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‘Supergirl' Flies By the Other CBS Superheroes
October 23, 2015  | By David Hinckley

The new Supergirl that soars onto CBS Monday (Oct. 26, 8:30 p.m. ET) has left many TV geeks puzzled -- not about the show, but the destination.

CBS? A superhero show on CBS? The network whose all-you-can-eat meal ticket for 15 years has been procedurals? What happened? Was someone in the CBS programming department exposed to Kryptonite?

It seems startling.

But it shouldn't, because CBS already has a prime-time superheroes show.


Scorpion doesn't come with a superheroes label. But after a year and five episodes, it's ever-clearer that this show is much closer to superhero drama than your regular old NCIS kind of deal.

Nor do you have to take a civilian's assessment on this. CBS knows it, too.

Take this past Monday (10/19), for instance, when the show dressed all five main characters up in superhero outfits so they could sneak into an old Kazakhstan military installation and steal a nuclear missile.

Now it's true that the superhero element here was framed as a joke. The cover story was that our team was pretending to film a superhero movie called "Super Fun Guy," which sounds more like a Nickelodeon show, and several of the characters made a point of rolling their eyes over what they had to do.

"We're not superheroes," said lead guy Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel), who added that he "never got" comic books and superheroes in the first place.

Maybe not. More likely he's protesting too much.

Scorpion just comes into the superhero world from a different direction. It's more like a stealth operation.

The premise of Scorpion, to recap briefly, is that Walter O'Brien has an IQ of 197, which means he can solve almost any problem in the world. He's also almost incapable of holding a normal human conversation.

So he has assembled a posse of equally unbalanced geniuses: Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), who can build or fix anything; Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a psychologist with a gambling addiction; and Sylvester (Ari Stidham), a mathematics whiz whose social problems only start with OCD.

The team's liaison to human beings is Paige Dineen (Katherine McPhee, right, with Thomas and Wong), whose connection to Walter stems from his empathy for her nine-year-old son, who is also brilliant and unable to relate to most people.

This whole group was then hired by Homeland Security agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) to help him, well, keep the homeland secure.

These people were not, Walter correctly noted this past Monday, given superpowers by exposure to radiation, or any other standard superpower genesis. They're just very smart people who figure things out better than other people.

All true.

Also true: Almost every problem they've solved, or situation they've fixed, has been right out of the superhero playbook.

This past Monday -- SPOILER ALERT -- they kept that old Soviet nuclear missile out of the hands of terrorists by stealing it from the military installation and firing it into an underground test site that was already contaminated.

They've rescued Walter from a car dangling a thousand feet above a jagged rocky ravine. They've evacuated a top-secret submarine from the ocean floor.

They've figured out a way to hand a laptop computer to an aircraft crew while they're on the ground and the plane is flying low over their heads.

These would be routine rescue tasks for actual superheroes, and that's exactly the point: Scorpion is set in a superhero world where its characters must figure out how mortals can replicate superhero skills.

That isn't to say Scorpion completely breaks away from the standard behavior patterns of CBS procedurals.

There's a lot of humor. There are moments of four-handkerchief melodrama. There are several will they/won't they romantic setups.

Scorpion just kind of spills over into the superhero genre, the same way a growing number of good TV shows these days are mashups of more than one style.

That's a good thing.

In this case, it just suggests that when Melissa Benoist flies into National City Monday to revive Supergirl, she won't be plowing entirely fresh CBS ground.

Supergirl itself, by the way, has no stealth aspect. It's straight superhero stuff, with Benoist as a winning Supergirl who can fly faster than a speeding bullet and do things like carry a jumbo jet on her back. That's not an option for Walter O'Brien.

Supergirl was created by Greg Berlanti, who already runs Arrow and The Flash on the CW, and that has caused more than a few fans to wonder why Supergirl didn't also end up on the CW.

When CW President Mark Pedowitz was asked that question earlier this year, he said he passed on it because he thought the CW already had enough superheroes.

He added that in retrospect, passing on it was probably a mistake.

For Pedowitz, that's an abstract question. For CBS, it's not. It's concrete, because every new prime-time show is a costly plunge.

Small wonder, then, that CBS has tested the water.
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