Monday, May 9, 2011

Fare thee well, O Smallville

Friday is the final episode of TV's Smallville.

What does one say about a show that's been on the air so long?  That's about 220 episodes of Superman-related broadcasts (and without commercials, I'd guess about 170 hours of Superman-ish material).  Moreover, what does one say when they are a die-hard Superman fan who has watched the program out of a mis-placed sense of obligation and stuck with it just to see it through to the end, like a pet goldfish you know is on his last legs so you need to keep feeding it...?

many, many episodes involved Clark talking at rocks

In truth, the show became so bad it, at some point it became hilarious.  Watching week after week, you can see that the production team simply could not get their @#$% right, no matter how hard they tried.  It's adorable, and it became part of why I tuned in: to see just exactly how this was going to go wrong this week.

Not a ringing endorsement, but it takes on a life of its own.*

The show debuted on the now defunct WB network (it merged with the UPN network to form the CW network several years back), which then, as it is now, was mostly the home for cheesy, cheap melodramas with roughly 85% of all plots revolving round the issue of who is hooking up with whom.  Superman did not seem like a good match for the sensibilities of a network who felt Gilmore Girls to be the height of urbane wit, and I'd argue that notes from the network to turn Smallville into a sort of pre-Twilight super-teen-romance more or less led to the befuddling state of the show within 3 seasons.

likely the  best of the young actors on the program, Rosenbaum (Lex) cleverly left the show when even money wasn't enough anymore
Superman-as-pop-culture-icon was at a nadir in popularity circa 2001 when the show debuted.  Pop culture columnists were not certain why Superman should even still be allowed to exist in an era when Batman had been branded as the cool kid (inexplicably even in the wake of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin).  To counteract those arguments, save on FX budget and trick TV audiences into believing in some sort of relevance for Superman, the show promised "no flights, no tights".  This would be a Superman for the supposedly ultra-savvy Generation-Y (the same generation that now spends its freetime making needle points of Mega-Man characters and sells them to each other on Etsy) and their successors, or something along those lines.  And I can't disagree with the premise.  The show was intended to play out how someone learns about alien heritage and embraces it enough to become a Superman.  What would an alien farm-kid do?  You don't need a cape for that.

Mack was fine. Her dialog, however, was a trainwreck across 10 seasons.
Unfortunately, TV has never grappled particularly well with the realities of high school nor translated superheroics terribly well.  Within a few episodes the Smallville kids were driving around in brand new cars at age 15, owning their own businesses, getting involved in complicated scandals in corporate boardrooms, and basically robbed of their youth and acting as if they were about 33.  All of this seemed to kind of miss the point of a show that was to put on display the farm days of Clark Kent.

The most striking characteristic of the show, established in the first minutes of episode 1 and still prevalent as of last Friday, Clark seemed unable to make any decisions without advice from his parents, his friend Chloe, the disembodied voice of Jor-El, clinging to his lady-friend or by pestering random passers-by.  Our Superman in the world of Smallville is an unironic nincompoop.

Now, I haven't actually watched all ten seasons of Smallville.  Somewhere along the line the endless ads for Clearasil and Noxzema were a clue and I should check out, and so I did.  However, when Smallville decided to include a good chunk of the DCU on the show ( I assume they realized they'd accidentally shed an entire demographic), that drew me back at the end of what I think was Season 7.  By then the show added Green Arrow as a regular, brought in The Flash, Aquaman, etc... and formed some rough approximation of The Justice League.

And, uhm...  anyway, Lois added a certain appeal to the show
For season 8 I would literally fast forward through the episode during expository scenes and wait for whatever action was taking place.  This made watching Smallville take up about 15 minutes per week.  However, when Season 9 rolled around, Jamie wanted to see what was going on, and we quit fast-forwarding.

I'll never really understand what was wrong with Smallville.  I'll never know why the writers couldn't quite get their heads around making Clark Kent less of a dope, or why they couldn't quite figure out how to provide characters (any characters) with believable motivations, or why they couldn't find an expository speech they couldn't turn into a jumble of nonsense.  In some ways, you almost had to suspect the writers were daring one another and one-upping one-another to see just exactly how ridiculous they could get before the producers caught on.  But I'm here to say - with one episode left, the producers never, ever caught on.

Also, Tom Welling, our Clark Kent...  not exactly Olivier.

