Since its debut, The CW’s Supergirl has been met with some sadly all-too-familiar complaints. “It’s too female,” “it tries too hard,” “I don’t understand why it has to lean into the girl power so much.” In the case of all of these, the answer’s in the question (or statement). Shows like Supergirl remain important so long as commentary like this continues to be made about female-driven series that portray women outside of the Strong Female Character™ or Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetypes.
It would be different if Supergirl were a bad show. Not all female-driven pieces of art are good art! The thing is that, by and large, Supergirl is pretty exceptional. It has an off episode now and then—as can be expected of any series with a twenty-three episode arc each season—but overall, it’s remained both timely and poignant from the jump.
It’s also a lot of fun. Yes, Supergirl tackles current events and social issues, but it doesn’t rest on that fact. The writers do an exceptional job making their series entertaining while maintaining its political importance. Difficult topics like motherhood in a profession-driven world, trans rights, racism and more are acknowledged and thoughtfully tackled while introducing enough levity to keep things bingeable. Yet while Supergirl is always entertaining, the show’s watchability is never treated as more important than the complex problems it takes on.
For example, Supergirl herself is a white female protagonist, and concepts like “white feminism” are often broached. Kara Zor-El always wants her friends to know that she’s on their team, but sometimes that’s by way of phrases like “I understand” in situations that, even as an alien, she never could.
In the past, this was most often brought up in situations when characters like James Olsen or J’onn J’onnz were trying to help Kara understand their experience. More recently, we’ve seen the conversation extend to Nia Nal as well. Though Nia does benefit from some privilege because of the color of her skin, she is the only one in the series who can understand her experience as a trans woman. While Kara’s offers to help and impassioned speeches were well intentioned, she eventually has to accept that she can never possibly understand Nia’s wrath.
Calling out your protagonists’ flaws is such an important move that a lot of series choose to avoid. It becomes especially wise when said protagonist is viewed as a certain level of perfect (as folks of the House of El typically are). By acknowledging Kara’s misconceptions and her privilege, Supergirl only adds to its watchability. Even better, the show’s entertainment value isn’t raised through surface-level drama. Instead, it’s the idea of making a perfect and untouchable character more layered. Giving the ever-well-intentioned superhero acknowledged and complicated flaws makes her more relatable, and that higher relatability easily translates to more engaged viewers.
Providing the audience an opportunity to see themselves in their heroes is something the Arrowverse has spent a lot of time focusing on in recent years. “Representation matters” might read as a buzzphrase to some, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The ability to connect with the characters in the media we consume is a major driving force in consumers’ desire to return to said media. That connection can come from a myriad of different sources, whether it be temperament, profession or similar desires, but nothing beats truly being able to see yourself on screen as a character you admire. By and large, Supergirl has continued to make a concentrated effort on this front, something that on its own makes it worth a watch.
Yet, the final piece in Supergirl’s watchability puzzle is its hope. There are a lot of shows on TV right now. Heck, there are a lot of shows in the Arrowverse right now! What makes this series stand out from the rest is its dedication to remaining hopeful even in the darkest of times. It doesn’t matter what kind of socio-political hurdle or how strong of an alien foe the Super Friends face. There are moments of despair, and times when the characters feel like things will never be okay again. But they always keep going.
The Stronger Together mentality of the House of El is exactly the type of mentality that I think a lot of folks need nowadays. In a time of extreme divisiveness and unsurety, it’s comforting to watch a story that reminds us that we can come together no matter what our differences. That ideal might be too farfetched or sugary for some, but just as the notions of “too much girl power” or “trying too hard” were before, the hope for a better tomorrow is exactly what makes this series so relevant.
The first four seasons of Supergirl can be streamed in their entirety on Netflix. For more news, features and conversation on Supergirl, click here.
Amelia Emberwing writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and is a frequent contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Look for more of her writing on Birth.Movies.Death., Collider and Slashfilm, and follow her on Twitter at @BrowncoatAuror.