No matter how famous a superhero may be, or how well-funded a big screen adaptation may hit theaters, it's the actor or actress entrusted with bringing the character to life that tends to make it a success or failure. With CBS' upcoming foray into DC Comics television, Supergirl, the producers knew that finding the right leading lady was the top priority.
They found just that in Melissa Benoist (Glee, Whiplash), now set to bring Kara Zor-El and her Kryptonian upbringing to the small screen in Fall 2015. As the show's official debut at San Diego Comic-Con fast approaches, Benoist explains why she hopes Supergirl will become an icon for young women everywhere, and addresses the less-than-flattering comparisons to a Black Widow sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Long before any official casting news or trailers were released, it was clear the Supergirl series was aiming for a female audience - something sorely lacking in the growing blockbuster arena. So lacking, in fact, that fans had nothing else to compare the first Supergirl trailer to than an SNL skit in which Scarlett Johansson's Avengers super-spy was given her own film: a cheesy romantic comedy where Black Widow struggled to find love (and a job in the fashion industry).
The sketch succeeded in taking shots at a genre of film that is, admittedly, an easy targets when it comes to formulaic filmmaking and marketing (although superhero adventures are gaining ground). Unfortunately, not every viewer took the skit as a parody of Hollywood, where a major studio could proudly reveal a superheroine comic book movie, but decide only a rom-com could work with a female star. Instead, many took it not as playful commentary on the Hollywood system, but an indictment of the rom-com as a whole.
Enter Supergirl's first trailer: a lighthearted, female-led, 'modern' look at a young woman's coming of age, shaped by the likes of The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty. Rather than sticking to the serious, melodramatic tones of Arrow or Gotham, CBS was clearly looking to grab the attention of the (largely female) masses... who happened to make romantic comedies a hit in the first place. Comparisons were drawn and some ruled that any comic book property following such formula was to be mocked - but star Melissa Benoist disagrees.
Speaking with EW, Benoist explains that those involved with Supergirl enjoyed the SNL sketch as much as anyone, but believes that what makes her series different simply hasn't been seen yet:
"We don’t really take ourselves too seriously in that respect. The camp is going to be there. It’s a superhero show. But I don’t think that takes away from the female empowerment. Obviously you see Kara in her work atmosphere, it resembles the Black Widow parody, but what you don’t see is Kara kicking butt. There’s so much more in the pilot that I think people are really going to be surprised by. Also, it’s a girl. Supergirl, that whole discussion, it’s a girl figuring out how to become a woman. [The SNL spoof] came out and all of us thought it was so hilarious. I don’t think any of us expected people to compare them or put them side-by-side."
"I want to do right. Of course this is a broad statement, but I want to do right by women. I want to portray someone they can relate to and look up to that’s not a trite or a shallow depiction. I want her to be complicated and flawed. I guess I just want all women to feel like they could be Kara and Superwoman as well. I don’t want it to be campy. I want it to be grounded and human. That goes for anybody. It doesn’t matter what sex. It doesn’t matter if it’s women or men I inspire, I just want to inspire people in general to realize their strengths and their potential, and that you can do the things that you feel like are impossible to accomplish."
We would hope that every actor or actress entrusted with a superhero role would have Benoist's mindset. Trailers released since the debut have showcased more of the action sequences Benoist refers to, and the budget of a network series already looks promising compared to its CW counterparts. Of course, it isn't the special effects or large-scale action that have made Arrow a success, and turned The Flash into one of the best-received superhero TV shows in recent memory.
That lies with the creative team and talent responsible - several of which are also at work creating Supergirl. Although Benoist hasn't had a chance to get to know her new DC TV stars (that will likely come during SDCC), she is well aware of just how large a shadow they cast:
"I’ve not met Stephen [Amell]. Grant [Gustin] I know from Glee. They’re in Vancouver, so I didn’t really get much advice, but all that I’ve gotten has been support and excitement... The bar is set so high with those shows for a reason, because it has someone like Greg Berlanti, our executive producer, and Andrew Kreisberg, who are also behind those shows with us. They are responsible for so much of the success. They’ve found a really good formula and a really good way of portraying heroes with heart. I don’t think we’re lacking any of that in our show."
"When I learned that I got the part there was a mixture of many emotions that rushed through me — elation, relief, immense joy and then, there was also a huge sense of responsibility that came immediately. I definitely thought to myself, 'Oh man, you’ve got your work cut out for you.'"
Even if Supergirl winds up finding its own identity in a genre that is becoming more and more crowded by the second, direct comparisons with Arrow or The Flash won't be invited by their respective networks. Fans may dream of seeing those three Justice League members join forces - and there's always reason to hold out hope - but as Benoist makes perfectly clear, establishing the first successful superheroine TV show comes first.
What do you think of the show's chances? Is CBS wise to go after a different audience than The Flash, Arrow and Gotham, or would a single style be a better choice? Sound off in the comments.
Supergirl premieres on CBS at 8:30 p.m. EST on October 26th, 2015. It will air at 8 p.m. EST on Mondays thereafter.