Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 1: "Pilot"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: 12 September 1993
Dean Cain - Clark Kent/Superman
Teri Hatcher - Lois Lane
Lane Smith - Perry White
Michael Landes - Jimmy Olsen
Tracy Scoggins - Cat Grant
John Shea - Lex Luthor
Kenneth Tigar - Dr. Platt
Maggie Blye - Mrs Platt
Lindsay Berkowitz - Amy Platt
Elizabeth Barondes - Lucy Lane
Gloria LeRoy - Beatrice
Shaun Toub - Asabi
As a bearded man in worker's clothes enters the Daily Planet building, we realize that it's Lois Lane in disguise, just back from her latest undercover story. Outside, Clark Kent discreetly saves a bus from crashing, while a woman watches on, dumbfounded at his amazing abilities. Clark attempts to get a job at the Daily Planet, but Perry White is unconvinced by his peculiar resumé, mostly consisting of bizarre stories from around the globe. Lois Lane meets Clark Kent for the first time and is non-plussed. Perry asks Lois to cover a human interest story about a theater that's on the verge of demolition, but Lois is more interested in a conspiracy surrounding the Messenger Space Shuttle. Later, Lois is criticized by her sister Lucy for never giving the men in her life any chance at proving themselves and that she just wants Lois to meet 'a super guy'.
The next day, Clark goes to the theater and covers the story, presenting it to Mr. White, who then offers him a job, praising his initiative. Following the explosion of a space shuttle, Perry teams Clark up with Lois to interview Dr. Platt who warned that the shuttle was going to explode. Lois is extremely reluctant to team up with Clark and warns him that she calls the shots. The eccentric Dr. Platt reveals that the Messenger Shuttle has been sabotaged and that he had written a report, but was then tortured and drugged by those responsible for its sabotage. The Messenger is due to deliver a group of various people to the Space Station Prometheus, where various scientific experiments are going to take place and cures sought, with the help of the zero-gravity atmosphere.
Lois and Clark visit Doctor Antoinette Baines at the Eprad Centre, who claims that Platt lost his mind after the stresses of designing a space station and the divorce from his wife; leading to problems with drugs and alcohol, forcing his dismissal. Dr. Barnes is charmed by Clark, and allows them a look at the wrecked vessel.
Lois brings Clark to Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball, in the hopes of finally getting a one-on-one interview with the reclusive billionaire. Despite Clark's bungling she manages to arrange an interview, just before Luthor unveils plans for a rival space station now that the Prometheus program has gone under. Secretly, Luthor has seduced Baines and is manipulating her to sabotage the Prometheus program.
Lois and Clark discover Dr Platt dead, an apparent suicide. Perry won't accept Lois and Clark's story without hard facts however, which leads to Lois sneaking into the Eprad facility with Jimmy to get a better look at the damaged vessel. They are captured by Dr. Baines and tied up. Clark tries to rescue them but is discovered by Baines, who ties him up with Lois and the unconscious Jimmy. When Baines leaves, Clark breaks the bonds using his super strength, but not before hearing Lois confess various truths about herself. Dr Baines is killed as her helicopter mysteriously explodes, while Luthor watches from a TV screen in his office.
With their eyewitness reports, the trio are able to successfully report the story of sabotage.
Clark heads to Smallville where his mother helps him design an outfit that he will wear as a disguise when he needs to use his powers to help people. She christens the outfit with a crest that was among the blankets Clark was in when he landed on Earth. Lois sneaks onboard the shuttle for the sake of being there when it arrives at the space station, only to discover that there's a bomb primed to explode, probably left by Baines. After sabotaging one of the cables to get the attention of mission control, Clark realizes something is wrong and flies to the scene. As Lois watches on in horror, the disguised Clark eats the bomb. When Clark hears that the shuttle can't launch because of the new delay caused by the bomb, he flies the ship to the space station himself, an event which is covered by press all over the world.
Clark flies Lois back to the Daily Planet newsroom where she names him 'Superman'. Superman then confronts Luthor, explaining that he is aware of his involvement in the sabotage and that a day will come when he will be punished for his crimes. The next day, Lois and Clark team up again for their next assignment.
