The themes in "Supergirl" -- finding your true self, following your heart and what happens when your calling isn't everything you thought it would be -- are not unique to the superhero genre, but the series replaces the broody, angst-filled masked men that usually fill the role of hero with Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), a sweet twenty-something who embraces her powers with determination even as she learns that her gifts are only a small part of what it means to be a hero. The series is family friendly and Benoist is very likeable, if at times overshadowed by Calista Flockhart as her terrible boss. All of this might not add up to a huge hit for CBS but it's not a miss either. It's a show that lands firmly in the middle of "OK."
The backstory is that 12-year-old Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth from the planet Krypton to protect her baby cousin Kal-El (aka Superman). Things go wrong with her ship, and by the time she arrives on Earth she is still 12 but Kal-El is an adult. The Danvers family adopts her and her identity is kept secret. Twelve years later, her job as the personal assistant to a demanding media mogul named Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) is leaving her unfulfilled and she decides to pursue her destiny.
Allowing Kara and her cousin to be heroes at the same time is an opportunity for some character swapping. In this story, the "Daily Planet" exists as a rival newspaper and photographer James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) is hired by Grant. Olsen knows Kara's true identity, as does her friend and co-worker Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan).
The set-up -- alien villains-of-the-week and the secret agency tasked with stopping them -- could be (and is, with and without the alien part) the premise for many stories but it keeps the pace moving and gives Kara's purpose a larger context. What is slightly more interesting is the idea that Kara's enthusiasm and extraordinary abilities don't guarantee her the public's adulation. People question the need for her protection and complain about the cost of her mistakes. In one misstep, she moves a ship out of the range of a fire but then cracks the hull and causes an oil spill. She tells Winn: "I went from superhero to eco terrorist in a single bound."
Supergirl is a hero with an image problem. It's a way to give Kara a character flaw that isn't based on a dark personal history and it's also a commentary on the media's role in crafting a story but neither is emphasized enough to make an impact. Cat, who takes credit for branding Supergirl, wonders if she should have called her "Terriblegirl." It's not the best line but Flockhart plays the icy, thoughtless and narcissistic Cat with skill. When Kara takes offense at Cat's use of the word girl instead of woman, it's an opportunity for the show to address what I imagine a lot of women viewers were also thinking. The story also uses Cat's narcissism to explain why she wouldn't recognize Kara as Supergirl. Cat will only ever see Kara as her assistant. The bigger problem for this series is that many viewers might feel the same way.
"Supergirl" is on Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.