Superman on Television

Superboy: Episode Reviews

Season 1 - Episode 5: "Countdown To Nowhere"

Reviewed by: Scotty V


Though I could find no particular reason why the order was changed, it's documented in many articles that "Countdown" was intended to be the Superboy pilot episode. From what I can find, it seems that most markets aired "Jewel of the Techacal" first, but there were some markets across the nation that did in fact, air this episode first. There is also much to be found about how there are two different versions to this episode. If anyone wants to write in to include his or her thoughts on the second version, feel free. Superman Homepage writer Barry Freiman has some info on this alternate cut in his two part article entitled "Superman: The Unreleased Stuff," where he describes a wrap-up scene in which our main characters talk about how they remembered what occurred when Superboy first arrived. Either way, whether you watch "Countdown" first, even with the added scenes, it's clear that the producers wanted the show to be off and running and therefore to have people who were all familiar with each other from the start.

Curiously, the show opens with a teaser scene, even though only "The Russian Exchange Student," shown as episode four, was the first to have one. While I have seen various shows, mostly comedy, that sometimes have an opening teaser and sometimes don't, it seems to me that, once again, the writers and producers aren't sure exactly what they want to do. In this case though, unlike in the episode before, the opening credits after the teaser are the original credits and not the newly revamped ones. This leads one to believe that the producers originally intended for at least the pilot to have a teaser and then changed their mind when "Jewel" was aired first instead. Then, when they finally did air this one 5th, they kept it exactly the way they'd originally produced it, old credits and all, and simply removed the extra reminiscing scenes.

The plot here finds Lana falling in with some criminals disguised as football jocks who plan to steal a laser so they can destroy the space shuttle during launch. Lana has organized a protest - marchers, picket signs and all - outside the lab where the test weapon is being kept. The crooks, who fool Lana into thinking they're actually students, trick her into becoming their hostage. Lana thinks they're going to speed inside and plant a picket sign right on the laser weapon, but when the guard outside won't let them in, they pull guns and threaten to kill her so the guard steps aside. The guard, who knows Lana and is somewhat friendly in a stern way, is beaten and then left for dead inside the lab with another security guy. The crooks take the weapon to their van after gassing the lab. T.J. informs Clark that Lana's missing and when he X-ray's the lab he sees the gas and subsequently rescues the two men.

When Clark and T.J. question the recovering guard at police headquarters, he tells them that the criminals were discussing something they called the main event being 90 minutes away. Live coverage at Cape Canaveral tips Clark off the crooks must plan to attack the shuttle so he and T.J. set out to cover it. Clark gives an excuse, heads off to change to Superboy and then flies to Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile, a helicopter approaches the base the thieves have stopped at, and they tell Lana they plan to use the chopper to get away with their plan. It's revealed that the helicopter belongs to a four star General and that the kidnappers knew it was coming. The lead criminal fires the weapon at two guards, presumably killing them, and they take off toward the launch pad.

After being questioned by the military, Superboy hears Lana screaming and flies off toward the sound. As he approaches the chopper, the goons hit it full throttle but are unable to outrun the flying hero. When Superboy grabs the landing skids, the lead goon tosses Lana out and our hero leaves the helicopter to go catch her. Once she's safely on the ground, Superboy goes after the villains again and this time they shoot him with the laser weapon. At first, Superboy seems stunned by the attack, but then he simply deflects further bolts with his hands and grabs the chopper, forcing the baddies in for a landing at the base where they originated. The waiting four star General is awed and salutes Superboy before the hero takes off again. We're then shown the shuttle launching as Superboy flies by smiling. Once he comes back to Lana and T.J. as Clark, the two tell him about a flying man who was "Incredible."

2Rating - 2 (out of 5): There may be a reason, in fact I'm sure there is, why this episode was shown fifth instead of where it was supposed to be as the pilot, but until I can find out (and to a certain extent, even once I know) I have to say this seemed incredibly sloppy to me. When I first watched this 8 months ago I was very confused and found myself asking what was going on. First, since this was the intended pilot and since they've removed the rumored exposition scenes showing the characters reminiscing, it's clear we're out of time and yet there seems to be no reason for it. Yet, even if this were the pilot, we're still not properly introduced to anyone, except Superboy and even his apparent introduction to the world makes you want to laugh because it's so cheesy and corny.

