SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the first season of Supergirl.
“Superman ain’t got nothing one me…” – Charlie Puth’s ‘One Call Away’
Back in October, CBS dipped its toes into the superhero waters with the premiere of its newest drama, Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist as the titular character. Supergirl, the latest Greg Berlanti production, whose company is also in charge of the CW’s hit superhero shows (Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow), tells the story of Kara Zor-El’s journey to become the hero of National City. The show, which aired its season finale on Monday, struggled to find its footing early, but finally did when it tapped into its vast comic book source material and leaned into the fan service that these shows rely on.
Supergirl started as a show about a super-powered Kryptonian struggling to fit in with normal Earthlings and battling her desire to become something more than just an assistant at a news empire. As the first season limped on, the love triangles and unimportant villain of the week plot devices that are customary to Berlanti’s shows were wearing thin until the show started to formulate an overarching story and introduce elements that would primarily be considered fan service.
At times, the term ‘fan service’ has a negative connotation attached because it often means that creators sacrificed their vision and logical storytelling for elements that are intentionally placed to please the audience. However, when it comes to superhero properties in this day and age, fan service is likely the way to go to both please the core comic book audience and tell good stories – after all, these shows wouldn’t exist if the comics they’re based on weren’t of good quality.
The fan service in Supergirl comes in multiple forms – new characters, connections to a larger universe, and even actors that have been associated with other superhero properties – all of which add intrigue to CBS’ first fly-around with Kara. Perhaps the most surprising form of fan service is the revelation that the head of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) – Hank Henshaw (portrayed by David Harewood) – is actually J’onn J’onzz (pronounced John Jones), a Martian who took on Hank’s identity after his death. J’onzz, best known as the Martian Manhunter, is a popular character within DC Comics that has the ability to shapeshift. In addition to Kryptonian General Non, Maxwell Lord and Bizarro (all villains in the comics), Martian Manhunter is a more-than-welcome addition to not only Supergirl, but superhero television in general.
The most interesting aspect of Supergirl, from both an on-screen and behind-the-scenes standpoint, is the possibility for crossover with the other superhero shows in the Berlanti-verse. After months of speculation and fan desire, a major crossover happened between Supergirl and The Flash (CBS owns CW, so this crossover was likely easier to manage than originally thought), introducing Grant Gustin’s version of the ‘Scarlet Speedster’ to Kara and National City. From a storytelling perspective, the introduction of the multiverse on The Flash allowed for Barry Allen to accidentally find himself on another Earth (the multiverse allows for multiple universes to exist within the context of these shows) – an Earth that includes Supergirl and Superman, but not The Flash. This made for a highlight episode of the season and also opens up the possibility that more crossovers with CW superheroes could happen.
A form of fan service that is unrelated to this DC television universe from a storytelling standpoint is the casting of actors that had involvement in past Superman-related projects. For example, Laura Vandervoort is likely best known for playing Supergirl on WB’s hit show Smallville, and she was cast as the villainous Indigo – making for an exciting showdown between the two Karas. Also, Dean Cain, who played Superman on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was cast as Kara’s adoptive father on Earth – Jeremiah Danvers. Fans of anything related to Superman were likely more intrigued in Kara’s latest adventures with the additions of these cast members.
Fan service can be a tricky thing, but it turned out to be a game-changer for Supergirl, which hasn’t been officially renewed for a second season yet, and allows for exciting possibilities going forward. Will more crossovers happen between this show and the other CW superhero shows happen? Will more familiar Superman-related actors portray more familiar Superman-related characters – including, but not limited to, Tom Welling reprising his Smallville role as Clark Kent/Superman?
If the fans demand it, then it can happen.
If you enjoyed this article, please hit the ‘subscribe to author’ button below to receive e-mail updates when new content is published.