The New Adventures of Superman Review
“If they find out about you, they'll put you in a laboratory and dissect you like a frog.”
Firstly, although I am a superhero junkie, I've never been fond of Superman. Far too camp and noble for my liking. I prefer them dark, bitter and twisted - Batman and Wolverine have the haunted edge of brutality to back up their derring-do. If the hero's nigh on indestructible, then where do we find the threat? Not to mention the fact that his alter-ego of Clark Kent looks identical to this crusader of truth and justice is just stretching the painfully-thin bubble of belief-suspension too far, especially considering how close Lois Lane gets to the pair of them/him. Having said that I did love Donner's original movie, and then when I caught this show on TV a long way back I remember enjoying the fact that the Super-angle was hardly even in it and that the whole thing was, appropriately enough, played for laughs. This is, perhaps, the most accessible that Superman has ever been - until Smallville came along. The shifting of emphasis from heroics to teasing rom-com, very much in the Moonlighting vein, I find very welcome and certainly lends itself to the weekly TV format. This is made all the more reassuring and enjoyable given that the show had such a tremendous ensemble cast making that ever-faithful, cathode-ray surrogate family - wholly unbelievable for sure, yet pleasingly familiar and homely, all the same. The quest for love, office politics, a weekly guest star and an enthusiastic and witty script equal formula-heaven. Oh, and there's some flying stuff, too. How could Lois & Clark go wrong? Interesting then, to see this show again now, over ten years and a lot of Super-people later. How well do its cape and shiny spandex look today? How much playful banter and non-violent dilemmas can we take in this age of Lost, Deadwood and Carnivale?
Well, let's see ...
“Lois, I just want you to meet a super guy.”
Warner have released Season 1 spread over a 6-Disc package that has us meet Dean Cain's jock-incarnation of Superman - the alien-cum-farmboy - as he makes his transition to the big city in search of a purpose for his powers. Becoming an investigative reporter at Perry White's bastion of the scoop, The Daily Planet, the less-bumbling-than-usual Clark Kent (or C.K. in this fast-track modern world of over a decade ago) meets the love of his life in confident go-getter Lois Lane, the diamond of the paper. Thrown together as partners the duo fight crime and injustice on a weekly basis, all the while combating the feelings that may, or may not be, developing between them. Then, of course, there's that unscrupulous cad, Lex Luthor - the root of all evil in Metropolis - sticking his oar in whenever he can as regular villain of the piece. The clever ploy here being that, while Luthor (John Shea doing a mean Gabriel Byrne impersonation) is now a billionaire businessman with nefarious schemes and heinous plots hatching by the minute, he still finds time for a little romance - and he, alongside Clark, has his sights set firmly upon Lois. Being a debonair and good-looking playboy and not the conventional ungainly old baldy-bonce anymore, he's in with a shout, too. It's that old love triangle thing, folks.
“Don't fall for me, farmboy. I don't have time for it.”
The thing that makes this show work, and work superbly, is the chemistry between Cain's Clark and Teri Hatcher's breakthrough role as Lois Lane. I know Hatcher spawned a legion of drooling fans with her turn as the sassy and sexy reporter - lots of black stocking etc - but I have to admit that, whilst she certainly rules the show (getting all the best lines and situations) I still took a while to warm to her back then, and even re-watching the series now. I'm not sure why that is exactly, because she is very good. Just check out her performance in Desperate Housewives - she does deliver. Cain, though, excels as Clark, with the necessary degree of naiveté, klutzy humour and general all-round affability. That's as Clark, though. As Superman, he is terrible. He looks embarrassed to be in the costume - mind you, who wouldn't? - and his supposedly dignified speeches come across as lame pretension. As the Man of Steel, he is too slight and easygoing and way too smug. That beaming, chopsy-grin is totally wrong for what is meant to be a self-effacing hero. The show's producer and developer, Deborah Joy Levine, seems to have realised this shortcoming too and wisely she shunts these Super-moments - the naff bits - to little more than ninety seconds of colourful swish-bang-wallop at the end of each episode. So, thankfully, the shows are more preoccupied with the story's particular journalistic investigation and the witty exchanges between the two leads as Clark tries his best to get closer to Lois, all the while having to look out for her, in a plainclothes capacity, as she stumbles from jeopardy to another - a Super-visory role, you could say. Get it? But, throughout the season, there are some gems.
“Man, don't nothing hurt you?”
