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Monday, May 12, 2014

TV Review:Smallville

Premise:Teenage alien Clark Kent deals with supervillains as well as puberty, loss, his heritage, and romantic relationships.

Cast:Tom Welling as Clark Kent, Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan, Michael Rosebaum as Lex Luthor, Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, John Glover as Lionel Luthor, Sam Jones III as Pete Ross, Erica Durance as Lois Lane, Annete O'Toole as Martha Kent, John Schneider as Jonathan Kent, Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, Eric Johnson as Whitney Fordman, Jensen Ackles as Jason Teague, James Marsters as Brainiac, Aaron Ashmore as Jimmy Olsen, Laura Vandervoot as Kara Kent, Jane Seymour as Genevieve Teague, Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer, Sam Witwer as Davis Bloome, Callum Blue as Zod, Pam Grier as Amanda Waller

Genres:Sci-fi/fantasy, romance, action, drama

Notes:Poster taken from IMDB and belongs to the CW.

Pros:Cool villains. Chloe Sullivan. Great music.

Cons:Several major characters got on my nerves. Frustrating romantic relationships take up too much screen time. The distinctions between good guys and bad guys are not done as well as they should be. Dates itself for no good reason. Mild plot holes.

In 1989, a meteor shower hit Smallville, Kansas. It brought a young alien, along with strange rocks that gave people weird powers. The rest of the story starts 12 years later. Clark Kent appears to be your average teen. But as if hormones and crushes weren't enough, he also finds out he's extraterrestrial.

This is one of those shows I find mediocre. I often felt like the writers didn't know what they were doing, and while I don't hate it, I can find several things to hate about it. Below are five of the biggest problems.

First, Clark Kent is an annoying protagonist, often coming off as whiny and clueless. He complains that he's different, something that countless other stories have already done. He often points out that he's not human, in spite of the fact that he is the same emotionally as any young adult. He says something to the effect of "if it weren't for me, that wouldn't have happened" whenever something tragic occurs to his loved ones. While this is sometimes true, he doesn't actually do much about this except sulk and gripe about how much destruction he's brought. I think his guilt complex is meant to make us feel sorry for him, but it doesn't work. He also makes the excuse that telling his love interest his true identity would put her in danger. Okay, let's pretend that no superhero ever has used this excuse. How exactly is it dangerous for him to tell her? Will super villains come after her? They already do. Will guys who know about Clark's powers harm her? They would whether or not she's aware of the whole invulnerable alien thing. All this means is he lies to whichever girl he's with and draws out the tension for longer than necessary.

Next up is Lana Lang. The writers clearly want us to sympathize with her, but fail to actually make her likable. In early seasons, she serves as the female lead most times, overshadowing the better written and more interesting Chloe Sullivan. We also get constant reminders her parents died in the meteor shower and that everybody she loves goes away. Other characters treat her like the she's the most awesome person (and the moral center) on the show. This made sense when she one of the popular girls in high school, but it continues long past that point, even after she goes in a darker direction. Honestly, I think they should have killed her off or turned her evil fairly early. In the former case, I would have felt sad, much as I dislike her. But she is kept on the show for too long.

Now for the romances. Several characters act reckless or irrational every time they or a potential love interest enters a relationship. Clark and Lana are often portrayed as perfect for each other and I actually wouldn't mind if they stayed together. But instead, it just keeps going back and forth constantly. Clark, you should be with her. You broke up? Move on, she has. Wait, you're just going to give her up without a fight? Almost anything would be preferable to this will-they-or-won't-they crap. Another messed-up romance is the one between Chloe and Jimmy. Most of it seems to be Jimmy acting insecure over a friendship between Chloe and another guy. Eventually, he's turned from a naive but nice guy to an outright jerk. And then there was the Lana/Lex relationship, which I didn't mind that much until they decided "No, she's still in love with Clark." Make up you mind already.

