Not wishing to devote all of my upcoming posts to TV shows, I never-the-less have fallen into that bracket once more with a bit of a dissemination of my thoughts on Smallville.
Billed as Smallville: Superman, the Early Years on Channel 4 for the slightly slow of wit, for a time, Smallville is a show that purports to do just that – albeit in a slightly alternative version of the established/canon DC universe. But then Final Crisis, Kingdom Come, Red Son and a host of other books kind of do that anyway (no harm, no foul then).
For the uninitiated Smallville is a show that focuses on the exploits of Clark Kent (and not Superman at this point, all erroneous/extraneous and thankfully extinct titling conventions aside) and his closest friends, as he grows up in the small Kansas town of Smallville. There’s a healthy amount of mysteries to solve and villains to bash thanks to the narrative conceit that during the meteor show, which brought about the aforementioned Kryptonian’s arrival to rural America, a whole bunch of people got infected by meteor radiation (i.e. from Kryptonite) and developed powers/mutations. That’s how it started anyway, and this beating up of meteor freaks shtick was coupled with Clark’s infatuation and, at least at first, unrequited love for childhood sweetheart Lana Lang and a friendship with Lex Luthor of all people.
The show has been running for eight seasons now (an impressive feat, especially in the current climate) and looks set for a ninth. There have been developments along the way that have seen Lana disappear from Smallville, get together with Clark, break up, get together and ultimately break up again; Lex and Clark becoming bitter enemies (back to the status quo there then, but an intriguing journey none-the-less and one of the best draws of the earlier seasons in fact); and more of the established Superman lore finding its way into the show (think Lois Lane, Justice League, Brainiac, the Fortress of Solitude, the Daily Planet, Jim Olsen etc, etc).
Now, I’ve been watching this show since it began, way back when and I loved it. The brutal truth of the matter, though, is that from season two (still the series’ highlight if you ask me and by far the best and most consistent of the eight) things started to go a little down hill. It was gradual at first, the odd shonky episode here, the odd wacky narrative there – but it looked as if Smallville was going on a bit of a slide. Different writers came in, some very dubious with some pretty appalling ideas for storylines and it seemed like the writing was pretty much on the wall for this show.
There was a short-lived revival in interest for me in season six, which brought in the Justice League and Bizarro, and the welcome addition of Oliver Queen as a recurring character. However, by the time that card had been played (Aqua Man, the Flash and Cyborg also featured) it was season seven, and all that was on offer was the frankly awful casting of Supergirl as one of the main protagonists. This was also to be the end of the excellent Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor (what a shame he had to go out on such a lacklustre season – I think he deserved better) and the equally wonderful Lional Luther played by John Glover (who I always used to joke with my girlfriend had locks like Aslan).
I’ve got no problem with Laura Vandervoort as Kara Kent (aka Supergirl) but she was really wasted as a character and did nothing to enhance the series – in fact, she only served as a far to regress/stagnate Clark’s character as he tried to help her fit in with the humans (let’s just say the beauty pageant episode was a real low for me and the entire show…). Even appearances by Justin Hartley (as Green Arrow), Phil Morris (as John Jones/the Martian Manhunter – and the voice of Vandal Savage in the Justice League animated show, incidentally) and the simply awesome James Marsters (reprising his role as Brainiac) couldn’t dredge this up from the doldrums.
The season’s paucity in quality was further compounded by the inauspicious Writer’s Strike, which curtailed the ending and, thankfully, this fairly poor season (with only the odd highlight).
Then came season eight, something of a surprise and possible, at least at the time of its commissioning, a death knell for Smallville. A good move was securing the services of Smallville stalwart, Alison Mack (who plays the uber-geek and former Clark love interest, Chloe Sullivan). More curious, however, was the introduction of a character called Davis Bloome – a paramedic that was destined to become Superman’s deadliest nemesis and who, in the comics, actually managed to kill him, Doomsday (yes, it’s a fairly poor pun on ‘Doom’, isn’t it). Wild speculation lit up blog posts and forums across the world as fans struggled to comprehend how on earth Clark (a nascent Superman at best – who can’t even fly yet) could take on Doomsday – his fated slayer. Well, it’s a re-imagined version of the universe, so I guess that pretty much took care of that. More interestingly was how would the series would fair without its star villain, Lex Luthor and the not inconsiderable talents of the glabrous Michael Rosenbaum.
Well basically, the shows producers hedged their bets and brought in two villains to replace him: one, the corporate face of Luthorcorp, Tess Mercer (a not-so-cunning amalgamation of the names Mercy and Miss Tessmacher, two of Luthor’s old assistants from established Superman lore – the recognition/nudge/wink was nice, though) and the aforementioned Mr Bloome.
