Superman & Lois–New series shifts story back (again) to Smallville

Review by C.J. Bunce

If first impressions are everything, the first four minutes of the new CW series Superman & Lois look like a great next series to add to your DVR.  But that’s not where the writers of the series take us, leaning more into the soap opera drama audiences saw in years of Smallville.  The typical Superman tale follows Clark Kent from rural America to the big city of Metropolis, when the typical Supes story takes off.  This series reverses that plan, moving Supes and his family back to Smallville when newspaper man Clark Kent loses his job in the big city.  What happens when you take a strong-willed city woman like Lois Lane and her and Clark’s two (newly created) citified (twin) sons to Smallville?  Fans loving to watch Superman soaring in the supersuit, righting wrongs and exploring the globe, will need to take a backseat for at least part of the new series.  Economic downturns, the scam of reverse mortgages, embedded conflicts between rural and urban America–things you probably don’t turn to for your next CW superhero series–is the direction of the new series.  But what about strong-willed Lois?  Although she gets to share the title, Lois doesn’t get much to do–yet.

The big surprise?  Tyler Hoechlin, returning to the Arrowverse as Clark Kent aka Superman (see Supergirl and the Crisis crossover), pulls off the action sequences as Superman, even if the drama back in outback Kansas as regular folks is the stuff of every other series aimed at teens (see Riverdale on back to Smallville).  Unlike the past CW stories with Hoechlin as Superman, Superman by himself, being the superhero with a cape, is actually the best part of the pilot.  Lois Lane is half the series’ title, but at least in the pilot she doesn’t seem to be sharing the screen-time.  Elizabeth Tulloch, co-star of Grimm, is back as Lois Lane, and she had been the standout in the duo so far (see Supergirl and the Crisis crossover).  Tulloch has that on-screen spirit and guts that gives her the potential to be the best of the Lois Lanes (I’m still partial to Noel Neill).  But it will be difficult to get her into the shoes of Lois as well as Teri Hatcher was able to fill them in Lois & Clark without much more development of her character (but hey, this is only the pilot, right?).

Clark and Lois’s sons (played by Alex Garfin and Jordan Elsass) learn their father is Superman.  Wouldn’t most kids be excited to find out their dad was Superman?  Are 21st century kids really different than kids in the 1940s, or 1970s, or 1990s?  Never fear, eventually they come around.  Viewers have more positives to stick around for.  Those first four minutes of the pilot looked like a different show from what came after, but after the second act introduction of situational settings and whatnot, we get taken ahead to watching Supes spar with a new Lex Luthor (a Captain Luthor in full sci-fi regalia, played by The Vampire Diaries’ Wolé Parks) The effects are as good as any produced by the Arrowverse team so far.  Tyler Hoechlin doesn’t look like any past drawings of Superman in the comics–except one:  Frank Quitely’s in the pages of All-Star Superman.  If that quirkier Superman were to continue in the series, that would be for the better.  Hoechlin begins with a mix of Rufus Sewell’s seriousness and Paul Rudd’s goofy charm–an interesting combination.  What’s with Superman’s stubble?  Why not just grow a beard?  As to casting, I doubt anyone will ever compare to George Reeves (from Adventures of Superman) with an honorable mention to Ben Affleck playing him in the actor’s biography film Hollywoodland.  But episode two needs to be about Lois.  One more good twist: it might be fun to see Lana Lang as a jerk and potential enemy, as played by Emmanuelle Chriqui (Tron: Uprising, The Mentalist, Harrison Bergeron).

Superman & Lois: Legacy of Hope is a 20-minute additional CW feature with interviews with cast and DC Comics execs, including Greg Berlanti, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns, practically begging viewers to keep coming back.  The creators exert much energy emphasizing what doesn’t really show up in the first episode: the importance of fun, hope, and nostalgia today for fans of Superman.  Changing up characters to meet the times makes sense, but as with the rest of the Arrowverse, DC again refuses to adapt actual stories from the comics pages–and there are more than 80 years of stories to choose from so it shouldn’t be that difficult–the stories endure because they were interesting and fun, and would be even for 21st century audiences.  Will this really be a New 52 Superboy series?  The creators seem to want to be working with Archie and the Riverdale gang more than Superman, which is disappointing.  But maybe this is for viewers who prefer the soap opera, teen angst of Smallville.  The great thing about comics, and TV, is we now have enough content so there is something for everyone (but wouldn’t it be great to have a Superman series for actual kids, the under 16 audience, like generations had with Adventures of Superman and the classic animated Max Fleischer Superman series?).

Yes, DC/Warner Bros. seems to be heading more and more toward more superhero shows, but less fun treatments.  A Shazam! movie starring Zachary Levi?  Fun.  A Swamp Thing series that is the ultimate monster story?  Fun.  A young, smart and savvy Stargirl with a lovable sidekick played by Luke Wilson?  Fun.  Those are DC Entertainment efforts at the top of the heap.  The television Arrowverse started strong, but it needs help.  DC at the movies is in worse shape.  Two family deaths in the pilot?  Depressing.  All-new superfamily characters?  Why?  Isn’t that the focus of the Shazam family?  In the pilot, one of the twins befriends a girlfriend who overdosed on drugs, which seems like just more piling on for the sake of being “gritty.”  The pilot’s focus on the two teenaged boys seems to bolster that notion, but Lois can’t be left to represent the family aspect of the series while Clark is out saving the world.  Lois needs to be Superman’s equal or it can’t work.

Recommended for fans of Smallville in particular, but it’s probably worth giving a few episodes a chance to see where the long-term plot is heading.  It has some promise.  Look for Superman & Lois Wednesday nights on the CW network.  Watch the first episode of Superman & Lois now, free here on on the CW website, and also on the CW app, along with the behind-the-scenes feature.

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