Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Retrospective Series ReviewSmallville: A look back at 10 years of pre-Superman on TV.
Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Smallville is the first and only TV show I have ever watched where I was viewing the show every week from day one until the last for over 10 years. I have enjoyed televisions shows that have lasted anywhere from a dozen episodes (Firefly) to seven years (various Trek's and Buffy) but I have never watched a show religiously for an entire decade.
Even with my enjoyment of other long-lived TV series I never once made sure to catch every single episode. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek the Next Generation were perhaps the closest I came to this but I will freely admit that over the years I missed a handful of episodes here and there. Maybe it's because the subject matter being Superman I was more motivated. Maybe it was because of the invention of DVR's over VCR's which made recording shows much more reliable and simpler. Add to the fact that with Xbox Live and iTunes when I did have the occasional DVR glitch I was able to see the episode anyway for a minimal added cost.
I do wonder if this had something to do with Smallville lasting so long. Let's be real. If Smallville had been on any major network it would have ended years ago. The fact the show was a modest hit on a floundering TV network put it in a unique position almost unheard of. There was just no way The CW could bring in the ratings to support it but there was no way The CW could let it go either since nothing else was as consistent in bringing in at least a modest audience on a regular basis. The fact that Smallville was often doing pretty good with downloads and DVD sales simply had to factor into the choice to renew it year after year. A justification to the producers and the network to maybe spend a bit more than you would normally do for a show with its ratings.
One hopes this is a good sign for the future. As a Sci-Fi fan I have watched too many shows cut before they had a real chance and now that we've seen that, given a chance, a show like this can be profitable, even without being a major network or ratings hit.
Prior to Smallville I counted Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman as my all time favorite TV show. It was almost perfection on the small screen for about 2.5 seasons of its 4 year run. Even the last 1.5 season had its moments that I very much enjoy going back to and watching over again. In some ways I still like Dean Cain's version of Clark Kent the most out of any other live-action version of the character but I have to admit there is some unfairness in that view. Except for the two hour pilot Dean's version of Clark Kent was all post-Superman, where Tom Welling's version was all pre-Superman except for the final 5 minutes of the 10 year run. You'd expect Tom's version to have its ups and downs for that fact alone.
So let me be clear about that. I loved Smallville as a whole. A fantastic show but by no means a perfect show. It had its ups and its downs and had plenty of stuff in-between.
Let's break it down.
Smallville's biggest failure: The Lana/Clark Romance.
In my opinion the romance between Lana and Clark was an absolute and total failure. I am not saying that either actor was at fault here. Tom Welling and Kristin Kreuk had decent enough chemistry together and both acted the parts well, but this romance just dragged and dragged and dragged. I really think the producers and writers vastly underestimated trying to build a romance where their audience already knew it will fail. Sure at times it was decent and at times almost touching but anyone who knew the Superman story knew Lana was not his future. This just got amplified to the factor of 10 once Lois Lane showed up on the show, yet they STILL went back to the Lana relationship time and time again.
It was a never-ending roller-coaster of ups and downs that just made me want to fast forward through it by the end of Season 3. I just could not invest anything in it. Lana was nothing more than a block in Clark's way. Sure by the time they got to realizing Lana had to go the stories started playing her that way but by then I was already so tired of it.
Smallville's biggest success: Casting and Characterizations.
The main cast was spot on in every respect. Tom Welling carried the show in front of and behind the camera without a doubt, but personally I think the biggest success they had in casting was in the supporting roles. Erica Durance's Lois could very well be the best live-action version of Lois Lane ever put to film and it is going to be very difficult to top John Schneider's Jonathan Kent in my mind. I'll even admit that I was skeptical of Michael Rosenbaum as Lex initially but boy did he prove me dead wrong in a hurry.
Lois wasn't there from the beginning but made a big splash when she finally arrived. The chemistry between Erica Durance and Tom Welling was fantastic from the start. Erica from the get go embodied the character to perfection. Just the right amount of stubbornness, snark, and sass mixed with compassion and just a touch of emotional vulnerability. Perhaps the only knock on the character Lois Lane on this show was she had to play second fiddle to Lana for a few years before really shinning. The fact they were willing to bring her into the story at a different place in this version of Clark's journey, and were willing to mess around with the mythos a bit, was perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most. I love how they had her be there with Clark helping him develop his Superman persona. Whoever had that idea and gave it a green light should be given a prize.
No knocking Annette O'Toole, who I love, but John Schneider's Pa Kent was the highlight out of Clark's adoptive parents. This really shined in the end (years after he was dead even) but even early on you could see that right mixture of honesty, worldly wisdom, and even stubbornness that really should be a staple of Superman's personality. Maratha gave him his heart and compassion but Jonathan is the source of Clark's will of steel, and I think Smallville did a fantastic job showing this.
