Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Return to Smallville: Seasons 2 and 3

These people all hate each other but will only talk to each other

It's kinda kooky keeping on with our Smallville rewatch.  We're now past the few episodes we watched for Season 1, and moved from Season 2 (episodes:  Heat, Lineage, Rush, Rosetta) and all the way through Season 3 (episodes to date: Shattered, Delete, Truth, Covenant).  I'm not picking episodes, I'm just bearing witness.

It's amazing what a weird, weird show Smallville became in the course of three seasons.  

It's apparent twenty-two or more episodes per year is just too much TV.  We've seen how much better a show can be when no one feels the need to punt on story movement week after week.  And I feel like we've learned: "will they or won't they" isn't really very satisfying, especially when you cannot write sympathetic characters.  

But, mostly, very quickly it's apparent that everyone seems to hate each other, yet insists they're friends.  I mean, I'm not a friendship expert, but if I was having a discussion every two weeks with someone about how they lied to me all the time, I would avoid that person by week four or six.  But this is TV, and like most soaps, you wish for everyone's happiness that they'd all break contact to lead happier lives.  I assure you, there is a reason Clark's only social circle include Pete, who is at best a part-time pal, a girl who has wanted to be on him since 5th grade, a certified drama addict, and a weird loner 20-something with zero friends.  

Clark is a cowardly asshole on this show, full stop.  He does lie constantly, avoid any meaningful conversations, run away with no warning, not show up, fails at everything and supporting everyone, and there's literally no reason for anyone to like him other than that he's our central figure.  It's fascinating to watch in comparison to how Superman & Lois has handled similar challenges and seems to be facing it head on.

Season 2 started off with Heat, which is the episode where the showrunners thought it would be hilarious to inexplicably tie Clark's heat vision to boners, something never discussed again by the 2/3rd mark of the very episode in which the idea is introduced.  I won't linger too much on how incredibly hot the showrunners found their Freak-o-the-Week as they have ol' Clark positively eye-@#$%ing his teacher.  But more importantly, we realize someone in casting has a type.  Long dark hair, kinda tan and definitely busty.  This will culminate with the introduction of Lois Lane in later episodes and further include Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer, but... man.  It was like they had a clone factory of a type we started seeing around this point.

But by Season 3, you get the feeling the show was in a weird place, creatively.  We'd kind of abandoned the problem of Season 1 - the horrible body count at Smallville high and a seeming disinterest by showrunners as to how superheroes work.  Season 2 began getting into the Super-mythology, including an appearance by Christopher Reeve and a glowy spaceship (which doesn't match what's in the pilot, but..).  By Season 3 - they clearly wish they were writing a show starring adult characters and lifting full Superman plotlines.  It's Superman-minus-Superman, which is what the show would then be until the series wrapped.  

The thing in the show that's weird should be Clark - who is an alien with powers, not wondering why billionaire Lionel Luthor spends his days passing secret notes with high schoolers.  Or why Lana is managing a coffeeshop at age 16 as what seems to be her first job.  And winding up in the hospital but with no bills to pay.  It is a parent-free, teacher-free zone.  A high school junior on the staff of the school paper is who grown-adult Jonathan Kent goes to in order to get fingerprints researched, and Chloe has a guy on speed dial.

I get that Buffy and other shows had laid the ground-work for this sort of thing, but this is about watching a show now, at age 47, having seen it before and no longer just amazingly thrilled to have anything Superman at all on TV.  

We also have the flirtation with trying to slip Batman onto the show with "Adam Knight", until someone killed that and, I think, Adam.  But, yeah, not every plot thread got followed up on super well.  

By end of Season 3, High School is mostly ignored completely, everyone is wrapped up in Luthor business, Clark is being kidnapped by a terribly attractive alien promising to make babies with him, and everyone's contracts are clearly up as the show sets it up so everyone can be written off but, oddly, Martha.  Oh, and Pete has already quit the show.  

There are things to like.

  • Christopher Reeve, paralyzed from the neck down, out acts almost everyone else on the show with the tone of his voice.  I welled up just seeing him again.
  • Jon Glover figured out how to take the dialog given him and make it interesting.  He's so damn good.  I can understand why they kept him on the show, and Rosenbaum is at his best in their scenes.  
  • Chloe and Lana's absolute brawl through the halls of Smallville High that goes on for a They Live type duration is magical.
  • A seeming fidelity to the comics in their own weirdo way.  Like, they really did want for things to feel like when the show ended, the stuff in the comics was a possibility.
  • They clearly had a budget much bigger than the CW shows of the past few years minus Superman & Lois.  It does help to build a sense of a world when you aren't superheroing in the same 3 exterior locations, empty warehouse and four sets.
  • The Rush episode is hilarious, and let's be honest - this Chloe and Pete combo is terrific.  If they had their own show like this forever, would watch
  • They had the good sense to hire the uber-talented Adrian Palicki, and then, like so many shows in her career, utterly squandered her.  

Things that just keep happening:

  • Clark stating "you've got to tell me what's going on if you want me to help you" and people always responding
  • People telling Clark "you've got to tell me what's going on if you want me to help you" and Clark saying "I can't" and them just being sad about it
  • Mind control.  So. Much. Mind Control.  The laziest grift of 2000's-era comics makes its way to TV.
  • Clark running away at superspeed in front of people on busy streets
  • Someone getting arrested, frequently Clark.  
  • Jonathan losing his shit and Martha staring around with no lines.
  • How many times can the Sheriff come to the door to arrest Clark and Jonathan says "Ethan!" to make it clear, he knows this man, is surprised by his appearance and the implications of his arrivel?
  • Clark fails at lying and stares at people in dumb-guy terror.
  • Someone calls Clark "Mr. Kent" to make it seem like they are equals.  They are not.  He is a boy in high school.

Look, we've had some remarkable advancements in superhero narratives in the past 20 years, and while not as primitive as, say, Superboy or even my favorite show, Wonder Woman, no one is saying "but what if we DIDN'T treat this material like everyone is dumb as a cow, both characters and audience?"  Sure, there's stuff in Superman & Lois that makes me roll my eyes and I have no idea who they're talking to with that stuff (Sarah and Jordan, that stuff.  I can't imagine teens like seeing two teens that always seem like they're being rained on).  But, man, 80% of Smallville is just... weird and absurd.  And not in a fun, comic-booky way.  In a 90's prime time TV soap opera way. 

We're not quite yet where they treat LexCorp like a suitcase with the nuclear codes that can be passed around or yoinked when someone isn't looking.  We aren't yet to the point where Chloe somehow loses any of her prior interest in journalism nor where Clark just fucking refuses to tell Lois "I'm the Zephyr" or whatever.  Or that time they all skipped college.  And when Aquaman showed up and couldn't act in the slightest, but somehow that dude has his own show on Amazon and Rosenbaum has a podcast.

Anyway, only 7 more seasons to go!

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