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06/22/2003 Archived Entry: "Dullsville"
Posted by CKL @ 02:46 AM PST

I have a lot of problems with The WB's Smallville. I watch it because, well, I'm a drooling fanboy, and I loved the Superman comics when I was growing up. (These days, I don't have time to keep up with all the seventeen thousand Superman titles that DC publishes-- I'm sure it's actually fewer than that, but geez, how shamelessly can you milk a cash cow?)

I had high hopes for Smallville. Believe it or not, I like the idea of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor being friends in childhood; it's a classic betrayal story, fraught with Shakespearean potential. I also support any revision to the "Superboy" canon. Anyone remember Beppo the Super-Monkey? Or the Superboy Robots, which were activated by Superboy's X-ray vision and could travel through time? I'm not making this up.

Unfortunately, Smallville is managing to be just as silly, albeit in different ways. Lex Luthor is, hands down, the most interesting character on the show, but the stories are constantly cutting away from him to deal with the kryptonite-of-the-week supervillain. Why, in the name of Joss, would you ever want to not deal with such a deeply tortured and conflicted ego?

Tell me the show wouldn't be more tantalizing if it revolved around Lex Luthor, with only glimpses of the Kent family. We know all about Clark Kent; that story's been told and retold for sixty-five years now. But what about Lex Luthor? We know next to nothing about his history. Why not focus on filling in those blanks, and avoid annoying all the purists who prefer their Superman history unsullied by lazy writing and vapid love triangles?

Another thing: Tom Welling is just too damn pretty to be Clark Kent.

The thing I loved most about the whole Superman phenomenon, the most fundamental coolness, is that it was created by two nerdy Jewish kids who probably got their glasses broken more than once in the schoolyard. From an interview with Jerry Siegel:

"As a high school student ... I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed. As a matter of fact, some of them looked like they hoped I didn't exist. It occurred to me: What if I was real terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that? Then maybe they would notice me."

Tell me Smallville wouldn't be more interesting if it starred DJ Qualls as Clark Kent. And just about anybody else on the damn planet as Lana Lang. I'm sure Kristin Kreuk's a sweet girl, but I can't believe she actually gets paid for "acting." It doesn't help that the writers feel they need to manufacture tension through coincidence and random jeopardy rather than invest their characters with real emotion. Most episodes, I feel like there's only about twenty minutes of actual story.

Having said all that, there are some good things about the show.

Lex and Lionel Luthor are consistently engaging (though the "hey-I'm-blind-oh-wait-no-I'm-not" thing was stupid. Really stupid. 24 stupid). And the visual effects and stunt teams kick ass. I still miss the first season opening titles, with that shot of Lex's car and Clark's body falling off the bridge. Beauty. Though it's always a bad sign when the best thing about an episode is the bullet-time raindrops scene, and you have to fast-forward through all the boring crap about the little ghost girl who's actually a clone. With kryptonite-based superpowers, of course. Sigh.

I like the latest plot twist, in which Clark's biological father, Jor-El, is actually a megalomaniac who wants his son to take over the world. And it tickles me that the producers got Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in Superman II, to play the voice of Jor-El. But I could have done without the ridiculous cave paintings.

Last but not least, the theme song (Remy Zero's "Save Me") rocks.

All in all, Smallville is a pretty good demonstration of Sturgeon's Law: it's ninety percent crap. But, surviving as I do in a world of mundanes, I have a pretty high tolerance for crap. And the ten percent that's good is, so far, still worth my time.

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