

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Anonymous said...

@ Mighty Dyckerson
I care whether Gary liked it.

Tom said...

While a few rare cases may exist (after all, there are exceptions to virtually every rule), almost nobody (Man or Woman) can truly "have it all". In order to succeed at the highest levels of multiple endeavors, you simply have to make sacrifices somewhere. Traditionally men have been more willing and able to seemingly have it all, but I suspect that if you look closely at most of those examples you'll find that they had a great deal of help from a supportive spouse and/or professional help, and they probably tended to be less successful at the personal than the professional regardless of what myth they may have enjoyed. Not to discount her entirely, but Sheryl Sandberg definitely has a lot more resources at hand than the average person to allow her to "lean in".

But, that's a very attractive myth to sell, particularly in this day and age. Whether it's TV shows, books, or a candidate, it's pretty much guaranteed to lure in an eager audience, so it's small wonder that it would be a theme for Supergirl.

One thing I've learned from Ken is that it's often easy to see why a show isn't working - it's when "clever" plus or contrived jokes take precedence over character, and if a show's creators can't clearly define a character (whether from their own faults or due to network "notes") there's certainly no way they can write stories that serve those characters.

Tom said...

That should read as "clever" plots, not plus.

Roger Owen Green said...

Adam: What does "Supergirl is becoming Supertrain" mean?
Supertrain was a high-concept show on NBC in 1979, a massively expensive failure

Barry Traylor said...

Perhaps Ken meant Supertrain wreck.

Ray said...

you should take a look at JESSICA JONES, which is another take on the female-centric superhero story. I'm 5 episodes in and it's brilliant.
SUPERGIRL lost me on the first episode. Too much like the SNL trailer for the Black Widow movie
I can understand, for plot and character reasons, why Supergirl wants to have a normal life. But she wants to change the world, yet doesn't use her powers until the pilot?

WizarDru said...

"Don't know why, but it seems the trendy thing to do these days to drain as much fun as possible out of being a superhero."

Not everyone is on that train. The CW's "The Flash" is pretty much spot-on Superhero fun. It isn't brooding, the hero acts like an actual dang hero, the cast is a fun and supportive and it openly enjoys being a comic book TV show. I loved Netflix's Daredevil like a house on fire and I think the two episodes of Jessica Jones I've seen are impressive...but The Flash is one I am absolutely adoring.

Gerry said...

I watched parts of two episodes but there was too much angsty teenage handwringing for me.

Terrence Moss said...

Tubby because he didn't pecs that extended further than his six-packs?

I guess Marilyn Monroe was a fattie too then.

Terrence Moss said...

Broadcast TV was always broad with mass appeal before certain demos became MORE important than eyeballs. But in those days, they attracted everyone by not specifically going after anyone.

Brian said...

I agree. I started watching this weeks episode but switched to something else mid-way through.

Charles H. Bryan said...

You know, with the changing (well, changed) landscape of television, we probably won't have any more SUPERTRAINs -- shows so monumentally awful, but well-known, that they become short-cut punch-line terms for "failure". THE McLEAN STEVENSON SHOW was that for a while, too. I can't think of any recent show that people will remember years from now as a colossal bomb, because lower ratings keep shows on and thus bombs succeed, and people just don't even know about most of the shows that are on. These are trees that fall in the woods and no one hears.

But I remember when there was no getting out of the way of the SUPERTRAIN. Let's reboot it!

Dave Olden said...

Supertrain was an actual tv series (from the 70s if I remember correctly) with ratings so low I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it.

Dave Olden said...

Supertrain was an actual tv series (from the 70s if I remember correctly) with ratings so low I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it.

David G. said...

Well, -I'm- liking this series more and more. It's becoming a bit speedier than the new "Flash" was in embracing DC Comics' comic book characters, even though a lot of stuff from the source material is getting mixed around. My biggest gripe with the series is the decision -- I assume done in some self-important idea of feeling like they're promoting "diversity" -- to change Jimmy Olsen into a beefed-up bald-headed Black guy. Why America's much smaller minority of red-headed citizenry aren't up in arms about this is beyond me...!

blogward said...

Super Betty.