Lex Luthor: I don't want to call the casting of Michael Rosenbaum a risk but other than a shaved head there was nothing about his physical stature or presence that screamed Lex Luthor to me when I first started following the show. I quickly learned the error of my view on that.
Clark might have had some Superman qualities to start but Lex's journey was a longer one. He is by far the one character that grew/changed the most during the run of the series in such a powerful almost heartbreaking way. In fact had it been a new story with characters we didn't know I think a lot of people might have been crushed this nice guy/friend of Clarks' turned into such an evil S-O-B. In some ways we were shielded from the heartbreak by the fact as Superman fans we knew from the start where Lex was going. Whether it was evil Lex, friendly Lex, or just sneaky Lex, Mr. Rosenbaum played it to perfection.
I am not selling Tom Welling short by any means. He literally carried this show on his shoulders at times and I think we can safely say it would not have lasted anywhere near as long as it did without him in the top spot. His Clark was purposely up and down, and while as fans of Superman that can rub us the wrong way at times, you could never once say Mr. Welling wasn't giving it 100%.
Other characters the show introduced were fantastically cast and played. John Glover's Lionel Luthor is someone I would love to see incorporated further in the DCU and Allison Mack took on a difficult roll of bringing alive a character no Superman fan knew and solidly added her to Clark Kent's life.
It would probably take too long to list all the DCU characters brought to life on this show if even just briefly. Almost all of them were played by actors that really fit the part and the only real missteps I can think of throughout the 10 years were Maxima and Mxyzptlk and those were due to characterization and not necessarily any issues with the actors. Justin Hartley as Green Arrow, Philip Morris as Martian Manhunter, James Marsters as Brain-I.A.C, Laura Vandervoort as Kara Zor-El, and Michael McKean as Parry White were perhaps the highlight of the DCU characters brought to life on Smallville. Still even smaller lesser DCU characters were knocked out of the park. Other highlights to me were Lucas Gabriel as Connor Kent, Michael Shanks as Hawkman, Brian Austin Green as Metallo, Pam Grier as Amanda Waller, and Alaina Huffman as Black Canary but there were so many more characters I really enjoyed seeing brought to life, if even just briefly.
Now let me sort of take a moment to break down the seasons. Please note these are my opinions and in most cases based off of multiple viewings of each episode. My reviews/commentary always reflected my first viewing opinion. There are many episodes of Seasons 1-9 that I changed my mind about after a second or third viewing. (As of this writing I have not been able to see any episodes of season 10 a second time).
Season 1: Everything was new and exciting and even when not perfect nothing felt old and re-used so it was easily overlooked. If I had one knock it would be to say that they really over did the freak of the week but that was their plan.
Best Episode: Episode 1-1 The Pilot. It is where it all began and they hit a home run their first time at bat.
Best gust star: Amy Adams. Not because I really liked the fat-sucking vampire but you have to give her props for landing the Lois Lane roll in the next movie!
Worst Episode: Episode 1-7 "Craving". Okay, seriously. Fat-Sucking Vampire?
Best moment: The vision of Clark's future in episode 1-6 "Hourglass".
Worst moment: Episode 1-7 "Craving". Dear God that deer!
Season rank: 7th
Season 2: Started off with a bang with the tornado rescue and just kicked backside almost all year. They brought in the real Superman and had perhaps the best power discovery episode with Clark's puberty "issues" setting off his heat vision.
Best Episode: Episode 2-17 "Rosetta".
Worst Episode: Episode 2-14 "Rush": Worst episode in one of the top 3 seasons? Don't read too much into that. It was funny at times.
Best Gust Star: Could I say anything other than Christopher Reeve in Episode 2-17 "Rosetta" and still be taken seriously? Why would I? Hands down winner.
Best moment: In Episode 2-1 "Vortex" when Clark Saves Lana from the Tornado and then tells his father he thought he was flying. Runner up: Clark meeting Dr. Swann in 2-17.
Worst moment: Clark and Chloe making out in front of Pete in 2-14 "Rush". That was just cold.
Season rank: 5th
Season 3: Overall a great season but somewhat lacking in fantastic episodes. Only one really outright bad one when Pete put kryptonite in his gas tank. In some ways this Season's best parts were more about Lex than Clark. This is where Lex becoming a villain really picked up steam.
Best Episode: Tough one here. Lots of great episodes but no one clear winner as "best". After much thought I will have to go with 3-1 "Exile". Lex's delusion on the island and Clark being bad were both very well done.