Once again we go back to the kind of Lana who for me would be very hard to like. Picketing outside a lab where an army weapon is being held just seems like a huge waste of time to me and makes her seem like a naïve, kind of silly little girl. Now for those that do find this to be a meaningful use of time, I'll apologize in advance because I'm sure we all have our causes, but in this case I just feel like I'm being shown a stuck up, annoying girl who's not really doing anything to improve any situation but is simply wasting her time organizing a demonstration and possible sit-in. She even goes so far as to insult her friends T.J. and Clark. She gets in their faces and tells them they should be ashamed they're not getting involved. It's that self-righteous, obnoxious attitude that makes me wish they hadn't written her this way. Smallville's Lana is very similar in that regard. I think both Kristin Kreuk and Stacy Haiduk do a fine job at times and Haiduk even manages to make Lana sweet and endearing once in a while, but the idea that a girl who believes something and then berates her friends that stick by her and help her all the time because they don't believe the same thing just gets to me. Furthermore, the goons who are able to use her to break into the lab and steal the weapon, attempting to kill two men in the process, because of her misguided, almost fanatical belief. They then suggest illegally entering the lab, which Lana agrees to, so they can plant a picket sign right on the device.

When they approach the guard, a Mr. Miller (Noah Meeks), he clearly recognizes Lana from being around the campus and even calls her by name. But later, when Clark and T.J. are talking to him at the police station, he says that he feels: "terrible about the girl" as if she was just some random girl that he didn't know. It seems to me that since they made a point to show Miller and Lana's familiarity with each other that he would have and should have called her Lana here as well; heck, especially here. Furthermore, why are they holding an advanced military weapon at a "school building," as Lana calls it, in the first place? I also tend to think that wherever it would be, it would have more guards than just two guys and not just sitting there in an open room powered up and ready to go.

The teaser scene works in this episode rather well, if not for the fact that it was Lana's naivety and stupidity that allows there to even be a threat. She doesn't know them and just simply accepts them for football jocks and a part of her demonstration group and then agrees with them that they should enter the building that's clearly forbidden. Unlike in last week's episode: "The Russian Exchange Student," where this show first used the device, at least in this episode we know Lana is a main character and we know that she's in danger and that everyone's in danger because one of the jocks pulls a hidden gun before we cut to the credits. It even works if this were the pilot as it was intended to be because at least there's immediate jeopardy and an obvious threat not just to Lana, but also to everyone else.

Clark rescues Miller, who's been gassed in the lab with one other officer, who tells him that the men came in and stole the laser and kidnapped Lana. Clark immediately rushes outside, removing his glasses and pulling at his shirt but then notices that there are (gasp) people around (on a college campus) and decides against it. The reason I bring this up is because it's completely idiotic. We all know what's coming because we know who he is and we've seen this move from ten different Clarks over the years but then... he shakes his head, gives up the idea because there are students around, and walks away defeated. Now I know people complain that Welling's Clark on Smallville does nothing to protect his secret but this is just ridiculous. Clark could simply go into a bathroom or behind a tree or bush (which he does later in the show) so it makes no sense that he just decides, "Oh well, guess Lana's doomed and the laser will be used to hurt others."

