Smallville is a show set in, well, Smallville, featuring a young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) AKA Superman placed in a present day setting. It is screened on the WB in the US and Channel 4 in the UK.

The show is much the same to the movies and comics that The Phantom Menace is to the rest of the Star Wars trilogy. Clark is the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is still unsure of the extent of his powers. Throughout the series, we see Clark's "gifts" (as his parents always call it) come to light, complete with sweet special effects. His X-ray vision means that he sees everyone's skeletons (so no under the clothes naughtiness can ensue), whilst my favourite is when Clark uses his super speed (still no flying yet). The rest of the world slows down in a Matrix style, whilst Clark continues to run at normal pace and do what he does, taking bullets, knifes, bee stings, handbags.

In another smack of Episode I, Clark is best friends with who we know will be the bad guy: the irrepressibly cool Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum). Whilst early attempts at making the character seem as rich as possible fell flat on their face ("This Scottish castle was moved brick by brick to my estate here in Smallville"), there is a technique which does it every time. Lex appears to drive a different car every episode, or at least has a fleet of about 5 supercars, including a Ferrari and a Porsche which he drives very fast with very loud music. If that doesn't scream "I'm rich, I'm rich, I'm comfortably well-off!", nothing does.

The inevitable love interest is the confusingly named Lana Lang (Kristen Kreuk), causing no end of questioning for the first few episodes: "Did he say Lois? It sounded like Lois Lane?" I thought this name was down to the writers, but TenMinJoe informs me it was already formed in the Superman continuity. Knowing this doesn't make it any less annoying. Of course, a love interest is only a love interest if the hero can't have it (Buffy and Angel being the classic unrequited love saga), so she's attached to annoying jock Whitney. To bubble up the sexual tension, Lana is always saying things like "You're the best, Clark" whilst making with the pretty eyes.

There are other characters in the show, such as Chloe and Pete, who obviously try and fill the roles of Willow and Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They fail miserably as the writers inevitably leave them out for a whole show, with just a head pop-up around a door as if to say "I'm still here! Making money, for doing nothing!" I've been thinking very hard as to why this is. At first I blamed the writers for not making any the characters very distinct and so couldn't be bothered, but then realised that that was becasue we hardly ever see them, which is a bit of a vicious circle in itself! I then pondered that perhaps it was because there are simply too many characters. That's wrong too, because Buffy has a large number of characters too, and each one gets a decent amount of face time. After mulling over why that was (yes, I really need to get out more) it then hit me. The main problem with Smallville is that it needs too many storylines! It was more exciting in my head. Anyway, each episode demands an X-Files-style introduction of the latest bad guy, which takes up the whole first 5 minutes anyway. Then we need to see the bad guy do his dastardly deeds, which is another 5-10 minutes. This would leave just enough time to sort out the rest of the characters, if they ever stayed together. Unlike Buffy where we see the characters follow the same storyline and they all talk to each other in the library or wherever, the Smallville "minor" characters don't hang around with the lead characters, and saunter off somewhere. Clark will be chatting up Lana with his sensitive talk, then we have a completely different storyline for Lex and then we put in the bad guy stuff. Once you put that altogether, you've got your episode, leaving no time for the other guys.

I once heard Smallville described as "Buffy crossed with Dawson's Creek" which I think is unfair to all concerned. Dawson's Creek has its own psychoanalytical babble each week which is strangely watchable, Buffy has its unique blend of drama, humour and action. Both of these shows don't waste their characters to the viewers benefit, and no-one goes "Oh not him again" when they appear on screen (apart from Riley from Buffy, but I've mentally blanked that after months of therapy). Smallville suffers from this problem terribly, but only because it doesn't develop characters as it should. However, the unique character of Clark saves the show. He is as sensitive as any teen show character you could compare him to, which is in part helped by the acting of Tom Welling, but doesn't veer off into Dawson Leary whining or is put through the extreme paces that the evil Joss Whedon likes to put Buffy Summers through. He is a much easier character to relate to, mainly because you spend a lot of your time believing that he isn't a puppet being tested to the emotional limit, just a normal guy who happens to save people from certain doom in his spare time (he doesn't appear to like television. I haven't seen him watch it once.)

A good reason to watch it is to try and play spot the in-joke. There is always something (however tenuous), such as people saying "You're not a super man, Clark", song lyrics which refer to "kryptonite" and the team mascot for the Smallville Crows is a crow dressed in Superman's costume.

And if you still need a reason to watch Smallville, the actors/actresses (depending upon your preference) are pretty hot.

Quick note: In case you were wondering, the theme tune for the show is "Save Me" by Remy Zero. If you're playing along with the spot the in-joke game at home, you can find the answers here in the episode guides: (warning, Will Robinson, UK spoilers ahead!)

Big hand shakes: TenMinJoe again for that Lana Lang information.

