Photo: Supergirl/The CW
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As Shakespeare once wrote, “Some TV shows are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I kid of course, but it’s true that beloved TV shows often have very different origin stories. For every Lost—which starts with a whizz-bang first season—there’s a Parks & Recreation—which doesn’t find its feet until season two. I have no idea if Supergirl will join the ranks of TV shows that took a while to find their feet before becoming something truly special. But this second season premiere at least promises that’s a possibility.

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Like The Flash crossover episode “Worlds Finest,” “The Adventures Of Supergirl” is chipper, upbeat, and incredibly earnest with a playful energy at its core. It’s just the kind of episode Supergirl needed to prove that it’s willing to retool what didn’t work in the first season without losing what did work in its leap from CBS to The CW. It does a lot of rearranging with remarkable efficiency and it provides a clear central focus for the season: Last year Kara learned to be the best Supergirl she could be; this year is all about Kara Danvers becoming the best version of herself too. That “The Adventures Of Supergirl” does all that while introducing one of the most adorable versions of Superman ever seen on screen is just icing on the cake.

Tyler Hoechlin is pitch-perfect as both the Man Of Steel and mild-manner reporter Clark Kent. If anything he’s even more boyish and goodhearted than Christopher Reeve’s iconic take on the character, and Hoechlin is certainly a breath of fresh air for those not so fond of Henry Cavill’s more dour turn in the Zack Snyder films. Though season one’s constant references to Kara’s cousin always felt slightly awkward, they now allow Superman to slot effortlessly into Supergirl’s world.

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The episode doesn’t waste much time filling in details about Superman’s life, which both the audience and the show’s characters are already familiar with. And though it looks like he’ll be sticking around for a while, Supergirl also wisely avoids setting up Superman as a character in need of a big arc. In both his heroic life and his personal life, Clark is relatively stable. He’s put Lex Luthor behind bars, he’s well-respected at the Daily Planet (annoyed Perry White phone calls aside), and he’s happily dating Lois Lane. That stability allows Clark to serve first and foremost as a foil for Kara, which is a smart way to use the character without letting him overshadow her.

The best running gag throughout this episode is that Kara sees Superman as her nerdy little cousin whose diapers she used to change while everyone else is flabbergasted by his superhero celebrity status (or Clark Kent’s good looks in the case of Cat Grant). In some ways Kara looks up to Clark as a role model, but in other ways she’s still his older cousin who can tell him stories about what it was like on Krypton. The odd twist in their timeline adds an intriguing element to their relationship and helps establish the two as equals. And that’s reflected in their heroism as well: When they team up there’s no arguing about which person of steel should tackle which problem. They both have complete faith in the other’s ability to save the day.

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A lot of “feminist” TV shows focus on stories about women battling patriarchal forces. But in its own way, watching a powerful man unquestionably respect the authority of a powerful woman is just as much of a feminist statement as watching a woman stand up to misogyny. And given how many stories we already have that focus on women fighting for respect, it’s nice to see Supergirl switch things up a bit. It’s no small gesture to have arguably the most famous male superhero of all time model feminism in action.

Elsewhere, there aren’t too many noticeable changes in this new CW iteration of Supergirl. The only big shift is that the DEO now has a new base of operations. And while the bright window-filled building might actually be cheaper than the cavernous set they filmed in last year, I’m with Kara that this new location just looks nicer. Otherwise, this episode is as action-packed as ever, with plenty of flying sequences to go around (plus an exhilarating hand-to-hand fight for Alex). Given that the show’s CGI was never movie-quality to begin with, any budget cuts here don’t feel like a huge step down. And the pure enthusiasm with which Supergirl tackles its action goes a long ways to selling the effect. “That was awesome! I mean that was terrible, but it was awesome!” Kara exclaims after she and Clark save the Venture spaceship from crashing. I know exactly how she feels.

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The changes that do exist are subtler, although they have a cumulative effect that elevates the episode. Writers Andrew Kreisberg and Jessica Queller give conversations just a little extra room to breathe, which adds personality to even the more expository scenes, something the show was sorely missing last year. Though Kara, Clark, and Cat are the only characters who get any real focus this episode, all of the cast get at least one or two great little humanizing moments, like Alex realizing she’s talking to herself or Winn struggling to figure out what to call Hank/J’onn/Martian Manhunter. (For the record, I’m going with J’onn in these reviews from now on.) Director Glen Winter—who helmed the pilot as well as a few season one episodes— keeps his camera in near constant motion, which adds a sense of urgency and a forward momentum to the episode. Rather than choppily leaping between locations and tones, “The Adventures Of Supergirl” feels more cohesive than much of the first season.