Then, when Clark and T.J. are at the station asking Miller about what happened, and they aren't berating him at all and are totally understanding of his injuries, Miller again acts as if he doesn't know them, despite having called T.J. by name when the photographer was trying to take pictures from the "off-limits" stairs. Clark also calls him Mr. Miller in the opening scenes so it's clear that they all know each other, and yet here Miller calls Clark "kid" and Lana "the girl." Clark and T.J. ask Miller a total of three questions. They ask him very timidly and gently. One of the questions, the first in fact is, "How do you feel Mr. Miller?" T.J. asks if Lana was hurt, Miller says yes and then, when Clark (the "kid" who saved Miller's life) asks if Miller has any idea where they might have gone and that her life might be in danger Miller responds with "Get off my back, kid!" This comes from a man who was saved by the "kid" who's asking AND said he felt "terrible about the 'girl,'" only seconds ago. He must feel real terrible in order to snap at Clark after two actual questions about what happened and one about Millers' own well being. He also said, in the same breath as telling them to get lost, that he was "grateful" Clark saved his life but he certainly doesn't act that way. It just bothered me and I think it would annoy any viewer.

Clark then receives a call from his mother, for no particular reason, while they brainstorm in the mailroom back at school about where the guys could have gone with the weapon and Lana. In the plot of course, the reason Martha calls is so that we can be told Clark's never turned to Superboy at least since he's been at Shuster. It's weird because somehow Martha knows to call the mailroom, which can be excused because she might know the times he's supposed to be there, but there's not been any reason given why Clark wouldn't become Superboy. Plus, when he later does change, he's wearing the already made suit underneath his clothes. Therefore we know he's done it before and if that's the case then how could no one have ever seen or heard of him? Even if he was only doing superfeats in Smallville when he was younger. He's got the suit and it's never covered that he's simply wearing it in case he ever builds up the courage to do something about badness, and Martha even asks him on the phone if he's "thinking of becoming Superboy" so clearly the character already has a name. I guess we can assume that, like in other versions of the mythology he's discussed this with his parents and they've all agreed he needed to protect his secret and be careful about revealing it; it's just done very sloppily and it makes no sense he'd be wearing the suit and calling it the Superboy persona unless it was a known thing and settled upon.

You know if Superboy did go after the van when they first escaped and he decided not to, he would have been able to stop the whole situation before the villains shot two soldiers and stole a helicopter. When he does finally go after Lana, the goons throw her out of the chopper and he has to catch her. There's really no reason, other than to prolong the resolution, that Superboy has to watch her fall before letting go of the skids and going after her. Superboy is superfast and can fly. He could have just grabbed her as she was being tossed. Or just flown in and grabbed her to begin with, but it's dramatic this way. Lana starts screaming at least two seconds before she's even thrown out, which made me laugh, and then when Clark catches her, she's awestruck, of course.

Here's an interesting tidbit:

When Superboy and Lana descend upon T.J., the photographer is seemingly getting ready to, or has been, picking his nose. Check it out; I really can't see how he's doing anything else. It's not like a scratch or a rub. It even looks as though he might be ready to examine what he might have discovered up there when Lana calls out to him and he stops.

The scene showing Superboy surrounded by soldiers who are afraid of him is so bad I really couldn't believe they filmed it and actually used it. Superboy's dialogue is so cheesy and he's clearly been pasted into a backdrop of a picture of video footage of Canaveral, which I supposed is all they could do on this budget, but it's really laughable. The guy who's seemingly in charge then asks, "Who are you?" and his expression and acting are so bad that it just further ruins the effect. When Superboy gets to the part about truth, justice and the American way it's kind of cool but the setup was so bad that it really hurts the moment. Newton isn't even looking vaguely towards the men who clearly weren't there when he shot his speech to them.

In summation, pilot or not, this episode fails on so many levels I'd have to grade it a one if not for just a few good points. First of all, most of the effects are really bad, as per usual, but again, Superboy's stand still take-offs are very nice and when he finally lands the chopper at the base it actually looks really good. They clearly had a stunt man or Newton himself stand underneath the landing chopper and I commend them for pulling it off. Also, during the kidnapping scene and theft of the weapon, as well as on the ground before the villains board the chopper, the camera work and storytelling is much like a film and less like a cheesy syndicated TV show and it works well for the action even if the acting is pretty much all bad. So for those few good points, the rating goes up one and we look forward to next time, where we'll discuss Steve Martin and Queen Latifah in an episode entitled "Bringing Down the House," but maybe that will be about something else.

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