Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife and I thought so highly of that new CBS series Supergirl that we met four of its stars at two different events last year — Mehcad Brooks and Peter Facinelli at Metropolis’ Superman Celebration; and before that, Chyler Leigh and the Melissa Benoist at Chicago’s C2E2. Fun folks from a fun show.
At launch, Supergirl was a bright, optimistic series about one of the most frequently mishandled members of the Superman family, of which Anne has been a lifelong fan. As an adult she’s been to the Superman Celebration five times with me; as a girl she read all the Superman-related books she could find at our local library and watched Superman: The Movie on videodisc so many times that she memorized it. Literally. All of it. Could recite the entire movie line-for-line from beginning to end. She never could say the same for Supergirl’s movie, which was…well, I haven’t watched it in thirty years, so I can’t fairly say how it ranks compared to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but it’s down there. She hasn’t kept up with any of DC Comics’ other TV shows since Smallville, but she was intrigued at the idea and generally happy with season one. Same went for me, despite the intermittent bits of cheesiness I was fine with shrugged off.
Then the series moved to The CW.
(Housekeeping note up front: this entry dives into developments from the March 6th episode. Consider this your courtesy spoiler warning.)
Subsequent headlines after the announcement made it clear the show wouldn’t be the same. Moving production of “National City” from Los Angeles to Vancouver ushered in a new era of grungy nighttime warehouse fights for Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers and her amazing friends. Our concern turned to worry when the move meant losing Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, the undisputed MVP of season 1 and a beacon of sharp-witted boldness that could redeem even the goofiest of episodes with just a look and a ludicrous Hollywood name-drop. As a big fan of The Flash and assuming their staffs had plenty in common, I held on to hope for a smooth transfer with minimal drop in quality.
On the other hand, this was The CW, the network that drove us nuts with the soap-opera sins of Smallville, which lost Anne as a viewer about halfway through its ten-season run. I held on a couple seasons longer than she did till they murdered Lionel Luthor. I returned out of curiosity for the back half of the final season only to regret my choices (except for the Booster Gold episode, which for them was top-notch). In fact, Smallville is why I don’t watch Arrow — it was just too soon when it premiered, I hadn’t let go of Justin Hartley’s comparatively sunny version, and I wasn’t ready to trust The CW yet. (I was also still bitter about Veronica Mars season 3. Ugh.) Maybe someday I’ll catch up with Oliver and company, but it hasn’t happened as of this writing.
Supergirl season 2 kicked off promisingly with a short-term visit from Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman, a bit young but every bit the positive, smiling Man of Steel that some of us older fans hadn’t seen since his WB animated series, double-majoring with a perfectly bumbling, goody-two-shoes Clark Kent juggling the kind of down-home lingo we older Midwesterners know quite well. We knew he had to leave because it wasn’t his show, but he was a welcome sign of heroic inspiration to come, preferably from his cousin the actual star.
Fast-forward a few months later: the one change most highly revered by the internet in recent weeks has been the gradual coupling of Kara’s sister Alex and police detective Maggie Sawyer, transplanted from her original Metropolis setting in the comics as the easiest choice for a high-profile love interest. Alex’s journey and their resulting relationship were unheralded moves for live-action super-hero TV and immediately crowned Best Show of the Decade by large portions of Twitter and Tumblr.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve noticed the two of them are now practically all the show is about.
The showrunners, encouraged by the attention, have doubled down on it and moved their story to the forefront, while apparently letting interns make up subplots for the other characters. Losing Cat Grant was hard enough, and we’ve seen no indication of a reunion anytime soon. Meanwhile down in the ranks, seeing Winn suddenly change career paths from newspaper IT to government covert-ops hacking was jarring, but not 100% unbelievable for the son of Toyman (maybe 55%? 60% at worst).
But the first hard needle-scratch for us fell early on when Kara and best pal James Olsen, whose serious friendship by all signs was heading straight toward romance that probably would’ve delightfully aggravated racists and any intransigent readers who treat comics as holy writ commanding all adaptations thereof must be panel-for-panel faithful. I would’ve been excited for that, but then they were forced to call it quits because. Because why? Because because, SHUT UP THAT’S WHY said the show. To me that came off as a pure Smallville moment — not an organic development for the characters, but a switch-up the writers mandated to facilitated plans that they convinced themselves would be even better. The moment rang false and we made faces at it.
How does James bounce back? By becoming a super-hero in his own right, the Guardian (who was not Jimmy Olsen in the comics), to prove to himself he’s still an independent person with something to contribute to society besides professional news photography. Or that he’s a character who still belongs on the show despite being pre-dumped. Or that he’s worthy of Kara’s attention as a love interest who can handle himself and isn’t a liability in fights. Or because comics-based movies and TV shows are always in a hurry to transition as many intellectual properties from page to screen, which is why every new X-Men film offers at least forty new merchandising options to action figure manufacturers.
