Before we get into this, I just wanted to say that I do really enjoy the CW’s Supergirl. It became one of my favorite superhero shows this past year, adopting a great hopeful tone (that the new movie Superman lacks) and expanding the roles of its supporting cast to make the series more fun.
I also really like Melissa Benoist. I think she plays the role very well and has great screen presence as a lead actor. Same goes for the supporting cast members; I think all of them are great at their respective roles, especially Chyler Leigh. This isn’t about dissatisfaction with the casting in any way, just a hypothetical alternate take on the show that I thought of and why I think it would’ve led to better story possibilities.
Now, with disclaimers being stated, I started thinking about the topic for this post after recently finishing the first trade volume for the DC Rebirth of Supergirl. The series puts Kara in a high school (albeit a gifted high school) where she has to try and adapt to her new home planet. It got me thinking that having Kara be a teenager might have made the CW show more interesting.
Of course it’s too late to change anything now, but as a thought exercise, I decided I would list the reasons I think having Kara Zor-El aged down to be a teenager would’ve made for a better TV show.
1.) She’d Actually be Supergirl
To be honest this is the most boring of all the reasons, but I still think it’s worth bringing up.
The show received some flack for being called Supergirl when the protagonist is a near-30’s woman. Of course, due to branding, the name of the hero and title of the show can’t really be changed. Instead the writers had Cat Grant give some lackluster spiel about her marketing prowess and how “girl” isn’t really an insulting term for a woman. Honestly it would’ve been less painful if the writers just ignored the whole name gaff.
The thing is that in most of the comic book adaptations, Supergirl is a teenager…which is why she’s called Supergirl. Casting Kara as a teenager would not only have been more canonically accurate, but it would have gotten around the whole awkward “she’s a woman being called a girl” thing.
2.) A Better Immigrant Story
In the CW’s Supergirl we meet Kara when she is already an adult and very well-adjusted to life on Earth. Sure, she’s frustrated that she’s had to hide her abilities and knows that she’s capable of more than she’s doing, but the level of conflict in her personal life is pretty low.
Contrast that with growing up as a teenager on a strange planet where you don’t understand the culture. Maybe you don’t even understand the language all that well (I would’ve given bonus points if Kara was played by an actress with an accent we could pretend was Kryptonian). You hope that your parents or other people from your world have somehow survived, but in the meantime you’re living with a foster family and having to deal with the fact that your baby cousin, who you were supposed to protect, is now much older than you and a worldwide icon (more on that later).
When you think about it, Kara has to adjust to a lot, but we only ever get snippets of her past life, and those flashback sequences almost all took place in Season 1. I think setting the show during Kara’s formative years would have created many more interesting conflicts. As a teenager, she might be highly resentful of her foster family and the situation she’s caught in, and as an adopted kid, she might wish that her real parents were still alive and might somehow find her. In the DC Rebirth comic this is in fact exactly what happens, with dreadful results.
This fish out of water type story could be played for some great laughs, as we saw in Wonder Woman, but I think it would also drive home the fact that Kara is an alien. In its second season especially, Supergirl has leaned very hard on the metaphor that the space aliens of its setting are like immigrants and refugees of our real world. Kara is an alien, but she comes across as a very traditional American woman. I think getting to see her grow up as a stranger in a strange land would have been a more compelling immigrant story, which would work strongly with the themes the show’s writers have already established.
3.) A More Interesting Relationship with Superman
As I mentioned in the previous point, Kara arrives on Earth to find that her cousin has grown up to become one of the greatest superheroes in the world. In the CW version of the show, with Kara being a well-adjusted adult, she loves her cousin and is excited to get to work with him. But would an angsty teenager feel that way?
Getting to see Kara work through the fact that she is now several years younger than someone she knew as a baby would be really interesting. I think it would also create a lot of great tension between her and Clark Kent. She might resent the fact that he has grown up to fit in on Earth so well while she struggles to understand the culture.
She might also resent the fact that he’s a full fledged superhero when she was supposed to be the older one. This could lead her to push Clark away or not want to team up with him unless the stakes were really high. Maybe Clark even wants to give her room so that she can grow without helping her out too much. I think both of these would be more interesting than the sort of perfunctory “we need to protect our own cities” reasoning for Superman not appearing on the show all the time.
4.) High School Drama
Okay, let’s be real for a moment: a lot of the character development on Supergirl (especially when it comes to supporting cast members) has to do with romantic ties. Alex, J’onn, and Winn all have romantic subplots. One of Kara’s major subplots in Season 2 was her relationship with Mon-El. And while we get to see what life at the DEO is like, we really didn’t get a whole lot of CatCo or what Kara’s non-superheroing life is like outside of her romance.
Basically what I’m getting at is that Supergirl is already almost a high school drama. For an adult drama, I think we need to see some more adulting, but this past season the writers steered away from Kara’s life as a reporter. Her life outside of being a superhero and dating Mon-El wasn’t particularly well developed or often shown.
If the writers didn’t want to dig into more adult themes and show Kara’s life outside the DEO, why not double down on the family and romance drama and just have a high school show?
A lot of the same character arcs would still be relevant. Kara could have her strong but contentious relationship with Alex as they try to understand each other and adapt to living together. Her relationship with her parents could be brought to the forefront as we see Kara act out as a teenager. Of course that would be more complicated than usual as she is both an alien and a superhero.
Alex’s lesbian coming out experience would still work in a high school setting. It would have to be handled differently, but it could still be done effectively. Similarly, I think Winn being the awkward guy who’s in love with Kara would be more resonant in a high school setting, and possibly more humorous, since Kara wouldn’t understand human courtship.
I might change M’gann and have her be aged down to a teenager as well, more like her Teen Titan iteration. She could have a father-daughter relationship with J’onn and be one of Kara’s confidants, since both of them would be powered aliens who had to hide their identities. They could also get up to some fun and crazy teen high jinks together.
The change to a YA superhero action series wouldn’t fundamentally change the spirit of the show, and it would provide an interesting contrast to the other CW shows and would be a fun change of pace.
5.) The Crossover Interactions
Speaking of other CW shows, I think having Kara be a teenager would be interesting during the Arrowverse crossovers for a couple of reasons.
The first is that I think having the most powerful hero in the setting also be the youngest would be a fun twist. It would also provide a weakness that the team would have to work around or the villain could exploit. While Barry and Oliver would be more experienced, steady hands, Kara might go rogue or act impulsively because she’s a teenager, and her power level would make it difficult for anyone on the team to stop her.
Secondly, I think forcing Barry and Oliver to figure out how they’re going to interact with a teenage girl and get her to work well with the team could be really funny. It might also provide an opportunity for some of the other female characters to shine through during the crossovers. Maybe Iris or Felicity is better at getting through to Kara. Or maybe Kara idolizes Sara because she’s the other strong woman in the group.
I think the potential for both interesting and comedic relationships would be higher with Kara being younger. It would also add some age diversity to the group. The Arrowverse does have Martin Stein on the older end of the spectrum, but the rest of the characters are roughly the same age. Having a character with teen angst dealing with teen drama while being part of a team of a adults could be quite fun.
Like I said in the introduction, I’ve grown to really enjoy Supergirl over this past season, but after reading the DC Rebirth comic, I think aging Kara down might have given the writers more juicy storytelling material. When building a setting, I think you need to consider the best ways to create the most interesting conflicts, and I think the teenage life of Supergirl would be ripe with opportunity.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you next time!