Superman on Television

Superboy: Episode Reviews

Season 1 - Episode 1: "The Jewel of Techacal"

Reviewed by: Scotty V


On October 8th, 1988, a syndicated television version of Superboy premiered in the United States. Viacom, a division of Paramount, brought the show to screens everywhere and it was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who also produced the first three Superman films and Supergirl. It has been said that this show can be viewed as a companion series or a missing piece in the original tales told by the Salkind films, though it's difficult to see how that can be as there are many irreconcilable differences between the history told here and the history in those films.

While the show is quite a dated and somewhat campy affair to watch now, it certainly holds its own charms in entertainment value. For me, I find that laughing at some of the absurdity, dated special effects and sub-par acting add to my personal enjoyment; though for some, as I've been told, this show is apparently considered one of the better versions of the Super-TV shows to date. In light of that fact, and though I wouldn't personally agree, I will break down my first episode review to what I consider the bare essentials and keep it a little more concise, rather than comedic.

In this first episode, which aired as the pilot, we find no particular or proper introduction to the characters and are left a bit in the dark as to who these people are, where they fit in in the Superman/boy mythos or what significance to what we've seen previously they hold. There was however, a more appropriate pilot episode (Countdown to Nowhere) that appeared as the fifth episode to air and will be reviewed in that order, that somewhat makes up for the lack of exposition or proper introductions.

In the main cast of characters, we find some familiar names as well as a new character or two, here and there, that often leave very little mark. Clark Kent/Superboy (Jonathan Haymes Newton), who is played as more of a serious college journalist than a clumsy, stumbling nerd as seen in the original films. Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) is portrayed, in the beginning, as a bit of a stuck up childhood friend of Clark's and T.J. White (Jim Calvert) is one of Clark's best friends and the son of a certain well-known Editor-in-Chief. Throughout the first season, another semi-regular character is Lex Luthor (Scott Wells), who appears every once in a while as a campy, criminally minded student body president.


In this makeshift pilot episode, we are introduced (albeit sloppily) to Professor Thomas Lang (Peter White), a prominent archaeologist whose life's work has estranged him from his family and caused a rift between he and his daughter Lana. Lang has chosen Shuster University, where the kids go to college, to display his latest find, the Jewel of Techacal, because he wants to reacquaint himself with his daughter. Lana is continually unwilling to accept her father's attempts at affection and instead spurns him almost immediately because he pays too much attention to his work and not enough attention to her.

Meanwhile, Lex and his henchman Leo (Michael Manno) scheme to steal some of the priceless artifacts the Professor has brought to display. Lex begins his plot by seemingly sabotaging Professor Lang's plane, to which Superboy must intervene and rescue, and he then goes on to pilfer the artifacts, including the Jewel, which has strange, curse-like powers. Professor Lang has been attacked by the Jewel and is in the hospital dying of an unknown ailment and then Superboy, who tries to stop Lex from stealing the Jewel, is knocked unconscious when he takes it from Lex and Lex gets away.

When Superboy awakens, he tracks down Lex and Leo, who are escaping in Leo's sister's Ford Mustang, and has them arrested. In the end, Superboy flies the Jewel back where it came from, Lana's father is miraculously cured, the Langs make up and all is well at Shuster.

2Rating - 2 (out of 5): This is a very simple story and it isn't told particular well. The characters aren't particularly fleshed out, with the exception of Clark/Superboy and we don't really get any explanation for why people act the way they do. While it's clear that Lana hates her father, he seems nice enough and sincere in his attempts to reunite with her and she simply comes off as unlikable. There is no particular reason for the Jewel, which is explained by the Professor's aide as being cursed, to affect only Superboy and the Professor but not Lex or Leo or the aide, who have also come into contact with it. Because of this inconsistency, I find myself thinking when it happens, that it doesn't make sense, rather than being concerned for the characters and so some of the intended drama is lost. Lex, supposedly the "Greatest Criminal Mind of our time," simply walks into the display room and takes the artifacts with no real plan of escape, other than to drive away. Because of this, Lex comes off as a silly, rather than genius-level villain who again works with a clumsy, stupid henchman like Leo and has no thought for self-preservation.

The acting is one of the weakest points of the show in many of the first season episodes. Newton and Haiduk pull off their jobs rather well but everyone else is, at best, very forgettable. Newton plays Clark much the way I prefer - as a much more confident, yet studious journalist who is not nearly as nerdy or geeky as the Christopher Reeve version and his Superboy is very similar to the Reeve Superman. Many of Newton's dialogue as Superboy, as well as his stances and walk are very indicative of Reeve's and this adds to his Superman-ish quality. I knock him a bit for his flying style, as it often looks very clumsy when he puts his arms in front of his face and flails them about a bit. Haiduk, although she's not given much in this first episode beyond acting prissy and stubborn, occasionally gets to show her sweetness toward her friends and, to her credit, is also able to pull off the stuck-up, standoffish attitude as well.

Jim Calvert's style is passable but nothing about him really stands out. He isn't given much to do in this particular episode and, as we'll see in future reviews, this might actually be a good thing because he's not so great. Scott Wells is definitely and easily the worst actor to ever portray Lex Luthor. When he doesn't appear to be reading directly from cue cards (and barely reading at that) he's delivering his lines in such a halting manner of speech that it's hard to watch him at all. It has been said that a hero needs a villain the audience will love to hate but with Wells, you simply just hate all of his screen time and there is nothing to love... at all.

The flying effects in this episode are up and down. While the takeoffs and landings are just as good as the original films, the in-the-sky shots, side views and perspective shots are often way off. In one scene, when Superboy catches up to Lex after the theft, Superboy flies up next to the escape vehicle and tells him to "Pull over Lex. Pull over." The scene is hard to watch without laughing. Superboy seems way too small and it's painfully obvious none of the characters are actually occupying the same space.

Overall I would have to say that if this show was pitched in its finished state today, I can't imagine any company or network, syndicated or otherwise, that would air it. That being said, I do enjoy watching it, as much for its nostalgia as for its absurdities.

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