Worst Episode: 3-13 "Velocity". Kryptonite powered cars? Seriously?
Best Gust Star: Michael McKean as Perry White in 3-5 "Perry".
Best moment: Ma and Pa Kent helping Clark focus his super-hearing in 3-10 "Whisper". Runner up has to be Papa Kent taking Red-K Clark over his knee in 3-1 "Exile".
Worst moment: Just about anything with Adam Knight.
Season rank: 6th
Season 4: A few very fantastic episodes and a number of really good ones but the Lana is a witch and the Teague story lines really dragged it down. Still we got Lois, the Flash, Tom Welling playing Lionel in Clark's body, and Krypto! We also got a handful of just outright bad episodes as well so it was admittedly mixed. I say though having Lana off with Jason got her out of Clark's life and I think that helped a lot. The Isobel story was perhaps the worst of the season-long plots of the series but since it got Lana away from Clark for a long time there is some redemption for it. Lastly, while I know some disagree with me, I really liked the mid-season story line with Alicia Baker and that could have never happened had Clark still been chasing Lana.
Best Episode: Episode 4-5 "Run" (First non Krypto-freak super).
Worst Episode: Episode 4-7 "Devoted" (Kryptonite Poweraid?)
Best Gust Star: Kyle Gallner as Bart Allen.
Best moment: Clark and Bart's final race out of town in 4-5 "Run". Runner up: Lionel in Clark's body in the loft.
Worst moment: Lana having an affair with a teacher at her high school. Oh and most parts with Isobel.
Season rank: 10th
Season 5: The Fortress is built, Clark rides a nuclear bomb, Aquaman comes to town and doesn't suck, Lois does a lap dance, Cyborg is born, Brain-I.A.C. is awesome, Lex is really getting evil, Lionel might be changed, and Clark ends the season banished to the Phantom Zone. The down side is Lana and Clark are back together (AGAIN) and Lois does a lap dance. (Ok my red-blooded heterosexual male side loved it but my critical side has to admit it was 100% a ratings ploy). We also got the Kryptonite Vampires but I was more disappointed they were not real Vampires.
Best Episode: Episode 5-9 "Lexmas". Sure it was more about Lex than Clark, but wow what a powerfully emotional episode.
Worst Episode: Episode 5-16 "Hypnotic" (Clark is mind controlled again?)
Best Guest Star: James Marsters as Brain-I.A.C./Milton Fine
Best Moment: Clark riding the nuclear bomb into space.
Worst Moment: Clark has sex with Lana without telling her he's a different species first.
Season rank: 9th
Season 6: Clark defeats Zod for the first time, Green Arrow comes to town, we get the proto Justice League joining together and we finally get super-breath. The season-long story line about the Phantoms from the zone was overall pretty good but there were way too many filler episodes in-between, which really made Clark look like he was blowing it all off too often. Plus Clark killed the plant lady. Can't really excuse that.
Best Episode: Episode 6-11 "Justice" (Really no other choice).
Worst Episode: Episode 6-3 "Wither". Poison Ivy rip off is killed by Clark.
Best Guest Star: A tie between Phillip Morris as the Martian Manhunter and Lynda Carter as Chloe's mom.
Best Moment: Lois telling Chloe how awesome a kisser the Green Arrow was when we all know it was really Clark in the costume. Runner up: The JLA taking out the Luthor Corp project.
Worst Moment: Clark vaporizing the plant lady. Superman doesn't kill.
Season rank: 8th
Season 7: Bizzaro, the real Kara Zor-El, Lara Jor-El, Black Canary, Lex goes totally evil, and some alternate universe fun. The whole Varitas story was a bit iffy but not outright terrible. Jimmy as a super spy was funny but almost too silly and God let's not even talk about Pete getting superpowers from chewing gum. Yet we are finally moving away from Lana and the show begins to transition to more of a Sci-Fi action adventure. This is the turning point for me even if it ends with Lex's final main cast appearance. Seasons 1-3 were fantastic and seasons 4-6 were up and down but seasons 7-10 were a whole new show to me even if they did manage to toss in a few stinker episodes along the way.
Best Episode: Episode 7-1 "Bizzaro".
Worst Episode: Episode "Hero" (Kryptonite gum? Seriously?)
Best Guest Star: A tie between Helen Slater as Lara and Dean Cain as Curtis Knox.
Best moment. Tie and both in the same episode... Clark laying into the flooding river with heat vision on overload and his punching Bizzaro into space.
Worst Moment: Stretchy basketball or Lana sleeping with Bizzaro... Take your pick.
