Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Return To Smallville - Season 8

just go stand in the back, Clark

I dipped in an out of Season 8 of Smallville when it first aired.  They were hitting some key Superman business, and so I was recording episodes and would watch some, parts of some, and skip a lot.  

Season 8 was when CW realized Clark and Chloe were the only characters still around from Season 1, and they pushed Chloe a bit more center to mixed-effect.  With Lex gone, we got Tess Mercer (played by the fantastic Cassidy Freeman), and the introduction of Davis Bloom played by Sam Witwer.  


Odyssey - Clark is in Russia for some reason?  Tess shows up and says "I'm the Captain now".  Davis appears as an EMT.  Chloe gets kidnapped and has a new power that could have been cool, but the writers will lack imagination and ditch it mid-season.  
Plastique - Clark is now at the Daily Planet, Tess is CEO of LuthorCorp but spends her time at the Planet, and a young meteor-freak kills people and Clark and Chloe just smile and pat her on the head.  
Bloodline - Clark and Lois wind up in the Phantom Zone, find Kara.  Faora shows up possessing Lois and screws up Season 9 continuity a bit, but we don't talk about that.
Legion - The Legion of Super-Heroes founders show up (Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl) and are somewhat helpful in extracting Brainiac from Chloe.  I liked the Legion depiction.  
Hex - a cute capsule episode where Zatanna shows up and can grant wishes?  The entire exercise seems to be there so someone could put a woman in a Zatanna outfit.  Which would be ridiculous, but Lois' gig seems to be "sexy disguise" starting with this season's maid outfit in S8E1.  But I feel bad for both Durance and Mack as Durance has to play Chloe in Lois' body, and has to walk the fine line of imitation without insult.
Doomsday - Ooof.  This is wildly anti-climatic and embarrassing.  And then there's the nonsensical part where a supposedly cured Davis just straight murders Jimmy, and then they both die, clearing the decks for Season 9.  But, yeah, this was amazingly bad.  And I'm not even going into the Doomsday look, which is...  muppety.

I don't have much new to say.  With Rosenbaum, Glover, O'Toole and Schneider gone, now they need for the new cast to perform.  Witwer and Freeman add a breath of fresh air.  The show seems to recognize Season 7 was a mess, but the writers still aren't much better.

But I do have a note for WB execs.

Superman Is Not Entirely About Krypton

Yes, he's Kryptonian.  Originally, that was the device used to explain how he could pick up green cars and smash them into hillsides.  It was never intended to be the entirety of what he dealt with 23 episodes per year.  Kryptonian villains are clearly a thing, but Smallville's insistence on squeezing every bit of Kryptonian mythos out of the comics (often badly, and then just keeps on going well beyond the point of all reason).  

There's just so many random Kryptonian artifacts, Kryptonian refugees.  Cave paintings.  Brainiacs.  3 or so versions of Zod.  Two Karas.  It just never ends.  Keys.  Crystals.  Kryptonian thermoses.  It feels like Jor-El was just littering at some point.

I don't know exactly what I would have told the Smallville show-runners to do, because the show is entirely based every season not just about Clark discovering his Kryptonian heritage, but on Krypton mucking about in Earth's business more than a decade after the planet went ka-blooey.  But I will say this -  I've read a lot of Superman comics (like, a lot) and while there are some gripping stories about Zod and Co., it's not what drives the vast amount of Superman comics.  

In fact, for probably the first twenty years of Superman, they never really talked about Superman being from another planet.  By the late 1950's or early 1960's it became a huge feature of the comics, and, yeah, then it did feel like Krypton had fired cannons full of stuff at Earth, from kryptonite to monkeys to teen-aged cousins.  

I don't actually agree with the Man of Steel reboot of the mid-1980's in some ways - not least of which was how the rule that Superman be the only survivor of Krypton.  Superman is richer when he has a bottle city of Kandor, when Kara is there as his recent immigrant cousin, when he mourns the loss of his homeworld he can never know.  But I also think - we need to see Clark do some actual heroing as he faces down threats that are not his fault, directly or indirectly, or his father's doing.  Watching the show as a straight dose binge as we've been doing, it's absolutely mind-blowing we get to Season 10 before we're dealing with something non-Kryptonian as the Big Bad (and believe me, Season 10 was wiiiiildly disappointing in the villain department).  

But...  I mean, look.  I like Superman II just fine, it's a movie I love with my whole heart in all its cuts.  But I don't get why - ever since - all we get is Zod or bad Kryptonians.  Or Krypton itself.  All Krypton ever needs to do is shove a baby in a rocket and then explode.  But we have 9 Seasons of Smallville Kryptonian nonsense, Season 1 of Supergirl, Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, Season 1 of Superman and Lois....  everybody goes to the Krypton well.  At least Young Justice waited a few seasons before bringing in the Zod storyline.  But it's flatly exhausted   Which didn't stop CW from producing Krypton, entirely about Krypton something like 50 years before the planet blows up.  

And, if you don't know, before Superman Returns (arguably also about Krypton), JJ Abrams wrote the most misguided possible Superman script where Krypton is still around and in civil war.  It's... exhausting.

I both entirely get how Smallville let this get away from them and absolutely do not get how no one in charge said "you know, this is plenty of that.  Maybe we should have Superman actually just help people because it's the right thing for him to do - and we need to see that happen on screen.  How about we just make Mongul the overarching bad guy this year?  Or make Brainiac Coluan instead of a Kryptonian AI.  Or introduce Toyman, ffs."  There's so many options, including *other* schemes Lex could be up to in his quest for power, it's kinda bonkers they painted themselves into this corner.