Some Interesting Guest Stars, though...

It probably started with the casting of Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent, a series regular.  O'Toole had played Lana Lang in Superman III and set the precedent for suspiciously-good-looking Martha Kents

The kindly old lady, Martha Kent, everybody
Season 1 managed to earn the trust of actors who had come before, and so by Season 2 the late, great Christopher Reeve took on the role of mentor, Dr. Virgil Swann, which he played for two seasons before passing.

Actors from previous Superman incarnations appearing in the latest version is a tradition of sorts at this point, and not just on TV.  Jack Larson and Noel Neill of The Adventures of Superman appeared in Superman Returns and Neill and Kirk Alyn from the original Superman serials appeared in Superman: The Movie. Other talent affiliated with Superman would appear, such as Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher (as Lois's mother) and Dean Cain.  The fetching Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1980's film of the same name appeared as Lara, Clark's birth mother.  And even the lovely Lynda Carter threw in with her super-brethren and appeared as Chloe's mother at some point.

They also landed Julian Sands to play Jor-El (although the voice has been provided by Terence Stamp since Season 1).  Brian Austin Green (a guy I am surprised to like quite a bit in the post Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles era) played Metallo.  The multi-talented Phil Morris was a GREAT Martian Manhunter, although severely depowered in order to not blow the FX budget.  And, of course, Michael McKean (husband of Annette O'Toole) played Perry White.

and then that one season Clark dressed in a look we all thought went out after Columbine
Somehow this goofy little show has managed to drag more known actors into its vortex than a full season of Circus of the Stars.

Getting to Know Superman

Smallville fans are a rabid, protective bunch.  They love their show, and they love Tom Welling as Clark.  They even like the glassy-eyed, my-range-is-angry-and-coy Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang.  For many, its their only window into Superman as the comic sales continue to hover in the 10's of 1000's versus the millions of eyes that watch Smallville each week. 

It is weird to know that this bizarre, twisted, low-rent version of the Superman mythos is how a generation will come to Superman.  Certainly Superman Returns didn't turn anyone onto the character, and Superman: The Movie was my generation's Superman, not the one that a lot of people have now grown up with.  And while I am thrilled that the general populace has had a chance to get acquainted with the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller, Zod, etc...  I have to look at the versions they brought to the show and wonder, as always, if the watered down, badly written versions didn't do more harm than good.  Its a bit like coming to Marvel comics and the lore of the characters via Marvel Monster trucks.  Sure, the characters are all there, but if you're going to bring Granny Goodness to the screen...  that's it?

Smallville has its unironic supporters, and these people are categorically wrong.  I suggest these people look deep, deep within, because... well.  Man.  I know that it seems odd to hear a comic fan throwing grenades at fans of Smallville, but you people haven't been forced into the same internet circles as these people for the past ten years.

Seriously, these people give nerds and Superman fans a bad name.  I said it.  You heard me. 

Most Bizarre

had to have been the fans who banded together to support the filming of a TV commercial that was aired during the final episode of Season 9, in support of the character Chloe.

Look, Chloe is fine, if you ignore the fact that she was utterly duplicitous through season 8 of the show and spent the season dumping her husband in favor of a serial-killing monster (I do not lie).  And I get that she's sort of a fantasy character with brains, beauty and a killer AV set-up.  But it was kind of weird, nonetheless, to see ad space purchased to convince the CW to not cut Allison Mack from the show.

Legendary: A Chloe Sullivan project (full commercial) from Legendary on Vimeo.

Yes, I'm embarrassed enough for these girls for the both of us.

If you're thinking "wow, that ad makes no sense and doesn't really hold logically, also, these people are @#$%ing looney tunes", well, welcome to Smallville. These fans have just applied the same form of logic that the show uses to justify the motives and plots of 9/10ths of the show's going ons.

and, these days, Superman likes to dress like 1983-era Michael Jackson
In conclusion

I could go on and on, and pick on things big and small.  The obviousness of Lois-actress Durance's "work" done between seasons.  The shoddiness of the sets and effects of reduced budgets, season after season.  The ridiculousness of how many times the characters take blows to the head.

But I guess I won't dwell.

