TV Series Review: SMALLVILLE (2001 – 2011)
Superhero stories have been all the rage for decades now. Even on-screen, the stories have been adapted into film and television series for years. However, SMALVILLE was unique in its own way, as it blazed a path never before seen on either Television or for a Super Hero story in general. [ WARNING: Spoilers ahead! ]
SMALLVILLE followed the story of the greatest super hero in history, and was basically a really extended origins tale. The Series was meant to depict the life of a teenage Clark Kent in high school, and how his experiences turned him into the man we all know. (Superman… if you didn’t get that by now.)
SMALLVILLE was hosted on the WB Channel, later becoming The CW. This channel is infamous for whiny, teenage soap opera which was borderline horrible. SMALLVILLE at times suffered severely due to this. I remember when the show was first announced, it was described as being ‘DAWSON’S CREEK in tights.’
Admittedly, there were Season long arcs in SMALLVILLE, which were soaking with teenage angst, and annoying as hell love stories. This originally caused me to even stop watching the show, because it was dragging, but I rejoined the bandwagon when it got awesome!
Having a long term Seasonal format in TV, when compared to the one time 2 hour format of Movies, allowed the makers of SMALLVILLE to properly explore the origins of a superhero, allowing the stories and character to grow on the audience. It was a dry unique technique and here’s hoping it wont’ be the last. [ Note: Since this writing, ARROW has become a similarly successful Series on the same channel, learning from a lot of this show’s mistakes. ] Starting out as a typical teenage procedural, SMALLVILLE quickly became a show that carefully winked at established Comic Stories and characters. It even went to become the first medium, which introduced a new Character, which wasn’t previously in the Comics, but was later added due to the TV Series.
The premise in the beginning of the show had Clark fighting other teenagers who were affected by Meteor Rocks, otherwise known to everyone in the comics’ world as Kryptonite. In the show, Clark arrived on Earth during a Meteor Shower, which rained down pieces of his destroyed home planet Krypton, along with his toddler pod. Thus the Meteor Rocks, although harmful to Clark, sometimes gave other normal people, extraordinary powers, motivating Clark to resolve these situations as he felt responsible for their plight. This plot point was used a lot.
Initially, it was great. It worked out like a typical procedural, and was a way for Clark Kent to be a hero and save lives, without a ‘costume’. There was also the introduction of a constant threat, in the form of Luthor Corp, an evil Corporation hell bent on destroying the lives of the small time farmers of Kansas with it’s poisonous technological experiments and corporate buy outs. And yes, a Luthor headed it. (Notice I say ‘a’ Luthor?)
The BEST thing about SMALLVILLE was the introduction of Lex Luthor, not as an antagonist, but as a protagonist with morally grey shades at the beginning. Watching Lex’s relationship with his father and Clark, makes the ‘greatest villain in fictional history’ so much more tragic and amazing to watch unfold. The anti-hero with shades of grey, who, due to his interaction with the hero, a troubled past and constant disappointment from the leading supporting cast… ultimately drives Lex to the man he becomes. The evolution of Lex Luthor as a character in ANY medium is SMALLVILLE’s biggest accomplishment during its entire 10 year run.
Initially Lex & Clark start out as friends, however, Clark’s constantly suspicious behavior, half truths, deception and concealment of his true identity, play a huge hand in driving Lex Luthor to become the man we all know and hate. This great dynamic of ‘best friends turned enemies’ is done so well through out the entire show that it leaves one in awe. Lex Luthor is humanized, and at times even more relate-able than Clark, and the culmination of how he starts down the dark path is amazing. SMALLVILLE is as much a Lex Luthor Origins tale, as it is Clark Kent’s.
Eventually the show grows and develops into more of a true Super Hero story, than a whiny teenage soap opera. SMALLVILLE introduces many characters from DC’s stable of Comics-verse heroes. Regulars featuring Oliver Queen / Green Arrow, Lois Lane, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Flash… all make cameos, if not get extended stories based on multiple episodes / seasons. Things eventually become completely Super Hero-ish in the later Seasons as Clark is actively saving people and living a dual identity.
Somewhere though after Season 6, the show becomes a mish mash of pure comics-world story telling. Which at times is contradictory to the stories set up earlier in the Series. However with much needed help by actual writers of the Comics, like Geoff Johns, the show gets reborn into an amazing superhero adaptation on television.
In the beginning of the show, everyone assumed that SMALLVILLE was a sort of ‘prequel’ to the Superman story. When episodes started screwing with established continuity, like having Clark’s future Boss Perry White show up, people freaked out! Then it was said that SMALLVILLE would work, as it’s own franchise, independent of the overall Superman mythos, which made people put down the pitchforks.
However, after writers like Geoff Johns came in along with a few others who knew what they were doing, SMALLVILLE was put back on a track of being kind of canon, and somewhat an official history of Superman, as we know it. This included not just exclusion of certain characters, but Clark Kent and others growing and changing their mindset. Things needed to happen to significantly to change the tone of the show.
Starting with the complete removal of Lex Luthor from the story made this possible. With Lex gone, Clark could focus on his own identity and dabbling with the superhero in him. What further punctuated this growth and merging into canon was the last season, which showed us a dynamic of Lois Lane, which was rarely explored.
Lois Lane & Clark Kent’s love affair took off, and it was her character that pointed out the nuances which Clark has to give to his personality in and out of the ‘suit’ in order to be two distinct individuals. This concept was rushed, however it wrapped up the Series quite well.
Having a TV Show format also allowed the writers to take their time in planting seeds, and going back into the psyche of Superman and what set him apart to be the archetype of a ‘hero’ in every fictional medium. Everything from the last 4 minutes of an episode, summing up the moral of that particular episode by his righteous parents, the Kents, showed us each and every lesson Clark learns in his adolescence that shapes the famous morals and beliefs the Man of Steel holds dear in every incarnation before and after SMALLVILLE.
SMALLVILLE as a show wasn’t perfect, however it dared to tread on unfamiliar territory. Initially, the typical teenage drama, with an under lying tone of Super heroism helped the show survive. In later seasons as both the characters, and more importantly, the stories matured… SMALLVILLE became an awesome live action version of characters and stories we’ve loved in print and animated form for generations. It will forever be the template to follow and/or learn from for any future Superhero TV Shows that do the same, with obvious modifications.