Checking in on the current state of The CW's "Arrow-verse" Part 3

Supergirl may not be the best Arrow-verse show, but it may be its most important. 

As I continue my look at the current state of The CW's "Arrow-verse", I turn my focus to the one show considered the odd man (or in this case, "woman") out of the lot. One that didn't properly spin off of the established universe (even debuting on a different network) that eventually found a happy medium to exist alongside its peers.


Supergirl/Kara Danvers flying to the rescue
It may seem strange now, but it can be hard to remember that "Supergirl" originally was a show separate from The CW's "Arrow-verse". Stranger still when it always had the same creators in executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. But such were the realities of when the show debuted on CBS back in October 2015. While being on different networks was enough of a reason to not exist within the other "Arrow-verse" shows, its own "universe" was an even bigger hurdle. 

The "Arrow-verse" was built on the assumption that it was a grounded world where the advent and public knowledge of superpowers happened when the particle accelerator explosion of Star Labs lead to the creation of "metahumans". While later seasons of the others shows eventually showed that powers existed long before that, it was the Star Labs incident that made it a public quantity. The universe of "Supergirl" is one where the existence of powers has been established for a long time, with Superman himself a big public hero. There was no way to justify Superman's existence in the "Arrow-verse" without it looking like a sloppy "retcon", so "Supergirl" remained isolated in its own universe for the remainder of its existence.

Until it wasn't.

Sort of.

Concurrently as of the airing of Supergirl's first season on CBS, The CW's "The Flash" was airing its second season focused on a storyline involving parallel earths and alternate dimensions. Right at the peak of that storyline, "The Flash" established the possibility of the existence of infinite earths (a direct nod to a 1980's DC Comics storyline) and the ability to travel to them. And so was "Supergirl"'s connection to the "Arrow-verse" was born.

Supergirl and Flash team up for a historic crossover

It didn't take long for that connection to bare fruit. Near the end of Supergirl's first season, both CBS and The CW did what seemed impossible and were able to negotiate a cross-network crossover between "Supergirl" and "The Flash". The results was exactly what fans expected, with an episode that played on the strengths of the likability of Supergirl and Flash's actors Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin (who were former costars on "Glee") and made for a fun episode that, at the time it first aired, was a fun tonal alternative to "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice".

The success of that crossover would have long lasting consequences to the future of "Supergirl". Being in the network that it was, "Supergirl" just wasn't a ratings success compared to the rest of CBS's lineup (mostly comprised of sitcoms and detective procedurals). The amount the show was costing CBS led them to eventually drop the show from their lineup for their next year. Fortunately, the crossover with "The Flash" gave some really good vibes to The CW, which led to them saving the show by picking them up and make them part of the "Arrow-verse" line up, ensuring its survival.

"Supergirl" being on The CW was a match made in heaven. Let's not forget, once upon a time before the debut of "Arrow", The CW was the home of "Smallville". Most of all, being on a network that has finally embraced shows that are unapologetically "comic book-y" allowed "Supergirl" to start embracing the potential it only skirted when it was at CBS.

"Supergirl"'s first season was...very flawed to put it mildly. Compared to how the other "Arrow-verse" shows started, "Supergirl" didn't inspire much confidence of being anything other than a disposable show. Being on CBS, it felt very hamstrung on how it could portray some of the more fantastical side of the "Superman" mythos. Plus, the first few episodes were prone to including some really terrible villains and also gave a more "female empowerment" vibe that could turn off people not wanting feminist preachiness in their comic book shows.

And then the show introduced Martian Manhunter. And things started looking up.

J'onn J'onzz/Martian Manhunter

The introduction of Martian Manhunter was exactly what the show needed to start feeling a little bit more legitimate as a comic book show worthy of note. Seeing the show start developing Martian Manhunter's backstory as something akin of a survivor from a massive holocaust done by the White Martians (a not so subtle homage to what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis in World War II) started showing that "Supergirl" would not be ashamed of tackling real life issues. Yes, the analogies were laid a little thick, but there was something admirable about the attempt, specially when other shows would shy away from that sort of commentary (something that finally happened when "Legends of Tomorrow" tackled the Civil War slavery issue in its second season). Supergirl's first season did not tackle more of these issues further than Martian Manhunter's backstory, which is a shame based on how it elevated the show at the time. Thankfully, that is what second seasons are for, and luckily, "Supergirl" Season 2 delivered that in spades.

I will be upfront and say this: "Supergirl" as a show is an acquired taste. It is not a show for everyone. Even with a lot of the things that it improved on from its move from CBS to The CW (which I'll talk about in a bit), there is a certain simplicity to the quality of its storytelling that doesn't allow it to fully stand toe to toe with the other "Arrow-verse" shows at their best. Also, being on a separate universe means that what happens in this show is not really consequential to the shared universe from the other shows (with the exception of the annual crossover).

With that out of the way, lets get into what it does right.