But at the end of the day, it's like finding out Abraham Lincoln was originally from Kentucky and getting obsessed with his Kentuckian origins.  I mean, it's one thing to show the relations from Kentucky and another to say "The Abraham Lincoln story is just about him finding his Kentuckian roots."  I mean - you CAN do that, but...

I remember hating this season the first time

I mostly watched it on FFWD, but this was the season where they couldn't figure out if Chloe would go for Sweet, dumb 'ol Jimmy Olsen or a strapping, sensitive EMT with a dark secret and they decided to conclude her love triangle in the stupidest, bloodiest and finalest (you are not going to recover in a pastel hospital room-iest) way.  

Lemme make a comment on superhero comics fans not quite getting what they're shown and how that impacts everything.  Doomsday was never a character.  He was a force of nature that killed Superman in some comics that were exciting, but not.... great.  Had Superman not died, shocking the legitimate press of the early 1990's, no one would care about Doomsday now.  But the *idea* of Superman dying is so wild, that's driven every production office considering adapting Superman to get positively horny at the thought of Doomsday.  Who is boring.  Because he is not a character.  

Mongul is a character.  Darkseid: a character.  Hank Henshaw - absolutely a character.  Doomsday is a 1987 record cover.  But he has no wants or needs.  No interests.  No agenda.  I get finding tornadoes and hurricanes interesting, but not Doomsday.  Smallville probably had the single most interesting idea for the treatment of the character, and it boiled down to "The Wolfman".  Which explains why there's a fucking full moon in every shot of downtown Metropolis at night.

I can only imagine the battles in the producers' offices on this.  Chloe could not ultimately fall for The Wolfman, because...  Jimmy is nice?  I mean - I saw Sam Witwer's abs and I have no investment in any of this, and I'm like "hey, he might get better, Chloe.  Give Wolfman a shot."

But mostly it felt like they were just at war over what Chloe was to the show now that she was front and center, and unlike Welling, would do more than stare into the middle-distance.  And it made Chloe seem flighty and dumb.  And I fully *do not* understand why they didn't explain her super-hacking powers as a super power by the end of the season - and instead removed them.  

I don't know much about how or why Allison Mack wound up joining a self-help group/ sex cult, but I cannot imagine the jostling she felt as the second banana on the show who was told "no, everyone else is the pretty one.  No, literally everyone else but you" had to have been an absolute mindfuck.  I'm not saying the show drove her to human trafficking, but that's a long ten years as a young person to constantly be wondering what it is about you that when you do play the love interest, your on-screen lovers die in a weirdly phallically-charged murder suicide.

Tess is cool

Again, I like me some Cassidy Freeman.  And the show seemed to know what it wanted out of Tess in a way it never could do with almost anyone else.  Maybe it was something Freeman brought to the role - she's certainly one of the best, acting-chops wise, on the show starting with this season.  Tess was made up for the show, so the writers didn't need to constantly bend into her becoming a sociopathic super criminal, which, in the end, made for a much more interesting take than a lot of shows that lose a villain partway through the run.

I don't mean to be a jerk about the cast of Smallville, and I understand the challenges of shooting a movie per week, but not everyone was exactly given the time to find the line reading that would nail the scene.  But Freeman came in and seemed to do that.

The dialog had rules, and the rules were dumb

I will never forgive Buffy for introducing the idea that characters must have a certain patter or banter for a show to be hep for the kids.  As in many things, CW learned the wrong lessons, and then applied them beyond all reason, right through Supergirl and The Flash.

Watched weekly, loading every line with lazy and age-inappropriate pop culture references is irritating.  Watched as a binge, it's absolutely grating.  But it does tell you who is a hero and who is a villain, as heroes will say "What happened with you going all Body Heat with The Creature From the Black Lagoon?"  That could easily be a line from Lois, Chloe, Green Arrow, Bart, etc...   Villains will NOT do this.  So, if you're wondering who will be an ally in the world of Smallville, just look for those dropping pop-culture references of people 15 years older or greater than the characters might think to mention.  (And, btw, when exactly do any of the characters on these shows have any freetime?  They're constantly driving between Smallville and Metropolis to have two minute conversations that drop key plot elements.)

Add in the weird tendency to add colorful, alliterative descriptors at all times, and the characters sound like absolute sociopaths.   "We have to worry about these alien accountants, Clark!"  

I don't know who this sort of dialog is for.  I don't know who thinks "oh, good one, script writer" during these moments.  It's not a mistake.  People got paid to write that kind of stuff.  People got paid to read it and approve it and direct it.  People got paid to say it.  Others were paid to cut it together.  Which means someone decided "this is how the writing on this show works and we will never re-examine the dialog rules here", high-fived themselves and went home to, I assume, huff spray paint.  

Things Get Dark

Seasons 1-3, especially, are painted in a Rockwellesque palette dripping with light and color.  By Season 8, it felt like someone figured out that the didn't need to show everything, and it was better if they didn't, so aside from the barn (oh, god, the many uses for the @#$%ing barn), the Planet's basement and a few other locations, the characters walked around in half-lit rooms at all times.  My guess is someone realized a lot of this looked bad in HD.  

They basically blacked out Doomsday, which I watched a video about and how great they said the outfit looked.  But it's kinda hard to buy as little of Doomsday as you see.  But, yeah, it set the trend for what was to come in the Arrowverse and its many, many poorly lit warehouses.

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