DC Television - "Superman and Lois - Season 1" - that went okay!




Well, that went better than expected.  

If you watched, I invite you to jump into the comments.

It's hard to wrap up talking about an entire season of a television show, but I can say without reservation that it was considerably better than I figured we'd get.  I've done some due diligence - I watched *most* of Smallville, all of Supergirl to date, several seasons of The Flash, about 2.5 seasons of Legends of Tomorrow, and plenty of crossovers between the shows.   The CW DC shows are great to watch on the elliptical when there's a shortage of O2 headed to your skull, but none of it's working on the level of Watchmen or name-your-prestige-show.  

At this point, I've seen some remarkable comics adaptations on TV as well as the movies.  I'm still reeling from what Marvel has delivered on Disney+.

I didn't mind that DC and CW were afraid to take on a Superman show.  After all, Superman should be a movie-level property, even if Superman has traditionally employed serial and multi-episodic formats in radio, cartoons, television and more.   I mean, the Fleischers were so certain of this notion, they asked for a ridiculous budget to make Superman cartoons, and someone gave them that money.  And, 80 years later, those cartoons still look insanely good.  Superman: The Movie was massively expensive and, man, it's a singularly beautiful movie.  You can see how the character fell from grace as sequels worked with lower budgets, limping through Superman 4.  

But, as rocker David St. Hubbins observed:  It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Arguably, I think Superman & Lois manages to stay on this side of clever.  The kids aren't overly soap opera-ish, the villains chew scenery, but they do it with panache, and Lois and Clark aren't cheesy while being earnest.

The show leaps well past the first roughly 20 years of Superman and Lois.  The introduction and growing romance between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, essentially the pre-1995 version of Superman, out the damn window.  And it's a massive risk.  Finding the pair as a middle-aged married couple (who look amazing for their age, I guess) with two teen-aged sons who abandon Metropolis, who leave the Daily Planet and settle in Smallville was not at all what I asked for.  I'd enjoyed the Rebirth storyline of Clark and Lois and their Kryptonian-Earther hybrid 10-year old living on a farm, but - it never quite felt like "Superman".  Even when it felt very, very much like "Superman".*  There was too much that didn't quite line-up, and I missed Lois as a reporter, etc...  Stuff Rebirth went about fixing ASAP.

But whomever is working on this show clearly read *a lot* of Superman comics, and wasn't afraid to make major changes in order to tell a different story.  I've no doubt that some of this show will end up landing on/ impacting the comics as writers realize "oh, yeah, actually that is more interesting and makes for a more multi-dimensional take".  Same as it's ever been with Superman comics, radio, TV, movies, etc...  

That said - they've steered clear of most of Superman's history, leaving it a blank slate for the most part.  There's no conversations regarding Lex Luthor.  We never hear mention of Kara from the sister show in the same shared universe (which was confirmed.  It's definitely the same universe.).  Is there a Parasite?  A Brainiac?  I have no idea.  Surely Superman isn't going to suddenly meet every new threat for the first time two decades after putting on the cape.

I am all in on the titular leads.  Tyler Hoechlin is as ideal of a "decent guy who can get serious" as you could want wearing the "S".  Elizabeth Tulloch has Lois down the best of anyone to do it live in decades (always gonna give a shout out to Dana Delaney as giving voice to the the interpretation we've seen everywhere the past 25-years.  And I love me some Amy Adams, but...  man, Lois is a prop at best in those movies).  What surprised me was, really, the range of stuff that the two get to play.  Superman struggling with his role as father, good citizen Kent, layed-off reporter and homecoming son all while also needing to be Superman is a lot.  Meanwhile, Tulloch understands that Lois is a steam train about her work and her approach to injustice, but the nuanced and personal things are something she grapples with.  

The show is thankfully not interested in a strained marriage, threats to domestic bliss or other soapy contrivances (and Lana suddenly winding up a widow and looking at Clark had to have made it on the idea board just to be rejected).  Nor did the "let's wind up every episode with Lois and Clark re-capping the episode with goblets of red wine" bit stick.  It genuinely feels like the writer's room is looking at their sibling shows on the CW or pondering what feels like a trope and saying "what would be *more* interesting?  What's harder and how do we get that to work?".  

