Superman on Television
Superboy: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 8: "The Fixer"Reviewed by: Scotty V
This episode begins with the Fixer, Lex Luthor, on the phone in his golf cart placing bets against the Shuster Basketball team. He then threatens the star basketball player (Michael Landon Jr.), who pleads not to be made to do it, to play poorly, commit fouls and errors and essentially lose the game or he says he'll kill him. The scene plays like a teaser, especially when it fades out with dramatic music as Lex drives away after the threat, however the title sequence has already been shown so instead we fade back in on the basketball team practicing in some barely there practice uniforms. Our star basketball player, so far called only "Stretch," is practicing so poorly that the coach (James Hampton) suggests he go home. Clark, who's there to report on the team asks Stretch what's up and Stretch tells him his best playing days are over. Stretch then mumbles something about Luthor and leaves the gym with Clark looking on.
Because of the comment, Clark knows something's up with Lex so he goes to see him at his estate. Lex is sharing a jacuzzi with a few ladies when Clark arrives. We're treated to a quick homage to "Superman: The Movie" as Clark tells Lex he'd like to talk and Luthor calls his boy Leo over to dry him off. After one too many shots of Leo's speedo and well toned body, Lex and Clark finally sit down and Clark starts right in asking if Shuster's a good bet to win against State. Lex doesn't reveal much, other than that he only invests in anything when there's sure money to be had and then he and Leo walk away from the table because Lex gets a phone call. While Lex is gone, Clark takes a peak at several screens on Lex's portable computer. Clark finds that Lex is betting $10,500 on State to win against three other gamblers who are betting on Shuster. When we switch scenes, Lex is once more threatening Stretch. This time Stretch is sitting by a pond in front of the school when Lex confronts him.
Clark, Lana and T.J. are nearby and Clark decides to listen in. Once he understands what's going on, Clark uses his superbreath to knock Lex into the water. The three friends find Lex romping around with Leo all wet and angry hilarious, as do several students nearby. Lex beats on Leo again for somehow failing him and as the villains leave, Clark and friends approach the basketball star. Clark tells Stretch they've come as friends and not reporters. Stretch, saying he needs some friends, gladly tells the trio what's been happening. Lex began his seduction of Stretch by inviting him to parties and making him feel like one of the elite. Stretch admits the parties were great and then at one point they were passing a joint around and he took a hit. Clark comments that people who want to make a big mark in life don't use drugs but Stretch thinks it wasn't that big a deal. Now though, Lex is threatening to use the photos to destroy Stretch's basketball career and put a negative mark on the young man's life. Clark tells Stretch that his life is up to him and that only he can choose to do what's right. It's curious that Stretch never mentions the death threat, since it should have been the biggest motivator but it's played off instead as if it were never even said. Stretch clearly feels bad though and we have our set up for the final act.
The big game against State is upon us where now we see that Stretch has decided to play to win. However, another player, one called Moose (Carl Jay Cofield), is also in Lex's pocket and he begins messing up in Stretch's place. At the half, Shuster is only down by three and the coach tells Moose he'll sit out the second half. Then, on their way out of the locker room, Clark steps in and knocks Moose unconscious, effectively taking him from the game a second time since the coach has already removed him. As the game commences, Lex and Leo wonder where Moose is and when Lex sends Leo to check, they discover Moose is sleeping in the back. All is not lost for Luthor however, as he tells Leo to keep his eye on the referee (Harry Burney III). The Ref has already been, and continues to make erroneous calls on Shuster but Clark notices and calls him aside. Clark tells the Ref he knows he's on Lex's payroll. Clark promises that if the man will leave now and never referee another game ever in any sport the scandal won't be printed it in the Herald. The man agrees and exits the building leaving Clark to take things into his own hands.
