Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 4 - Episode 11: "Twas the Night Before Mxymas"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: December 15, 1996
Directed by Michael Vejar
Written by Tim Minear & Jeff Vlaming
Howie Mandel as Mr. Mxyzptlk
Beverly Garland as Ellen Lane
Harve Presnell as Sam Lane
Keene Curtis as William B. Caldwell
Monty Hoffman as Bartender
Michael Monks as Bank Robber
James DuMont as Ralph
Ben McCain as Newscaster
Pancho Demmings as Cop
Brandi Andres as Brenda
Lois stresses over Christmas shopping while Clark tries to help her enjoy the simple pleasures of the holidays. Superman is called into action to stop a fire at a children's hospital. Mr Mxyzptlk, an imp from the fifth dimension plots to track him there. Lois begins to grow anxious due to the pressure of Christmas but ultimately Clark's relentlessly upbeat outlook rubs off on her.
Mxyzptlk plans to take over the universe by eliminating hope - he explains to a bartender that he will do this by "getting rid of tomorrow". He reveals himself to Clark who instantly realizes that this creature is not human. Mxy transports Clark back several hours to a bleaker version of the morning's events. Clark realizes he's trapped in a time loop as the people around him lose more and more hope. Eventually CK takes a proactive approach, stopping crimes before they happen and convincing Lois that they can restore hope in the increasingly depressed citizens. Mxyzptlk offers to restore time if Clark promises to leave Earth forever. Clark defies Mxyzptlk, stating that no matter what happens, he will always find a source of hope in the world. This defiant statement of hope makes Lois aware of the time loop and she helps Clark defeat Mxy by instilling hope back in the newsroom by singing Christmas carols. An enraged Mxy tries to convince the Daily Planet staff to succumb to hopelessness by exploiting their insecurities.
Superman tricks Mxy into saying his own name backwards and Mxy is banished to the fifth dimension.
Review Rating - 5 (out of 5): Well now this is a surprise.
As far as I can remember, I haven't watched this episode since it aired in 1996 - I seem to recall avoiding it when I first bought the DVDs and each subsequent rewatch I've groaned at the thought of watching it for some reason. Maybe it's the fact that it's deep into the fourth season, maybe it's the fact that it's a standalone Christmas episode, but something about it always stood out in my head as being mediocre. How wrong I was.
"Twas the Night Before Mxymas" is one of the truest Superman stories in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman". It's such a classic Superman story that it feels like it could have been written by Whitney Ellsworth, Elliott S! Maggin or Mark Millar (when he was good). It serves as further evidence that while season 4 may be the weakest season of "Lois & Clark" - it's Dean Cain's strongest as an actor. The scene where Mxyzptlk offers Clark the choice to leave Earth to restore normal time sees Cain deliver the line "I'm not going anywhere...there's always a little bit of hope left in the human spirit and I'll find it." And it made the hairs on my neck stand up. This is not the uncertain, unsure farm-boy Clark of season one - this is the mighty champion, the true SUPERMAN of season four, who has come to terms with his heritage, his humanity and his purpose in life and has the relentless, impenetrable courage of the character from the comics and the Christopher Reeve films. Crucially, as Clark is delivering his hope-speech, Lois awakens from her Mxy-induced slumber and becomes aware of the time loop. By coincidence or design, this is beautiful symmetry - in the early episodes it was Lois' unwavering belief in the idea of Superman that transformed Clark from a struggling, neurotic vigilante into a champion of justice. Now Clark truly has become that idea and he is able to return the favor. It speaks volumes not only about the character of Superman, but of the importance of Lois Lane - not only as a love interest, but as a catalyst for the formula of the Man of Steel. While I may not always care for "Smallville" or the cinematic efforts of Zack Snyder, I will admit that they understood the symbiotic importance of Lois and Clark as well - they just never quite executed it as well as "Lois & Clark".
Howie Mandel really surprised me in his turn as Mxyzptlk. I've often posited that the character is essentially 'Q' from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and that if used correctly, could be a stunning villain for Superman to face. After all, Superman's arch-enemy is a bald industrialist with no superpowers - of course an extra-dimensional trickster would represent a greater threat to Clark than thinly veiled Bill Gates proxies or yuppie Luthor-wannabes. As an Irishman who isn't au fait with Canadian standup stars, I mainly know Howie Mandel from "America's Got Talent," one of Simon Cowell's most beloved (and most risible) exports. What a surprise then that he appears genuinely menacing and genuinely funny in the role. Mxy is a tricky character to realize in a live action setting - personally, I have no desire to see a short, stocky bald man in a purple bowler hat traipsing around in a colorful suit (should you wish to cringe until your eyes bleed, check out Academy Award-winner Michael J. Pollard, doing exactly that, seemingly while drunk on the "Superboy" show, from just a few years before this) and for that reason I roll my eyes every time fans complain that he hasn't been done properly in this or that live-action incarnation (Smallville way back when and then Supergirl quite recently). This is probably the most sensible version of him I've seen - clad in Shakespearean costume drama-garb, but very much the playful imp of the comics. Mandel is so strong in the role that I wish the showrunners had seen fit to have him as a recurring villain - what a great replacement 'Big Bad' he would have been after John Shea's Lex-it from the series. Perhaps a supernatural villain in a generally realistic-ish superhero show felt a bit too much like a shark-jump in the 1990s.
What else is there to say? I loved the Kents' ongoing regression into anxiety over the state of their farm, I liked the running joke that Jimmy always seems to have a new girlfriend with whom he's smitten (admittedly they could have milked this a bit more) and my heart sank for poor old Perry that he never got to be Santa for his young ones. Even Ralph, the annoying half-baked comic relief character (and his increasingly drunken professions of love) kind of worked in this episode (even if I wish he was Steve Trevor from the comics, played by a bigger actor).
There wasn't really any particularly interesting special effects this week (although there was some good wirework for Mxy) and honestly I thought the effect of Mxyzptlk transfiguring the barking dog into a toy was a bit overdone. There was also a lot of "cape-out" in this episode. But this wasn't an episode that needed mind-blowing special effects. I didn't need to believe a man could fly this week - I needed to believe a man could have so much courage that he could stare ultimate evil in the face and say, "No." And that's what this episode gave me. Truly one of the best episodes of "Lois & Clark" and a truly great Superman story in its own right.
Next week we finally meet Perry's son and Biff Tannen himself has something to say about it in 'Lethal Weapon'.
Back to the "Lois & Clark - Episode Reviews" Contents page.