“Not so far.”
The feature-length Pilot episode is a quick-off-the-mark scene setter that introduces all the main characters and even has us make a return trip to visit Ma and Pop Kent back in Smallville. The entertaining - and decidedly un-tragic - couple played by K Callan and Eddie Jones pop up regularly throughout the season often in nice little touches like a phone-call catching up session. It genuinely adds to the welcoming, almost cosy feel of the show. Ma runs up Clark's costume in what amounts to one monumentally ludicrous sequence - I mean, what son with crime-fighting tendencies is going to have his mother sew his undies onto the outside of his pants and give him little spandex booties? Lex Luthor crops up and the scene is set for a very brief - and completely preposterous sabotaging of the Space Station Prometheus. But along the way, if you ignore the sometimes dire background exposition, there is much to enjoy. Likewise, Episode 8 entitled The Green, Green Glow Of Home which again takes us back to Smallville to investigate the discovery of a chunk of Kryptonite. Clark, and his parents have no idea of the danger this will cause to him, but maverick military crackpot Trask is hell-bent on gaining the rock to help him destroy Superman, once and for all. The actual threat posed in this story provides a very satisfying edge to the usual, easy-does-it vibe of the show. And check out the head butt that Trask throws on Clark during the final face-off. There's no way on Earth that this snippet of inter-species noggin-bashing was shown on UK teatime TV! I had to play that bit a couple of times, just to be sure. The episode also features some great comedy from the terrific Lane Smith as Perry White and a neat exploding thermometer gag. Top stuff all round - even if the paranoid army-types do all have way too much hair, A-Team style.
“Is that Kryptonite in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”
Other standout episodes see Die Hard heavily riffed on when terrorists-cum-robbers seize the Daily Planet building in Fly Hard(!), Clark and Lois going on stakeout in a honeymoon suite to spy on dastardly arms dealers and unscrupulous politicians in Honeymoon In Metropolis (you'll hoot with laughter when you see the towering tsunami at the end of this one) and Witness, which sees Superman battle a chameleon hit-man, save a rainforest and fight the good fight for male potency all in the blink of an eye! There's something reassuringly Scooby-Doo-ish about a villain explaining all the intricacies of his plans to someone he thinks is about to die, and that happens a lot in Lois & Clark. There's even a moment of the old X-Files type friend-in-high-places to help jump-start the narrative in Honeymoon, when our heroes meet a shady informant going by the name of ... wait for it ... Sore Throat. It's knowing little references like these that make each episode a witty, if eye-rolling, experience. You can put up with the incredibly cheesy special effects - which looked pretty awful even when the show first aired - with scintillating scripts like these. There's barbs aplenty, sexism-by-proxy with the vampish Tracy Scoggins as fellow Planetier, Cat, a veritable man-eater, and slapstick by all and sundry in every episode. And the 2-part finale with Lex's impending marriage to Lois is brilliant, if contrived. I may not be fan of Superman, but I relished Lois & Clark - its cheap and cheerful, enthusiastic and, at times, pretty clever. There's a neat twist on the standard villain - at times Luthor is vulnerable and sympathetic - and the hero is actually much more entertaining when not engaged in heroics. Well recommended.
What follows is a disc rundown.
Disc 1. Pilot Episode. Ep2 Strange Visitor (from another planet). Original Pilot presentation.
Disc 2 Ep3 Neverending Battle. Ep4 I'm Looking Through You. Ep5 Requiem For A Superhero. Ep6 I've Got A Crush On You.
Disc 3. Ep7 Smart Kids. Ep8 The Green, Green Glow Of Home. Ep9 The Man Of Steel Bars. Ep10 Pheromone, My Lovely.
Disc4 Ep11 Honeymoon In Metropolis. Ep12 All Shook Up. Ep13 Witness. Ep14 Illusions Of Grandeur.
Disc5 Ep15 The Ides Of Metropolis. Ep16 Foundling. Ep17 The Rival. Ep18 Vatman.
Disc6 Ep19 Fly Hard. Ep20 Barbarians At The Planet. Ep21 The House Of Luthor. Bonus Features.
I feel it is necessary to point out that the boxset is a gatefold Digipack that houses two discs to a side, with one disc residing partway beneath another. This is exactly the type of set-up that sends the discs adrift when in transit. When I opened this one, Disc 5 had skittled from its perch and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it remains unplayable. So, let's hope next time they think something more super for the packaging.