Spotting two phone booths down the hall outside the gym, Clark decides to become Superboy. With a smile he rushes into one of the booths and spins around, Clark's clothes melting away to nothing and exposing his Superboy digs underneath. Clark then runs into the gym as Superboy and announces that because the original referee has a "crook in his back," so long as there are no objections from the coaches or players, Superboy himself will referee the remainder of the game. So as the game continues, "fast on [his] my feet" Superboy flies up and down the court to follow the action. The teams play fairly and pretty evenly back and forth now that they have no further dastardly influences and then there's a timeout called by Shuster.
At this point, Lex Luthor decides to "take care of Stretch." Leo, apparently feeling guilty for setting the basketball star up for a fall, pleads with Lex that since "we're gonna win, why not leave Stretch alone?" Lex hands him an envelope and orders him to get down to the press table, so Leo relents and heads down. Superboy, seeing what's happening, tosses the ball to Stretch, who's standing right near the press table. Stretch and Leo collide and Leo drops the envelope. With his X-Ray vision, Superboy sees the photos of Stretch smoking pot and decides to burn them with his heat vision. He tells Leo "those must've been some hot photos," smiles, and then continues the game. With just 9 seconds left in the game, Stretch takes the ball. Moving swiftly to an open spot, Stretch takes the shot just as time runs out. The crowd holds their breath as the ball spins around the rim and then... it drops through the hoop and Shuster wins!
Superboy congratulates both teams on a great game and then announces that the game ball will go to Lex Luthor for his tireless effort in researching the game. He then announces that the students and faculty would like to thank Luthor for his contribution of five thousand dollars to get a new computer system for keeping the teams stats. Lex slams the game ball into Leo, as if it were his fault, and T.J. and Lana celebrate saying how great it is that Superboy not only made sure the game was fair, but that he also managed to squeeze money out of the villain. Clark joins his friends just as Lana is gushing over Superboy and the two boys tease her about her crush. T.J. believes Lex will make Stretch pay for not coming through but Clark says he made a deal with Lex to protect Stretch. Clark told Luthor that as long as Lex leaves Stretch alone T.J. won't release the video they made of Lex bribing the players. When T.J. asks Clark what video he's talking about, Clark says "the one you were going to make if we needed it," and the day is saved.
Rating - 4 (out of 5): Alright, alright, I know I promised myself that based on the cheese, cheese and more cheese this show seems centered around that there was no way we'd ever see a score higher than 2. So what do I do? Almost right away I break that promise! Two episodes ago a 2.5 and now we forge straight ahead to a whopping 4! I gotta say, when a show makes me smile...I mean genuinely smile, not like laughing at the absurdity of it as I usually find myself doing with this show, I give it a whole point just for that. The smiling happened for me several times during this one so it definitely gets the credit on then one. Then there are the tears. Yep that's right, I, Scotty V admit that this episode - The Fixer made me tear up at least twice. The sad thing is, other than the tears I mean, is that the one tear-up I had was based on one of the oldest sports clichés in the book. Take the game right down to the wire and have the team win at (or in the case just after) the buzzer. And the crowd goes wild! First of all, this was just one game in an 80 game b-ball season and it's not clear why this one game would be so important or so "excited hugs from girls" warranting. Second, how many times have we seen that old standby and yet it still works on me. Jeez, give me a Rocky and I'm sold.
Jonathan Haymes Newton did a fantastic, outstanding, bang-up, full out heroic job as the Boy of Steel in this one. I was really, really impressed with his glances, his stares and his portrayal all the way around. It was completely because of him (well that and the music) that I teared up the other time. When Leo is coming down from the bleachers ready to expose Stretch, the serious concerned way Jonathan (as Superboy) looks when he discovers what's going on and then saves the day is just spectacular! It's Superman at his most perfect. For me, as a lifetime fan, I can honestly say I've never believed in Superman or Superboy any more than I did right then. For Supes to make the split second decision that Stretch was repentant and that he should be rescued from embarrassment as well as possible career destruction was just as heroic as stopping football jocks from using an army weapon or catching a falling photographer. It might even be more so. My reasoning? In this case, Superboy isn't just doing what his powers allow him to do naturally, he's making a moral decision based on his sense of ethics and right and wrong and knowing that people can make mistakes and yet still be given another chance. What's more, he's ruining a Lex Luthor scheme and heck, when is Superboy [man] any better than that?
