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CBS' 'Supergirl' Reinvents The Classic Comic For Modern Times


Ari, look up in the sky.


What? It's a bird.

SIEGEL: It's a plane. No, it's CBS's first superhero series of the 21st century. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says "Supergirl," which debuts tonight, reinvents the character from modern times.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Kara Danvers has the same powers as her cousin, a certain superhero with a big red S on his chest who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. But she also has a Debbie downer of an adoptive sister named Alex who keeps telling her to pretend to be human and stay under the radar, which is a little tough for Kara.


MELISSA BENOIST: (As Kara Danvers) I don't know. I feel like I'm not living up to my potential. I can lift a bus, stop a bullet. Alex, I can fly.

CHYLER LEIGH: (As Alex Danvers) Kara, you've got a good job. And thanks to your alien DNA, you can't get pimples. Life is not so bad.

DEGGANS: Kara's normal life goes out the window when a plane gets into trouble...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) I just lost another engine. Mayday, mayday, mayday.

DEGGANS: ...And she flies out to catch the airliner and help it land. This is the core of CBS's "Supergirl," which offers a fun and appealing, if sometimes too obvious, story of a young woman learning to trust herself and use her powers in a dangerous world. Kara works for media mogul Cat Grant. She's played by "Ally McBeal" alum Calista Flockhart. Grant doesn't know her assistant is really Kara Zor-El, a cousin of Superman who also came to Earth in a rocket from the doomed planet Krypton. After the plane incident, Grant gives the city's mystery super-heroine a name which doesn't sit too well with Kara - Supergirl.


BENOIST: (As Kara Danvers) If we call her Supergirl, doesn't that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?

CALISTA FLOCKHART: (As Cat Grant) What do you think is so bad about girl? I'm a girl. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn't the real problem you?

DEGGANS: At a press conference for the show, Flockhart defended the scene.


CALISTA FLOCKHART: Oh, I love that speech. One of the things I love about the show is it's a real celebration of girl power. She's like, I'm a girl, and I'm awesome, and I'm not going to apologize for that.

DEGGANS: Flockhart has a point. The scene may feel like pandering to some, but for those who want to reclaim the word girl, it's nice to see the actress accused of setting back female TV images on "Ally McBeal" make this new argument. In fact, CBS's "Supergirl" shines a welcome spotlight on characters who are usually sidekicks to white male heroes, like Kara and Cat Grant. That includes Superman's best friend, who goes by a slightly different name than in the comic books, as he tells Kara when they first meet.


BENOIST: (As Kara Danvers) Oh, my God, you're Jimmy Olsen, the photographer from the Daily Planet.

MEHCAD BROOKS: (As James Olsen) James Olson.

DEGGANS: In the comics, Jimmy Olson is a geeky, white, redhead shutterbug. Here, James Olson is a confident African-American Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist. Even the guy who plays the new James Olsen, Mehcad Brooks, wasn't sure if CBS was ready for that kind of change.

BROOKS: I mean, when I got the phone call, I was pleasantly sort of overwhelmed - almost like, wow, we're - the world is changing. CBS is changing, and Warner Brothers is changing. And DC comics is changing, and this is the new pantheon.

DEGGANS: This new pantheon of characters gives CBS's "Supergirl" a fresh feel. Star Melissa Benoist is earnest and optimistic as Supergirl, a welcome change from all the gritty, brooding, modern superheroes. By focusing on characters often pushed to the margins elsewhere, "Supergirl" has, ever so slightly, redefined the classic struggle for truth, justice and the American way, and that's the most heroic feat of all. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.