Despite its relative lack of depth, no other show in the "Arrow-verse" (with the exception being "Legends of Tomorrow" this season and "The Flash" once upon a time) has the earnestness and warmth that "Supergirl" has. Very similar to the original Christopher Reeves' Superman movies, there is just a joyful quality to this show that is very contagious in a way that makes it stand out. Obviously, if you're looking for more darkness and grit in your shows, you won't find it here. Yet that difference gives this show its own personality for those looking for a tone more resembling of the Silver Age of DC Comic books.

Kara Danvers ready to save the world.

This all works thanks to the innate charm of "Supergirl" actress Melissa Benoist. With the only exception being Grant Gustin as Barry Allen from "The Flash", no other show in the "Arrow-verse" is carried by the cheer likability of its main character like Benoist's Kara Danvers. Even when the show is at its weakest, Kara Danvers is the one constant that keeps the show afloat. She really exudes the same joyful demeanor that defined Christopher Reeves' version of Superman.

Even better, Melissa Benoist's earnestness carries even to its most emotional moments. While those moments where a little rough at the very beginning of Supergirl's first season, eventually it evolved to the point you really feel her plight as the series goes on (her brush with red kryptonite is the perfect example of this). For a show that features a character that can be simply described as indestructible (one of the Superman mythos biggest criticism), Benoist portrayal of Kara really makes her character feel human.

The Danvers sisters.

Just as you need a great protagonist to carry a show, a great side character can add further depth to a show. On a show that already suffers from its more simplistic approach compared to its siblings, it is Kara Danver's relationship with her earthly sister Alex Danvers that provides the show with much heart and actual depth. Their sisterhood provided a lot Season 1's best moments, and Season 2 has actually further that bond by seeing both sisters deal with Alex's mixed feelings in regards to her sexuality. While it is a story that can prove controversial to those that are not into anything regarding the LGBTQ, it was a story that was handled surprisingly well on "Supergirl". It was not about Alex actually being "gay" as it was about the fears of actually coming out, which is a big fear for most in the LGBTQ community.

That story was one of the linchpins of the things Season 2 of "Supergirl" is doing right. Toying with tackling world issues with Martian Manhunter's story in Season 1, Supergirl Season 2 was more direct in the way it handled those issues. Not only was Alex's story a big part of the season. Season 2 also put a lot of focus on the status of illegal aliens as part of the world. While definitely not subtle as a commentary with what is happening in America after the 2016 election and the immigration issue, the show still was able to provide great commentary on it, specially using the actual "aliens" as an audience surrogate for the "immigrant". This led to a standout story as Supergirl was forced to save a lot of those aliens from getting exiled (read: "deported") from this world. It is those kinds of stories that show why Supergirl is such an important part of The CW's "Arrow-verse" line up.

Supergirl and Mon-El trapped in an alien planet.

It is not all roses and petals for "Supergirl" though. The show still has some of the flaws that held it back a lot in Season 1. One of the bigger problems is the focus on relationship drama. While relationship drama is part of a lot of superhero stories, Supergirl tends to focus on it a lot. None of that is more apparent than Kara's current relationship with Mon-El (played by Chris Wood). While there is a certain rogue charm to Mon-El that makes him at least a more likable romantic partner to Kara than Jimmy Olsen was in Season 1, it still hasn't prevented the show from feeling sappy at times.

Jimmy Olsen as the Guardian

Speaking of Jimmy Olsen, he has been single handedly the weakest part of Season 2. With the showrunners having decided to ax the Kara/Jimmy romance that was such a focus (to its detriment) in Season 1, it left Jimmy Olsen at a weird spot this season. His story has felt a little aimless as the showrunners decided to both make him the editor-in-chief to CatCo (a casualty of the show losing Season 1's standout character Cat Grant due to Calista Flockhart not being able to film at the show's new Vancouver studio) and also making him the masked vigilante called "Guardian". The latter has been cause for lot of problems for Season 2 of Supergirl, as the Guardian scenes feel so out of place it almost feels like you're watching a low-rent "Arrow" episode. It doesn't really fit with what this show does well.

There is also the problem of exactly what is Season 2 rea
 building towards to. This season has been jam packed with a lot of story, with its first two episodes being some of the greatest of any superhero show to date thanks to the inclusion of Superman. However, there has been a lot of stories happening concurrently at the same time. From Alex's coming out story, the illegal aliens and its connection to villain group Cadmus Labs, the return of Kara and Alex's missing father Jeremiah, Kara's journalistic woes and the appearance of Mon-El's family of aliens, there is a lot to be taking in. The show hasn't made it very graceful in making someone care to what the ultimate goal of the season is. Most of these stories have been good, but one wonders what is the end goal when there are these many disparate threads at play.

Despite all that, Supergirl Season 2 has still provided enough good in it that it can offset some of its more obvious flaws. When it's good, it really provides something unique and charming not found in the other shows. However, when it stumbles, its stumbles are still hard enough that it is very hard to make the case of it being one of The CW's best Arrow-verse shows when they happen. However, it is still fun to the core, and with its willingness to tackle issues the other shows just ignore, it still earns its spot as The CW's most important show in its lineup.


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