Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Pilot Episode

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

I have to say, going into this, that I feared another Superboy. Not to knock Superboy. It was a good show. It had its time...when I was very, very young the show had a great deal of appeal. And as a grown-up, now, it still has a great deal of nostalgic appeal, much in the sense that Lois and Clark is growing into a fond memory in my mind, for all of the experiences I had watching the shows with friends, experiencing the stories I hadn't heard, living the retelling of legends past in comics I'd read. There was always this seeming inability to convey the story from the comic to the screen, something I could never get over.

But now, with that said, let me also bring to the fray that if you're expecting something that will rectify that feeling of loss one gets when a comic book is not faithfully transcribed to the screen, then you are in for a staggering loss or gain, depending upon what kind of a fanboy you are.

There are the die-hards, who believe that everything must be the exact same thing they've seen before. The people who were disgusted with X-Men because Wolverine wasn't in yellow tights and Rogue was young enough to be his daughter. The people who loved the original Superman movie because it followed, essentially, the comic book in every sense save Otis and Luthor's hair (even that being dealt with, eventually). You will more than likely find Smallville abhorrent.

Then there are the people more than open to creative interpretation of established heroes. The people who loved the Dark Knight. The people who liked The Phantom Menace. The people who liked X-Men. You will more than likely love Smallville.

I expected Dawson's Creek with an S. I got a Superman show. And I tell you, friends, this makes me very, very happy.

The story is simple, but changed. Lex lost his hair because of Superman, much like he did in the comics of old, but this time because of the meteor shower which brings his ship into Smallville, rather than because of a lab. There is Lana, and she is in love with a jock, looking for Clark's attention as always (not Pete Ross, surprisingly, but rather just a goon in a letter jacket... regardless, it works). There are two additional characters, a reporter and a young friend of Clark's, who will make life interesting in the near future. Or at least give him a hard time keeping his secret. That's the basic set-up...drama characters for a drama series. What's important here is how they're used.

If I had to compare this show to anything I'd experienced, recently, it would have to be the feeling of having my head utterly blown off by the ending of Unbreakable. I will not be giving away the ending in this review, but suffice it to say that if one watches that film, and then the premiere of Smallville, a dynamic very present in the film, the dynamic that, in fact, makes the film, is a central running theme being set up in this series. That of Lex Luthor and Clark Kent as adversaries/allies. Clark's idealism, inspired by his father sometimes, sometimes by himself, is to an extreme. Lex is more than obviously oriented towards money, but he's trying to make it in the best fashion for all involved, it would seem, while still maintaining his Lex persona. This is something to watch in future episodes.

Lana and Clark have a bit tenser relationship. Clark wants Lana, Lana is wanted by everyone, and this puts Clark in the position of having nothing to offer that these jocks apparently do...but the pain of the matter is that he does. He's a flying man! He's invincible. She'd love him in a second if she knew what he was really like... but he can't tell her. That's the dynamic there. It's nice.

Then there's Clark and his father. Pa makes Clark return a vehicle that he gets from Lex for saving his life. Clark is angry, at first, then relents. We see his idealism forming. It's fairly obvious that the father will play a large part in this series as a moral mediator and a reason to become, eventually, Superman.

All that aside, there's also the final dynamic, the fanboy dynamic. Goons, adventure, and special effects. And this is also provided, in abundance.

We've got your bitter electricity man, who almost seems thrown in. He's a silly villain, but he's not meant to threaten Clark, but rather give him a character motivation. The electro-man has also experienced the Scarecrow experience, and has gone evil. Clark must go through the Scarecrow experience and come out good. This is an excellent comparison and a good plot device, in my opinion.

And though the villain himself is grade-B cheese, and stinky cheese at that, the action scenes are surprisingly good. Movie quality in a TV show. And not only in the final confrontation scene. The action throughout the show is anything but parsimonious, at some points downright chilling, for instance when the Langs are killed by a falling meteor and explode in front of their daughters eyes, or when, flattened in a cornfield, the young Lex clings crying to pieces of his hair. Clark is hit by a car and flies off a bridge. This could be a very easy cut for the director, instead the hit is shown close and very deliberately, illustrating in a way we haven't seen a human who is invincible. The super-speed is spot-on. Better than we've ever seen it. The Super-strength doesn't come across as contrived. I bought it. I'm just waiting to see the X-Ray vision and flight. With my breath held.

I'm a Superman geek. I watched the Super-friends. I watched the Superman Cartoon. I was a Superboy fan in its time, and I still have Lois and Clark tapes in my closet somewhere.

Now...THAT said, let me issue this piece of praise.

This show, thusfar, knocks all of these out of the water. The only Superman depictions I've ever seen that beat the dynamics, stories, and special effects of Smallville are the first three Superman movies, and even 2 and 3 focussed less on plot, more on Superman looking like he should.

Is this worth a watch? Yes. Hell Yes. Super Hell Yes.

Is it worth a watch every week? That remains to be seen.

More to come...

All in all: 5 of 5.

Back to the "Smallville: Episode Reviews" Contents page.

Back to the main TELEVISION page.