The hero of Supergirl, as promised by the show’s title, is plucky Kara (Melissa Benoist), a flying Kryptonian who wears a red and blue jumpsuit with a cape. But one of the cleverest elements of the new CBS series is the way it acknowledges the elephant in the room: Looming perpetually in the background is “the other guy,” her cousin and fellow resident alien, who made it to Earth years before she did. Supergirl was created in the late-1950s as a lazy knockoff of a hit character—Kara’s like Superman, but female!—but the new show smartly plays on those tropes, presenting a hero who’s easy for villains to misjudge and who cheerfully capitalizes on any sexist low expectations.
It’d be easy for Supergirl to head into clichéd territory, partly because the character’s origin story is so intentionally unoriginal. Kara Zor-El was Superman’s older cousin, sent from their dying planet to protect him. But since her space-pod got waylaid in the mysterious Phantom Zone, where time doesn’t pass, she arrived after him and thus dons her heroic mantle in his shadow. Like Clark Kent, Kara works for a newspaper (well, a “media conglomerate”), wears glasses in the guise of a “secret identity,” and was adopted and raised by loving human parents. The show’s developers, Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Andrew Kreisberg, wisely embrace the straightforward approach, making Supergirl’s pilot episode a formulaic pitch down the middle.