Season rank: 4th
Season 8: Clark is pretty much moved to Metropolis and his relationship with Lois really starts to grow. Doomsday comes to town with an interesting take on the character and Clark's superhero identity begins to take shape. Chloe has Brain-I.A.C. in her head, the Legion of Superheroes comes from the future, and Zatanna comes to town. Plus we have that fantastic take on the triangle built for two using the phone booth. Clark's fight with Doomsday is disappointingly short but still awesome. Lana is only in a couple episodes but sadly one of them happens to be the worst episode of the series.
Best Episode: Episode 8-11 "Legion". The Legion of Superheroes were awesome but more so was Clark's unwillingness to let them kill the Chloe-I.A.C.
Worst Episode: Episode 8-13 "Power" by a wide margin. The whole Lana girl-power thing was so overdone and pathetic it almost ruined the character completely. The next episode "Requiem" was almost as bad but at least the Toyman parts are worth watching.
Best Guest Star: Ryan Kennedy, Callum Worthy, and Alexz Johnson as Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl.
Best Moment: Lois' first phone call conversation with the Red-Blue Blur.
Worst moment: Every minute of Episode 8-13 "Power".
Season rank: 3rd
Season 9: This is where I think the show really hit the sweet spot for me. No more Lana romance, Lois becomes fully Clark's girl, Clark has a costume and secret identity, and while there were a couple of mediocre episodes there were none that were outright terrible. Clark fights Metallo, Zombies, Toyman, Roulette, Checkmate, and Zod. We meet Hawkman, and a few other JSA members, Martha Kent returns in a great way, and the Wonder Twins come to town and are surprisingly not goofy. The Kandorian story line was well done and Callum Blue really nailed the Zod-Clone. Honestly this was basically "Superman year 1" for me. Sure he didn't have the name and there were a few things he needed to get into shape but Clark was basically Superman in everything but name at this point.
Best Episode: Episode 9-22 "Salvation". This was just a fantastic finale. The fight with Zod-Clone was intense and very well done. Lois discovering the "truth" about Clark because of a kiss was fantastic.
Worst Episode: Episode 9-4 "Persuasion" (more mind altering and a serious WTF ending).
Best Guest Star: Brian Austin Green as Metallo/John Corbin
Best moment: So many great moments this season. I'd say it's a tie between Clark taking down Zod, Clark and Lois fighting off Zombies together or Clark shutting one of Lois' rants down by putting a big kiss on her.
Worst moment: Clark eye-blasting the towers? Come on. What were they thinking?
Season rank: 1st
Season 10: The last one. Darkseid is coming, Clark and Lois are in love and solid as a couple, Clark's new costume is 10 times better than the trench coat, it's "Superman year 2" with perhaps two of the best episodes of the series in "Homecoming" and the Finale. We have Booster Gold, Granny Goodness, Clark turning into Superman, Lois helping him build his disguise, Connor Kent, and let's not forget the Lucky Lemur.
Note the below is not including the finale.
Best Episode: Episode 10-4 "Homecoming". Smallville Christmas story with Superman as the ghost of the future. Fantastic!
Worst Episode. Episode 10-12 "Collateral". Not terrible but Chloe as Neo was a bit too far fetched at times.
Best Guest Star: Teri Hatcher as Lois' mother.
Best Moment: Clark's proposal in front of the phone booth. Runner up: Clark meeting future Clark.
Worst Moment: Aquaman's wife's inability to find a swimsuit that can be zipped up in 10-9 "Patriot".
Season rank: 2nd
Best Episode: Episode 10-22. "Final Part 2". I might have wanted more Tom Welling as Superman and really wanted Lois to give him the name but the way thye wrapped up Clark becoming Superman was fantastic.
Worst Episode: Hands down without a doubt Episode 8-13 "Power".
Best Guest Star: Christopher Reeve. His appearing on the show gave it a legitimacy that I think really helped keep it alive all these years. Plus come on. It's Christopher Reeve!
Best DCU character depiction other than Superman's supporting cast: Phillip Morris as Martian Manhunter. I am almost disappointed we did not see more of him.
Worst DCU Character depiction: Mxyzptlk. Seriously. Not even close. I get they wanted to go realistic with it but man. Oddly enough the episode he was in wasn't all that bad. If they would have just called him something else.
Best moment: Jonathan Kent's spirit handing Clark Kent his Superman costume.
Worst Moment: As much as I'd like to go back to Lana getting powers again I might have to go with Kryptonite chewing gum power stretchy Pete here as the worst "Moment". Take your pick.
So in summary. A fantastic decade-long journey with some ups as well as downs. Not perfect but filled with some very powerful and memorable moments. A decent, if very different, version of a character I've known and loved personally for well over 35 years.
Thank you all for your time over the years. I really enjoyed adding random commentary about this show.
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