Back for its eighth flight with new showrunners in the cockpit and some major cast defections, “Smallville” opens with an extremely busy hour that only reinforces how dense the program’s mythology has become. Then again, this tale of the young Clark Kent has already lasted well beyond the character’s teenage years, creating an awkward overlap with the feature side’s hold on the Superman franchise. Some nifty flourishes still characterize the hour, but it doesn’t take X-ray vision to see this show appears ready to take its final leap over a tall building and into the sunset.
Picking up from last season’s cliffhanger, the series is without key heavy Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum opted to leave), seeking to compensate for that with a mysterious new head of Luthercorp. (Cassidy Freeman). In what sounds like a reference to Sarah Palin, she’s at first dismissed as being an unqualified rube from the hinterlands before the character starts throwing her weight around.
Meanwhile, Clark (Tom Welling) has gone missing, as members of what will eventually be known as the Justice League — headed by Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow (Justin Hartley, a nice addition to the lineup of regulars) — seek to find both him and the missing Luthor.
It’s not clear any of it makes a lick of sense anymore, and the premiere’s globetrotting — dropping hints about the season to come, including a new villain based on Doomsday (Sam Witwer) — doesn’t do much to help clarify matters; still, there are welcome moments for those of us who actually know the comicbook underpinnings of the Martian Manhunter and nifty interplay between Clark and his gals-Friday Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack, one of the few survivors from Season One) and Lois Lane (Erica Durance).
Mostly, “Smallville” has stayed aloft beyond the projected flight plan largely because the CW still needs it, with even a diminished fan base still surpassing what the netlet generates with most of its lineup.
It’s just that satisfying such crass commercial imperatives hardly seems like a job for Superboy (it’s more Lex Luthor territory, frankly), but to the credit of the producers and cast, a weekly fly-by isn’t a complete chore yet either.