This episode has a lot of plates in the air, but unlike “Worlds Finest,” “The Adventures Of Supergirl” smartly prioritize its heroes over its thinly drawn villains. We spend just enough time with international assassin John Corben (a.k.a. the poor man’s Tom Hardy) to establish he’s a threat and just enough time with Lena Luthor (a.k.a. Lex’s adoptive sister) to understand that her attempts to turn LCorp (formerly LexCorp) into a force for good are genuine. And, hey, no one is put in unnecessary banshee makeup/dressed like a low-budget Mystique, which is always a plus in my book.

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The only truly clunky part of this premiere is the attempt to retcon the Kara/James relationship. Even though this episode quite literally picks up where the season one finale left off, Kara’s feelings on James have apparently “changed” and she now thinks they’d be better as just friends. There’s no real motivation for Kara’s change of heart and it’s a clumsy 180 after the amount of time she spent pining after him last season. But, on the other hand, I appreciate Supergirl’s ballsiness when it comes to dumping a relationship that never quite worked as well as the show wanted it to.

There are little “out with the old, in with the new” changes like that all over this episode. Winn is now an official DEO employee and Jeremy Jordan steps more fully into the techie comic relief role he plays so well. Cat Grant’s “challenge yourself” pep talk to Kara seems to spark something in herself as well, hinting at some changes down the line for her too. And by episode’s end, Kara has decided she’s ready to find as much confidence in her civilian life as she has in her heroic one.

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More so than anything, the scene in which Kara tells Cat that she wants to be a reporter is what really gives me hope for Supergirl’s second season. For one thing, it’s a wonderful use of the Cat/Kara dynamic, which really grew to be the show’s heart across its first season. (The reveal that Cat saw Kara’s reporter potential from her very first interview made me cry). And it proves the show has as strong a grasp as ever on its central heroine. Kara wants to be a reporter not because she’s blindly following in Clark’s footsteps or because she’s looking for an easy civilian cover, but because she’s once again trying to help people. She frames her new career as a way to combine her empathy, her dedication to justice, and her desire to make the world a better place all while continuing to challenge herself.

As Kara’s monologue proves, Supergirl is never going to be a subtle show. But that’s starting to feel more like an intentional choice rather than an example of clunky writing, as it so often was at the start of the first season. This is a heightened comic book world where people say what they feel. And when the actors sink their teeth into the material, as Calista Flockhart does in her speech about diving into new waters, it works like gangbusters. Supergirl’s cheerful, plain-spoken tone is never going to be for everyone. But “The Adventures Of Supergirl” strikes me as an episode that has a clear vision of what it wants to be and perfectly executes that vision as well. That can be a tricky thing to pull off, but Supergirl makes it look easy.

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Don’t let complacency stop you from aiming for greatness, Cat counsels Kara. Here’s hoping Supergirl listens to its own advice this season.

Stray observations

  • The person in the pod is, sadly, not news anchor Perd Hapley but a bland looking dude who may or may not be a Kryptonian. So, as always: #WhereIsPerd
  • J’onn and Superman have a tense relationship because J’onn discovered (and named!) Kyrptonite and decided to store it in the DEO rather than destroy it. The J’onn/Clark tension has interesting parallels to debates over nuclear weapons, and I hope Supergirl explores that dynamic more going forward.
  • Poor man’s Tom Hardy gets transformed into Metallo by Project Cadmus. Fun.
  • Cat Grant once sent Clark Kent a “florid” drunk text. I can’t tell if everyone finds this version of Clark as dashing as Cat does or if she has a special ability to see past his nebbishy act. Either way, I’m into it.
  • There are tons of callbacks to the Richard Donner Superman movies in this episode. Lena mentions flying is statistically the safest way to travel, this version of Lex apparently once set off an Earthquake in California, and Cat’s new assistant is none other than Miss Teschmacher. (Also how to Kara manage to find a replacement so quickly?)
  • Speaking of which, between Lena and Teshmacher that’s two more white women added to a cast filled with white women.
  • Shout-out to composer Blake Neely, who did a fantastic job last year, but really steps up his game here when it comes to appropriately epic superhero themes.
  • “I usually say hi.” “Me too.” In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely adore the Kara/Clark dynamic. They’re both so open and caring with just the right amount of sassiness between them. “Honestly, I’ve never been more offended. I’m flying home right now.”

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