'Supergirl': Patronizing pap that gets the message all wrong

SUPERGIRL
Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh in "Supergirl" on CBS.

It's no fun playing the Grinch. But I must break ranks with my fellow TV writers, who seem besotted with the new CBS drama Supergirl, which premieres at 8:30 p.m. Monday. As far as I'm concerned, it's detestable pap.

Sure, the series is well made and features a fine performance by Melissa Benoist (Glee, Danny Collins) as Kara Danvers, a Kryptonian woman who drops to earth a few years after her more famous cousin, Clark Kent. But it also has a patronizing, paternalistic - if not downright reactionary - attitude to gender equality.

Kara has hidden her powers all her life, posing as the klutzy, shy, self-deprecating assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). But when the jetliner carrying her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) runs into trouble, Kara flies up, up, and away and saves the day. Then she discovers her sis works for a secret government org run by superpatriot Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) that tracks aliens. Et cetera.

It applauds the idea of a female heroine, but it's all steeped in a creepy lipstick-grrrl power ethic that undermines the values it pretends to champion.

One moment in the pilot nails the problem. Kara objects to the name Supergirl, slapped on her secret superhero self by her boss, Cat. Calling her a girl, Kara says, is derogatory.

"What do you think is so bad about girl?" Flockhart barks in her best imitation of a Devil Wears Prada witch-as-boss-woman. Declaring herself a girl - and darn proud of it, Cat says that if "you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn't the real problem . . . you?"

"Can you believe it? A female hero!" a diner waitress exclaims as Supergirl flies by. "It's nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to!"

Oh, golly!

Supergirl treats centered, moral, strong women as a little too remarkable. The show's idea of an accomplished woman in authority? It's Cat - a nasty, vain, rail-thin woman in her 40s who dresses and talks like a teenage girl.

Should I get so worked up over a TV show? On the contrary, I'm not reacting strongly enough, considering TV's power to shape attitudes - to shape future generations. So, although I had fun watching parts of the show, I must be the Grinch - and hand Supergirl a big lump of coal.

tirdad@phillynews.com

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TELEVISION

Supergirl

Premieres at 8:30 p.m. Monday on CBS3. (KYW-TV).