Campy TV is good. You know this if you’ve ever watched the ’60s Batman, Xena or a Ryan Murphy show. There’s no need to label it a “guilty pleasure”. Really good camp TV balances the goofy side of camp with something that is often thrilling and sometimes even emotionally affecting. It can walk that fine line with precision that should make the best writers and filmmakers envious. And even when it missteps, as The CW’s Supergirl did a few times this week, it can be one of the best ways you can spend an hour of your time.
All images: CW
This week both Kara and her sister Alex had to do some babysitting. Alex’s story, which finds her bonding with a 13-year-old over the dissolution of her engagement, is actually far from camp. (It isn’t bad, it was just a weird B-plot that will probably end up being important down the line.) Kara, on the other hand, actually has campy babysitting duty. She has to look after two villains and a telekinetic from the 31st century as they hunt down an evil priestess aboard an abandoned prison rotating around a sun that kills all men.
You knew it was gonna be fun the minute the villain Livewire (Brit Morgan) – in the worst hair and makeup she’s ever had on the show – appears in a bright pink waitress uniform, raging at a trucker over his gluten-free lifestyle. For a former shock jock, Livewire is shockingly bereft of truly scathing material, instead uttering lines expected from the mouths of 12-year-olds trying to sound cool, but Morgan continues to elevate a role that’s eye-rolling on paper.
What did they DO to you?
The actor is having so much fun that it takes it from bad to camp. Yael Grobglas, who returns as the nasty psychic Psi, is also having a lot of fun, as she’s forced to either glare wide-eyed at people so you know she’s psychically attacking them or randomly start speaking in… nursery rhymes? This should be goofy on a level with the early seasons of the ’60s Doctor Who, but Grobglas always manages to find a streak of humanity in Psi at the last moment, grounding the character.
In fact, the only people not having fun on the man-free jaunt to Fort Rozz, the Kryptonian prison Kara threw into space in season one, are the good guys. Kara and her ex Mon-El’s new wife Saturn Girl are busy trying to keep the bad women on the station, and in their custody, from committing atrocious acts of violence as they wander through some of the silliest sets I’ve seen since all the good ’90s syndicated sci-fi shows were cancelled.
Prison bars wobble because they aren’t actually made of dwarf star steel (or whatever Kryptonian prisons are made of). The evil aliens all have just enough tasteful prosthetics plastered on, so that you know they’re eeeeevil aaaaaliens and not cosplayers. You can even see the fluorescent lights that indicate some parts of the high-tech Kryptonian prison are really just a warehouse in Vancouver.
Things get even goofier when Kara finds the evil priestess, played by Sarah Douglas – who most people remember as Ursa from Richard Donner’s first two Superman films. The prison, Fort Rozz, is actually named after her. Because on Krypton if you’re bad enough, your name gets plastered on municipal buildings!
But just when things might tip so far into campville you worry that Supergirl the show could never recover – that the camp would ruin any and all high stakes the show has set up this year – things twist back around. Because Reign shows up, murders Rozz, and then attempts to murder Kara (who conveniently loses her powers around blue, man-killing stars). That’s when Livewire sacrifices herself for Kara. It really shouldn’t work after things have been so silly, but Morgan and Benoist are both really good at their jobs, and manage to sell Livewire and Supergirl’s burgeoning friendship and Livewire’s sacrifice.
Too often, particularly with superhero shows, you either have to be deadly serious like Jessica Jones or the excellent Black Lightning, or you have to be goofy as hell, like every animated superhero show currently airing. Even The Flash, the lightest of live-action superhero shows, has its funny episodes and its dramatic ones. But this week Supergirl blended the two tones, and while it wasn’t always good, it worked much, much better than it had any right to.
Yep, she bad.
- Speaking of Livewire, she has not one but two super badarse moments. The first is when she’s sucked into space and turns into lightning to save herself. The second is when she just takes on Reign full throttle.
- Also, they make it clear Livewire is dead, but she’s… electricity? So let’s assume she is not actually dead and let’s assume Kara brought the body back to Earth, otherwise Livewire is gonna be pissed when she has to hitch a ride off a space station falling into a sun.
- I still don’t understand the space station. It crashed to Earth 15 years ago, right? And a ton of the aliens then fled because they were free, but some of them just… stayed in the prison? Even sticking around after Astra and Non turned it into the crux of their plan to destroy humanity? Like man, Krypton, how badly did you break these poor souls’ spirits?!
- Psi’s attack on Reign briefly brings Sam to the surface with visions of Ruby, and it freaks her out enough that at the end of the episode she confesses her memory loss to Alex. This is either going to end with them bonding and then Sam dying and Alex adopting Ruby next season, or it’s going to end with Alex and Sam bonding and having an angsty love affair while Reign slowly consumes Sam.
- This Is Us‘ Krys Marshall appears this week as another world-killer named Purity. No, she is not from the comics.
- Brainiac first showed up last week and while his make-up is still the worst make-up the show has ever done, he continues to be one of, if not the most, charming love interests Kara has ever had.
- Mon-El looks good with a beard. That is all.