Reaction to Smallville's "Rosetta"

On February 25th, 2002, the Smallville episode Rosetta was broadcast. This episode was pivotal because it fastforwarded the storyline of the Superman Myth within the context of the series to a massive degree. For the first time since the series' inception two years ago, the character of Clark Kent now knows that he is an alien child from a doomed planet named Krypton. Also pivotal to both the series and the overall mythic arc of over sixty years of this story's existence as a part of human culture, the lead actor in the Superman movies of the 1980s was featured as a cameo role in a retelling of the series. Christopher Reeve suffers from a horse riding accident which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite this tragedy, he has been working as a director and an actor, and has performed admirably for a charity organization. He's also never revealed a glimpse of giving up hope that someday he will walk again. Christopher Reeve played a reclusive scientist named Vincent Swan in the episode, which stars Tom Welling as a youthful and perpetually confused Clark Kent.

This event in the ongoing backstory of the retellings of Superman's origin is unprecedented. It's a "passing of the torch" from one generation to another. The scene with Reeve and Welling gave me goose pimples, but knowing from the commercials that he was gonna be in the episode made me just feel bored with everything that led up to that, thinkin' "well there's only a half hour left and still no Reeve, when's he gonna show up?" It was an ingenious way to get around to telling Clark Kent the part about his origins that he couldn't have learned realistically any other way. In the Christopher Reeve movies, they solved that problem by having a green shard create the Fortress of Solitude for Supes. I found that to be more hokey and less endearing than this meeting of the minds between Kent and Swan. And didn't Reeve do a magnificent job? He can do more with his face than some actors can do with their whole body.

It's good to see the writers are finally moving forward with turning Clark into Superboy. Rather than just having him wear the skivvies since he was in diapers (anybody else remember the SuperBaby fiasco stories in the back of Action Comics?), they're trying to approach the Superman myth from a modern realistic perspective. I can appreciate that. However, overall I find myself torn when considering Smallville as a "great" show. It's certainly entertaining, but what is the actual goal of the writers here? Are they trying to stay true to the original source material, or are they just taking elements from the original comic book and perverting them and twisting them for their own ends? Do they have an actual goal? Do they know where they're going?

In a year or two, will Clark actually graduate from high school, say goodbye to his parents and move to Metropolis? Or are they going to rewrite Superman's destiny so they can continue to call the show Smallville? We know as fans of the Superman Myth that eventually Jonathan and Martha Kent are going to die. Or do we? Previous retellings of the Superman Myth have been a little sketchy on details, and don't jibe with one another. There is a lot of leeway, but there's also places where the Superman Myth can bend and other places where it can break. I also personally don't want to see the series lose two of its most talented actors. I think this is the best work John Schneider has EVER done. And Annette O'Toole brings a sense of subdued class to the screen rarely seen on television. If they write out Clark's parents, it'll hurt the series for a number of reasons. These are also not greyhaired helpless victims in this version of the story. Kent's parents have been more fleshed out in this series than ever before which is to the writers' credit.

As for the bit hinting that Jor-El, Kal-El's biological father, was the kind of man who would tell his son to be a dictator, there's a lot about Krypton that's open to interpretation. John Byrne proved that in his retelling of the Superman Myth with his "Man Of Steel" comic book miniseries. As Reeve's Swan character pointed out, there's a lot of possible scenarios to the demise of Krypton. Many writers over the past sixty years have toyed with many variables. Krypton was a doomed planet, but why is open to interpretation. Some writers say it was because of geothermic problems with the core of the planet itself. Others have surmised it was due to actions by the Kryptonians themselves, letting technology run amok until it destroyed their home. Some writers have portrayed Jor-El as a benevolent scientist fighting the politics of his planet to save his people. It's not much of a stretch to play with the idea that Jor-El's own scientific ingenuity could have led to its downfall. That perhaps Jor-El himself was at least partly to blame for Krypton's destruction. It's also not too far fetched to theorize that Jor-El had nothing to do with his planet's destruction, but that he obviously had something about him which made the leaders of his planet question his sincerity, which is why there's only one survivor. Jor-El had the answers to save all his people, but only had the ability to make one spaceship small enough for a single passenger, and that passenger was his son.

The writers have a lot of leeway. They can play with some of the variables without ruining the purpose of origin stories, to explain how the protagonist came to be. However, there's some variables that do not bend as well as others. An arch-villian for example. Even in the 1970s in the Superboy comic books, it was explained that for a brief time Clark Kent and Lex Luthor (played in the tv series by Michael Rosenbaum) were friends. They even went so far in that variant of the Superman Myth to say that Superboy was accidentally the reason why Lex Luthor went bald, and so forever after Lex Luthor had a hatred for Superboy.

