Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV: Supergirl, the Frustration Continues

It should come as no surprise that I love watching fantasy and superhero movies and shows. While most of these types of stories require some acceptance and some imagination, one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is a need to get your basic facts straight. As an engineer, I often find gaps in the science and therefore can’t in good conscience recommend any of these programs to anyone expecting to properly suspend their disbelief.

In this post in the series on “Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV,” I look at some more of the annoyances I have with Supergirl. Catch my first discussion of Supergirl here.

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen these programs and want to be surprised when you do, please stop reading now. I’m not responsible for ruining the entertainment value of a good surprise even if the science is flawed.

A quick note about beta-reading opportunities: a short story for a contest entry AND a new novella are both eagerly awaiting beta-readers. Sign up for my mailing list (and you’ll get a solitary monthly email) to be a part of the writing process! And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Throughout the TV show, I find her character a bit annoying, despite the rave reviews. First, why is her hair perfectly curled whenever she is in her Supergirl guise flying through the air at high speeds? I don’t even roll the windows down in my car unless I’ve bound my hair so that we don’t repeat the Bridget Jones Diary convertible scene. Then she ties up that perfectly curled hair into a hideous bun when she retains her “secret identity.” And wears glasses and acts goofy…isn’t that the premise of every geek-to-glamor transformation for every woman in every movie ever?

The bigger problem I have is that this character is purportedly the cousin of Superman. So if he had weaknesses (ahem–Kryptonite–cough) the fact that he didn’t share it with her suggests that they are not only NOT close, but also that he didn’t think she needed to know or she didn’t think to ask is just too convenient to the story. He shows up and this green rock is everywhere, she shows up, after a stint in the Phantom Zone with a bunch of Kryptonian supervillains, and everyone is mystified by this rock.

But I take the biggest objection of all to her chosen career path, if I could be so generous as to call it that. She is possibly trained as a journalist but works as an assistant to the most unlikeable boss I’ve ever had the misfortune of discovering on television or in a book. She puts her assistant down and generally describes herself as a go-getting, successful, glamorous person. I fundamentally disagree, since glamor in my mind requires a certain amount of kindness.

Anyway, are we really supposed to believe the most physically powerful woman on the planet is taking constant verbal abuse in a deadend job from this woman?

Wouldn’t her advanced brain capacity be better suited to graduate school, her ability to work at superspeed allow her to perform more calculations and prove theories, possibly finding cures for diseases and making the world a better place? Instead we are to believe she intended to make a difference by bringing her boss coffee.

Never in the Superman story did he get demoted all the way down to assistant, yet no one hesitated to take a female character and make her incredibly weak, uncertain, and annoyingly goofy. She’s a lot less annoying as her alter-ego, but then I find the dichotomy between the two characters irksome.

If you had all this power, why would you pretend to be a pathetic nobody and then proceed to tell most of the people in your life your big secret, while continuing to portray yourself with these two radically different personalities? I’m just altogether baffled by the popularity of this show. I do love a good hero story, but this one isn’t quite delivering on its promise.

I find the idea of this unconfident, diffident young woman in what appears to me to be a pointless job with no future at complete odds with the type of character Clark Kent was. He was capable, if a bit nerdy, and if my brain could think at superspeed, you better believe I’d be doing some kind of Iron-Man or Hulk in my spare time.

As a writer, I know they’re trying to show Kara’s “growth” from this pathetic character to a more developed one, but I struggle to think anyone with that kind of power wouldn’t be at least a little bit cocky. Or have perfect hair. Come on, if you could do your daily routine at superspeed, don’t tell me you wouldn’t always look like a million bucks.

If the point of the show is to show this kind of growth, why not start the show earlier in her life, or show these incredibly awkward sequences taking place earlier? I know, I know, conflict is the key, even irritating interpersonal ones involving unrequited love triangles.

