Genre television has experienced a virtual bloodbath in the past few weeks, with numerous shows getting canceled. Granted, many were doing poorly in the ratings, but that’s partly because broadcast and cable TV haven’t caught up to the increasing use of DVRs and Netflix for time-displaced viewing. It’s also a tricky niche.
Of the shows that are ending, I’ll miss The Cape and No Ordinary Family, which tried to capitalize on the popularity of superhero movies. Like Heroes, they had difficulty balancing the perspectives of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances with showing more and more metahumans (and exhausting limited special effects budgets).
Unlike the surprisingly successful Smallville, most of this recent batch of superpowered shows got bogged down with increasingly complicated and implausible scenarios. Of course, comic books often have the same problem of mistaking melodrama for character development. I’d contrast this with the retro, campy, and episodic fun of the also-ended Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman and the Brave and the Bold.
Speaking of Smallville, it’s hard to believe that what many critics originally dismissed as “Superboy meets Dawson’s Creek” became the longest-running live-action superhero show on U.S. TV. As David I.S. and I have discussed, Smallville wisely made the transition from “kryptonite monster of the week” to the larger DC universe as its characters and audience matured.
The show was far from perfect, with erratic villains, dropped storylines, and much-loathed bans on “flights and tights” and cameos by Batman and Wonder Woman (because of movie rights). I know that some fans will be disappointed by Superman’s rare computer-generated appearances in flash-forwards, but the Kirk Alyn serials from the 1940s also used animation for the tricky flying sequences.
On the other hand, Smallville (even up to its finale) provided new insights into the self-doubting young Clark Kent (played by Tom Welling), his nurturing human parents (played by John Schneider and Annette O’Toole), and his friends and foes.
I thought the supporting performances of Alison Mack as Clark’s pal Chloe Sullivan, Justin Hartley as colleague Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, and Erica Durance as rival/love interest Lois Lane were all strong, despite inconsistent writing, often silly costumes, and slow individual arcs. Michael Rosenbaum was one of the best Lex Luthors ever, with able assistance from John Glover as his domineering father Lionel and Cassidy Freeman half-sister Tess Mercer.
Numerous other DC Comics characters eventually appeared, including the Justice Society, Legion of Superheroes, Legion of Doom, and a mix of Teen Titans and a proto-Justice League. Like the first appearance of Jimmy Olsen in the radio show, aspects of Smallville eventually influenced comics in return.
In addition, the show paid homage to its predecessors with cameos by Chris Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Helen Slater, Dean Cain, and Teri Hatcher. Like Stargate SG1, many young actors like Amy Adams got their start thanks to Smallville. I’ve been fortunate to meet several cast members at various conventions over the years.
Although I’m more of a fan of most Batman incarnations than of Superman, I think Smallville deserves to be considered alongside the George Reeves, Dean Cain, and Bruce Timm-animated versions. Let’s hope that Zach Snyder’s attempt to reboot the first true modern superhero on the big screen is successful!
Coming soon: More SFTV turnover and how I would revive Wonder Woman!