However, no writer has ever gone to such extremes as the television series Smallville in depicting a friendship between Clark and Lex. This is a very risky precedent that could upset the telling of future Superman stories, provided the writers ever leave Smallville and go to Metropolis. When will Clark and Lex's relationship become irrevocably tarnished, so when Clark moves to Metropolis we won't have Lex expecting Clark over for coffee on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday have Superman beating the crap out of Luthor? Or maybe that's the plan here. If the show becomes "Metropolis" in a couple years, keeping a close relationship between Kent and Luthor while behind his back Kent foils Luthor's plans as Superman, well... Well that'll just be wholly impossible for me to fathom believing! Especially since this version of Clark Kent doesn't even hide behind glasses. How would Clark Kent hide his identity as Superman? Is this 21st century version of Superman gonna have to hide his face behind a mask? Does he ever get around to wearing that silly cape and skivvies, or do the writers of Smallville think it's completely impossible to eventually get to that point, because costumed vigilantes in today's America have become so absurd a concept? Will there ever be a Superman, or are we as the audience to understand that Clark Kent is a super man though he never gets around to wearing that ridiculous costume?

I mean we know Lex never finds out about Clark. We know Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) never really finds out. Or do we? Just how authentic will this tale be, compared to those retellings of Kal-El's childhood that have come before? From the first season I knew that the real reason Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) were invented for this series was so that the writers could have *somebody* find out about the Kent's Dark Secret eventually, without ruining continuity, but it also means Pete must eventually die, because there was no Petey running around with Jimmy Olsen in Metropolis. Chloe has yet to learn Clark's identity, but that possibility is still available to the writers, because Chloe is a character invented specifically for the tv series Smallville, and is apochryphal to the original Superman Myth.

And the Chloe/Lana thing has me really torn. We know that Clark Kent had a thing for Lana when he was young, but that we never really found out why they never worked out. Now we're seeing the details a bit more clearly. In this retelling of the Superman Myth, Lana is a person who prizes truth and despises secrecy. Because Kent has this deep dark secret about his origins and abilities, there's a rift there intrinsically. I've found this intriguing to observe from the perspective of a frustrated writer and that of a fan of the originial source material. However, Chloe seems to be there specifically to take the qualities of Lois Lane from the source material, and include into the Superman story everything about Lois that one can't find in Lana. It's like the writers took the Lois Lane Template, broke it in two and whatever they couldn't put into Lana they reserved for Chloe. Now this is kinda cool. It means Clark Kent left two loves behind when he was young, and found everything he liked about both Chloe and Lana in Lois. It explains why a man who can withstand the core of a star would have anything to do with a mere mortal like Lois Lane. However at the same time it makes Chloe appear so cookie cutter and false, because all she is, is the half of Lois that the writers couldn't put into Lana. It makes the lovers triangle seem formulaic somehow.

Ironically, the one thing that I see as perfect continuity is Clark's character. In the comic books I often observed the plots as a kid, and was flabbergasted that a superhero like Superman who is supposed to have a brain equivalent to a walking computerized library, would do such stupid things and have strategic planning akin to an ape. Smart as a whip but dense as a mountain, that's our supes. Lotsa knowledge stored in the noggin, but not enough common sense to know what to do with it.

The bottom line is, since the inception of the Superman Myth by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, Superman's always had a body of steel and a heart of rubber. He's always flown off half-cocked and responded with his gut, not thinking things through clearly and getting himself into a lot of trouble. He's a smart guy, but his common sense leaves a bit to be desired, and when you're dealing with a protagonist who is practically immortal on the outside, the only real way to make him interesting is to make him flawed on the inside. Deep down he's just a kid from Kansas looking at the universe with eternal wonder. It's what makes Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman so endearing. So at least the writers got that part right, even if they screw up all the rest of it. The heart of Smallville is in the right place, just like Kent.

I mean yeah. "Think to yourself this is just a show you should really just relax." Yeah sure. Whatever. I can appreciate this story being woven on the WB on Tuesday nights for what it is. Fine. However, if they're not going to be true to the source material, why did they bother calling the lead character of this show Clark Kent? Why put the story in Smallville? If they're gonna revamp everything, why not just start from scratch and tell their own story without being bogged down in continuity gaffes and apocryphal bastardizations of the original source material? At the same time, maybe that's what makes this tv series so innovative. They're telling a story which is almost a century old, that we've all already heard told many times before in different ways, but they're doing it with a modern sensibility. No cape. No discovering overnight that "Hey I can fly and shoot laser beams outta my eyesockets gee whiz that's cool!" It's been a much more gradual thing, like how any young person discovers the ups and downs of puberty. Maybe the whole point of the writers' exercise is not to be true to the details of the Superman Myth, but rather to refresh the ideals and themes of that myth, while still entertaining audiences with surprises that couldn't have been concieved before now.

I guess if a show offers this much meat to grind on, that alone has got to be a testament to its greatness.

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