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Smallville (2001)
Creators: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

review by Daniel G. Jennings

Basically, this show is an attempt to update the classic 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Superboy comics which chronicled Clark Kent's high school years in Kansas, as a modern angst filled teen show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this show, Clark Kent, is a bungling nerdy, adolescent outcast who has a hard time fitting in. He hasn't yet donned a costume, he hasn't figured out how to fly and his powers are still very limited. Fortunately for a budding superhero, Smallville just happens to be full of mutants created by kryptonite which rained down on the town when Kal-El arrived from Krypton. Most of these mutants just happen to attend Smallville High School and are stupid enough to pick fights with Clark Kent.

Plot-wise Smallville is closer to Stan Lee's early version of Spiderman than Superman, focusing on a teenage outsider who finds that he has superpowers and struggles to use them in a socially constructive way while trying to grow up. Most of the shows centre around young Clark, ably played by newcomer Tom Welling. Kent's life isn't a very good one, he could be a star football player and a big man on campus - but can't go out for sports because that might reveal his powers to the public, so he has to settle for writing for the school newspaper. To make matters worse, Clark has a crush on head cheerleader Lana Lang played by Kristin Kruek, who is going steady with a Flash Thompson clone, a jerk of a football star played by Eric Johnson. Lana is attracted to Clark but, with typical teen-show logic, stays with her handsome but stupid boyfriend who treats her like a doormat, just to create dramatic tension.

Unlike most teen-show producers, the makers of Smallville have some respect for adults. Clark's parents, played by veteran TV actors, John Schneider (one of the Dukes Of Hazzard no less) and Annette O'Toole (who played Lana Lang in Superman III, 1983), are understanding, compassionate, intelligent and smart enough to see their son is different. They actually try to help him and impose limits, Clark's dad won�t let him go out for football because he might hurt somebody on the field. That's a nice touch, I sort of like.

This show works because it's very well done; the writing and directing are first rate, and a great cast of veteran actors and talented newcomers make the characters entertaining, interesting and believable. The producers do a good job of recreating an American town on the Great Plains, life in Smallville centers around farming and high school football like a real Great Plains community. The teens hang out at a coffee house that is a poor imitation of the legendary ones in Seattle, like they did in North Platte, Nebraska where I once lived. And the local farmers struggle to make a living in a community where the economy is dominated by a giant agricultural conglomerate, something that is really happening in the American heartland. Except in Smallville, this corporation is owned by Lex Luthor's father, who has sent his arrogant playboy son to run his operations there. How the elder Luthor explains such a move to his stockholders is another plot device that requires us to suspend our logic.

If there's a problem with Smallville it's the weakness of the science fiction and fantasy elements. The writing and directing are good and the characters are strong and believable. The problem is that after just a few shows, Smallville is already stuck in a rut plot-wise. The usual plot is a poor one; kryptonite turns some juvenile delinquent into a super-villain and he or she menaces the school until Clark stops them. I can't see viewers tuning in to see this week after week. There's no real dramatic tension, continuing plots, humour or other such elements to keep us interested.

I wish the producers and writers would find a way to inject some of the rich storytelling of the original comics into this programme. For example, have the Legion Of Superheroes - a big part of the Superboy comics of the 1970s - come back in time to protect young Superman from his enemies. Or have some of Superman's future enemies like Darkseid or Brainiac come back in time to wipe Clark out. Or maybe just have teenaged Bruce Wayne (Batman) or Barry Allen (the Flash) visit Smallville and interact with Kent on some level. Another possibility might be the Cadmus Project, the secret genetic research project run by the government under the streets of Metropolis. Another weak link in the show, is Lex Luthor, although the actor who plays him (Michael Rosenbaum) does a good job. He comes across as a rather likeable spoiled brat, who tries to help people and even stands up to his father to protect the jobs of Smallville residents, rather than a sinister villain.

I wish the producers had scrapped the whole idea of Luthor as corrupt and ruthless tycoon, and returned the original concept of Lex as the super-intelligent mad scientist who is jealous of Superman's powers and wants to destroy him. We have seen the evil tycoon so many times it's boring and clichéd. Besides, it would be fun to see a good old-fashioned crazed super-villain again.
Smallville young cast of
SMALLVILLE
©2000 Warner
TV network


Smallville DVD

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