Warner Brothers recently dropped the prices of many of their TV show DVD sets to $19.99, enabling me to pick up some sets I coveted but couldn’t justify at $50. Such as, say, Smallville. We just finished watching the first season and I have been forcibly reminded why I loved the show, why I stopped watching the show, and why I consider it one of the most wasted opportunies in the history of television.
Smallville, if you’ve missed it, is the story of Clark Kent before he became Superman. No cape, no costume, no flying (mostly). Just an American boy growing up in a very weird small town. Clark discovers his emerging powers, fights ethical and moral battles within himself, tries to act normal while secretly using his powers to help people, and wends his way through the tricky avenues of friendship, loyalties, and love.
I’m not going into a synopsis of the show – that’s available elsewhere online, in much better detail.
But I tuned in avidly, one of the very few shows I bothered to remember to watch, and I was excited at the prospect. I love the Superman character. He’s the quintessential American hero. Thanks to a careful upbringing among honest, honorable people Clark simply doesn’t see the point of using his gifts to benefit himself over others. John Byrne, whatever his faults, captured this perfectly when he retooled the entire Superman comic series back in the 80’s. The movies, whatever their faults, at least started out with the right idea. And in the hands of talented writers and artists Superman becomes admirable not just for what he can do, but for what he chooses to do and why.
I started off loving Smallville despite the silly monster-teen-of-the-week bits. I liked Clark and his family, I liked his friends (although Lana changing from the red-haired country girl of the comics to a dark-haired exotic beauty was a trifle annoying) and I thought the actors playing the Luthors deserved buckets of Emmys. And the notion that Clark was actually sent to Earth to rule just floored me.
But I got more annoyed every week as the plots took us farther and farther away from Superman history. I don’t demand that they comply, word by word, with What Hath Gone Before, but some inner consistency would be nice.
Why is Clark’s dead father an ongoing character?
Why is it that his powers are so easy to get, lose, and trade? His dad got ’em, some girl from a car wreck got ’em, some kid hit by lightening stole ’em… kinda takes away the uniqueness of being Clark if his abilities are that transient.
What the hell is up with the Cave of Plot Device? Jor-el was here before? He’s still around? Clark was prophesied?
After the government took away the first three or four super-powered teenagers, why didn’t they quarantine the whole town and test everybody?
Why isn’t Clark in jail? He’s at the scene of every major disaster, murder, or accident. They sort of touched on this with the new sheriff but didn’t keep up with it. For that matter, why don’t the cops try to hire Clark?
Once Clark found out kryptonite could hurt him, why wouldn’t he take some time every weekend to go kryptonite-hunting with Pete and destroy every rock he found? If heat vision didn’t do it there should be some cavern or crevice he could dump it in. What with the sheer amount of kryptonite available it’s a miracle Clark survived childhood.
If you had no clue about your origins and you heard from a rich, world-class scientist who spoke your native language and knew where you came from, wouldn’t you hang around and pump him for everything you could? Hell, intern with him for the summer or something.
How exactly is Clark going to maintain a secret identity later on around Lex?
“Hold it, Luthor. Your mad scheme ends here!”
“Clark, why are you running around in your jammies? Are you feeling all right?”
Why doesn’t Clark practice more to find out what he can do? He still seems to constantly be surprised when a new ability pops up.
Did he pay back all the money he stole during his red-k summer?
Someone on the Smallville staff needs to figure out how strong Clark is and how resistant to damage so that he doesn’t shake off something ten times worse than what knocked him out last episode.
Yeah, it’s a TV show, you have to expect cheesy special effects. But please, people. When you swing an axe at something unbreakable, the ax bounces. Maybe it bends a little. Or the handle breaks. And the person swinging it hurts their arms. It doesn’t shatter into a million dramatic, slow motion pieces. Neither do chain saws or knives. Really.
Watching the first seasons again brought back the stuff I loved:
— The relationship between Clark and his parents. They weren’t perfect, but they were unfailingly honest and supportive.
— The relationship between Clark and Lex. It got repetitious, but nothing like this has been seen before.
— The relationship between Lex and Lionel, and Lex’s battle against his destiny. Easily the best part of the show. Lex and Lionel are played perfectly, with so many levels going back and forth you need a flowchart to catch them all. Lionel is the most magnificent bastard to walk the earth and it’s a thrill to watch him operate.
— The problems Clark faced, and the real dilemmas he had to deal with. He made some hard calls in there, especially regarding Lana when she was with Whitney.
But it got to where there was too much stuff that made me want to crawl into the screen and just start slapping people. The new mythologies. Kryptonite everything. The musical relationships. The ending-every-show-with-someone-pining-for-someone-else. The fact that 10 seconds of conversation in every show would have saved entire relationships. “Can’t talk now, Lana, I have to go save Chloe, she doesn’t know she’s dating a murderer.” How long does that take to say?
For that matter, just frigging tell Lana. How can you worry that knowing will endanger her when she’s endangered every single episode? Just tell her! Everybody else that visits the show finds about about Clark in the first fifteen minutes, I think they hand out flyers at the Smallville visitor center.
Season Two is where they lost me. Every episode dripped angst. Every episode was a hide and seek game with the spaceship key, which got more screen time than Pete. Every episode I had to watch Clark pine over Lana, Chloe pine over Clark, and Lana pine over everything. I finally stopped watching, the good parts of the show — and they were still there — weren’t enough to make me forget the “oh, come on” parts.
This season we started watching again, solely because James Marsters is on it. So far I haven’t been impressed. And you have no idea how disappointed I am about that, because I really, really wanted to be.