For the first few episodes (the series premiere excepted, as this went off with something of a bang, bringing back the Justice League characters and even getting Black Canary in there, who had a brief stint in one episode of the lamentable season seven), it felt a little like it had picked up where season seven left off – not good, with Tess Mercer unconvincing at the bad guy, Lois Lane and Clark getting cosier (in a sort of edgier rerun of the whole Clark-Lana/Chloe dance from earlier seasons) and way too much focus on Jimmy Olsen and Chloe’s burgeoning romance (mainly quite dull). Thankfully, Kara was gone (though she does come back in a bearable short run) as was the increasingly ridiculous Lana Lang (again, who returns – albeit briefly).
Still, it didn’t look all that great and I was starting to worry that this show was going all the way down the pipe with a whimper rather than a bang. The only really interesting elements of the narrative arc concerned Davis Bloome (a character I was very dubious about before the series started, but have since totally changed my mind about) and the whole ‘Doomsday is coming’ angle. Unfortunately, these were snippets at best and the much more dull and annoying Tess Mercer got most of the early limelight (there’s no point in setting up a character to try and replace Lex Luthor: Rosenbaum was too good; it can’t be done – so says the Smallville gospel according to Kyme) with some, possibly aborted, hints towards her setting up some kind of Injustice Gang style group of disaffected teens to challenge Clark and raise merry hell, presumably.
However, come the second half of the season and Davis Bloome’s character (played exceptionally well by Sam Witwer) st
arts to get much more airtime, as does the Doomsday aspect to the story. This proved to be a fascinating and compelling way to build up to the mid-season break with Davis finally obtaining his superhuman invincibility and much presaging of his evil/destructive destiny.
Roll one episode one after the mid-season and I’m hooked. The show is currently airing on E4 and there’s another instalment tonight, but I cannot wait to see it. I’ve gone from Smallville apathy to eager fanboyism in a matter of three episodes. For the first time a couple of episodes ago, we got our first sneaky peak of the beast itself. Now, I’ll confess, I thought this would look like crap but far from it. Wisely, the show’s producers/writers only showed Doomsday in shadow and within the context of an excellent episode that began with a harrowing piece of camcorder footage at Chloe and Jimmy’s wedding that saw the ultimate grey-skinned, thorny-browed party crasher wreaking absolute carnage and capping shreddies left, right and centre – let’s just say, it got my attention. There were even some pretty poignant ‘moments’ between Clark and Lois that brought their character arc on nicely (no more resets please). What a stunning episode with a conclusion that had me gaping for more – Doomsday abducting Chloe and taking her to the fortress of solitude, which is corrupted by Brainiac, who then infests Chloe as his host. Phew!
On rolls the next instalment and I’m eagerly awaiting more – lo and behold, the show’s producers/writers do it again. They bring in the Legion of Superheroes (straight from the future), ostensibly to warn Clark about Doomsday and to help him defeat Brainiac (currently ‘wearing’ Chloe’s body, which makes for a sticky strategy meeting concerning how to achieve victory without killing Clark’s best friend in the process). This could have been handled badly, it certainly has all the ingredients of a recipe for disaster, but it worked. The Legion’s roll was very well done, and their reluctance to say too much to Clark about his future and what he would eventually become was really quite interesting, as well as opening up the playing field for some fan-pleasing nods to more Superman lore. Best of all though was Alison Mack doing her turn as the Brain Interactive Construct. Complete with blood-stained wedding dress, washed out pallor and freaky, machine eyes, Mack was simply awesome as the villain. I always wondered how they’d write her character of Chloe out of the show (that’s assuming they do, of course) – maybe her being taken over by Brainiac again and Clark having to destroy her after all is the way they’ll do it. Certainly, some of the dialogue between them when Chloe is restored to her old self suggested this. Intriguing…
So, unlike Heroes, which continues to stink and is still showing no further signs of improvement (last night’s episode of BBC2 was pretty lacklustre again), Smallville seems to have caught something of a wave and is riding it for as long as the surf lasts. I sincerely hope it continues in this vein – oh, and a special mention must go to Geoff Johns (comic writer supremo who was part of the team that penned the simply compelling 52 series) who wrote the previous episode. Mr Johns, could you write all of the Smallville episodes from this point please?
Looking forward to tonight’s episode greatly (and if IMDB is to be believed, the character of Zatanna is also set to appear in the show – one of my favourites from the Batman/Justice League animated shows). No wonder the ratings are back up and Smallville’s pitching for a ninth season.
Up, up and away!