Meanwhile back at Catco, the erstwhile publisher’s invigorating presence has been replaced with Snapper Carr, a Lou Grant homage so curmudgeonly and devoid of people skills that he’s clearly meant to be the office bad guy, and yet, if you strip away the snark, nearly everything he says represents how Actual Journalism actually works. But it’s bent in such a way that you resent him trying to maintain ethics and integrity if it means the other, younger characters can’t just do anything they want. How dare he act like a mean dad telling them how to do the jobs they’re demonstrably lousy at?
Over at the DEO, J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, has been doing what he could sharing a long arc with Miss Martian, showing us more of life on Mars while learning a very important lesson about judging others by the color of their skin, which is a lesson that also could’ve been imparted in a Kara/James romatic entanglement but whatever. He didn’t bother me overmuch up until this past Monday’s episode “Exodus”. In a situation where her dad Dean Cain appears to have turned to the Dark Side, Alex gets so emotionally involved in the case that she proved to J’Onn’s disguised face that she’d be willing to blow off any and all security protocols if it meant a chance to redeem Daddy. J’Onn rightfully suspends her from duty for disobeying orders and jeopardizing the entire cast. Alex goes behind his back and stays on the case anyway. At the end of the episode, J’Onn begs her forgiveness for doing his job competently and acting like a rational adult. I imagine this moment of repentance impressed the heck out of middle-school viewers.
And that’s just the supporting cast. Then there’s Kara herself.
Once upon a time last year on CBS, Kara was a young hero who still had lessons to learn, but wasn’t a downright fool. With James benched for the foreseeable future, Kara’s dance card was empty until the insertion of Mon-El, a longtime member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in good standing whose introduction to the CW-DC Universe saw him reimagined first as a foreigner whose home planet Daxam shared a Hatfield/McCoys feud with Kara’s own Krypton, which they set aside once the two of them learned a very important lesson about judging others by their homelands. Once we dug more deeply, Mon-El revealed himself as a selfish, loutish, lying, womanizing dudebro from beyond who was all about scoring the chicks and the beer and the other addictive consumables for the manliest of manly men on Earth and Daxam alike. Kara smartly rebuffed him, but agreed to keep mentoring him on Earth living as well as Earth crime-fighting, somewhere between “just friends” and “just business”.
Now? Mon-El is still obnoxious, but he’s, like, so learned his lesson and totally changed and he’s now so cool, you guys, so now he and Kara have hooked up because you just really have to get to know the person inside and then you’d see how sweet and caring he really is if you’d just give him a chance. And in the last episode, when Dark Dean Cain had everyone bamboozled, only that doubting jerk Mon-El questioned what was going on, and technically his obnoxiousness helped save the day. Yippee! Go, Kara! Convince yourself this is just like that time Buffy and Spike started dating! From where we sat, Mon-El’s “progress” was too speedy to swallow and obviously done to force the plotlines where the writers wanted them to go instead of where they should’ve been heading based on how much of a corrupted buffoon he was at the start.
One would hope we could at least see Kara accomplishing great things at Catco, where she’d stayed invested in her wannabe career as a real journalist based on her zero credits from journalism college and publishing ethics learned apparently from 1950s Lois Lane comics. I wish I’d taken notes on the number of missteps she’s made that Snapper has called her on, but it’s hard for me to live-tweet the show and take notes to build a case for her termination at the same time. Last week’s episode was head-shaking enough on its own: after Snapper shoots down Kara’s story idea that counts as its sole source thin, unsubstantiated allegations from Supergirl (read: herself), Kara deliberately violates the non-compete clause in her employment contract (presumably it has one if it has any pretense of realism) and self-publishes the article herself on “danvers.com” — her very own blog!
(I could not stop laughing or criticizing that. Honestly, that’s another entry in itself. Suffice it to say former blogger Iris West from The Flash should probably give her pointers, starting with “just don’t”.)
What happens next? Snapper rightfully fires her her from Catco for disobeying orders, for conflict of interest, and in a sense for basically publishing “fake news”. At the end of the episode, Snapper does not beg her forgiveness for doing his job competently and acting like a rational adult. I imagine this moment of true adulthood enraged middle-school viewers. How dare he interfere with her self-righteous crusade? Sure, Cat was the role model who first encouraged “Kee-ra” toward the news reporter track, but Cat probably also planned to mold Kara personally into a top journalist, because Cat of course could do this for anyone hands-on with The Wisdom of Cat at her command.
But Cat isn’t around anymore to save Kara or the show, is she? Bottom line: with its titular character now a sucker for a “nice guy” and newly unemployed thanks to her own thoughtless stubbornness, Supergirl has somehow transformed into the second coming of Smallville and we’re not happy. I miss the smiling super-hero who made National City a better place to visit, and Anne — with two sisters of her own — misses the show we used to have about Superman’s best relative ever, and the show about these two cool sisters who stay really close through thick-‘n’-thin despite their differences, who used to end every episode hanging out together with ice cream and a movie, and without an entire network coming between them and us.