Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 4 - Episode 10: "Stop The Presses"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: December 8, 1996
Directed by Peter Ellis
Written by Brad Kern
Charles Esten as Ethan Press
Jeff Juday as Eric Press
Raymond O'Keefe as The Colonel
James DuMont as Ralph
Bahni Turpin as Carly
Krisinda Cain as Darlene
When Perry is suddenly promoted to a corporate role in the upstairs offices of The Daily Planet, Lois is temporarily instated as the new editor-in-chief. She and Clark worry that her new role may cause problems within their relationship but they make a promise not to let their work lives interfere with their personal lives.
Dilettante Ethan Press kidnaps his hacker brother Eric to help him in his plot to kill Superman. Ethan idolized Lex Luthor and blames Superman for his death. They stage a lab explosion to test the effect on Superman. When the effects are minimal, they discuss Superman's bio electric aura and how it would take an incredible force to drain it. They plan to hack the Pentagon mainframe and steal a weapon known as the Quantum Disbander.
As Lois settles into her new role, she and Clark begin to clash on her executive decisions - she takes him off the story he's been working on as she doesn't believe there's enough evidence that the lab explosion is connected to Eric Press's hacking skills. Later when the Kents come over for dinner, Lois and Clark are so distracted by their duties (Lois as editor of the Planet, Clark as Superman tending to Ethan Press' schemes) that Jonathan and Martha are left eating alone.
The Press brothers activate a test rocked containing a nuclear warhead to attempt to weaken Superman once again. Superman fuses the fuel lines and his energy is largely depleted but he quickly recharges.
Lois and Clark have a heated argument in her office and end up not speaking to each other. Sensing that something is wrong, Martha and Jonathan give them some words of encouragement and they make up. Lois discovers there might be meat to Clark's hacker story and discovers that Superman's life may be in danger.
The Press brothers use their hacking skills to arm another nuclear warhead. Superman flies to the rescue, disposing the warhead in a containment well, but he narrowly escapes the blast and it severely weakens him. Ethan Press use the stolen quantum disbander on Superman and they nearly manage to kill him but Superman opens the silo doors by using his heat vision on the activator. The burst of sunlight recharges his powers and he destroys the weapon. Lois crashes her car through the silo wall just as Superman finishes tying up the two brothers.
The following day, Lois and Perry decide to return to their old jobs as neither of them have been enjoying their new roles.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): A strong examination of how careers can affect a young marriage puts this episode slightly ahead of previous efforts in this season. Truthfully, it just about scrapes a four out of five as it succumbs to many of the typical season four pitfalls, but there's enough goodness here that credit should be given where credit is due.
It's rare that we get a look at the inner workings of the Daily Planet - so often it's merely a staging point for the plot and the key characters that occupy it (Jimmy, Perry) are exposition monkeys, but in "Stop the Presses" it feels like a real workplace again. I don't particularly care for James DuMont's character 'Ralph' (and what a shame they couldn't have substituted him for an actual Superman character like Steve Trevor) but his inclusion (along with a number of other jobbing reporters seen throughout the episode) give the place an energy that hasn't been seen since Season 1. There's a great scene where Perry is doing his handover with Lois and he steps her through the various admin duties she'll have as well as advising her on negotiating around deadlines and not to let the sales department push her around. Having worked in similar industries as the characters in this show, I find it impressive that this level of detail and research seems to have gone into making the Daily Planet feel real, when so many other episodes have made it feel far too ridiculous to exist in reality.
Similarly, this is the first time in a while where I feel like Lois has exhibited some of the cut-throat go-getter qualities she so often displayed in earlier seasons. Her whoop of delight when she is chosen for the editor role is very amusing and utterly Lois-like. It's strange that Clark would even be seriously considered for this role over Lois, given her success even before Clark arrived at the Planet. It bothered me a great deal watching the old George Reeves "Adventures of Superman" how Clark would instantly assume leadership duties in Perry White's absence - surely Lois had been there a lot longer than him?
The tensions caused by Lois' new position create a fresh new dynamic for Lois and Clark. As her husband, he wants to support this great new opportunity for her career. As her subordinate, he grows frustrated by her leadership decisions. Honestly, one of the biggest pitfalls in the episode lie in how quickly the status quo is pieced back together so quickly in the closing scene - this episode could have laid the groundwork for an excellent new take on the Superman mythos just as fresh as the reveal of Superman's identity to Lois in the previous season. Perry's character was growing stale anyway - why not give him an administrative role and let him segue out of the series gracefully? Obviously the episode is over twenty years old now and the landscape of network television was so different back then (plus Lois & Clark's ratings struggled with the advent of new storytelling angles) so it's hard to begrudge the writers, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
The other main pitfall of the episode is that the villains again, are totally forgettable. Yet another tenuous link is made to the legacy of Lex Luthor, but this time it's not a blood relative - it's not even an associate of his. It's just a pair of Lex fanboys who idolized him for some reason. Almost all of the Press brothers' scenes are relegated to a small room with shots of them arguing around a computer. Veteran TV actor Charles Esten (who would go on to appear in shows like ER, The Office and most recently Nashville) and 'Step by Step' regular Jeff Juday do their best with their material but it feels like the writers, while still enthusiastic about the character drama between Lois and Clark - have lost interest in the necessary Superman portions of the episode. Personally I don't take issues with this - the series always worked better when it stuck to being a character-driven romantic comedy rather than a superhero action series (although it has been good at that too). "Stop the Presses" would have worked far better if it had been completely devoid of a Superman plot and just used him as a background device to create more tension around Lois' new position. Unfortunately again, it feels like the writers' hands were tied.
A few stray observations:
- While I thought the Superman sequences weren't particularly necessary this episode, they were well-executed. Watching Superman taking the full brunt of a nuclear test rocket exhaust was really cool, although I did find myself wondering why his cape is suddenly indestructible? Given that this is post-crisis Superman, aren't his suits supposed to be made of ordinary material and sewn by Martha Kent? Maybe the New Kryptonians left behind some indestructible materials for Martha.
- There's some great missile silo stock footage used in this episode. It gives the episode a much-needed cinematic feel.
- The Quantum Disbander effect was a bit lacking I thought - it needed a 'beam' and the effect of someone's atoms disassembling just didn't quite cut it.
- Lois has a 'LexTel' phonebook by her desk - it's interesting to spot all these Luthor-themed props sitting around the world of Metropolis. Is LexCorp still operating in some capacity after all the controversies?
- Jimmy's forgettable subplot sees him trying to dodge a slightly creepy girl named Darlene with whom he went on one date. Darlene is played by Dean Cain's sister Krisinda Cain. Her father and Dean's stepfather is director Christopher Cain who worked on a number of fairly well-known films throughout the 1990s including 'The Next Karate Kid' and 'Gone Fishin'
Next week it's Christmas time in Metropolis and what's more Christmassy than a fifth-dimensional imp? Howie Mandel of all people, plays the supervillain with the most unpronounceable name in "Twas the Night Before Mxymas". See you then, super friends!
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