Sunday, August 23, 2015

TV: Supergirl floats in on sexism and never redeems nor recovers

CBS' upcoming Supergirl is not a bad show but you can't exactly call it a good show.

While often entertaining (Calista Flockhart carries most of the solid moments in her role as Supergirl's boss), the show fails as a superhero show.


Some will argue it plays like the "Marvel Gets Women" Saturday Night Live skit last May when Scarlett Johansson hosted the show and played Black Widow starring in a rom-com.

It's actually worse than that.

It's like the attempt to bring Wonder Woman to TV.

No, we're not talking about Lynda Carter's strong performance on the live action 70s show.

We're talking about the pilot made in 1967 whee Wonder Woman is played by Linda Harrison and her secret identity Diana Prince is played by a fumbling Ellie Wood Walker.  It was called Who's Afraid of Diana Prince and the whole point was that a female superhero is a joke.

You can watch the pilot here and see Diana fall off the couch and need her mother's help to get up.

What's really sad about the pilot is that William Dozier produced it.

And even sadder, he did so in 1967.

Fall 1967 was when Yvonne Craig joined Dozier's successful TV show Batman.  In its third and final season, Craig played Batgirl in 26 episodes.

Batgirl was a huge step forward for women in action shows.

In action scenes, she frequently fought men, in action scenes she frequently teamed up with Burt Ward's Robin where the two, as equals, fought the evil doers.

Craig often credited her ballet training with giving her the skill needed for the action scenes.

While she carried off those scenes, she also carried off the non-action scenes.

Neither Batgirl nor Barbara Gordon (her secret identity) was a bimbo.

Both were intelligent women.

Batgirl and her motorcycle were iconic images of 60s television which left a lasting impact.

When Wonder Woman was attempted again in 1974 as television movie (and pilot) starring Cathy Lee Crosby, there was no attempt to turn Wonder Woman into a joke or to make her That Girl in search of a Donald.

Another TV movie, this one starring Lynda Carter, was a big success and led to the series Wonder Woman which ran one season on ABC and two on CBS.

At the same time, Lindsay Wagner was starring in The Bionic Woman and making significant contributions to the story arc and the sensibilities of that show as well as delivering a performance so strong that she won an Emmy for Best Actress.

During this time, there was also the first season of Charlie's Angels which found Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith playing three adult women who were private investigators.

The first season was full of humor and wit and, again, the women were women.

That changed with the addition of Cheryl Ladd as Kris.

It is true that, replacing Farrah Fawcett, Ladd felt the best move was to come on like the kid sister but she degraded the show in so many ways.

It became juvenile and smutty.

Kris was an embarrassment and so was Cheryl Ladd who took to mocking the show, while it was airing, by repeatedly doing this little number for the press in interviews (print interviews) where she'd stand up, play like she was pulling out a gun, stop and toss her hair wildly and then say, "I said freeze!"

Cheryl Ladd mocked the show and didn't take it seriously at all.

In her more 'thoughtful' moments she would expound upon being a "sex object" or just "sexy."

While Kate, Jaclyn and Farrah had worn jeans and sensible outfits unless their characters were undercover, the addition of Cheryl changed the wardrobe -- either she was overdressed or she was underdressed.

On the latter, Cher infamously noted of her battles with CBS over her wardrobe, "All I know is I got in trouble for showing my belly button, and then when I finally did go off the air every time I turned around all I saw were Cheryl Ladd's boobs."


Kate Jackson would leave the show, in part, because of that nonsense.

A lot of people worked really hard to carry women forward on TV and a lot  worked just as hard to turn women into a joke.

At its most cutesy, Supergirl resembles the backlash first seasons of Alias.

It wasn't as though everyone threw in the towel.

The CW was airing Nikita -- the finest show they've aired ever -- which starred Maggie Q in the title role and which not only co-starred Lyndsy Fonesca and Melinda Clarke but also featured women guest stars in prominent role -- that's a long, long way from Alias attempting the Deanne Durbin formula of 100 Men and a Girl.

 "How do you expect to get a husband flying around all the time?"

That's from the failed 1967 attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show but it could easily fit into an episode of Supergirl.

And if you think we're being harsh  maybe you missed David Hinckley's report for The New York Daily News which opened, "The way you make a good TV shout of Supergirl, says the man who is now trying to do that, is to forget the 'super' and concentrate on the 'girl'."

"The man" is Greg Berlanti.

Greg has a lot of interest in undressing men on Arrow and The Flash but he let them be men.

Supergirl is a "girl."

And he's stressing it's a work place comedy and that it's important that people know Supergirl can be defeated by more than just kryptonite and . . .

His show is patronizing and sexist.

Yes, Calista does a great job.

But she doesn't belong on this show.

No one does.

Because Supergirl shouldn't be a rom-com, it should be an action series.

There was no effort to comedy up Arrow.

It's telling that this gay male producer, known for undressing one man after another in one show after another, but not known for developing one interesting female character in the last three years, chooses to do a show focused on a woman ("girl" in his words) and he's only interested in stripping her of her strength and powers.

Maybe the answer was to let a woman -- straight or gay -- be in charge of Supergirl?

And if that seems harsh, other than casting some closeted gay actors in his shows, what has Greg given to the cause?

If he wanted to do another DC superhero  why not do Batwoman?

Batwoman is a gay character.

She's also an adult.

Former military.

She's not working at a glossy fashion magazine.

Oliver Queen isn't either.  Nor  is Barry Allen.

But that's the life for Supergirl?

When the show flops, the word on it won't be, "They tried to turn a superhero show into a comedy and viewers hated it."

No, the failure will be pinned on women.  It will be said, "America's just not ready for female superheroes" -- as the leaked Sony e-mails have already revealed.

As if to rub salt in a wound, MeTV chose to note the passing of Yvonne Craig on Saturday by airing two episodes of Batman with her in it.  This was what passed as a tribute from the network that has treated the passing of any male actor on a show they air as a monumental event but all they could spare for Yvonne Craig, the actress who paved the way for so many --  one hour.

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