Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episode 4: "The Prankster"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: October 9, 1994
Directed by James Hayman
Written by Grant Rosenberg
Bronson Pinchot as Kyle Griffin/The Prankster
Rick Overton as Victor
JD Cullum as Randall Loomis
Charles Emmett as Plant manager
John Fleck as Mick Barrows
Harold Gould as Edwin Griffin
Ossie Mair as Jewelry Store Owner
Jean Montanti as Scientist
At a modern art show, Lois, Clark, Jimmy and Perry admire some strange pieces of art. During the show, Lois receives a gift from someone claiming to be her secret admirer. The gift is a jack-in-the-box which contains a caricature model of Pavarotti, which proceeds to play a recording of operatic music, much to Lois' delight. However, soon the recording starts to loop on a deafeningly high frequency, shattering all of the glass nearby. While everyone is distracted, a waiter steals a priceless diamond from one of the displays. Clark uses his heat vision to destroy the singing Pavarotti.
Lois gets another gift at the newsroom, a diamond ring which irritates her finger as soon as she puts it on. Clark points out that it's been coated with some sort of chemical. Lois and Clark go to a jewelers to try and track down where the ring was set and there they realize that Lois' secret admirer might be Randall Loomis, a man who pined for her to the point of obsession during her college years. Upon arriving at Loomis' home however, they discover that he is extremely wealthy and happily married to a beautiful woman. An embarrassed Lois attempts to play up her success in the world of journalism, which Clark finds extremely amusing.
Kyle Griffin, the waiter who stole the diamond, discusses his plans to get even with Lois Lane with his henchman Victor, a man who holds a masters degree in engineering but who Griffin nevertheless views as dim-witted. Griffin and Victor dress up as public workers and use a chemical-slick to cause a truck carrying high-tech computer chips to crash. In the confusion, Griffin and Victor steal one of the computer chips from the truck.
Lois and Clark's car slides along the slick. Clark opens the door and presses his foot against the ground, slowing the car down. When Lois asks him why he thought to do this, she tells him to stop watching Flintstone cartoons. After exiting the car, Lois falls over and is nearly run over by an out of control car. Superman saves her and clears the street of the strange chemical with his heat vision.
Lois' "secret admirer" sends her a message by hacking into the scoreboard at a baseball game in Metropolis. The media dubs him "The Prankster" in response to this. Lois and Clark note that the only way to hack into something as sophisticated as the scoreboard would be if one were to have the same computer chip as the one stolen from the truck earlier that day. They deduce that the slick and the resulting crash must have been a diversion so that the persons involved could steal the chip.
The Prankster takes over the television airwaves and makes a promise to blow up one of the city's foremost laboratories (not naming the particular laboratory) in the next minute to prove his 'love' for Lois. Superman tracks the bomb down to a ChemEx building and just as he is about to neutralize it, a joke-flag pops out of the device and the man responsible reveals it to be simply another prank. Meanwhile, with the workers evacuated, Griffin and Victor break into a different laboratory (seeing as how the Prankster never specified which lab was going to blow up, the workers evacuated every laboratory across the city) and steal a stew of rare, powerful substances.
Lois and Clark get a tip from a source who claims to know who the Prankster is, having spent time with him in prison. However, the source is demanding $10,000 for the information. Lois and Clark try to reason with the man, but when the man receives a mysterious phone call, a high-frequency pulse travels through the phone line, killing the source instantly. Lois and Clark identify the source as Mick Barrows and discover that Barrows' cellmate in prison was Kyle Griffin, an illegal arms dealer who Lois helped expose and send to prison in one of her earliest articles with the Daily Planet, five years prior.
That evening, Lois begins to feel very frightened in her apartment, worried that Griffin has booby-trapped one of her everyday utilities. She receives a phone call and cautiously picks up, relieved that it's Perry calling to see if she's all right. However, the line is cut off and she receives another call from Griffin who vows to kill her.
Lois suddenly arrives at Clark's apartment with pizza and rented movies, claiming that she wants to spend time with her friend. Clark can tell that she's panicking about something and manages to learn that Griffin called her. He invites her to stay the night and she quickly falls asleep on his shoulder while they watch "Lethal Weapon".
