Supergirl Faces Kevin And Hell
The DC Universe welcomes a guest director who's a true Comic Book Man -- and so does Jeff Alexander.
Kevin Smith certainly has his share of both fans and detractors. As for myself, I don't really fall into either camp. Which is what makes this week's Supergirl episode, directed by Smith, such a pleasant surprise for me.
To back up a bit, the front half of Supergirl's sophomore season seemed to represent an overall drop in quality since its debut season on CBS -- and not always in ways that could be blamed on the change of venue or the departure of stealth MVP Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant. In fact, I complained in this space that the rest of the ensemble, with their own tangle of character arcs and plot threads, were beginning to crowd out the lead character.
On the plus side, however, the "fall finale" closed out a lot of storylines and wrapped up Supergirl's 2016 with the "Invasion" crossover, rather than a cliffhanger like in 2015. Which was a smart call, because by the time, what Supergirl needed more than anything was a fresh start. Well, almost more than anything. It needed that and Kevin Smith.
To reiterate: Kevin Smith and his multifarious public facets aren't really my thing. I've seen fewer than half of his movies, I'm not really tuned in to his opinionated public persona, and every promo of Comic Book Men makes me grateful for the time I don't spend watching it. But I have to admit that as a TV-director-for-hire, the guy knows his stuff.
By now, Smith's origin story is almost as well-known as that of Supergirl's cousin, and even more far-fetched. He self-financed, wrote, directed, and played Silent Bob in Clerks, with a production budget of $26,000. What followed that wasn't merely as unlikely as winning the lottery; it was more like simultaneously winning the lottery, and the World Series, and the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. It launched his career as director, screenwriter, sort-of-actor, social commentator, author, professional fanboy, and recurring pain in the ass. And the dude never even buttons a shirt.
Of course, Smith is also well-known for certain foibles. These include certain aspects of his public profile I can't be bothered to explore right now, and his early tendency to stage his actors like Colorforms and transform them into essay delivery systems.
However, neither of those drawbacks is in evidence in "Supergirl Lives." Those who get annoyed at the sight of Kevin Smith had no call to look upon his behatted, bewhiskered visage, given that it stayed behind the camera. Which he used to good effect, in moments like his unique remix of Kara's now-clichéd supersuit-reveal shot. And he was prevented from indulging in some of his worst writing tics by the strictures of network TV, one of which is that he didn't write the thing.
This is not to say that the occasional Smith-ism didn't make its way into the teleplay (written by Eric Carrasco & Jess Kardos, story by Andrew Kreisberg). The term "Thanagarian" shows up from Smith's never-shot Superman Lives screenplay, which also lends the episode its title. And there are plenty more enjoyable moments, like Mon-El urgently yelling "Start the car!" and Maggie remarking to Alex that Kara's glasses aren't helping to fool anyone. Those are pretty good bits -- largely because, like the best bass guitar solos, they don't go on too long.
But what I liked most about this episode is the way Smith the director captured some of the most naturalistic, believable performances we've seen yet on this show. Subtlety is not really this show's thing -- not that it's Smith's, either -- but somehow the two entities combined brought out new sides of these familiar characters, making them seem more than ever like they just enjoy hanging out with each other. Normally Chyler Leigh has to do most of the heavy emotional lifting, while much of the rest of the cast follows their action-movie instincts. Tonight, however, the final, quiet scene between Kara and Mon-El in her apartment was a brief but warm masterpiece. It's tough to make a moment like that stand out in an episode where someone blows up a spaceship by looking at it, but they pulled it off.
This is not to say there isn't still plenty of dumb stuff going on. The writers of Supergirl have clearly never read a newspaper, let alone have any sense of what it's like to work at one. And the best thing I can say about James's stint as Guardian is that it was relatively brief. But just like he did with last season's The Flash episode "The Runaway Dinosaur," Smith the director takes a plot that seems silly on paper (Barry is in the Speed Force? Really?) and turns it into something that really works.
In short, I tuned into tonight's episode more out of a sense of obligation than anything else, but I was rewarded with a powerful ray of hope. A yellow-sun-grenade of hope, even. Smith is signed on to direct this season's seventeenth episode as well, and I'm looking forward to it whole-heartedly. As well as his next episode of The Flash, and maybe even if he covers Legends Of Tomorrow. (My Arrow embargo, pointless as it is, stands.) Honestly, I'd be perfectly happy if Smith made this kind of thing his full-time gig. It's not like I'm holding my breath for Mallrats 2. Some of us simply do better as jobbers than as auteurs, and there's no shame in that. At least, I certainly hope there isn't.
Oh, and as long as we're saying nice things about visitors to the Supergirl universe, guest star James Urbaniak is excellent as well. Somebody all but forgot to write his role as the sinister doctor, but you'd never know it.