Can 'Supergirl' Get Right What 'Wonder Woman' Got Wrong?

THR screens both pilots to compare how they handle everything from sexism to villains.
Warner Bros.

Can CBS' Supergirl live up to its sky-high expectations? 

The buzzed-about DC Comics adaptation starring Melissa Benoist as Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El has has been ordered to series for a fall premiere, and it's first trailer has been viewed nearly 12 million times on YouTube since its May 13 release.

But Supergirl isn't the first splashy attempt to bring a red-and-blue clad hero to network TV. In 2011, NBC attempted to get DC Comics legend Wonder Woman off the ground, with a pilot hailing from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley that reimagined the heroine (played by Friday Night Lights alum Adrianne Palicki) as a vigilante and high-powered CEO living in Los Angeles. Despite its built-in brand recognition, NBC ultimately passed on its Wonder Woman, which like Supergirl, hailed from Warner Bros. Television.

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To be sure, the TV landscape has changed a lot since Wonder Woman. In the years since, WBTV has found its superhero groove with The CW's Arrow, The Flash and its upcoming crossover, Legends of Tomorrow. All three series — like Supergirl — hail from studio-based executive producer Greg Berlanti, with The Flash this past season topping Arrow to become The CW's most-watched series ever. Elsewhere, DC Comics successfully launched a Batman prequel with Fox's Gotham already renewed for a second season helmed by The Mentalist's Bruno Heller.

Beyond WBTV's DC Comics hits, ABC also found critical success with Agent Carter, Marvel's first female-driven TV series helping to set the stage for Supergirl.

After screening both Supergirl and Wonder Woman pilots, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at what both shows have in common — and perhaps more importantly — how Supergirl might soar above the Amazonian princess. 

Tone

Wonder Woman was slower-paced than Supergirl, which covers a lot of ground in the pilot. Supergirl is also a lot brighter and more akin to The Flash in both tone and in its loveably dorky protagonist.  

Sexism 

There are moments in both pilots in which the shows come to terms with the elephant in the room: Isn't it kind of sexist to have Wonder Woman traipse around in a revealing costume or to call Kara Supergirl instead of Superwoman?  

Wonder Woman lingered on the topic for an uncomfortably long time — getting meta to the point that it referenced an uproar that took place when an early photo of Palicki in the costume had critics decrying the costume more fitting for a porn star than a beloved superhero. During a meeting with her business associates in the pilot, Diana complains about a scantily clad Wonder Woman doll (which her corporation sells to fund her crime fighting). "I never said to merchandise my tits!" she screams in the pilot. At other times, she waxes poetic about the public image of Wonder Woman, remarking that she is supposed to have perfect everything — and then proceeding to name all of the assets one might expect. 

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The Supergirl pilot, on the other hand, handles the issue of sexism deftly, with Kara voicing her disappointment when the media dubs her superhero alter ego Supergirl rather than Superwoman. The member of the media responsible for coining the phrase has a snappy response, dismissing the idea that a girl is somehow "less" in a world in which a "girl" can run a corporation. In a brief montage, Kara goes through a series of increasingly less skimpy costumes, rejecting each until she lands on her final costume, which is relatively sensible. 

Love interests

Like most superheroes, Wonder Woman set up Diana with an unrequited love. The pilot reveals she previously  dumped her boyfriend of two years Steve (Justin Bruening) to move to Los Angeles and embrace her Wonder Woman persona. He turns up in LA — newly married — and working for the Justice Department. 

Supergirl, meanwhile, sets up a potential love triangle. Her work pal Winn (Jeremy Jordan) has a thing for her, while it's implied that Kara has eyes for Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a Daily Planet photographer and Superman confidant who moves to National City to help guide her into the ways of the hero. Jimmy, while traditionally portrayed with more of a younger brother vibe, is decidedly more masculine and hunky in this version. 

Stakes

By the end of Wonder Woman, it isn't particularly clear where the season's central conflict would lie or even the source of the dramatic tension. It emphasizes that Diana was conflicted about having her ex-boyfriend back in her life, but there was no sense of what would come next other than a shot of her signing up for online dating, in which she lists her cat in the box marked "friends." 

The end of Supergirl makes both the drama and the conflict clear. Viewers learn who some of the season's big villains will be — and most importantly, what drives them. There is a real sense of Kara moving forward along a journey, while in Wonder Woman Diana's goals aren't quite clear other than to fight crime and keep her toyline afloat.

Origins

Supergirl succinctly tells her origin story during the opening minutes, while Wonder Woman only vaguely addressed the fact that Diana isn't quite human — though it never delves into what that means. (In the comics, she is a princess of the mythological Amazons.)

In the pilot, Diana is already a public figure, one who is debated on cable news because of her vigilante activities. She has no secret identity, and she fights both as a superhero and as a business mogul, going toe-to-toe with another CEO Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley).

Kara, on the other hand, is an underdog. She's the browbeaten assistant to a media mogul (Calista Flockhart). She keeps her identity secret.

While Supergirl strikes a balance between Kara's personal journey of discovering her powers and her professional journey of attempting to keep her job, Wonder Woman emphasized Diana's corporate side too heavily. While a CEO superhero is quite common, shows like Arrow and movies like Batman Begins and Iron Man minimize the amount of boardroom bickering that makes its way onscreen. An exception was 2010's Iron Man 2, which emphasized boardroom dealings and gave Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a corporate rival in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). It was among the least-well received Marvel Studios movies, with that aspect heavily criticized. 

There will be much more Supergirl news coming in the next few months. Stay tuned to The Live Feed for the latest. 

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