How 'Supergirl' Is Putting New Twists On Old Superhero Characters and Tropes

"Whatever you expect, whatever those traditional superhero tropes are, we get to twist them invariably," executive producer Ali Adler tells THR.
The CW

CBS is ready to fly.

With the TV landscape flooded with comic book dramas, CBS is throwing its hat in the DC Comics ring Monday with what it hopes is a different take on the genre in Supergirl. Although the series hails from the DC-tested, viewer-approved minds of Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow, The Flash), don't expect Supergirl to start sharing big crossover events with The CW series and its midseason spinoff, Legends of Tomorrow.

"Right now there are no plans [for crossovers]," Kreisberg tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Obviously [Fox's DC Comics take] Gotham exists outside the continuity of all these shows, and right now Supergirl is its own show. Who knows what will happen in the future though, with whatever legal stuff has to happen since it would have to happen across two different networks."

While the crossovers are off the table for now, Supergirl executive producer Ali Adler — who collaborated with Berlanti on superhero-themed No Ordinary Family — reveals that they aren't going to completely ignore the DC fare that have come before it.

"We are inspired by producers like Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti who have such a vast body of superhero knowledge," Adler says. "It's really inspirational and we look at those shows as touchstones of success. We will pull elements from them and appreciate them as well as shows like Buffy and Alias."

It's that freedom that has Adler the most excited about bringing a strong female hero to primetime in Melissa Benoist's (Glee) Kara.

"What's amazing about Supergirl is that whatever you expect, whatever those traditional superhero tropes are, we get to twist them invariably," Adler says. "Superman would handle a situation totally different than she does, so we are having fun twisting all those traditions whenever we can. What's really unique about Kara is that she was born on another planet and she has 12 years of knowing the memories of not only Krypton but her parents and how she crashed here. She is someone who has quelled her powers for a long time and has now decided to join the world as a superhero."

While Arrow and The Flash had to hone their skills, Supergirl finds Kara in a different predicament: aware of her super abilities but unwilling to use them — at first. 

"What you're going to see from the beginning of the season certainly is that she's green. She hasn't practiced. She's inexperienced," Adler says. "As strong and brave as she is and as well-meaning as her intentions are, they're not always going to be the perfect execution unlike her cousin [Superman]. She'll live in his shadow a little bit."

Adds Berlanti: “She’s very much at the beginning of her journey. There’s always a bit of mystery around her origins and around what her capacities are.”

One big change that the producers didn't want to shy away from is that Kara will have more than one weakness.

"It's a bit of a collective mystique that kryptonite is the only thing that can hurt a Kryptonian," Kreisberg says. "Superman himself can be hurt by a lot more than kryptonite. On the show, we’ve shown that she is fighting certain aliens, and she fights Livewire, who has electrical powers and has enough electricity to stop Supergirl’s heart. There are other things on the show beyond just kryptonite. On the old series, unless you had a rock of kryptonite, it was pretty much just lights out for the bad guys and we certainly don’t want that. We always want to feel like our hero is in jeopardy."

But despite that, Adler says, viewers can expect a much lighter fare than other, more brooding superhero shows.

"There's still going to be dramatic moments and there will be huge action set pieces and danger and people's metal will be tested," Adler says. "This is not just some light rom-com. But don't be afraid to embrace the parts of it that are at times scary because we'll balance it out with truthful character moments. Melissa Benoist just brings this lightness to the show naturally, and we'll definitely use that."

Adler also stressed that Supegirl is a series that will appeal to fanboys and families alike.

"She's just so inspirational," Adler says of her heroine's appeal. "She brings this golden sunlight into everyone's lives that she touches. It's going to be so nice to see if that's contagious for America."

Although there has been criticism over how female superheroes have been handled in pop culture in recent years, Supergirl's producers aren't worried about how viewers will react to Kara. 

"Some have gotten it wrong, but I can honestly think of so many like Buffy and Sydney Bristow and Salt and Lara Croft. There are so many female superheroes or even just heroes who have gotten it right," Adler says. "But what is exciting about Supergirl in particular is you come in and you forget immediately the whole aspect of, 'This is a girl.' All you see from Melissa Benoist's character is strength and power and a true hero. That doesn't have a gender."

Another way that Supergirl is going to flip the script of classic TV tropes is by presenting a love triangle with no clear "right" choice when Jenna Dewan-Tatum joins the show as Lucy Lane.

"She comes to the show as a former love interest of Jimmy Olsen’s [played by Mehcad Brooks], to add some complications," Berlanti says. "But with Kara being the nicest person in the world, Lucy really likes her, and the two of them have some adventures together."

Adds Kreisberg: "It's a tricky thing when you do a love triangle, the most successful ones are where everyone is rooting for everyone. We really needed to find someone who was beautiful but different from Melissa, but had a vibrancy and a heart and warmth that you didn't hate Jimmy for being with this girl. She's completely likeable but is also a little more sophisticated and mature. Everyone is going to be torn."

But Lucy isn't just coming on the show as a love interest/foil. She also represents a major part of the Superman/Supergirl lore.

"A lot of times, the characters that we cast are avatars for people we don't have on the show," Kreisberg says. "As much as Mehcad represents the hopefulness and the curiosity and vibrancy of Jimmy Olsen, he also is, in a way, standing in for Superman, and similarly with Lucy, she in a way steps in for Lois Lane. And honestly, Jenna just looks like Lois Lane come to life."

Supergirl premieres Monday at 8:30 p.m. before moving to its regular time slot the following week at 8 p.m. on Mondays on CBS.

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