Look, I've seen every episode of Supergirl, a show that - if you asked me - "is it very good?" I'd start coming up with a lot of qualifiers and trying to identify why I watched it, when it jumped sharks, etc...   I can't even remember whole seasons of the show beyond a few flashes of memory.  I don't ask the CW to deliver Watchmen level programming, but DC's non CW shows have been kind of showing that the formula beat out by Smallville (20 years ago) and a dozen other fantasy and sci-fi shows needs a shake-up.  Not the least of which is not doing 22 episodes per year.  

Doom Patrol and Stargirl sit at opposite ends of the DC spectrum (as in comics, so in life, I guess).  But both show that you don't need to drag this stuff out for 22 or so one hour episodes.  And, in fact, that makes it less-good.  What you can do is tell a 3-act story in 12-13 parts.  Maybe less.  This show did 15 episodes, which was... okay?  It seemed like they told the story they wanted to tell with some interesting diversions and then got out.

That story:

Superman comics have goofed on the idea of Superman-as-father since the Silver Age, sometimes with twins, sometimes with a single child - as in the current comics as of 2021 (in fact, Jonathan Kent is current Superman in his own title).  As a 46 year old dude, I am totally fine with seeing Lois and Superman as parents, dealing with kids who are beyond the "adorable" stage.  But casting of and sorting the kids was always going to be challenging.  

Speaking to today's concerns, Jordan (Alex Garfin) is a teen dealing with mental health issues.  His fraternal twin brother, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) is a star QB and popular at school with lady friends and whatnot.  There's genuine concern in the first episodes about Jordan's issues that may hit close to home for parts of the audience, and while he's the one who develops Kryptonian powers, that causes yet more issues.  But does give him a path forward.

Remarkably, the show also steers clear of TV tropes when it comes to the siblings.  Jonathan does not jealously begrudge his brother's powers.  Jordan does not immediately get seduced to the dark side.  No one recruits either son.  Jonathan begins finding out he may be more than a jockish dude.  Both act relatively like teen boys, sometimes thinking they're helping but also wanting to do things their own way.  Parenting occurs on screen, and not in the "Bo Duke has exactly the moral lesson of the episode to impart upon you" manner.  

I don't particularly love either of the two sons, but they also aren't annoying.  This is a huge, huge win for me as a viewer.  The last thing I want is for the kids of Lois and Clark to be entitled jerks or have overly CWish personalities.  There's just more development needed, and less jerking them here and there to serve the plot.  I mean, there's no way Jordan doesn't repeat whatever grade he's in after being pulled from school about ten times.

We spend no small amount of time with the Cushing family as well.  And while they flirted with basic TV melodrama and making Lana's husband a boor, instead he gets a genuine character arc, as does Lana.  But it did feel a bit odd to be cross-cutting Lana's daughter's voice recital with earth-shattering events.  It's going to make one of these events feel lesser by comparison.  And I'd also like to not find myself describing Sarah Cushing as "short'n'sad", which was what they set her as for 9 out of ten of her appearances.  She can remain short, got no beef with that, but she needs more character than someone who is aggrieved by the actions of those around her.  Lana herself is a decent character, and if they're doing what I think they are next season, it'll give her more to do than get duped by our baddie.

Before the plot kicked in, the show also seemed to be making a point of having scenes with Lois and Lana, and seemed to be making them buddies.  But it never quite earned the idea that Clark and Lana were still close, and I get that that's hard without misleading the audience into a love triangle that isn't actually there (and God knows the audience would assume it was).

