Superman on Television

Superboy: Episode Reviews

Season 1 - Episode 4: "The Russian Exchange Student"

Reviewed by: Scotty V


For the first time in the series, this 4th episode of Superboy opens with a "teaser scene" that introduces the dilemma of the episode before going to the opening titles. Professor Gordon (Ray Walston) is working in his lab when a computer blows up and a Russian exchange student working as his assistant is fingered. A fade-out to the opening titles, which have been changed a bit. While the music is the same only slightly amped, the layout is one showing various clips of the season so far, as well as some scenes yet to come. Throughout the sequence, the actors appear in Superman Shield shapes that come on screen between the action scenes and appear with the actors' names below them.

Because she has been blamed for sabotaging the Professor's computer and project, Natasha (Heather Haase) decides to go back to Russia because she can't stand not being liked. When she is told she must stay because the exchange can't be cancelled, Natasha tries her best to go back to her assistant duties. There is a budding relationship between Natasha and T.J. throughout the episode and so when trying to find the truth about the sabotage story, T.J. has lost his objectivity and refuses to even consider Natasha as the guilty party. On that matter, he and Clark find themselves at odds, only because Clark believes that every angle must be investigated before a decision is made.

During a demonstration of the Professor's latest formula to make gasoline more efficient and less dangerous to the environment, there's another sabotage (an explosion). Superboy shows up just in time to shield the professor when the jeep they are using his new gasoline formula on explodes. According to Professor Gordon, Ether found in the tank is what, when mixed with the gasoline, caused the vehicle to explode. So when a bottle of Ether is later found in Natasha's locker, the police assume she's guilty and give her three days to leave the country. T.J., who is sure Natasha is innocent, and Clark, who just wants to be sure of the truth, decide to investigate the matter further. Clark suggests he investigate the Professor, who may have reasons for he himself to sabotage the experiments, while T.J. takes to following Jeff, another of Gordon's lab assistants.

Clark finds no reason to believe the Professor is guilty, but T.J. stumbles upon a conspiracy that puts him in great danger. Jeff, who throughout the episode seemed close to the Professor and even defended Natasha, enters a building owned by an oil company. He speaks with Mr. Drake (Chase Randolph) who tells him the only thing he's interested in is making sure the Professor's new formula fails, because otherwise his company stands to lose a lot of money. Jeff assures Drake that things are well on their way to working out and that the Professor only has one more copy of the formula on disk. T.J. is discovered by security and Drake orders the photographer thrown out a window. Superboy catches him just in time, and then goes after Jeff.

Now at the lab with the Professor and Natasha, Jeff has tied up the two and threatens to kill the innocent Natasha unless Gordon gives up the disk with the formula on it. The Professor obliges, Jeff takes the disk and then sets fire to the lab anyway. Superboy crashes through the window and extinguishes the flame while T.J. and the authorities arrive and grab Jeff. The story ends with Natasha saying goodbye to T.J. She tells him the Professor has been invited to continue his experiments in Russia and that he's invited her to go with him. T.J. cries and as the plane takes off carrying his new love back home, he says he loves her.

2Rating - 2 (out of 5): Every episode so far has had its very first scene played like it was a lead-in to the credits. This is so apparent when you watch that it feels sloppy after the first scene when we fade out with dramatic music only to come right back in either where we were an instant ago or on another scene. In this episode, the powers that be give the lead in a shot, but unfortunately it doesn't work so well. In the scene we are shown four characters we do not know. The Professor is called Professor by one of the other characters so we can ascertain some sort of science work is going on. Within moments the computer terminal Professor Gordon is working on explodes. Throughout the episode the characters refer to this small explosion as a "glitch" and a "short" when it is in fact a small explosion with fire and smoke and everything. Jeff, the assistant who named the Professor for us, goes over to make sure he's ok, while two other people enter the room to see what happened. The man who enters, a janitor purportedly, points the finger at Natasha, whom we don't know yet, says she's the only one who was in the lab before them and therefore we're lead to believe she's the culprit. The problem, as we fade out on Natasha's face accompanied by dramatic "Bump bump baaaaa" music, is that we don't know Natasha and really have no reason to be excited or surprised to care one way or another about the frightened assistant so the scene falls flat.

The alternative opening credits we're shown though, to me, work much better than the normal opening with the bridges. It's a much smoother, more professional looking opening with cool lightning effects and the show's stars popping up in little 'S' shields. Unfortunately it loses points because it's a stock footage opening. What I mean by that is that they simply used shots from several of the season's episodes rather than something original, which the normal opening had. The music, though it's primarily the same, has a better sound quality and seems more powerful. There's a great deal more beat and excitement accompanying each tempo switch and it makes me more excited to be watching when I hear it. This addition alone is what makes the rating a 2.

Another thing that falls very flat and seems incomplete in this episode is the relationship between T.J. and Natasha. At first, when he Clark and Lana go to Natasha's room to find out why she's planning to leave, T.J. acts like he has a secret crush. Natasha says no one wants her and T.J. starts to say that's silly because he does, but then he stops himself as if he doesn't want her or anyone else to know. In one of the very next scenes, however, T.J. and Natasha are walking along holding each other and Natasha suggests they get together alone later tonight. The way she says it suggests there might be something more than just hanging out going on but I'm still confused because it seemed only moments ago that T.J. was only a secret admirer. Later on in the episode, T.J. calls Clark prejudiced because Clark won't immediately say he knows Natasha's innocent. All in all, T.J. comes off as a brat and I never enjoy that sort of thing. T.J. does apologize in the end though so he's somewhat redeemed. Jim Calvert, who plays T.J., unfortunately can't really sell the whole love stricken then heartbroken thing though so it's actually sort of comical to see him crying over her at the end and it's not supposed to be.

When we find out that Jeff, the seemingly innocent lab assistant is really behind the whole thing and he's working for an oil company, it's done in such an over-the-top corny way that it's laughable. I wanted to say here that we knew all along Jeff was the guilty party, but at least to their credit there he doesn't start the whole "Mwa ha ha" routine until immediately after T.J. says he's gonna follow him. It's all very convenient that Jeff has decided to blow his cover; he makes the call to his bosses with the Professor right behind him, and becomes Mr. Burns just when we need him to in order to speed up the resolution, but his villain mode is so bad it's almost unwatchable. You almost expect him to cackle like Margaret Hamilton or call for some henchman to steal the Little Mermaid's voice.

Then, when T.J. discovers the plot and is himself discovered by security they simply throw him out a window! This conniving, scheming, greedy, evil businessman, who has enough knowledge about a scientific breakthrough to try and stop it from happening and has secretly hired a kid to do his dirty work, is now suddenly just going to throw a kid out a window? It just doesn't make a lot of sense and it really makes the whole idea turn into absurdity. Not only that, but when Superboy rescues T.J., he never goes back to get those guys AND he even says at the end that maybe Jeff will rat out his employers to the police as if it's necessary. They threw T.J. out of a window. T.J. was a witness to much of the conversation and knows they were behind the sabotaging and he can also attest to the fact that he got thrown out of a window. I really don't think arresting the oilmen is going to be a problem. What makes it worse is that the whole thing is played off as if they've done nothing anyone knows about and Superboy doesn't just bring them in.

Unfortunately, there were several key balls dropped in this outing for me to rate it any more than a one. Thankfully the new and improved opening made me much happier to not have to see the original opening that I gave it a point by itself so we're left with a two. The pattern that developed early in this series will get better, if only because we know already that once thirteen additional episodes were ordered, the Salkinds decided to throw more money into the show. That alone won't be enough to help these silly plots, but at least we know it'll be nicer to look at.

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