THE SERIES "Supergirl"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 8:30 on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth at age 12 to protect her cousin Kal El. You know him as Superman. You will get to know her as Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), also as Kara Danvers, mild-mannered assistant to fierce media-mogul-monster Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who runs National City's most important media conglomerate. Cat needs a scoop for her troubled newspaper, and boy -- or rather girl, is she about to get one.

Only three people know Kara's true powers, and Cat isn't one of them. But Kara finally wants to emerge from the closet, so to speak, and let the whole world know: "I didn't travel two thousand light years just to be an assistant." Her sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), counsels caution. She has her own reasons.

Meanwhile, photojournalist star James -- not Jimmy -- Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) is hired away from the Daily Planet as Cat's art director. He knows Superman personally, and has the pictures to prove it. James notices a slight resemblance between Kara and his super buddy.

MY SAY "Supergirl" is what TV cynics call a "demographic play," or ploy. Specifically designed for young women -- the most valuable, coveted of TV demographics -- it's all about girl power and also about diffusing the long-standing feminist stigma of that word "girl." There's even a speech by sharp-clawed villainess Cat Grant, to the effect that she herself is a powerful, rich, beautiful, media mogul-girl; what's so wrong with being a girl anyhow, she demands of Kara, who can't quite come up with a plausible anti-girl argument (other than the fact that Supergirl is after all, a woman).

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But "Supergirl" clearly doesn't want to fight a rear-guard action with feminists over semantics. What it really wants to do is redress an ancient wrong: There have been plenty of superboys with super powers over the decades, not so many supergirls. Here Supergirl takes central billing, and even her more famous sibling can't squeeze so much as a bicep into the frame. This is all Supergirl all the time. Girls definitely rule in this universe.

That may be the challenge. Despite a history that dates back to 1958, Supergirl never really took off. Even Bethpage's own Helen Slater -- Supergirl in the 1984 film with Faye Dunaway and Peter O'Toole -- wasn't kryptonite-proof. Slater, in fact, will recur on the series, as Eliza Danvers, Kara's adoptive mom.

Another challenge: Even though she is super, and even though this is fiction, there is still something troubling about the spectacle of a large man on screen beating, then throttling, a woman (when Supergirl battles an alien). Those visuals alone add a discordant touch -- or gut punch -- to what's otherwise a genial rom-comic fantasy series.

But move past the word, and images (fortunately fleeting in the pilot), and "Supergirl" obviously has a major plus: Benoist. The former "Glee" star eschews mystery and melancholy -- done to death by Spidey -- and instead embraces wonder and innocence. Her eyes widen. Her smile dazzles. She can fly, she can soar! For a second, she's almost Wendy in "Peter Pan."

Exuberance like this can be infectious, or possibly -- finally -- even kryptonite-proof.

GRADE B+