Review Rating - 5 (out of 5): Let's get right to the point: I believe "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" to be the greatest live-action television incarnation of Superman, of all time. It introduced a new generation of fans to the legend of Superman (myself included) taking what was done in George Reeves' "Adventures of Superman" series and expanding on it by adding layers of characterization and humor for a modern audience. Shows like "Smallville" certainly give it a run for its money (particularly in its pilot season), but in my opinion, the characterization and verisimilitude of "Lois & Clark" still seems to trump "Smallville"'s over-reliance on shipping and high-concept plots that never seemed to go anywhere. Even the "Superman: The Animated Series" just doesn't really seem to have the same wonderful personality that "Lois & Clark" had during its surprisingly short four-year run. Certainly, "Lois & Clark" had moments of extraordinary, dumbfounding weakness (and it was certainly also guilty of shipping) and those will certainly be examined in due time, but overall, I think the series was an understated triumph, a wonderful examination of a more human version of Superman. Like the John Byrne revamp on which it is partly based, it is the only truly successful (at least from a story standpoint) 'update' of the mythos, that was able to move away from the primary incarnation that all of the others grew to rely on (in the case of TV shows, the Richard Donner Superman movies, which both the "Superboy" show and "Smallville" relied too heavily on for inspiration).
The pilot episode of "Lois & Clark" is a fine example of the show in its better days. The emphasis isn't on high-flying action or superheroics (which admittedly, some view as a flaw), but instead on the dialogue between the characters. As viewers, we already know that Clark/Superman is going to save Lois from the explosion and quite frankly, we'd rather hear her continue to make personal confessions to a smug Clark. While it's fun to see Clark talking to his parents about his idea for a 'disguise' that he can use when he's helping people, it's hilarious when Lois walks in and remarks on his impressive muscles despite the fact that he only seems to eat junk food. Cat Grant puts the primary slant of the series perfectly in her line of dialogue towards the end of the episode, that ultimately sets up the whole show:
Cat: "I see it, but I still can't believe it."
Daily Planet Reporter: "What? A man who flies?"
Cat: "Heh, no. Lois Lane FINALLY, LITERALLY, swept off her feet."
While the show was actually terrific at 'The Superman TV Formula' (which we'll get to in subsequent episodes), the real magic of the series was the way it was just as much about two misfits finding love with one another, despite their rather enormous differences.
So let's talk about this particular episode...
The first episode of "Lois & Clark" is distinctive for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost is that in spite of a running time of over 45 minutes, Superman really only appears for about five minutes or so, towards the end of the episode. In most episodes, a suited-up Superman usually features for at least three or four different scenes. And even when he doesn't appear, he will be mentioned extensively (particularly by Lois and Lex). In this episode, there's essentially nothing seen or said of Superman until Clark finally dons the suit in the final act. This gives viewers a chance to get to know the characters before Superman arrives and changes their respective MOs.
The other distinct difference between this and other episodes of the show is that, as it is a pilot and as is often the case with TV pilots, it 'looks' different to other episodes of the show. Whereas usually the show has a certain gloss and a sometimes stagey look to it, this episode is distinctively smoky, the camerawork and cinematography is very imaginative and viewers would be forgiven for mistaking this episode for an actual movie. In later episodes, Metropolis grew to look a bit fake-looking, here it is a vibrant, bustling, believably 'big' city filled with cars and buses. Not to mention when talking about the 'look' of the show, Dean Cain is noticeably young-looking here and his hair is quite a bit longer than it would typically be in the series (some have pointed that this might have been an attempt at tying it in to the longer-haired Superman the comics were introducing following the Death-of storyline). As many have pointed out time and time again, the Superman suit in this episode is also quite a bit different to the one that was used for the remainder of the series, with the 'S'-shield looking more like the official DC Comics S (if you ask me, it looks like it was printed out of a DC Style Guide). The reason for this is that for the pilot, the producers outsourced the production of the costume to a party-hire company. While the S is sturdier and more similar to the one from the comics, I prefer the one that was used in later episodes, for reasons I'll explain in the next review.