Another thing is the Luthors. Lex is practically made out to be the Antichrist, when actually he comes off as having some good intentions, but doesn't express them in a healthy way. It's not as if we didn't know he'd end up the bad guy, and in one episode, it's emphasized that evil is a journey, not a switch. Yet his turn to the dark side feels too sudden. Yes, he does horrible things, but he's treated like he's a monster even before that happens. He's basically the anti-Lana. It's regrettable because he could have been a great villain. I found myself sympathizing with him more than I did with Clark. The opposite happens with Lionel, Lex's father. He starts out as the show's coolest evildoer, but ends up sort-of-not-really redeeming himself. And all his misdeeds (including abuse of his son) are just swept under the rug after that. What's worse is that they both get more attention than any other villain on the show. Yeah, I know Lex Luthor is Superman's worst enemy. But other, better antagonists tend to be ignored because we just have to see what he's doing.

And the last thing I'm going to complain about is the moral stance. Here the writers play favorites, presenting certain characters as being in the right and often letting some questionable or immoral behavior by the heroes slide. But people that aren't and won't ever be friends of the protagonists are considered horrible if they do any such thing. Here's one example:Clark and Chloe have to break into Luthorcorp to steal something in order to save Clark's family from criminals. But when they found out Lex was watching them on a camera, it's treated like a huge betrayal - enough that it apparently justifies Clark going over to the mansion and beating up Lex. Never mind the fact that he had every right to monitor his property. And it's ridiculous the number of times characters have been under mind control or some equivalent of a drug and have been forgiven with these exact words:"You weren't yourself." What's worse is that sometimes, they were entirely accountable for their actions, but it's just brushed off and forgotten. They're also hypocrites when it comes to honesty, often demanding it from their friends, but themselves lying and keeping secrets (and the "Sometimes people keep secrets to protect the ones they love" line is overused).

After all my critiquing, I feel compelled to say something nice about this series. Chloe Sullivan is a (usually) likable character who sometimes gets to call her friends out on being selfish or hypocritical. Whitney, Lana's high school boyfriend, develops from bully jock to sympathetic good guy. We get great villains like Brainiac and Zod. The theme song is one of the best I've heard. Lois Lane acts as a feisty (if not too bright) heroine, as does Clark's cousin. Lionel Luthor makes a formidable enemy in early seasons. The Kents are genuinely good people that provide support.

I'd say overall, there are a few good episodes and characters, but it might not be worth sitting through all the bad ones to see them.

Sex:There's innuendo and plenty of kissing. Woman wear clothes that range from mildly revealing (i.e. cleavage or midriff showing) to covers-what-it-needs-to-and-little-else. Men are shown shirtless. People have been shown in just their underwear or in bed with someone. Half the main characters have had stalkers at one point or another. Quite a few villains have had sex or romance on their minds.
Clark and Lana eventually lose their virginity to each other and have had premarital sex more than once. Chloe has admitted to losing her virginity long before then. Lex has been intimately involved with various women and married to at least three. A couple of episodes have taken place in strip clubs. The effect that Clark's powers have on his sex life is talked about.

Violence:Sometimes gets disturbing/graphic. There's some blood. People get stabbed, shot, punched, strangled, electrocuted, beaten, thrown from high places, drowned, and hit by cars. Strong beings toss people and objects around with little concern. Clark is often disabled by meteor rocks. Explosions cause injury and death. Villains find unsettling ways to murder people (one rips out and eats his victims' skeletons). Characters are kidnapped and their lives threatened. They're experimented on, as well. Severe injuries (enough to result in a hospital visit) are common.

Language and Insults:"G*d", "h*ll", "d**n", "a**", "b**ch", and so forth.

Drugs and Alcohol:Some pretty extreme drugs (and drug parallels) have appeared. Depending on the episode, they can give superpowers or even raise the dead. Characters drink alcohol, sometimes excessively. A couple characters have gotten addicted to drugs.

Spiritual:Several characters have come back from the dead. Witches and ghosts have shown up a few times. In the comics, magic can harm Superman. The same is true here. References to God, the Bible, and various mythologies are made from time to time. Prophecies relating to Clark's destiny are found - and fulfilled. A few villains and background characters have been religious.

So what did you think? Did it leap your expectations in a single bound? Or should it be banished to the Phantom Zone (along with this joke)?

© 2014 by M.R.R.

1 comment:

Stephanie K said...

I watched through the first season, but not much past that. It was okay, but not a show I lost my mind over. Or I may just be peeved that it survived and Birds of Prey got the boot.