Smallville: A Review
By Ray Tate
Smallville is not a bad show. I want that known before anybody misinterprets what I felt were drawbacks. A bad show is JAG which has delusions of grandeur. The people involved with that show believe it to be more than alleged entertainment. I happened to catch the tail-end of the so-called drama before Smallville.
Trapped in an unpopular embassy, angry mob of villagers at the gate, Catherine Bell--who is wasted on this series--follows a little girl through a secret passage. Somehow the mob is waiting for them after having spotted a night-black, unmarked helicopter in the pitch of night. They start launching mortars as the fleeing Bell leads the embassy personnel to safety. At this moment, the little girl loses every grain of gray matter she possessed. She follows Bell out into the mortar-fire. Apparently oblivious to the bombs bursting around her, she jumps up and down and cries "Wait, Mac, you forgot my drawing." You know this little girl will be dog-meat. She's been set up to be killed in order to weigh heavily on Mac's conscience. It's utter contrived pretentious nonsense that makes me wish I shared the moment with certain Satellite of Love residents. Smallville is definitely not JAG.
The first thing you notice is that the acting is uniformly superb. Tom Welling is excellent in his role. He's far more natural than John Haynes Newton and Gerard Christopher. He's far more convincing a hero than Dean Cain. Though, to be fair, Mr. Cain was really trying to sell the audience Clark Kent not Superman. Michael Rosenblum is easily the best Luthor we've seen on screen. He's not really a villain, and he may never become one, but you can see the two paths he can walk. Katherine Kreuk makes a charming Lana Lang. She doesn't get to do much in the pilot, but she and the star have a relaxed chemistry that has promise. John Schneider and Annette O'Toole make terrific Kents. Sam Jones III turns in a likable Pete Ross, but the real reason to watch Smallville is for Allison Mack. As Chloe, she's bubbly, energetic and steals every scene.
The writing isn't as strong as the acting. The greatest fault in the show's pilot is that all the set-pieces do not forge a tight plot. The new material regarding Superman's ship is laughable. The Puma Man moment comes thankfully early. It seems Superman's ship has attracted a few meteorites which rain down upon Smallville when Superman's ship crashes. One of those meteorites, or perhaps it's debris from the cornfield, aims straight for Lana's parents. Young Lana watches in a state of horror as we watch gleefully. Lana's parents pull up, wave and say "Hi, Honey."
"Mac! You forgot my drawing!"
We learn a wave of dirt that geysered from crash has sandblasted young Lex Luthor's head. Not another mark on him though. He just loses his bright red-hair. After these moments, I thought I had found something funnier than Mutant X and JAG combined, but the story does fly reasonably straight after the risible beginning.
Although the scenes themselves are individually decent, you find yourself asking why too often. Why does Lana Lang wear a piece of jewelry fashioned from the meteorites--certain green meteorites--that killed her parents? The answer she gives isn't satisfying or convincing. The real answer is to artificially keep Clark away from her and turn him into a klutz. Possibly also to give Lex possession of the kryptonite for future plot-lines. Why does Clark allow Lex's car run into him? We know he's super-fast. He knows he's super-fast except apparently at that moment. The answer by the way is to clue Lex into Clark's secret. Why do we see Clark's fantasies? I have no idea.
Some of these scenarios try too hard to change the myths. Others matter not or surreptitiously return the myth. Much ado about nothing has been made about Clark not being in costume, but historically, that's accurate. Superman did not always wear his costume when acting super. In an early Jack Burnley comic strip, Superman out of costume picks up a car of thugs and tosses it into the river. Pete Ross being black changes nothing. There's a subtle turnabout where Lana is in the place usually occupied by Lois while Chloe becomes Lana-like in her unrequited and unselfish love for Clark Kent. Both women however do not patronize Clark, nor do they loathe him. Clark being Lex's friend is a comic book staple from pre-Crisis days, but we usually saw their friendship in brief flashback. It's nice to actually see Lex and Clark plausibly hit it off. Since Smallville isn't by the book DCU, Lex's future isn't concrete. He can make a plausible protagonist or antagonist.
Smallville isn't afraid of having a super-hero. Seeing the early press releases, I can see how some may think it so. The last ten minutes should deter this misconception. Clark becomes Superman in those flawless last ten minutes. He uses super-strength, super-speed and invulnerability. Furthermore, he talks like the hero. Smallville isn't afraid of showing the effects of having superpowers. What the show fears is a comic book universe.
There is no diversity in the show's antagonists. The villain is a result of the incident involving Superman's ship. Lex's hair-loss and his status as an outside is a result of the crash. The death of the Langs are a result of the crash. Chloe's "Board of the weird" featuring mutants and the mutated telegraphs the results of the crash. The X-Files has Flukeman, Eugene Tooms, aliens, vampires and devotees to Satan. Each antagonist and event does not necessarily stem from the same source. In Smallville, evil doesn't exist. It was created by Superman's arrival. A mixed message at best.
Smallville has potential. The characters and characterization, the acting and special effects are its bright spots, but in order to succeed it must lighten up. Maybe it will, but if I'm to judge from the pilot, a broader scope of villainy is needed. Bring a serial killer to town. Have an alien warlord setup shop. Unleash a demon from a magic medallion. You don't need costumes, nor do you need camp, but you do need challenges for the Man of Steel. While the back story is interesting, it's ultimately the triumph of good over evil that brings us back for more. As Joss Whedon has shown, there are no cheesy villains. It's the execution that makes them memorable or laughable. They also don't necessarily need the crutch of a starship crash to explain their abilities.
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