The final scene between the three friends made me smile because it was full of fun and playfulness and I could really feel the kinship between the characters. This was one of the few beginning episodes too that I didn't feel like Lana was a hard to like character. Granted, she didn't have too much to do but the scenes she was in felt genuine and friendly, as opposed to many of the other scenes in other episodes where it just seemed like she was there to cause a dilemma or act less-intelligent than she should be or just be all around unlikable. Here though, I felt she was a good friend to Clark and a person who I could see myself liking. T.J. was still poorly acted by Jim Calvert but at least in this scene he works well as one of the three mains.
For the second time we are treated to Scott Wells, the worst actor ever to portray Lex Luthor. I even think he may the worst actor I've ever seen ever play anyone that has such a vital importance to the show he's in. Wells delivery is so bad that almost every time he speaks I have to laugh. I find it strange that it seems the writers purposely gave Wells lines that make him even worse! When Clark goes to see Lex because he's suspicious, Clark tells Lex he's come seeking the truth. Lex actually has a line that goes like this: "What truth do you seek for?" What? I suppose it could actually mean something but it just sounds real clumsy and bad coming out of a person's mouth. I get the impression that the writers were trying to make him sound Lex Luthor-ish, you know, intelligent and well spoken, worldly; but instead he comes off sounding like a person who doesn't really know how to speak at all. That's just one example though. All around Wells is just real hard to watch.
Now let's take a moment to discuss what I'll call the Smallville syndrome. Clearly the syndrome has been around much longer than the show "Smallville", but I liken it to "Smallville" because I know we all understand how that particular show uses skin and sex in their assumption that it is what fans want and that it will boost ratings. "Lois & Clark" did it, "Smallville" does it currently, and now we know that "Superboy" did it as well. There are several scenes here where I can only assume they're succumbing to the syndrome and I don't like it. Who knows, is it possible this show could have gotten a 5 rating had the syndrome not bogged it down? It seems like they were mainly trying to appeal to young girls watching the show because most of the semi-nudity is of guys. The basketball practice is the first offender, as most of the guys are shirtless and/or wearing the shortest tightest shorts imaginable. I've never met or seen a coach that would be that lenient in his practice who would allow his players to come to practice half naked. The scene where Clark goes to talk to Lex is the next. First, Lex is in the jacuzzi with four scantily clad ladies, and then when he calls Leo over, Leo is wearing nothing but a speedo which the camera lingers mysteriously long over when it pans by. This particular episode is heavy on the semi- (guy) nudity and I found it to be a bit much. Something about a half naked Lex winking and smiling at an even more than half-naked Leo partway through the scene doesn't sit right with me either.
There were a few inconsistencies that I found bothersome as well. Early in the episode, in what would have been the teaser scene setting up the entire dilemma, Lex threatens Stretch when he tells him that if he doesn't do as Lex says, Lex will expose him to the world as a drug user and then kill him. The scene ends ominously with dramatic music and a fade to black but the death threat is never addressed or mentioned again. At the end of the show, T.J. does say that he's sure Lex will take out his anger on Stretch before Clark tells his friends Lex will leave it alone, but death or murder is never directly mentioned nor does the basketball star ever seem particularly nervous about being threatened with it.
Next, in the very first shown episode of this series, Luthor was arrested for being involved with a museum theft. In this episode he says to Clark that Clark should apologize for all the nasty things he's written about Lex. It's never covered that Lex is out of jail or was ever in jail or that he's a criminal. Lex is simply hanging out at the school, threatening people and placing bets and I guess we're supposed to have just forgotten that he was in that trouble before. Then at the end of the show, Clark lets Lex get away with his nefarious activities because he wants to protect Stretch. But it might have been much better had Clark and the Ref and Stretch gone forward and testified to what Lex was up to, especially since he already has a criminal past.
