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On the Supergirl Pilot, and Pilots In General

Illustration for article titled On the Supergirl Pilot, and Pilots In General

Supergirl premiered this week on CBS, and the show has a lot going for it. It’s well cast, the tone is easy to digest, there’s family intrigue, and the special effects are superb. The pilot suffered from a few of the inherent flaws in just about any pilot... so we’re gonna pick it apart.


The Pilot To-Do List

So any half-decent pilot has a few critical jobs to get right, if the show has any chance of being picked up— let alone gain a following.


It has to:

  • Set Up a High Concept
  • Introduce the Characters
  • Establish Tone
  • Not Drown You In Exposition
  • Make a Promise of the Premise

Depending on how it’s set up, the pilot can practically write itself. Other times, not so much.


Set Up a High Concept

Your show’s got to be about something. It has to be interesting and unique enough to garner some attention. Then it has to KEEP that attention, but that comes later.


Superman has a cousin! She’s a girl! She can do all the things he can do, but with none of the experience or confidence! Watch this work-a-day superheroine fight monsters, keep a secret identity, and become a true hero on her own terms.

Did Supergirl succeed? You bet.

Introduce Your Characters

We’ve got Kara/Supergirl. She’s smart, powerful, and driven; but she lacks confidence. She has vast potential; time will tell if she can live up to it.


You have Alex, her overbearing big sister. Alex has leverage on Kara both personally and professionally, making for an interesting dynamic.

At the Daily Planet CatCo., we have three other big roles. There’s Winslow Schott Jr., the geeky would-be love interest and confidante. You have James Olsen(!), the more mature love interest and tether to the original superhero-who-shall-not-be-named. Last but not least, you’ve got Cat Grant, the impossible-to-please CEO who will keep Kara on her toes. Woot.


Finally there’s Hank Henshaw, filling the role of needlessly-antagonistic military guy. He’s Alex’s boss, he’s openly suspicious of Supergirl’s motives, and is frankly, kind of a dick.

Does Supergirl deliver? Pretty well. I’m liking the female ratio on the cast. The pilot also passed the Bechdel test, something I’m over the moon about.


Establish Tone

Everything about Supergirl says bright! Shiny! Optimism! It’s a welcome palate cleanser. Superheroes are role models. The photo of Melissa Benoist hanging out with the super-scouts made my heart grow three sizes bigger that day. If this is where the show is headed, then I am all for it.


Does Supergirl Pass? With flying colors.

Exposition, Exposition, SO Much Exposition

The importance of the characters can’t be overstated, but things need to be happening to them to make you care. Events you understand and have context for. This... frequently requires exposition.


The pilot is admittedly heavy on it. They have a lot to cover in 44 minutes. Like a LOT a lot. Supergirl is both older and younger than Superman. There’s a prison full of alien crooks, crash-landed on Earth. There are other Kryptonians in hiding.

It’s FINE to do exposition on a pilot. It’s fecking necessary. But when characters talk about things that ALL PARTIES CONCERNED ALREADY KNOW, this screams ‘redundant’. There are other, more elegant ways of doing it. But for a Pilot that got so much right, I’m willing to make allowances.


If they had shown more and told less, we could’ve saved some time on on-the-nose dialogue and stuff that is flatly unnecessary. There’s nobody who doesn’t recognize Superman. Nobody needs to be told what Kryptonite is.

And yet.

Does Supergirl tell it like it is? And then some. Whouff.

Promising the Premise

It’s not enough for a Pilot to tell an interesting story. It needs a hook. The show has to be able to consistently provide the stuff you showed up for in the first place. Courtesy of the McGuffin! Prison, Supergirl will have plenty of bad guys to fight that can provide an actual threat on her level.


She’ll continue to have secret identity fun... something that will need work since right now, literally ONE main character does not know the secret. Huh. But yeah. There’s plenty here to enjoy more of.

Do I want to see more of Supergirl? Yes. Yes I do.

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