I didn't really start reading Superman comics until the late 1990's, and then it was like diving in the deep end of the Atlantic Ocean with everything that's there.  But during that time, Superman had four comics titles released roughly weekly each month, and at the time, John Henry Irons had been established as a major character in the line.  Subsequent writers have side-lined him, and I have no idea why.  Sure, his comics origin is a little goofy and echoes way too much of Tony Stark, the character he most reflects (on paper).  But Steel provided another adult in the room for Superman and Lois to hash things out, gave the then-not-terribly-tech-savvy Superman a brain to lean on, and someone else with whom he held common values.**  

While I am comfortable with multiverses, I'm shocked how much the general public seems to roll with the idea, but it was actually a neat narrative trick to bring over John Henry Irons - enabling the show to show a "what if..?" scenario against which our heroes would need to prepare.  I don't mind jettisoning established history here, and I don't at ALL mind the redirect of "is this Lex Luthor?  NOPE."  That was some clever misdirection (even if I called it an episode or two before the reveal, natch).  But, yeah, Wole Parks is *good*.  Like, he had to carry a lot all on his own this season - talking to an alarm clock, realizing his wife is married to another guy (who he thinks will kill everyone).  Projecting heartbreak at the loss of a world.  Anyway, I thought he was a great choice for a guy I can't say I knew before the show.

And, of course, the inclusion of 90's staple Dylan Walsh as Sam Lane, and making Sam more than a one-note character (usually my biggest complaint when he shows up in the comics) was pretty remarkable.  Elizabeth Tulloch is a strong actor, and some of her scenes with Walsh were some of the best acted in the series - and rather than just make Sam Lane *wrong*, the show was presenting two conflicting viewpoints and family at odds with literally the world at stake.  It was kind of nice to have Sam not just a pain in the ass and to have worked things out with Clark.

As per the shows overall actual non-family-business Season 1 plotline, I actually liked it.  

I was initially bummed that they went with a "Morgan Edge is a bully" plotline.  It just seemed kind of rote for Superman and like something we'd see on any 'ol CW show, up to and including his corporate invasion of Smallville.  But they pulled in enough other elements, culminating in a use of The Eradicator that both matched the spirit of the comics and was entirely new.  

Adam Rayner was both a great physical presence as Edge, and managed to funnel the patrician sneer of Krypton - while still show cracks of vulnerability, a sad little kid.  I'll be curious to see what Stacey Farber gets up to next season.  Leslie Larr is a Grade-A shitheel in the comics, so who knows?

I also wouldn't cry if the threat next year wasn't Kryptonian.  My feelings on superhero stories being a circular problem or all in the family is well documented, so it'd be nice for a threat to be, you know, NOT immediately related to Superman.

I know I've previously mentioned the obvious higher-than-usual budget on this show, but I can't tell you how much I appreciate the FX budget, especially after watching a recent episode of Supergirl.  Which... woof.  It doesn't always look entirely cinematic, but it generally looks very, very good.  I'm often not clear if I'm looking at Steel as a practical effect or CG.  And dozens of other examples.  

I haven't talked to too many people about the show, but it doesn't find our characters at their best moment when the show starts, and it doesn't ever really let up.  Before they ever even head for Smallville, they're dealing with a kid with emotional issues, wrangling a lay-off as the Daily Planet downsizes, and Martha Kent's passing.  I won't disagree that we do need some light for the Kent family.

But in general, and in comparison to a lot of the show's Arrow-verse programming - it's a cut above.  I like the cast (even the tragically-named Beppo, whom I assume nerd boys will crush on), it felt like Superman even as I caught up with where Superman and Lois are NOW in their lives.  And I didn't mind having a million unanswered questions as a Superman fan.  I'm sure more info will come, or it won't, and it'll all be fine.   

I do wonder if the Snyder-verse fans understand how Snyder's vision of Superman differs from what we're getting here, or at least how the ethos of the worlds is different.  Or if they're just rejecting this version as "fake".  But it's great to see a Superman who feels the weight of the job but doesn't resent it, and who takes a delight in, you know, things.  And a Lois who isn't just a cipher to advance the story of Clark Kent, but her own character and the reporter we all want to see.

*and there's a larger discussion of what DC is assuming of their audience by constantly denying now 2-3 generations of audience with the classic Superman set up, as well as a different discussion of how badly New 52 was going that the Rebirth stuff made more sense than the prior 5 years of comics

**I am a firm believer in a supporting cast.  John appeared all the time, out of armor, just being a pal or consultant.  DC was - at the time - trying to establish that Superman had friends in addition to the Daily Planet staff, and that included Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Steel.  In many, many ways, this made a world of sense.  But is a topic for another day.


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