From an acting standpoint, I'll look at the performances that have the biggest impact in this pilot episode. Not every actor will get a mention, but we have plenty of time to explore the other players.
I'd have to say that Teri Hatcher is the one who shines the most in this first episode. Her Lois is unquestionably the definitive Lois Lane in TV, film or animation for me and even from the very first episode it's apparent why. From the opening scene we see her as a hard-edged, tough-as-nails go-getter who will do anything to get her story, sometimes at the expense of the trust of others. We can also see that in spite of her tough exterior, she's prone to vulnerability and loneliness, but just can't let her guard down enough to let anyone in. Throughout the episode, Lois is seen complaining about the men of Metropolis and how none of them are 'man enough' to keep up with her. Despite Clark's best efforts throughout the episode, Lois really just sees him as another typical example of these kinds of men. Ironically when she meets the same man minus a pair of glasses, she's floored.
Similar to Hatcher, John Shea is wonderful as Lex Luthor and also stands up as my favorite interpreter of the role. While he certainly faces much stiffer competition in the 'best ever' category, from the likes of Gene Hackman, Michael Rosenbaum, Clancy Brown and even "Superboy"'s Sherman Howard to an extent, Shea stands up as a truly unique version of the character. While the businessman setting of Lex Luthor is similar enough to the John Byrne revamp, this is not the Luthor of those comics. "Lois & Clark"'s Lex does not come across as arrogant or pompous. People don't tremble in fear at the very sight of him. He doesn't seem to be any kind of scientific genius and he isn't even bald. In this series Lex Luthor is a suave, handsome, celebrated businessman who has won the hearts of everyone in Metropolis. His evil lies in his devious skill for manipulation and abuse of resources in the pursuit of power. Not even Lois Lane has seen through his facade, which of course Luthor plays to his advantage. Throughout the series, Shea played a devilishly likable version of Luthor and while some of his scenes suffer from dated silliness (in one scene he stares down a python for sport), he never fails to entertain.
Michael Landes and Lane Smith are terrific as Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, respectively. While they don't quite get their chances to establish themselves in this episode, they nonetheless prove to be interesting updates of their iconic characters. Jimmy does a bit of photography, but more importantly, he's trying to push his way up to reporting, begging the chief to let him look at stories from obscure angles, only to be sent off to the obituary pages. While we don't get a chance to see some of the hilarity of Perry White's distinctive quirks that would appear throughout the other episodes, he is set up fairly well as an over-worked tyrant. At first glance, it almost seems like they were trying to go the traditional route of making him just as angry and ill-tempered as he was in the original George Reeves series (and again to a lesser extent in the Donner movies). He would ultimately become a more laid-back interpretation of the character.
Finally, we come to Dean Cain, the man who had the greatest challenge in this series: to get people to move on from the almost supernatural perfection of Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. While I honestly think Teri Hatcher and the entire supporting cast of the first season of Lois & Clark were and are leagues ahead of anyone else who've played the roles, I really don't think there was any way Dean Cain was ever possibly going to be able to stand up in anyone's eyes as being as good as, or better than Reeve. Thankfully though, he doesn't really try to be that, as his performance is entirely different to Christopher Reeve's. Of all the Supermen, Dean Cain is probably the most unique. Like the George Reeves series, the Clark Kent in this series is more of a down-to-Earth, realistic person who could actually be a news reporter. This works better for episodic, week-to-week television where we're likely going to see more of Clark than Superman; than having him be an oafish klutz like Reeve's portrayal. Cain steps this up even further by adding a layer of human nature to Clark's persona. He's not just 'the real identity' as so many fans have pointed out. In most episodes of the series, Clark seems like a living, breathing three-dimensional person and not just the archetypal 'Flawless Hero' as Superman is typically presented. He's got personality flaws and moments of selfishness just like any of us. But his heroism shines through. Cain's best scene in the pilot (and probably one of the best moments of characterization in the series) have him absolutely scolding a beat cop for making an inappropriate joke at the scene of Dr. Platt's apparent suicide:
"This man was a scientist. He was brilliant and he was a person who cared for others. Under the circumstances I don't think that kind of humor is appropriate!" The scene is just pure-Superman in every way and Cain's delivery is wonderful. Certainly, the strengths of the script owe a lot to this, but Cain's likability plays a huge part as well. He's not always stellar, but he's always a joy to watch and while his unconventional looks and alarmingly-low height make him a physically unusual choice for Superman, his other traits more than make up for this. As one of my friends put it perfectly, he's the Michael Keaton of Superman portrayals.
