Story Pile: Supergirl

I tried, in time for Pride Month this year, to watch all of Supergirl.

Supergirl, if you’re not familiar, is a modern day superhero story about Kara Danvers, who’s actually Kara Zor-El, the cousin of Kal-El, who’s actually Superman, and the convoluted set of story consequences about how two pods were shot at two moving orbiting bodies at speed and successfully arrived, yay, go astrophysics. She’s a Supergirl, which is to say, a Superman, but a girl. Explaining the narrative of Supergirl feels like one of those things that’s so bloody obvious from just the premise, it’s a bit like telling you that owls exist, or how paint works.

In this case, the story of Supergirl is set in a world where Superman is already Supermanning, and has been for some time, and where Kara has not started Supergirling as of the first episode but you can bet they get onto that one right quick as you’d imagine. When she Supergirls for the first time, she finds there’s a Government Organisation Of Assisting And Also Pestering Supergirls, and well, looky here, now she’s got herself a pair of contrasting workplaces where she has to balance these two halves of her life and these two halves of her identity and maybe find the time to have a personal life and dig into the mystery of what happened to her dad, who is in this case, played by Dean Cain,

who fucking sucks, by the way,

Why, what’s a girl to do? Even a girl who’s super?

The project of watching this concluded well-regarded and superheroic series seemed a perfect fit for me, and a perfect fit for Pride Month. Even down to the basic properties of the series — it’s a long-form episodic series with an entirely English voice track and it’s not about to strain me to pay half-attention to it on the second monitor while I do paperwork. It is, hypothetically, at least, everything I want in a show.

First, it’s a comic book series in a period of comic book media. People can talk about it like they’re exhausted by the current culture of superheroes, as if Superman hasn’t been a cultural icon since his inception, and every decade has not had big, important superhero stories going on. It basically feels to me like the people mad at the current media empires pumping out superhero stuff are mad at noticing a trend in movies, which, well, that’s got to be rough. Imagine if there were trends like a whole bunch of movies being made in a short period of time that were about the seemingly universal experience of being an American teenager year old in the seventies that got to define my upbringing, wild.

Anyway, right now we have a lot of superhero media and shockingly little of it is centered on women in any capacity. Some that gets close still does it as part of an ensemble. Arrow, a series I like, had major women characters, but they were still largely secondary characters until they got to blossom into their own, and always their stories were subservient to the narrative of Ollie’s. Plus, most of their stories were complicated because of Ollie, and the issues they brought up were the kind of things Ollie could relate to. There’s a lot of ‘you’d never know’ kind of thinking in that writing .

In Supergirl, we get a cast that is predominantly women, women that negotiate with one another about power, both very realistic power and very unrealistic power. There’s villains drawn from common experiences of women and common fears amongst women, like being stalked or job insecurity or a lack of control over your own presentation and identity and oh yeah being overshadowed by a man who isn’t even present in the story because of the inherent lack of trust people put in women.

… but it’s also doing stuff like evil clones, untrustworthy corporate super-scientists, a microwave satellite that makes people commit suicide and a flower that eats your brain. Because comic books are great. It’s good comic book stuff, and it’s doing stuff that not a lot of other series are doing. Even if they are, are they doing it as well?

Also, it has a major role in the main cast who’s a gay woman. It’s not played for inherent comedy and it’s not treated as something that’s about her like an orbiting laser. She has work concerns and interests that are unrelated to her coming out, she has a relationship with her sister that is loving and protective, and with her mother that is, initially complicated by the unspoken communication about that orientation.

The cast then expands to include a trans superheroine who is played by a trans actress, and it’s not super-science nanite protons, or genderless mushroom people, it’s a trans woman who is played by a trans woman and the character is given a position and platform to meaningfully express her position on herself and her identity to a public at large. She even gets to compare her experiences of transphobia to enemy’s behaviour, without it just being ‘let’s throw some transphobia at a trans character for some reason.’

That was what got me pushed to check it out, at first — you know, it’s kind of embarrassing when you think about it, but how many TV series have you seen where a trans person is not a punchline or a plot twist? I’ve watched a lot of hour-long adult-oriented TV shows, and the number of extremely specific archetypes that outnumber ‘non-creepy rendition of trans person’ is depressingly broad. I can think of three characters who are literally sentient mattresses, that’s not an archetype that should be that common by comparison.

That’s why I sat down to watch all of Supergirl and write an article on it for Pride Month. And… now the twist, right? The oh no, shock horror, this series isn’t good moment because I’ve built up the article this way?

I’m not here to tell you that Supergirl is bad, good heavens no. Supergirl is … Supergirl. It is pitched perfect at itself, it is in dialogue with itself, it is pretty much a show about making a show about Supergirl and as a direct result of that, there are plots that step awkardly and stilt around important issues, and ways the conversation can get, what is it that disingenuous chuds call it, cringe?

No, I am here, to report that I cannot comment on most of Supergirl because it’s a hundred and twenty six hours long and in half a year, I was not able to work my way through that at speed. Partly, because I kept paying attention – it wasn’t good off-the-brainpan kind of watching, not like House or Burn Notice or amazingly, The Wire.

I paid too much attention.

It was too interesting.

I was having too much fun.

Means I couldn’t get through it fast, and I wound up only getting through two seasons of the show, which I quite liked. Man, good thing it’s available for streaming, legally, and conveniently, I assume.

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