Lois and Clark visit Kyle Griffin's father, hoping to get information on the man's son. Instead of helping them, Griffin, Sr. is very vague and instead potters around his workshop showing them the different toys he has made over his career. He shows them a toy of a tennis court made with real red clay, only available in one part of the city, he digs it up himself. Clark asks him about the items stolen and what Kyle might be doing with them. Griffin explains that he must be building a weapon of some sort but that he'd need plutonium to power the weapon. Lois decides to head to the one lab where plutonium exists in Metropolis and Clark promises to meet her back at the Daily Planet. When the reporters have left, Griffin telephones his son and warns him that they're on their way.
The staff of the lab have been incapacitated with nitrous oxide. As soon as Lois enters the building, she is overcome by the gas as well, laughing uncontrollably. Wearing gas masks, Griffin and Victor successfully steal the plutonium and kidnap Lois.
Clark examines the laboratory later on, while Jimmy takes photos. Using his microscopic vision, Clark spots bits of red clay, suggesting that Kyle Griffin is hiding out in the part of the city where red clay exists.
Having successfully built his weapon, a vaporizing laser cannon, Griffin exhibits its awesome power to Lois by destroying the phony public works vehicle he and Victor used earlier. He then points it at the Daily Planet. Luckily, Superman deflects the first barrage of laser-fire, but Griffin notes that the Man of Steel was significantly weakened by the blast and another should kill him. Lois springs into action and subdues Victor and Griffin, deactivating the laser and retrieving the gun with which Victor was using to keep her against her will.
The following day, the headlines show how Lois stopped the Prankster. Jimmy theorizes that Kyle Griffin's father must have been in on the scheme since Kyle knew that Lois would be at the lab. Perry delightedly praises him for this sound deduction and allows him to call the police.
Clark sends her yellow roses as a sign of friendship. Lois pours coffee on them, mistakenly believing them to be from Kyle Griffin. Clark tells her that they cost him $50.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): This episode was a delight for a number of reasons. Like Lois' description of "Lethal Weapon 3", it's a little bit silly at the start, but it gets a lot better.
The writing is sharper than "The Source," the plot is more interesting (even if its wrought with a lot of the same old cliches) and the episode really succeeds at developing an atmosphere of madcap comedy in a way that the series eventually tried to do in every other episode, always failing miserably. Best of all is Bronson Pinchot as Kyle Griffin. Pinchot is a better actor than a lot of the villainous guest stars on this show and he injects real threat and menace into a character that is mostly played for laughs.
Yes, this isn't the comic book version of the Prankster, something the episode goes out of its way to remind us (even going as far as showing us a version of the comic book character, with a confusingly altered first-name). But the modus operandi is more or less still there: it's still a bad guy who uses funny pranks to commit crimes. More importantly than his similarity (or lack thereof) to his comic book counterpart though, two things struck me regarding Kyle Griffin/The Prankster:
1) His scheme of warning people on television that he was going to blow up an unspecified laboratory in the city was humorously similar to the how the Joker blows up Gotham General Hospital in "The Dark Knight" (except that Griffin's threat turns out to be a hoax). I know it's a fairly tried and tested maneuver and the way it's done in this episode is just to move the plot along rather than further examine the motivations of the characters (like in "The Dark Knight"), but it was a fun little similarity all the same; especially seeing as how "The Prankster" was created as an analogue of the Joker that could appear in Superman comics, just like The Trickster in the Flash, who was notably played by Mark Hammill in the live-action "The Flash" TV series, where his performance had huge similarities with later performances as the Joker in "Batman: The Animated Series".
2) Rather than the Prankster, Kyle Griffin actually reminded me a lot more of an even more important Superman villain: the Silver-Age Lex Luthor, or more accurately the Gene Hackman version of Luthor. Griffin is every bit the genius, two-bit schemer Luthor was in that era, except that the guts of his technological genius come from his lackey Victor, a man who is obviously very similar in every other respect to Otis. Despite being suave and sophisticated, Griffin is a man on the run, constantly irritated by the everyday inadequacies of his right-hand man (just as Otis, Tessmacher and Lenny all rubbed Luthor the wrong way) and motivated by a thirst for revenge against Lois Lane (just as Luthor's motivations of revenge against Superman was his defining characteristic in the Silver and Bronze Age stories). I'm not sure if this was intentional or just coincidental, but the similarity between the scolding remarks Griffin makes to Victor and the way Luthor treats Otis like dirt is hard to ignore.