I can't say I'm going to miss Smallville.  The show outlived its purpose around Season 4, and never really recovered.  I certainly will not miss the crazy Smallville fans on the Supermanhomepage comment sections and message boards.  I'll be glad to see the show semi-fulfill on its promise, a promise which I'm certain the producers themselves absolutely cannot believe they're fulfilling.  

I wish Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Annette O'Toole, John Glover, Erica Durance, Cassidy Freeman, Justin Hartley and all the other series regulars the best.  They deserve it.  To the producers and writers...  well, I hope it paid well.

I can only hope the new Superman movie will not be goofier than the 10 years of this show.  And when the next Superman show comes along (we get one every 10 years or so) its going to learn from the trainwreck of this show and maybe do one better.

For Jamie:  Its the Green Arrow.  And he's here to listen intently to all of your anecdotes, and laugh in all the right places.
My guess?

There is absolutely no way they aren't having a big One More Day mindwipe of everyone on Earth to explain (a) how nobody can figure out Clark Kent is Superman, including Lex and the literally 100 other people on the show who would know, and (b) give a story-based reason for the Clark/Superman/Lois relationship of the comics and movies.

I get a cookie if I'm right.

*I have done this previously, as witnessed by my viewing of 90210 from 1993-1997 with sporadic viewing after that time period.


Paul Toohey said...

That was ENTIRELY more then I ever wanted to know about Smallville, but I thank you for sharing that "commercial" that really didn't sell anything...those girls are my new nightmare...

mcsteans said...

You know, I will admit to being a Chloe fan myself and Allison Mack was a big part of why I kept coming back to this crapfest, but that video is cray-cray. Wow.

Of course even with Mack mostly MIA in this last season, I still tuned in (It helped having J. Hartley to look at. Rawr.). I can't seem to quit this damn show. After Friday I am FREEEE!

Anonymous said...

Smallville is what it is. It was first and foremost a soap opera, tween romance show designed to appeal to the adolescent Nutrogena buying demo. The premise could've been anything, from Robotech to Lord of the Rings. Just set it in high school and give it lots and lots of angsty romance, but without any real sex. It is a teen show after all. Oh, and fill it with some most beautiful people in television. I know the only reason I sat through the entire Season 1 was to see Kristen Kreuk. Then I slapped myself hard to snap out of it, took the season pass off the DVR and never looked back.

I'm glad you both will be free. Now go watch something real, like Deadliest Catch...


The League said...

Yeah, unfortunately, teen romance show = nobody actually has to try, and itw as never a great fit for the Superman mythos. Maybe not as bad as a Hawkman cooking show, as per bad fits, but it certainly managed to water down the concept.

I am actually planning to now spend my Fridays either watching movies or reading. At least once Friday Night Lights finishes (and we'll be talking about that a bit, too).

Anonymous said...

Who wants to try when they know that the demo watching their show doesn't care about logical consistency in their plotlines or character development. Their audience wants one thing: really, sappy romance with lines spoken by absolutely gorgeous actors. I seriously think that the most ardent Smallville fans just watch the show on mute. Or have their own particular Mary Sue dialogue running through their heads.

Anyway, there is so much good stuff going on you won't be wanting. Start watching Game of Thrones on HBO for one. Or the new Dr. Who. The BBC has been blowing the doors off with Dr. Who. And have you finished Nausicaa yet??


J.S. said...

Did you change up your format? Anyone else having recent troubles getting the pics on this site to load?
Also, remember when this shw first debuted and everyone was so full of hope about it? It seemed for a second like it might be cool. Ugggh.

Paul Toohey said...

Seems to be loading fine for me in XP on Chrome, Firefox and IE 7.

J.S. said...

I think I figured out that the problem is acutally with a content blocker on my end. Apparently this is a filthy, filthy blog.

The League said...

We'll be talking about Nausicaa as soon as I figure out where I actually put the book while cleaning...

I am watching Game of Thrones, which I initially did not like, but am in like Flynn at this point. I am, like, seven seasons behind on the new Dr. Who but watch occasionally.

And I agree with the "oh, let me make up my own story" version of Smallville. That sounds about right.

Also, yes, Jason... this is the first time I've posted all nude photos. It is too bad you are missing out.

Paul Toohey said...

What's Nausicaa?

I had to send this infographic to ErinC to hopefully help her figure out the characters in Game of Thrones a bit better

I guess my network administrator at work blurred out all the nudity...sad...