The guest-actors in this episode do a serviceable enough job, as would come to be the case throughout the series. None of them leave much in the way of a lasting impression and their characters are a bit two-dimensional. It's notable that Inspector Henderson appeared in this episode, played by Mel Winkler, an African-American actor. Henderson would regularly appear throughout the first season played by Richard Belzer, before being one of the many characters that disappeared without explanation between the final episode of the first season and the first episode of the second.
The plot of the episode was good and was typical for outlining the kinds of plots the series would have. From the first episode, it's apparent that this isn't going to be a 'supervillain brawl of the week' type show the way Superboy, Smallville and to some extent the Animated Series was. Like the George Reeves series, "Lois & Clark" would be a detective series where the criminals would be caught not just by Superman's x-ray vision, but also by the human abilities of the Daily Planet staffers. There were also some great special effects in this episode that even stand up quite well today. Unlike much of the series, there was quite a bit of computer animation as well that accompanied Superman's flight. All of these are sensibly shown during night-time scenes, clouding the unreality of it all.
In spite of the high praise I've given so far in the review, the episode wasn't perfect by any means. As is usually the case in "Lois & Clark" there's quite a bit of dialogue that seems cheesy and excessively "90s-esque" when looked at today, and while this shouldn't really be a complaint when doing a retrospective review of a series made in the 90s, I have a particularly hard time with Perry White off-handedly mentioning how he's not sure how the Planet should cover "the recent sex-change operation in the Royal Family". It seems intentionally forced for comedic shock value and while it's certainly hilarious, it's awkwardly so. Another issue I have is how after an extensive combing of the space shuttle, someone (presumably one of Luthor's cronies) managed to get a bomb in there, which was conveniently noticed by Lois Lane. It's the kind of plot-hole that you can forgive in a couple of different ways (perhaps the bomb was only set up minutes or even seconds prior to Lois discovering it), but it's still a bit irksome looking back on the episode. Perhaps the most gaping plot-hole in the entire series is the fact that the episode opens with Clark Kent wearing glasses, despite not having come up with the idea of creating a secret, superheroic identity yet. The only explanation I can think of is that Jonathan and Martha both wear glasses and perhaps they thought it might be best for Clark to do the same, to avoid suspicion (I'm not entirely certain whether the Kents claimed that Clark was their biological son as in Byrne's stories, though). This could well have been explained in a deleted scene, as it's certainly apparent throughout this episode that scenes were cut, or edited out of sequence. In one scene we see Clark, Jimmy and Lois all heading out on assignment after being yelled at by Perry, only for the camera to awkwardly shift back into White's office, where's he's chewing Pava Leaves as per Clark's instruction earlier in the episode.
Outside of these minor flaws though, this episode stands up as one of the finest episodes the series has to offer. While there's not many elaborate high-flying superheroics like there would be later on in the series, the episode is strengthened by the excellent characterizations and iconic scenes such as Lois meeting Clark for the first time, and the hilarious montage where Clark tries on a series of costumes designed by Martha (including costumes that look suspiciously similar to Daredevil and Captain America!). The entire architecture of the series is built in the penultimate newsroom scene where Superman makes his debut, Perry says "Great Shades of Elvis!", Jimmy gets a front-page photo and Cat makes her sound exclamation that flying aliens from space aren't as interesting as Lois Lane finally finding a man worthy of her time.
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