In many ways, it's a pity Griffin didn't become a recurring villain in this show (Bronson Pinchot only made one more appearance as the character). His presence would have greatly strengthened other less effective episodes and would have given the writers an excuse to think up more inventive pranks for him to use. On the "Superboy" show, the episodes featuring Lex Luthor (played by Sherman Howard; who was more in-line with the Silver/Bronze Age incarnations of the character) as a recurring villain (as opposed to an overall-villain like in the first season of "Lois & Clark") were mostly great and made up for the many, many dire episodes of that series as a whole. It's a pity "Lois & Clark" didn't have more recurring villains like this.
When examining the blossoming romance between Lois and Clark, this episode is mostly a filler, but there are a few really, really excellent scenes nonetheless. The scene where Lois and Clark visit "Randall Loomis" (what's wrong with the name 'Oswald'?!) is just priceless. For better or worse, Clark's show-stopping thumbs up to Loomis at the end of the scene was actually used as a Superman Homepage Caption Contest picture a few years ago. Certainly, Loomis' bombshell wife was far too scantily-clad for it to make any sense that she'd open the door to the two reporters, but the hilarity of the dialogue made up for that lapse in logic.
The other really great Lois/Clark scene was obviously when a panicked Lois arrives at Clark's apartment with pizza and the "Lethal Weapon" (at that point) trilogy. What I liked about this was how Clark was almost instantly able to make Lois feel completely safe, to the point where she'd fall asleep on his shoulder, only a few minutes after arriving. It's also hilarious hearing farmboy Clark talk about how sometimes he feels like he needs to be more of a 'wildman' like Mel Gibson. The obvious Superman connection here is that Richard Donner directed all of the "Lethal Weapon" movies. Maybe the writers knew that, maybe they didn't, it's still cool.
A few small complaints to make, as usual. When Griffin and Victor cause the truck to crash, it seems very clear to me that they're using an oil slick. However, when Superman examines it, he describes it as being "some kind of chemical" and then uses his heat vision to clear it up. This seemed to me to be a really shabby way of explaining away the visual effect of Superman's laser eyes "clearing" the chemical, rather than it going on fire (which would have happened if it was oil). It plays like a last-minute adjustment to a flawed script, by a writer who realized that heat sets oil on fire.
- The shot where Superman is examining the ChemEx lab and spots the bomb is a horrible blue-screen/matte image shot where it looks like the production team just didn't even try. Luckily it only lasts for about three or four seconds.
- There's the obvious technological tomfoolery that is to be expected from a television show made in the 1990s. Griffin steals "a computer chip" that gives him the power to hack into sophisticated hardware across the city? Nope. Computers don't work that way (although comic books often do). It doesn't bother me that much, but it's awkward watching it now. Still, "Smallville" has done stuff like this plenty of times and the majority of its episodes were produced during a more technologically advanced period.
- Griffin, Sr. makes this huge deal out of a really cool phone he made out of a toy cross-section model of the human body, complete with a thoroughly 90s joke about how when you return someone's calls you can say "I'm colon you back!". It always annoyed me as a kid how Griffin called his son at the end of the scene using a boring 1990s cellphone, instead of this awesome prop.
One last observation before we go: I pointed out how this episode succeeded in creating a goofy, madcap atmosphere rather than suffered because of it. There's this one scene though that is just so completely corny and terrible that it goes all the way back to being absolutely brilliant television. A head scientist at the lab where Griffin stole the plutonium explains to Clark (with a completely straight face) that he tried to stop Griffin, but he was laughing too hard. Then Jimmy approaches him and asks him to smile like he did when he breathed the gas. The previously stoic man's face explodes into the creepiest, most wide-eyed grin I've seen in ages. The absurdity of the scene is akin to the bit in "Superman III" where Gus Gorman bluffs his way into the Wheatking offices, with a case of booze and a similarly ridiculous wide-eyed gawk.
Next week the season's overall arc kicks into overdrive as we're introduced to smokin' District Attorney Mayson Drake and schemin' crime-boss Bill Church and "The Church of Metropolis".
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