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It may seem hokey, but…

6 December, 2017 (11:44) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

In the mighty Once More With Feeling, Buffy worries that a training session will morph into a training montage from an eighties movie. Well. says Giles, if we hear any inspirational power chords we’ll just lie down until they go away. The writers of Supergirl, which I’ve now caught up with, seem to have forgotten the wisdom inherent in Giles’s teaching, and developed a penchant for background music-drenched scenes that aspire to be montages when they grow up. Alas, the music they used doesn’t even rise to the depths of power ballads, but instead reinforce one of the saccharine qualities of the show.

Although I like Supergirl, I did find myself fast-forwarding through a disturbing number of scenes in the most recent episodes, not something I recall doing with seasons one and two.

When I first found Supergirl, I commented on the prevalence of the “Linda Gray school of facial emoting”, and this hasn’t gone away. Unfortunately, the current sufferer of the malady is Melissa Benoist herself. We get her smiley face, her stern face, her puzzled face, her concerned face, all of which function as a shorthand, and serve only to help the plot zip by until the next ad. break. It is all the more obvious because the other lead cast give their performances more nuance than the show sometimes deserves. I don’t know why this has started happening because Benoist has been, and is, very good as the show’s lead.

The tenor of my criticisms of a lot of this stuff is that, in a golden age of television, including genre television, too many shows aren’t rising to the challenge and being all they could be. I would expect writers, producers and directors with ambition and talent to look at how genre TV has developed since Babylon 5, through Buffy, and The Wire, and in more recent times through Twin Peaks, Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, The Deuce and Sense8, and raise their game accordingly (and I note in passing J Michael Straczynski and David Simon were each responsible for two of those). No doubt there are budget issues, and studio expectations, and Supergirl is pitched at a different audience to those I cite, but that doesn’t negate my expectations as a viewer. And it’s not just writers et al: my expectations run to choice of lenses and camera angles, lighting, and sound design.

31 years ago I saw a production of Macbeth at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre . It featured a minimalist, though highly stylised set, and lacked what one normally thinks of as the trappings of a production of Shakespeare. But I remember it because of the performance of Julie Covington as Lady Macbeth, attempting to feminise a character who typically is portrayed as the scheming villainess. In fact Covington dominates my memory so much I just had to search extensively in the online archives to find out it was Jonathan Hyde playing the lead. Hyde is also in ‘The War That Never Ends’, a minimalist version of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponesian War that was on TV in 1991 just before the first Gulf War. It’s strength lay in the writing and the performances (you can watch it all on YouTube, or try only the chilling Melian Dialogue). My point, to push it home, is that budget is a context not an excuse.

Having said that, Episode 9, Reign, was a humdinger which, wonder of wonders, actually put our heroine in real peril rather than just facing fisticuffs on a Vancouver rooftop.

But Supergirl still flies high above what I’ve seen of the other shows in the CW stable. For the most part this has been their ‘crossover’ events, the most recent of which, Crisis on Earth-X, I described a couple of posts ago as shite.

Now, I understand that the principle function of the crossovers is to try and attract viewers to the other shows and thereby attract and retain the advertising income that pays for them in the first place. I also understand that I’m not the target demographic, but that is all by the by. There is really no excuse for this nonsense.

The story envisions a parallel world in which the Nazis won WW2, and there follows a four-episode slug-fest which is no more than “Hulk smash puny Nazis”, with some heavy-handed musings along the lines of ‘who would have thought it, Nazis in America…’ The writing is perfunctory, the characters cyphers in service of the story, the acting barely worthy of being called such, and the whole is a colossal waste of your time and their effort. To echo my earlier point, if you’re going to do Nazis in America, your modern touchstone must be The Man In The High Castle, in which Rufus Sewell’s John Smith has more menace in his measured stare than legions of one-dimensional masked stormtroopers stomping around to be annihilated by a group of one-dimensional heroes. The one (only) thing that Crisis on Earth-X did get right, was that the battle exacted a toll in the death of a featured character. Happily, this happened to coincide with the actor in question accepting a role in a Broadway musical, but it was worth noting nonetheless.

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