The "Supergirl" premiere scored some impressive ratings last Monday night, fighting alien crime and the pesky idea that no one wants female superheroes.
The pilot earned approximately 16 million viewers, making it the highest-rated new show this fall. While the critical reception has been lukewarm in comparison, there's a gleeful general consensus that the show is feminist, in spite of its deceptively dismissive title.
Among the crowded roster of superhero shows, it seems the one about a woman is what we'll be talking about. As the CBS hit follows up on its heroic debut, The Huffington Post spoke to co-creator Andrew Kreisberg about crafting the character of Kara, making the decision to call her "Supergirl," and having Melissa Benoist wear that impractical-looking miniskirt.
Tell me about creating the character of Kara.
It started with [co-creator] Greg Berlanti. He finally cracked what was important when he realized that Kara is like Ginger Rogers: Fred Astaire got all the credit, but she did it backwards and in heels. You know, that was sort of the jumping-off point.
Another thing that was really important for me was this notion that, unlike her cousin [Superman] -- who came here when he was a baby, grew up in Kansas, and for all intents and purposes is an American -- Kara grew up on Krypton. You know, she lived there until she was 13 and then suddenly lost everything. So, she’s very different. She really remembers living in this advanced society. She remembers her mother, her father, her friends, her teachers and a different world. Suddenly, all of that was taken away from her and she was a junior high school student in California.
How does that fundamental difference distinguish Kara from Superman?
I think she has a little bit of this refugee PTSD that makes her hopefulness, strength, desire to protect people and see justice that much more potent. In some ways her origin story could have sent her down a very different path. I mean, she could have been blackened and beset by this very tragic backstory. Instead, she turned into something beautiful and that’s why I love her.
“Kara is like Ginger Rogers: Fred Astaire got all the credit, but she did it backwards and in heels.”
How do you think Kara's backstory mirrors the struggles of modern adolescence?
The story speaks to an experience that a lot of young women go through, which is that they’re told to behave, to smile and look pretty. Young women are told to suppress the things that make them unique, because women aren’t supposed to be loud, brash and funny. They’re not supposed to be kick-ass. You know, [the idea is that] boys are the ones who do that.
Watching a young woman shake all that off to embrace and revel in it is what’s amazing about her. I think that is definitely part of the infrastructure of the series. But I think it’s also a kind of universal thing. Every one of us feels like we don’t always get to be who we want to be sometimes, you know? We wish we had that opportunity to just sort of open the window and show the world what we can do. So, I think that’s why, even though it’s very much a woman’s story, it also speaks to everyone.
In the pilot, Kara directly confronts the show's title, asking why she is not called "Superwoman." How did you decide to address certain elements of her comic book history, like her name or costume?
You know, Greg and I have had so much success with “Arrow” and “Flash” embracing what these things are instead of trying to turn them into something that they aren’t. There’s always a concern, whether it’s on the part of the studio or the network or even the public that these things are going to come off as silly or campy. But the success that we’ve had is that we’ve really embraced the DNA of these characters and the worlds that they live in.
With "Supergirl," I think it was even more of a challenge because you could look at some of these things as being very silly or misogynistic. For example, with the title, there was even some early talk of, you know, "Maybe we shouldn’t call it 'Supergirl.'" There are certain generational concerns, whether it’s the skirt or the name, but we thought rather than ignore it, that that was what the show itself was. It was a commentary on those things and actually having those discussions made the show much richer and deeper than just a superhero flying around and catching planes.
“Young women are told to suppress the things that make them unique, because women aren’t supposed to be loud, brash and funny. They’re not supposed to be kick-ass.”
What was the decision with the costume like?
In terms of the costume, you look at Kara in the comic books and she’s wearing next to nothing or some iteration of that. So, again, that was an attempt on our part to address the silliness of a female superhero wearing essentially a bra and bike shorts. Again, the outfit sort of speaks to that.
Colleen Atwood, who designed the "Arrow" and "Flash" outfits, was so eager to do a female superhero. She'd never gotten to do that before. She looked at the classic look and said, "There’s a way to update this without doing something that doesn't feel like Supergirl." On camera, you know she is Supergirl [right away], but the outfit has been updated and modernized in a way that doesn’t feel driven by market forces or test audiences. It just is what it is.
What do you hope the impact of "Supergirl" will be? What kind of reactions have you gotten so far?
I hope that the ratings we had this week and [will have] in the future show that there really was a need and a desire for a character like this. I certainly don’t think we’re the first to do this. I think recently, if you look at “Frozen," the success of “Wicked” on Broadway or “Cinderella” last year or anything that Shonda Rhimes has done, there’s certainly been a strong desire in the marketplace for women to see more stories about themselves and to see more stories where women are at the center of shows and movies. So, I think there was certainly a desire and a need for it and we’re just really proud that we get to bring this character to life for a whole new generation of people.
So far, the best response I personally have gotten is to see the response of children, young girls and young boys enjoying the show. That is so exciting ... To think that there’s a whole new generation of kids for whom Melissa [Benoist] is gonna be their superhero is amazing. We are so proud and honored to get to be the stewards of these characters for this length of their journey, because there was a Supergirl before us and there will be a Supergirl after us, but for this part of the journey, we’re at the helm. We realize what a privilege that is, and it's something we take very seriously.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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