The whole thing with Moose and the coach telling him he's sitting for the 2nd half is weird too. Moose plays the first half very, very poorly, because Lex is paying him to do so. So at the half when the coach is talking to his players, he says that Moose will be sitting for the second half. Then Clark goes in and knocks Moose unconscious anyway, even though he's already been sidelined. Furthermore, at the end of the show, Clark tells his friends that Moose has been kicked off the team because the coach found Moose sleeping in the locker room. Now a coach probably would expect you to be out on the bench and supporting the team even if you weren't playing but it's just several inconsistencies concerning this player that add up to some confusion for the viewer.
When Clark confronts the referee and tells him to leave forever and never ref another game, it's a little cheesy but it still works in order to get Clark on the court as the new referee. It's a little silly that Clark doesn't simply tell the ref he's out as Superboy with authority. The referee would certainly be obedient since Clark has caught him cheating and in the end they could go to the police together to stop Lex that way but oh well. So when Superboy does come out on the court and announce he'll be reffing, he says that he's fast on his feet. Now I know this is nitpicking and I'm sure they did it this way because they wanted to show Clark flying throughout the game and it was kind of cool, but flying up and down after the players doesn't exactly show that Superboy is fast on his feet. I say the flying was kind of cool because it looked a little silly, Superboy jumping into the air and then landing every two seconds when basketball is such a fast-paced game.
On the technical side, it appears to me that they've done some cleaning of the effects for the DVD release. I say this because there are no wires visible when Newton is being hoisted around the court during the basketball game. But, throughout the game, there are at least two shots of Newton standing still or talking after he's already landed where you can clearly see the wiring for the previous or upcoming flight. So it was either a sloppy disk cleanup or it was a sloppy and yet somewhat impressive original cleanup of the show when it was first being made. After all, if "Superman III" - made for big-time money and yet by the same folks responsible for this series couldn't get rid of the wiring, how could we possibly expect it from a super low budget television show? That they were able to get rid of as much as they did, if that in fact is the case, is commendable. Now if it came about strictly as a cleanup effort for the DVD, then it's much less impressive and, since there is still wiring showing, a little embarrassing.
From this point on in the game there are several sloppy moments and it seems whomever's efforts to keep the effects and consistency together were running thin by this point. First off, only moments before the final run, Superboy stops Leo from exposing Stretch's pictures to the press. When he's done he blows his referee whistle to restart the game. In the up close shot on Newton he's blowing the whistle, but on the next successive shot, the one where the camera shows the court in wide-view, the whistle is clearly hanging around Newton's neck and not being blown at all, even though the sound is still coming out. Then, when the game starts again, Stretch is on the side of the court in wide-shot that is closest to the screen. But when the shot closes in again, and we're in close up on Stretch making his final run toward the basket, he's on the bench side of the court, completely opposite of where he was. There's no actual way he could have gotten there, as other players were in the way and it was too quick for him to have made moves around them. Plus, whatever his position is that had him all the way on the other side of the court wouldn't have allowed him to be completely opposite to where he was to make the final run. Then, when Stretch does send the shot to the basket, it revolves around the rim several times before falling in for the win. When the basketball is spinning on the rim you can clearly see a wire controlling its motion. It just looks cheap, especially when they've obviously made some efforts to clean up the effects at some point.
At the final buzzer though, when the credits roll around the rim on this one, the ball drops clearly through the hoop for a 2 plus 2 pointer and we get ourselves the first real solid score for the Superboy series. I defend my broken promise simply by my words above and by saying that, for the first time, in several instances, this show actually managed to remind me why I'm proud to be a Superman fan!
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