Why the love triangles, people? Is there nothing else you can offer us? I’m reminded of another Superman rendition, the one I watched in high school, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. They only hinted at a love triangle in the first season (more a character who had a crush on Clark) and briefly had the two main characters date others in a later season, but for the most part, this light-hearted (and sadly faux-science) show kept the interaction between the small cast and eliminated the annoyance of a love triangle.

So then I watched the season premiere, which took place within the same week in the timeline as the season finale. And what do you know, after being offered the job of her dreams, getting the guy she’d been crushing on, and saving the world, Kara then can’t make up her mind about her job and offers her guy some lame excuse about something having changed for her. What’s changed? She’s not sure. But come on… if you and your crush both like each other and are both available, how does it make sense that you wouldn’t give each other a chance? Especially if the only excuse you have is “I’m not feeling it anymore” even though two episodes ago, or, you know, a week ago, your heart was set on him? I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Are we going to spend another season of misunderstandings between them before they get together at last? ‘Cause I am not interested in these pointless teasers. Nothing fundamentally happened to the character to make us understand her sudden change of heart. At least my erstwhile favorite superhero is making an appearance this season. In comparison to the Flash, whose motivation was clear and understandable from the finale through the premiere, whose actions and their consequences have set up an interesting new season, Supergirl just seems lame.

And I keep watching, in hopes of things getting better. What is wrong with me?!

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever watched a movie or seen a show where the characters faced a scenario that violated your suspension of disbelief. Are you, too, an engineer who shouldn’t be watching TV?

Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV: Smallville

It should come as no surprise that I love watching fantasy and superhero movies and shows. While most of these types of stories require some acceptance and some imagination, one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is a need to get your basic facts straight. As an engineer, I often find gaps in the science and therefore can’t in good conscience recommend any of these programs to anyone expecting to properly suspend their disbelief.

In this post in the series on “Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV,” I look at an episode of Smallville.

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen these programs and want to be surprised when you do, please stop reading now. I’m not responsible for ruining the entertainment value of a good surprise even if the science is flawed.

I wrapped up watching Smallville not so long ago. While I liked what they did to introduce a younger Clark and show how he learned his skills, ultimately I found the show disappointing because the biggest battles seemed to be resolved in the most anticlimactic and offscreen ways possible, particularly in the last few seasons. And while the actor (Tom Welling) playing Clark grew on me, I thought the guy playing Green Arrow (Justin Hartley) was much more attractive. However, neither one of them can hold a candle to the current Arrow (Stephen Amell), but that’s a conversation for another day.

Then there was an episode of Smallville that stuck out in my mind as seriously flawed. The class is visiting a methane plant (suspicious within itself: how are they producing the methane?!), which happened to be fully enclosed.

Having worked in the natural gas industry, I can assure you this premise is an explosion waiting to happen. You do not enclose a flammable gas, lighter than air, odorless, with an excellent burning range, in a building for “production.” (And how they were producing it, of course, was never mentioned. But since they were in Smallville, I’m sure they had rigged something to all the cows…)

The aggravating problem with this episode was the one control valve (it was a small hand valve, not a control valve, by the way) breaks, and suddenly there is no possible way to shut off the flow of natural gas into the plant during this field trip, during which all the kids had their non-explosion-rated cell phones in their pockets.

Nevermind that a real chemical plant would have had a control valve, an emergency shutdown for the entire facility, and manual block valves on either side of the control valve, more manual block valves next to the source of the natural gas and more manual block valves at the inlet of wherever they were pushing it.

There is simply no way in a properly designed, legally compliant facility that the entire flow of a flammable gas into a potentially explosive atmosphere would have been controlled by one little valve.

Because otherwise, an investigator from at least one federal and one state agency would have shown up and cited them for “willful and egregious” behavior and fined them lots of money. Lots of money, and shut them down until they fixed it all, which is an additional loss of revenue for the facility.

This past fall, Supergirl became the new show to investigate, and while I’ve seen every episode, I have a lot of frustration with this show.

Do any other episodes of Smallville stand out to you as helplessly flawed?

Previous posts in this series: