Saturday, 8 January 2011

Review - Smallville Season 9




I know this isn’t a comic but it’s comic-related and I got it ‘On The Ration’ – I rented this 21-episode DVD box set from my local library at a cost of just £2.50 for a whole week – so I’m going to review it here anyway.

Smallville is a long-running television series about a pre-Superman Clark Kent. Initially, the show was set in the town of Smallville, where Clark lived and went to high school, but since Clark and his friends graduated a few seasons ago, the show has been mostly set in Metropolis, where Clark and Lois Lane now work at the Daily Planet and Clark is on the verge of becoming Superman. I have never been a big fan of the various Superman comics but I did love the Superman movies when I was younger – ‘Superman: The Movie’ is still the best super-hero film ever made, as far as I am concerned – and I was curious enough to watch the first episode of Smallville when it first aired here in the UK. It wasn’t brilliant but I stuck with it in the hope that it would get better, which I suppose it did but not for quite some time.

The first few seasons of Smallville were really just a lame Buffy rip-off, with ‘meteor rocks’ (Kryptonite) performing the function that the ‘Hellmouth’ played in Buffy. Every week, some poor sod from Smallville High (or whatever the school in Smallville was called) would turn into a super-powered villain after being exposed to ‘meteor rocks’ and Clark Kent (Tom Welling) would have to deal with the matter with a little help from his friends Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Pete Ross (Sam Jones III). Pete Ross wasn’t in the show very much at all – he isn’t in it at all anymore – and was really just Clark’s token black friend (Pete may very well have been the only black teenager in Smallville) while Chloe played the sort of role that Willow played in Buffy, being the pretty-but-nerdy girl who was able to research impossible things on the internet. Clark also had an unlikely friendship with young billionaire Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), whose life he saved in the first episode, and the pair would frequently advise each other (we all knew that Lex was really evil but Clark was able to see the good in him) despite them having nothing much in common. Clark would also receive advice from his dull-but-loving adopted parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent – played by Annette O’Toole, who played Lana Lang in Superman III, and John Schneider, who used to be in the Dukes of Hazzard – and the last five or ten minutes of every show would usually involve the possibility of romance between Clark and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), who would stare into each others’ eyes a lot but would never actually ‘get it on’ (they did eventually ‘get it on’ but not for many years).

I could just about handle the Buffy-rip-off storylines, the over-reliance on Kryptonite, all those meaningful exchanges between Clark and Lex, and all that cloying advice from Ma and Pa Kent, but all that drippy will-they-won’t-they stuff between Clark and Lana was more than I could handle. I think the only reason I stuck with the show as long as I did is because I really liked Chloe – who was (and still is) the heart and soul of the show – but I eventually gave up with Smallville at some point during season 4 or 5, just as things were starting to get interesting.

From left to right: Lois Lane, some bloke who turned
out to be Doomsday, Jimmy Olsen sitting in a chair,
Chloe Sullivan, Clark Kent, Tess Mercer, Oliver Queen

I doubt I ever would have caught up with the show if it weren’t for my sister, who doesn’t read comics but loves Smallville and lent me the DVDs of seasons 4-8 a year or so ago. Around the time I first gave up on the show, Clark had met a kid with super speed called Bart Allen (the Flash / Impulse) and Chloe’s cousin Lois Lane (Erica Durance) had just arrived in Smallville but wasn’t really in the show that much. Over the next few seasons, however, Lois became a series regular (although she was usually only in around half the episodes in each season until recently) and we gradually met a lot more characters from the DC Universe, including Supergirl, Oliver Queen / the Green Arrow (well-played by Justin Hartley, who is now a series regular), Cyborg from the Teen Titans, the Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Aquaman, Zatanna, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jimmy Olsen, and future editor of the Daily Planet Perry White (played by Michael McKean from Spinal Tap). In season 7 or 8, Clark and some of the other heroes even formed their own super-team, which I don’t think they ever actually called the Justice League of America but that’s pretty much what it was. Best of all, Lana got another boyfriend and eventually left the show, so no more Clark and Lana tedium, and once Clark left high school and moved to Metropolis, things livened up a bit.

It was still hardly a brilliant show but it was an enjoyable enough way to spend 40 minutes (the length of an episode without ads) and it had the potential to be a pretty good show. It also had the benefit of having Erica Durance in it, who is the ballsiest, funniest, sexiest Lois Lane ever. She gets all the best lines (sometimes the only good lines) and every scene she is in is better for it. There is even a certain amount of chemistry between her and Clark – who are now romantically involved but ‘taking it slow’ – but most of that chemistry must be coming from Durance, because Tom Welling has all the acting ability of a wooden plank. I suppose the character he’s playing is rather dull, though, and at least he looks the part.

Anyway, season 9 opened where season 8 left off, which was my biggest problem with this season because I couldn’t quite remember where season 8 left off and didn’t feel that it was ever properly recapped. I could just about recall that Jimmy Olsen was killed by Doomsday shortly after (or maybe just before) marrying Chloe, and I could just about remember that Lois had gone to the future using a ring left for Clark by the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I really couldn’t remember General Zod (Callum Blue) and a load of other Kryptonians coming into it, and they were the main villains in this series.

Actually, I think this Zod (like the other Kryptonians) was just a clone. There was even a clone of Jor-El in one episode but even though the voice of Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude is provided by Terence Stamp, this Jor-El was played by another British actor, Julian Sands, for some reason.

The Kryptonian clones had no powers and needed to turn the Earth’s sun red in order to gain them. I’m not sure why. Lois, who returned from the future in the first episode, couldn’t fully remember what she saw in the future, but we eventually find out that Zod rules this future (red-sunned) world, humans are kept as slaves, and that Zod eventually kills a powerless (under a red sun) Clark Kent. Once Clark discovers this, he makes an effort to befriend Zod and change the future but things don’t really work out that well.

The whole Zod storyline running through this series was really boring and my mind seemed to switch off every time this storyline came to the fore. The better episodes were the ones that were about some other threat, or the burgeoning romance between Clark and Lois, or the Green Arrow and Chloe relationship, and not the ones that focused on Zod or Tess Mercer. Tess is the new Lex Luthor, since Lex left the show a couple of seasons ago. Cassidy Freeman, who plays Tess, seems like a perfectly good actress but the character is just really dull and unnecessary. Is she good? Is she evil? Does anyone care?

I actually nearly gave up on this season of Smallville five episodes in and only stuck with it because a) my wife wanted to keep watching it, b) season ten is apparently the final season (Tom Welling and Erica Durance are both in their 30s and probably can’t get away with playing 20-year olds too much longer) and as I’ve stuck with the show this long I figured I might as well see it through to the end, c) I enjoy seeing all the other DC characters turn up in the show and I knew there was an episode featuring the Justice Society of America coming up, and d) I really fancy Erica Durance (and also think she is a very good actress).

That last reason was probably my main reason for sticking with the show. I could have quite happily watched a DVD box set that contained just Durance’s scenes. In fact, I think I probably would have preferred that. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I stuck with this show mainly because I fancied an actress in it – I don’t think I could have stuck with the show if that was the only reason I was watching it, as even I am not that shallow – but I’m pretty sure the main reason my wife wanted to carry on watching it was because she likes Justin Hartley (Green Arrow), so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Erica Durance: The next Mrs Wells?

As for the thrill I get out of seeing all those other DC characters turning up, well, I can’t really explain that. I am not really a fan of DC super-hero comics and wasn’t even much of a fan as a kid. I was always more of a Marvel kind of guy, but I don’t get any pleasure out of watching movies based on Marvel characters. I didn’t even like the recent Spider-Man movies that much and cringed the whole way through the various X-Men movies – even the supposedly good ones. I often find that people who aren’t familiar with these characters – like my wife – enjoy these movies more than I do. Perhaps I just know too much about Marvel’s characters, while my relative unfamiliarity with DC’s characters allows me to enjoy their appearances in Smallville. Or something like that.

Having said that, the JSA double episode – probably the most talked about episode from this season – wasn’t that great. Written by Geoff Johns, it contained many of the gritty elements that have made modern superhero comics so rubbish. It started with a Watchmen-style murder mystery (without the mystery), as an old JSA villain (Icicle?) was murdering former members of the JSA. In the first episode, two members of the JSA – the Star Spangled Kid and the Golden Age Sandman – were murdered pretty quickly, and while there was talk about other JSA members such as the Flash and Green Lantern, the only other JSA members we got to meet were Star Girl, Doctor Fate and Hawkman, who reluctantly teamed-up with Clark to track down the killer.

Whenever other DC characters show up in Smallville, they are rarely in costume – with the exception of Green Arrow and Zatanna (yay!) – because the producers of Smallville presumably realise that super-hero costumes look pretty stupid in real life. However, Doctor Fate and Hawkman are shown in full costume here and look really stupid. Hawkman looked particularly laughable but even Doctor Fate was wearing one of those stupid, Batman-style rubber costumes, complete with a rubber six-pack on the stomach. The only real pleasure I got from this episode was spotting all the character names that were dropped during the show and explaining to my wife that Jay Garrick was actually the Golden Age Flash, etc., which made her think I was an even bigger nerd that she already suspected. I have forgotten most of the rest of the episode already, but one thing I do remember thinking was particularly odd was a scene in which we saw inside the JSA’s trophy room and one of the items in a trophy cabinet was labelled as belonging to the ‘Golden Age Hourman’. Would anyone in real life refer to themselves as the ‘Golden Age’ anything? Even the characters in DC comics don’t refer to themselves as Golden or Silver Age characters, do they?

Doctor Fate and Star Girl looking a bit crap

This season also introduced the Checkmate organisation to Smallville. I know absolutely nothing about Checkmate but I am aware that there is an organisation in the DC Universe called Checkmate. The Smallville version of Checkmate is led by actress Pam Grier, who has put on a bit of weight since Jackie Brown and seems to spend every scene she is in with her head tilted at a funny angle so we can’t see her double chin (unless she’s had a stroke or something, in which case I take that last line back). Checkmate were somehow linked to the Zod and Tess Mercer storylines, and even another storyline in which Ma Kent (who is only in the show occasionally now that Pa Kent is dead) turned out to be a character called the Red Queen, and I’m afraid I found all the Checkmate stuff almost as tedious as the Zod stuff.

Overall, I did not enjoy this season of Smallville much at all and found it quite a struggle to get through. However, a rather exciting final episode, the promise that Clark will finally don that red cape sometime soon (and no-doubt look really stupid), and the lovely / talented Ms Durance ensure that I will probably be back for the final season. I’m a glutton for punishment.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, that was a substantial review... But i'm still not going to watch it. Every now and then, I catch ten mins of Smallville waiting for something else to start and it always seems dreary to me.

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  2. No need to be embarrassed, Rob: if I'm honest, the only reason I've stuck with the few highs and many lows of Smallville is because of the charms of Allison Mack. Not only lovely, but a great actress and the real heart of the show.

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  3. Allison Mack was the main reason I stuck with the show for the first few seasons but then Erica Durance came along and I shifted my affections elsewhere. I'm so fickle. Both are great actresses, I think, which is a large part of their appeal.

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  4. I think they've rather ruined Chloe's character lately, there are only flashes of her previous brilliance. However, Lois is wonderful. Like you, I could watch it just for her scenes... and probably do now that Lex is gone.

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