CW Inspection: Berlanti Edition

Part 1: ‘Supergirl’ Review

Earlier this month, the CW turned 10. That it has managed to exist nearly as long as the networks that merged to create it — the WB and UPN — is something of a miracle, considering how much it was staggering as recently as four years ago. Only with the advent of cable and the fragment of the broadcast networks would it have managed to survive this long at all.

But something rather extraordinary has happened as the network has grown. Its series, originally little more than fragments designed to accept certain niche audiences, have changed. The CW, once a network focused almost completely on the teenage and twenties audience has grown up. And though a lot of its series are based on some superhero franchises, a lot of its series have become more and more daring, leaving room for some of the most brilliant and experimental series that have been on broadcast TV in a long time. (However, the network does have one thing in common with its predecessors: the Emmys seem determined to pretend it doesn’t exist).

To look at how the network has changed, we have to look at some of the programs that have been in its stable for some time. Which means focusing on the showrunner who currently commands 40% of the networks real estate, and will have a fifth series appear in 2017: Greg Berlanti.

Admittedly, the superhero franchise has gotten excessively tired. Once something that the network jumped on for hit TV, it has now become almost exclusively the province of the CW. There’s a pretty good reason for that: Berlanti seems to be the only writer who understands just how much of an outsider so many of these heroes are. Unfortunately, network TV’s desire for huge audiences doesn’t seem to meld with Berlanti’s vision. Last year, when CBS purchased the rights to Supergirl, one got the feeling that CBS wasn’t entirely sure what it had invested in. The series had moments of greatness in it, but for the most part, it seemed a pale imitation of the other shows that Berlanti was running on the CW. As a result, the audiences were never quite big enough for the Tiffany network, and it went to CW after CBS gave up on it in April.

The CW’s version of Supergirl feels a bit different than the one we got on CBS. For one thing, like much of the CW’s schedule, it’s shot in Vancouver instead of Hollywood. For another, it seems to be trying to do what the other Berlanti series have done, and narrow its focus a little. Much of Supergirl’s problem on CBS was that it seemed to moving, well… faster than a speeding bullet, a little too quickly for its audience to catch up on. And in trying to be its own series, it pretty much ignored much of Supergirl’s universe. The CW version fixed that part very quickly, by finally having Supergirl’s more famous cousin, Clark Kent, alias.. well, if you don’t know, this series wasn’t for you anyway. And as Superman began working with his cousin, it managed to get one of Berlanti’s bigger strengths, looking on the people on the outside.

A lot of the problem of the series was trying to find a way to make the other characters work: Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) Kara’s foster sister started out like gangbusters, but than was pushed back a lot. Now, seeing her sister bond with a fellow Kryptonian to the point where she was beginning to feel left out was actually something more in the Berlanti-verse. It gave her more emotion than she demonstrated in the last half of Season 1, and seems to be pointing her in the right direction.

The series is also giving more range to some of its other characters. Winn, a foster child who worked at CatCo along with Kara had some interesting moments but ended up more in the background then he should’ve. Now, he’s moved to working in the DEO, and is getting more into the valuable science geek that has been a critical part of Berlanti’s world ever since he started with Arrow.And now, they seem more convinced to work with the comics world than they were comfortable with on the CW: the first two episodes featured the appearance of a member of the Luthor family, and the develop of John Corbin, aka Metallo. Clearly, Berlanti is slowly getting back into his comfort zone again.

The series, however, is still struggling a bit with the life of Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), Supergirl’s alter ego. After a year of trying to mix her work life and secret life, she finally seems to be heading in the right direction careerwise, beginning a job as a reporter at Catco. On the one hand, her new boss, Snapper Carr gives Ian Gomez the possibility to play against type. But on the other, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart, who was one of the few more interesting characters through the CBS run) is no longer going to play a critical role in her career. (Flockhart has been regulated to guest star status.) It’s still not clear whether this new path will work.

Supergirl still isn’t at the level of Berlanti’s other series. But for the first time since early in Season 1, I feel that there’s a possibility that they might get in the right direction. The action is better, and more importantly, the characters are more interesting. Hopefully, we’ll finally find Supergirl heading forming a League of her own.

My score:3.25 stars.

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