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Popular traditional adversaries for Superman: Lex Luthor. Doomsday. Darkseid. General Zod. Other superheroes with mothers named “Martha.”
AIR DATE Feb 23, 2021
Superman & Lois is a show that finally answers the question: “What if one of the characters on thirtysomething had superpowers, but it barely impacted the scope of the show at all and instead just gave all of the characters something else to be mopey about?”
And you know what? That’s a perspective! It won’t be a perspective that works for all viewers, but given the choice among the latest Superman origin story rehash, the latest obligatory introduction of Lex Luthor, the latest iteration of Perry White and his tough journalistic standards, the latest genesis of the relationship between Lois and Superman or Lois and Clark Kent, I’m genuinely appreciative that somebody came up with something resembling a new angle. Next step? Making said angle into a good TV show.
Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch’s versions of Clark/Superman and Lois Lane were introduced in previous CW shows — Supergirl and in the most recent DC crossover event — which allows Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing to dispatch with a slew of iconic moments in an early montage and then get down to business. We’re able to start in Metropolis with Clark and Lois living their lives (or double life in Clark’s case) while raising their twin sons.
Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) is a football star and generally popular teen, while Jordan (Alexander Garfin) is more introverted and suffers from the aforementioned social anxiety disorder. Lois obviously knows Clark’s secret, as does Lois’ dad Samuel Lane (Dylan Walsh), but the kids do not — though there’s some disagreement about when they should learn the truth, especially since at least one of them is exhibiting signs of some special gifts.
Circumstances force the Kent-Lanes to return to Smallville, where they encounter Clark’s old flame Lana Lang (Emmanuelle Chriqui), now a loan officer at Smallville Bank; Lana’s subtly MAGA fire chief hubby Kyle (Erik Valdez); and their daughter Sarah (Inde Navarrette), crush fodder certainly for Jordan, but possibly for both Kent boys. Meanwhile, Lois gets her reportorial hackles up because the billionaire making investments in Smallville — Adam Rayner’s Morgan Edge — has also taken over the Daily Planet and she has suspicions.
Oh, and there’s some guy in a suit causing nuclear reactor meltdowns, and he has an unsettling amount of information about Superman’s true origins.
Just as The CW’s Walker is a pretty dreadful show when it’s trying to be a remake of Walker, Texas Ranger, Superman & Lois is at best a mediocre show when it’s trying to be a Superman show. And that’s probably intentional. The series wants you to invest in the domestic unrest in Casa Superman, to take an interest in the Kent twins and maybe even to ponder Lois’ work-flow at the Daily Planet. And it knows you won’t do that if the show is equally invested in the Big Bad and his nefarious scheme. In the two episodes sent to critics, it’s presented as a total imposition and inconvenience whenever Clark has to change into his tights and save the world.
Pilot director Lee Toland Krieger (who is to The CW what the salad bar is to Sizzler) tries sneaking in a couple of iconic superhero visuals — Clark lifting farm equipment or Superman hovering in the exosphere, cape billowing, are always fun — but does so without even the opportunity for a real action set piece to emerge.
The special effects teams behind The CW’s various DC shows have established a level of solid competence when it comes to visual effects. But I find that at this point I’m only interested in this caliber of effects when there’s some humor behind it, which is one of a thousand reasons why Legends of Tomorrow is the DC show I enjoy most. Nor, though, do I think Superman & Lois is really trying to wow you, since you know that just when things get really heated, Superman is gonna have to head home for a parent-teacher conference or to help Jonathan memorize his football playbook.
Of course, you may not fully engage in those elements of the plot either. I didn’t. I’ve never once thought, “I like Superman, but I would like it better if he had a dour teenage son straight out of a mediocre cable drama,” but I did find the juxtaposition of banal and remarkable to be amusing at times. The prospect of superpowers adds just enough variety to the dynamic between Jonathan and Jordan, with Garfin brooding effectively and Elsass getting to provide one or two extra colors that make Jonathan more than just a generic jock. Navarrette has a likable, unforced energy, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that Sarah had been written as one thing and was being played as something completely different.
The chemistry and earlier performances from Hoechlin and Tulloch were basically what got this series ordered, and they’re both totally reasonable interpretations of what have become archetypal roles. However dumb the journalism subplots may be, this is a more professionally engaged Lois than the franchise sometimes allows room for and Tulloch is believably smart and hard-edged. Hoechlin looks the part, radiates sufficient decency and, like most good Clark Kents, shines brightest when the character gets to be the most unapologetically nerdy. They’re good together, which is essential in a series in which BBQs and town council meetings take priority over pending apocalypses.
Sure, Superman & Lois is duller than you might expect a Superman story to be and more invested in domestic melodrama. But it’s possible that shows like this and the insufficiently action-filled Walker, Texas Ranger remake are examples of The CW trying to grow up, which seems reasonable. Can Archie with a dad bod and Roswell Valley PTA be far behind?
Cast: Tyler Hoechlin, Elizabeth Tulloch, Jordan Elsass, Alexander Garfin, Dylan Walsh, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Erik Valdez, Wolé Parks, Inde Navarrett
Developed by: Greg Berlanti & Todd Helbing
Two-hour premiere on Tuesday, February 23, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW. Airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT starting March 2.
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